Photo: Man of Tai Chi / Warner Bros.

15 Underrated Keanu Reeves Performances That Remind Us Why We Love Him

Voting Rules
Vote up the Keanu Reeves roles that deserve more love.

Upon first thought, it's hard to believe there are underrated Keanu Reeves movies. After all, he's had a slew of massive hits, from Speed to The Matrix to the Bill & Ted and John Wick franchises. Like most actors who have been consistently employed for almost four decades, though, he's also had his share of films that made a smaller footprint. No one hits a home run every time out. Fortunately, these pictures give us a chance to go back and rediscover some of Reeves's most noteworthy work. 

What makes these performances and the films that contain them underrated? Some came out at times when the competition was stiff, making it hard for them to gain traction at the box office. Others are small, independent productions that didn't have huge advertising budgets or massive hype machines. One or two feature him in a supporting role, rather than a lead, so they're not necessarily viewed as a "Keanu Reeves movie." And then there are those that simply weren't well-regarded at the time yet play a little differently in retrospect. Is every title here a masterpiece? Certainly not, although Reeves is good in all of them, and they all offer at least a little bit of fun.

Which of the following Keanu Reeves performances is the most underrated? Your votes will decide.

Photo: Man of Tai Chi / Warner Bros.

  • When you think of classic '80s teen movies, you probably don't think of Permanent Record, and that's a shame. The movie never quite found its audience, making it ripe for discovery by modern audiences. Reeves plays Chris, a high school student whose best friend David has just taken his own life. At first, he thinks it was an accident - that David simply fell off a cliff. But then he gets a letter his late friend mailed to him that reveals how much pain was going on inside. 

    Permanent Record is about teen suicide, but it's also about survivor's guilt. Reeves brings out the sorrow and regret Chris feels for having failed to notice the anguish his friend was experiencing. A scene where he breaks down to David's father was an early indicator of the promise the actor would quickly fulfill in his career. It's a gut-wrenching performance in a sensitive, thoughtful movie. Yes, the subject matter is inherently downbeat, but this is an important picture that could help viewers remember to be alert to the mental well-being of their family and friends.

    • Actors: Alan Boyce, Keanu Reeves, Michelle Meyrink, Jennifer Rubin, Pamela Gidley
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Marisa Silver
    20 votes

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  • 2
    76 VOTES

    Keanu Reeves plays the title character in Constantine. He's a man who gets a second chance at life after both heaven and hell reject him. His days are spent tracking down "half-breeds" - aliens and demons who walk the Earth trying to influence the behavior of humans. A police detective approaches him, hoping he will look into the suicide of her sister, which she believes actually has some kind of demonic explanation.  

    Constantine is based on the popular comic books, and Reeves proves a good fit to star. The character definitely has his troubles, but he also aims to redeem himself by doing good. Reeves gets that dichotomy across in a subtle yet potent way. A lot of themes relating to life/death and good/evil can be found in the story. With his naturally pensive manner, Reeves helps them register strongly by making us understand how much the man he's portraying is affected by them. 

    • Actors: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker
    • Released: 2005
    • Directed by: Francis Lawrence
    76 votes

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  • 3
    12 VOTES
    The Bad Batch
    Photo: NEON

    The Bad Batch is indisputably one of the oddest movies in Reeves's filmography. It's about a young woman making her way across Texas, which has turned into a wasteland. In the process of doing this, she's captured by a group of cannibals. What happens next is hard to explain, but suffice it to say you'll have a hard time guessing where the wild story will go from one minute to the next. 

    Reeves plays a character called "The Dream," and he's the leader of a settlement known for having concubines and holding hallucinogenic-filled raves. It's an intentionally over-the-top character, which affords the actor an opportunity to experiment, both in physical appearance and mannerisms. Reeves takes advantage of that opportunity, creating an eccentric figure you won't soon forget. The subject matter explored in The Bad Batch marks it as a movie that won't be for every taste, but if you want to see the star at his most inventive, here's your chance.

    • Actors: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves
    • Released: 2016
    • Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
    12 votes
  • The Devil's Advocate teams Reeves with the legendary Al Pacino for a very different kind of horror movie. He's Kevin Lomax, an up-and-coming defense lawyer recruited to work for a New York firm run by John Milton. When his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) begins having horrific hallucinations that strip away at her sense of reality, Kevin begins to think his boss might have something to do with it. If the name "John Milton" makes you think of Paradise Lost, it's entirely intentional. That, combined with the word "devil" in the title, tips you off as to where the story is headed. 

    Lots of bonkers, hellish, supernatural stuff takes place in The Devil's Advocate. Reeves is solid, acting as a surrogate for the audience. We see all these bizarre things through his eyes. The actor nicely conveys the increasing sense of horror Kevin feels as he begins to uncover the truth about what's happening. He and Pacino have several scenes together that light the screen on fire. Holding one's own against a performer of Pacino's stature isn't easy, but Reeves pulls it off magnificently, helping to create a nerve-rattling chiller in the process.

    • Actors: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron, Jeffrey Jones, Judith Ivey
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Taylor Hackford
    62 votes

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  • Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho is a reimagining of William Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part 2, and Henry V, complete with stylized Elizabethan dialogue. River Phoenix plays Mike, a narcoleptic hustler who is taken under the wing of the more experienced Scott Favor, portrayed by Reeves. The film charts their friendship, which changes when Mike expresses a desire to turn things romantic. Scott, however, is more interested in getting out of his way of life and into something better. 

    Named after a classic B-52s song, My Own Private Idaho is a beautiful, stylish, and challenging film that benefits significantly from the chemistry between Phoenix and Reeves. One of the most compelling ideas at the core is that Scott has had to completely close himself off emotionally in order to make it as a hustler. He's closed himself off so tightly, in fact, that he may not be able to open back up. That quality could make him seem like a jerk, except that Reeves's performance suggests the feelings that are still buried somewhere deep inside Scott. It's nuanced work that packs a real punch.

    • Actors: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Rodney Harvey
    • Released: 1991
    • Directed by: Gus Van Sant
    28 votes

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  • In Richard Linklater's trippy, mind-bending thriller A Scanner Darkly, Reeves plays Bob Arctor, a cop trying to infiltrate the criminal underworld, where a dangerous hallucinogenic is being trafficked. The hitch is that Bob is hooked on the stuff himself, which vastly complicates his investigation. The drug's intense effects cause him to occasionally forget who he is. The movie was made using a special animation technique that "paints" over live performances, giving it a look to replicate the substance's effect. 

    One of Reeves's most interesting traits as an actor is his ability to play "blank." He can convincingly register a vacant expression and remove all affect from a character's personality. That comes in handy in A Scanner Darkly, giving weight to the danger Bob is in, not just from the people he's looking to bring down but also from himself. Thanks to the star's efforts, you can see how Bob's grip on reality alarmingly begins to fade.

    • Actors: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder, Rory Cochrane
    • Released: 2006
    • Directed by: Richard Linklater
    34 votes

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