Even though he’s a major box-office draw and known all over the globe, Keanu Reeves has stayed true to the young man he was before he hit it big in Hollywood.
“In this often unkind and shallow world, my friend Keanu gives others hope,” Carrie-Ann Moss, his Matrix co-star, wrote of him when Reeves made Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2022 list. “The actions of this handsome, talented, successful, and fiercely committed actor have become a reprieve from the constant disappointment we have for those who get put on a pedestal.”
Here we take a look at his life, career and find out why he is one of the most beloved actors in Hollywood.
Keanu Reeves young years
Reeves, now 59, was born in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent time living in Sydney and New York before settling down with his mom, a costume designer, in Toronto.
The actor, who is of Chinese, English, Irish, Native Hawaiian and Portuguese descent, grew up a “pretty private kid,” he once told Rolling Stone, though he added he was “pretty social, too.”
Despite suffering from dyslexia, he started to act around age 15, performing in Shakespearean scenes in school. “I think my Mercurio was pretty good,” he joked to Esquire, and though he never finished high school, he was always a hard worker who was fiercely motivated to succeed.
“Even when I was a kid. ‘Let’s go make something!’ ‘Let’s do something!’ ‘Yeah!’” was Reeves’ attitude, he explained, and he started grinding away to realize his dream of being in movies, attending Uta Hagen’s famous Respect for Acting class at night, taking improv classes at Toronto’s Second City and even driving to New York for additional training.
Spoiler alert! He became a huge star, winning 1992’s Most Desirable Male at the MTV Video Music Awards, CinemaCon’s 2016 Vanguard Award and more. German scientists even named a fungi-killing compounds (keanumycin) after him in 2023, in honor of his butt-kicking characters in The Matrix and John Wick franchises. If that doesn’t solidify your star power, nothing will!
Still, the actor remains humble. “I mean, I’ve been a part of some films that are… good. You know, the directors, the scripts. All those films kind of change your life,” Reeves told Esquire of his resume, which most others in Hollywood would kill to have.
Read on to track Reeves’ diverse range of roles throughout his impressive five-decade career.
Young Keanu Reeves in the 80s
As a teen, Reeves was a talented athlete who also had dreams of playing hockey in the Olympics (remember: Canada!). In 1983, he got to enjoy the sweet taste of victory (both literally and figuratively) by appearing in a Coca-Cola commercial as a race-winning bicyclist.
The following year, he hammed it up on the Canadian TV series Hangin’ In. Come 1985, he’d landed a role as a troubled kid in One Step Away, a Canadian short film. He also served as a teen correspondent on Going Great, a Canadian newsmagazine program.
Then things really started to heat up for Reeves in 1986. His debut feature film, Youngblood, came out, and he got to lace up his skates for the ice hockey drama that co-starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.
Two other films that year fittingly had youthful themes and titles: He appeared as Robert Urich’s teenage incarnation in the fantasy-romance movie Young Again, opposite Lindsay Wagner. “It sounds like I won something in a game show: ‘We flew you to Los Angeles!’” he joked to a young reporter at the time about his acting dreams coming true. “I’m playing a 17-year-old body with a 40-year-old mind,” he added of that particular project’s challenges.
Next he played Jack Be Nimble in the Christmas themed TV movie Babes in Toyland, starring Drew Barrymore. Earlier that year, he also appeared with Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Zane and Lori Loughlin in Brotherhood of Justice, as well as with Dennis Hopper and Ione Skye in River’s Edge.
He’d re-team with Loughlin in 1988’s The Night Before, and that year’s Dangerous Liaisons put him the A-list company of Glenn Close, John Malkovich, Michelle Pfeiffer and Uma Thurman.
In 1989, he stepped into the time-traveling shoes of one of his most memorable characters: Ted in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Party on, dude! And Reeves did, also appearing that year in Ron Howard’s Parenthood, starring Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest and Joaquin Phoenix.
He then got to channel the spirit of Rebel Without a Cause’s James Dean in Paula Abdul’s video for her No. 1 hit “Rush Rush.”
Keanu takes on the 90s
In 1991, Reeves got time-trippy again in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, then also portrayed a street hustler alongside his close friend River Phoenix in My Own Private Idaho. (“I miss him dearly. F—ing sucks. I know so many people miss him dearly,” Reeves said after Phoenix’s shocking death two years later at just 23). Reeves made a big splash as surfer Johnny Utah in Point Break, opposite Patrick Swayze, and he also formed his rock band Dogstar (for which he plays bass) in 1991, too.
Related: Patrick Swayze Movies: Celebrating the Charismatic Star’s Most Iconic Roles
Bram Stoker’s Dracula came along in 1992, though critics largely found the film starring Gary Oldman and Winona Ryder lifeless. In 1993, Reeves was cast as Don John in Much Ado About Nothing, a Shakespearean adaptation headlined by Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson and Denzel Washington. He then lassoed another film with Uma Thurman, Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.
A huge hit was barreling toward him — and the box office — in 1994: Speed, in which he played a SWAT team bomb disposal officer trying to help a woman (Sandra Bullock) keep a terrorist-rigged bus moving at a certain speed to prevent it from blowing up. In 2018, Bullock confessed to Ellen DeGeneres that she had a crush on her magnetic co-star, and Reeves appeared on the comedian’s daytime talker a year later to similarly come clean. “She obviously didn’t know I had a crush on her,” he teased.
Other highlights from the decade — in which he did a 1995 stint as Hamlet onstage at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg — included 1995’s Johnny Mneumonic and the romance A Walk in the Clouds; 1996’s Feeling Minnesota, with Cameron Diaz; and 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate, starring Al Pacino.
Of course, the decade ended on a high note with 1999’s high-octane dystopian classic The Matrix, in which Reeves first introduced moviegoers to computer programmer Neo. “That fall where I jump from the building, that was like a 35-foot wire-jump,” he told Empire about the physically demanding role. “They just had some guys and a machine dropping me upside down. I got good enough to do the front flip and the back flip and the run up the wall.…But I don’t know. In an odd way that was the easy part. It’s finding the interior of the character that’s the challenge.”
2000 to 2009
After appearing in the 2000 sports comedy The Replacements with Gene Hackman, and 2001’s Sweet November, in which he romances — and sings for! — Charlize Theron, Reeves returned to his role as Neo for 2003’s one-two punch of The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. He closed out the year with Something’s Gotta Give, a lighthearted comedy headlined by legends Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson.
He tackled the superhero horror flick Constantine in 2005, then kicked back a little in 2006’s The Lake House, a fantasy romance flick with his good pal Sandra Bullock. Later that year, he and rocker Alanis Morissette said “You Oughta Know” about climate change, so they co-hosted a documentary called The Great Warming.
Keanu from 2010 to 2019
In 2013, the actor made his directorial debut with Man of Tai Chi, a martial arts film in which he also stars. In 2014, he debuted another one of his most iconic roles and franchises: John Wick. As the former assassin who’s drawn back into some dark and dangerous dealings, Reeves had scored another big hit that grossed $14.4 million in its opening weekend. “There’s a character that we root for, hopefully. He’s fighting for his life,” Reeves has told Collider of the franchise’s success. “The films are fun, but they’re smart. There’s humor, and action. Comedy. It has a unique tone, I think. So, you can tell I’m a fan.” As are millions of theatergoers, who flocked to see 2017’s John Wick: Chapter 2, 2019’s John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and 2023’s John Wick: Chapter 4.
When he wasn’t kicking butt in the Wick series throughout the decade, Reeves had a few other notable projects. In 2016, he started appearing as stuntman Tex “Crazy Man” Johnson in the web series Swedish Dicks. And in 2018, he took a Destination Wedding with Winona Ryder, with whom he’d co-starred in three previous films, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 2006’s A Scanner Darkly and 2009’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee.
In 2019, Reeves got animated and gave voice to Duke Caboom, “Canada’s Greatest Stuntman,” for 2019’s Toy Story 4. He also made an entertaining cameo in Ali Wong’s Netflix comedy Always Be My Maybe.
2020 to Present
Reeves’ return to three popular franchises have been highlights of the past few years for the actor, who seems to just keep getting better with age. He appeared in 2020’s Bill & Ted Face the Music and 2021’s The Matrix Resurrections, in addition to John Wicks 4, as noted above.
Most recently, Reeves has been out on the road touring with Dogstar, and he has a four-part racing documentary called Brawn: The Impossible Formula 1 Story that’s recently started streaming on Hulu.
He’s also set to return next year in the John Wicks spinoff Ballerina. “It was fun to put the suit back on,” he told Entertainment Weekly of the project. A sequel to Constantine is also reportedly in the works.