Is Keanu Reeves the Greatest Canadian Action Hero of All-Time? An Investigation

John Wick: Chapter 3 is a movie in which its title hitman uses a horse as a deadly weapon. In other words, it is exceedingly badass. Which probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone who’s a fan of the action franchise that’s seen Keanu Reeves leaving a trail of bodies in his wake ever since Theon Greyjoy made the unconscionable mistake of killing a sweet little beagle puppy three movies ago. Or to anyone who’s been following Reeves’ career for the past 30-plus years.

Now, maybe, on its face, calling Reeves the greatest living action hero to come out of the Great White North sounds a little, well, far-fetched. The dude who became a meme for despondently eating a sandwich on a park bench? And whose persona can best be described as a cross between Matthew McConaughey and Nic Cage?

But think about it: neither of the Ryans – Reynolds and/or Gosling – can compare to Reeves’ body of work as a professional face-puncher. The former Toronto native has been the star of not one, but two massive action franchises, and that’s before we even get to classics like Point Break and Speed. (Yes, I just called Point Break a classic. No, I won’t apologize for it.)

With John Wick: Chapter 3 hitting theatres this week, it’s time we finally give the man the props he deserves. So here it is: the definitive ranking of every single one of Keanu Reeves’ film roles, from least to most badass.

The Miscellaneous Division

58. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
57. Thumbsucker
56. To the Bone
55. Tune in Tomorrow…

None of these movies fall neatly into any of the other categories, but they do have one major thing in common: Keanu doesn’t kill anyone with a gun, knife, horse, or, as far as I know, even attempt to kill anyone at all. Next.

54. Little Buddha

What’s that? You forgot that Keanu once played the young Prince Siddhartha, complete with brownface, an equally horrifying attempt at an Indian accent, and a ton of eyeliner? Yeah, well, Reeves would probably like to forget that one too…

The Indie Drama Division

53. generation Um…

With all due respect to a man capable of turning everyday household objects into a weapon of mass destruction, playing a self-pitying loser in a mumblecore indie that can basically be described as “Sad Keanu: The Movie” is an extremely safe bet for one of the least cool Keanu performances of all-time.

52. Permanent Record
51. My Own Private Idaho
50. River’s Edge
49. The Last Time I Committed Suicide

This is presumably the point where I should remind you that this is not a list of Keanu’s “best” roles. If it were, these would all rank significantly higher. But credit where credit’s due: Reeves picked The Last Time I Committed Suicide, a meandering drama about beat writer Neal Cassady over a $14 million dollar paycheque for Speed 2, which definitely counts as badass in my book.

The Cameos

48. Poetic Justice
47. A Happening of Monumental Proportions
46. Freaked
45. (tied) Ellie Parker & Me and Will

Granted, there’s only so much a guy can do with a cameo, but in Ellie Parker and Me and Will, Reeves made brief appearances as part of his “other” job: Dogstar bass player. (The band has approximately two major claims to fame: that Keanu played bass, and that Weezer got their start opening for them.) And playing bass for a late-‘90s alt-rock group is at least mildly badass.

43. Keanu

This may come as a surprise, but: kittens are not especially badass. That is, unless they’re being voiced by Keanu Reeves, wearing chains and a durag and quoting lines from The Matrix.

Romantic Keanu

42. Flying
41. The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
40. Sweet November
39. A Walk in the Clouds

38. The Lake House

I don’t think I should even have to write this, but just in case: no, a movie where Keanu falls in love with his former Speed co-star via a magical mailbox does not qualify as badass.

37. Dangerous Liaisons
36. Bram Stoker’s Dracula

These both sound badass, but I promise you the 18th century period pieces are anything but. Then again, it’s hard to come off particularly tough when you’re putting everything you’ve got into ensuring you nail your character’s Victorian-era British accent. (Spoiler alert: Keanu did not nail it.)

35. Something’s Gotta Give

Right on the heels of The Matrix trilogy, Reeves agreed to take a supporting role in a Nancy Meyers rom-com as the third wheel in a Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton love triangle. That’s a serious power move, and you can’t tell me otherwise.

34. Destination Wedding

OK, so I know that a rom-com where Reeves and Winona Ryder play two cynical strangers reluctantly falling for each other doesn’t sound especially cool. But there is a scene where Reeves’ character manages to successfully intimidate a snarling mountain lion. Plus, he’s still sporting his John Wick look, so it’s at least theoretically possible to look at this as a low-key John Wick sequel, which earns Destination Wedding bonus points.

The Sports Movie Division

33. Youngblood
32. Hardball
31. The Replacements

In order, Keanu plays: a minor league hockey goalie, a gambling addict-turned-white savior, and a former college QB with a debilitating case of happy feet. But in The Replacements, Reeves’ Shane Falco does manage to throw a game-winning Hail Mary to secure a playoff berth, which is basically the sports movie equivalent of taking out a fellow world-class assassin with nothing but a pencil.

The ’80s Comedy Division

30. Parenthood
29. The Night Before
28. The Prince of Pennsylvania

Reeves, respectively, wipes out while drag racing, sells his prom date to a pimp, and tries to kidnap his own dad for ransom money. Which may sound impressive, but in hindsight, is actually kind of tame when it comes to ’80s movie shenanigans.

Breaking Bad Keanu

27. Knock Knock
26. Much Ado About Nothing
25. The Gift
24. The Neon Demon
23. The Watcher
22. The Bad Batch

Maybe it’s his lovable doofus persona and matinee idol looks that makes directors eager to cast Keanu against type as creeps and scumbags, but it’s happened a lot more often than you’d think, whether it’s Reeves playing a sleazy motel owner (Neon Demon), a psychotic serial strangler (The Watcher), or, my personal favourite, a messianic cult leader with a supremely horrifying mustache (The Bad Batch).

21. I Love You to Death

Pros: Keanu plays a perma-stoned hit man named Marlon in this Lawrence Kasdan-directed black comedy. Cons: Technically, he’s never actually killed anybody before, and is more interested in discussing Reggie Jackson stats than doing his job.

20. Feeling Minnesota

His character’s name is “Jjaks Clayton” and I’m pretty sure that officially negates everything else Keanu does in this mid-‘90s crime comedy.

19. The Devil’s Advocate

Not only does he stand up to the literal Devil (who also happens to be his dad), he gets in a shouting match with Al Pacino. He doesn’t win either of those, but still. Credit for trying.

The Generic Thriller Division

18. The Whole Truth
17. Exposed
16. Henry’s Crime
15. Chain Reaction
14. Siberia
13. Street Kings

You could mix and match any one of these plots and any one of these titles and they’d all still work equally as well. Same goes for their rankings here.

The (Non-Matrix) Sci-Fi Movies

12. The Day the Earth Stood Still
11. A Scanner Darkly
10. Johnny Mnemonic

 9. Replicas

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen Replicas – although given the reviews, I would venture a guess that few outside of the cast and crew’s immediate families have. As far as I can tell though, it’s a movie where Keanu plays a scientist hell-bent on bringing his dead family back to life as robot/clones, the laws of nature and man (not to mention, professional ethics) be damned. Verdict? Badass enough for me.

The (Non-Matrix) Martial Arts Movies

8. Man of Tai Chi
7. 47 Ronin

Keanu put his knowledge of kung fu to good use in 2013, with both Man of Tai Chi (the actor’s directorial debut) and 47 Ronin (another VFX-heavy, visually-stunning martial arts epic). Neither really landed with audiences, but both set the stage for Reeves getting back to doing what he does best: punching people in the face for our viewing pleasure.

The Top Five Six

6. The Bill & Ted Franchise

Sure, you wouldn’t necessarily be scared of running into Ted “Theodore” Logan in a dark alley, but just to recap: Bill and Ted traveled through time, then battled their evil robot doppelgangers and died and went to Hell, all in order to save the world. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is. Basically the Chaotic Good of Keanu Reeves characters.

5. Constantine
4. Speed
3. Point Break

A chain-smoking demon fighter, an admittedly-pretty blatant John McClane clone, and a surfing F-B-I AGENT! – any one of these could’ve launched successful franchises in their own right, but Reeves wasn’t interested. Instead, he knew when to toss his badge into the ocean and walk away. Badass.

2. The Matrix Franchise
1. The John Wick Franchise

The Baba Yaga versus The One. Both serious badasses. Both need guns. Lots of guns. But allow me to show my math: Neo may be the Matrix’s messiah, but he’s basically invincible by the end of the first movie. Which turns the sequels into the equivalent of watching someone play a FPS on God mode. Meanwhile, Wick is every bit as inevitable as Neo, but takes a serious beating in the process. The fact that he gets back up and keeps going anyway – no matter how many bullets, knives and anonymous henchmen these movies continue to throw at him – is what gives Wick the slight edge. (Also, I’m a dog person. Come @ me, bro.)