What the Hell Happened to Keanu Reeves?

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves

Keanu Reeves has worked with some of the greatest directors around.  He’s been directed by Ron Howard, Kathryn Bigelow, Lawrence Kasdan, Gus Van Sant, Francis Ford Coppola and Bernardo Bertolucci just to name a few.  His costars include Al Pacino, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Sandra Bullock and of course the legendary Alex Winter.  He’s done comedy, drama, action movies, period pieces and sci fi.  Speed made Reeves an action movie star and The Matrix made him an icon.  But post Matrix, Reeves’ career has slowed down.  His last unqualified hit was in 2003.

What the hell happened?

Keanu means “cool breeze over the mountains.”   Reeves was born in Lebanon and is of British, Portuguese, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese heritage.   His father went to jail for selling heroin at Hilo International Airport.  He abandoned his wife and family when Reeves was only three years old.  Reeves was 13 the last time he saw his father.

As a child, Reeves relocated frequently and spent time with several stepfathers.  He and his mother moved from Hawaii to Sydney, Australia and then to New York City.  Most of his childhood was spent in Toronto.  Reeves is actually a citizen of Canada.  As a student, Reeves struggled with dyslexia.  He gravitated to athletics over academics and excelled at hockey, eh.  After an injury ended Reeves’ hockey career, he dropped out of high school to pursue acting.

Before I go about ripping Reeves, let me say this: The man is, by all accounts, an extremely nice person. The internet is filled with stories of Reeves’ generosity.  He spent $5 million dollars on leukemia treatments for his sister, bought Harley Davidson motorcycles for the crew of The Matrix Reloaded,  given $20,000 to a set-builder who was down on his luck, and frequently bought breakfast and lunch for crew members on his movies.  He is quoted as saying ″Money is the last thing I think about. I could live on what I have already made for the next few centuries.″

According to the Wall Street Journal, Reeves signed away his back-end deal on the Matrix sequels.  An “unnamed movie executive” told the Journal that Reeves gave the back-end portion of his salary (estimated between $70-80 million dollars) to the special effects crew of the movies.  The source explained “He felt that they were the ones who made the movie and that they should participate.”

The man has dealt with a lot, given a lot of himself to others, and does films that interest him. I’m going to say I don’t like a lot of his films and find some of his performances lacking. But before I rag on any of that, I thought it was worth noting that as a human being, I very much admire him. So then.

Youngblood – 1986

Keanu Reeves - Youngblood - 1986

Keanu Reeves – Youngblood – 1986

After a series of TV appearances Reeves struck his first notable role in the Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze hockey vehicle Youngblood. Reeves’ experience playing hockey, and real life love of it surely helped in some form or fashion. Youngblood received a lukewarm reception as another feel good sports movie of no particular distinction… also it’s about hockey. So that.

Keanu Reeves - Act of Vengeance - 1986

Keanu Reeves – Act of Vengeance – 1986

Act of Vengeance – 1986

A TV movie starring Charles Bronson and Ellen Burstyn is actually a drama and not the action movie I was expecting. It has something to do with coal union workers, and has vengeance in the title, so there is some action, as assassinations are plotted. Reeves pops up in a small role. So does Wilford Brimley. Coal could cause diabetes. I have no idea what this movie is about. Reactions seems to be decent to it.

Flying (Teenage Dream) – 1986

Keanu Reeves - Teenage Dream - 1986

Keanu Reeves – Teenage Dream – 1986

This is one of those movies that nobody watched but when one person suddenly becomes a star later, is reissued with them now featured prominently on the cover. And boy what a bad cover it is. Here is the synopsis on IMDB, and even these sentences are hilarious:

Robin and her father have a car accident. Her father dies. Robin is badly injured and cannot compete in gymnastics tournaments anymore. Shattered dreams. She lives with her mother and bad step-father. Robin is accepted to the school athletics team but is not accepted by some other girls, so she works out at a friend’s house. Eventually Robin and her team compete in the national scholastic meet.

I can’t imagine more needs to be said.

There’s the whole movie I think. You’re welcome… I think.

Brotherhood of Justice – 1986

Keanu Reeves and Billy Zane – Brotherhood of Justice – 1986

Keanu Reeves and Billy Zane – Brotherhood of Justice – 1986

Reeves continued working busily in 1986 with this bargain bin movie (another that tries to capitalize on the later names of the stars) where he and Kiefer Sutherland star as high school students turned vigilantes turned thugs. Violence is never the answer rich kids. Unless you’re Batman. Then it is.

Next: The River’s Edge and Dangerous Liaisons


Posted on November 6, 2014, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 264 Comments.

  1. I meant permanent Record which critics raved about keanu performance. He got better reviews before bill and ted


    • I know what you meant, I was just being opportunistic and mentioned “Permanent Midnight” for shoots and tickles:-)


    • Worst Actor in Hollywood?

      Today, 12:01 AM

      Agree both actors are a little over-rated. Keanu’s best performance was probably in an independent film few people have heard of: Permanent Record. Believe it was made back in 1988. I recommend the film. The director was able to get a good performance from him and many of the other actors, too IMO. The actors in this one had good chemistry and that is often more important than special effects and a big budget. Don’t think he has come close to duplicating that performance since then, though.


      • I disagree that the last time Keanu Reeves gave a good performance was “Permanent Record”. Besides, I thought he was good in 1991’s “My Own Private Idaho”. I do believe some of the projects he lended himself to aren’t the best though.


  2. He does not always pick best films but gives a efforts. My own privated idaho and gift he was praised for


  3. 9 Terrible Casting Decisions That Ruined Great Movies

    Keanu Reeves – Dracula

    Keanu has never been blessed with the greatest range as a performer; in the right role – say Neo or John Wick – he’s perfect, but in the wrong part you get his turn in Dracula. It’s not even a case of Keanu phoning it in, because you can see him trying his best; it’s just that outside of casting Hulk Hogan in the role it’s hard to imagine a more miscast actor for the part.

    His attempt at an English accent is one of the worst ever committed to film, and the atrocious grey wig he’s lumbered with in the second half only adds to the artificial nature of his performance. It doesn’t help he’s performing beside heavyweights like Gary Oldman and Anthony Hopkins, who are so effortless they just highlight Keanu’s weaknesses.

    Keanu was smarter about his choices post-Dracula, and he stuck to movies that highlighted his strengths instead of exposing his limits.


  4. Infamous Sphere: A Walk in the Clouds (1995)

    Hey, remember when Keanu Reeves played a chocolate salesman in a movie-length advertisement for wine? Yeah, that was a thing.


  5. The most outrageous facts about Keanu Reeves’ life

    Keanu Reeves hit Hollywood like a cool breeze in the ’80s—that’s what his name means in Hawaiian—and ever since he’s been one of cinema’s most intriguing and versatile actors. On screen, the Beirut-born, Canada-raised Reeves has saved humanity from robot slavery (The Matrix), delivered himself from military school and damnation (the Bill and Ted movies), avenged the death of his cute dog (John Wick), kept a doomed bus from going under 50 mph (Speed), sold his services as a male prostitute (My Own Private Idaho), and made out with Paula Abdul. But as prolific an actor as Reeves is, he remains far more private—and enigmatic—than many other celebrities.


  6. Did Keanu Reeves really give away $80M to the special effects crew of the #Matrix?


  7. john wick 2 is coming out that could be ahit


  8. Keanu is talented actor .you want bad acting watch ben affleck movie


    • The whole deal is just too subjective for me to say concretely, but I was never impressed with what Adrian Zmed brought to the table (and I like “T.J. Hooker”), but he’s done theater too, so maybe he was really good there. As actresses go, Michelle Johnson didn’t really do it for me either (and I’m not going to just Blame It On Rio either).


  9. John Wick: Chapter 2 is destined to go down as one of the greatest American action films of all time


  10. Keanu Reeves boards a bus that can’t slow down for one of the great ’90s action movies


  11. john wick 2 is alreDY a hit over 100 mill on a 40 mill budget


    • Seems like Keanu Reeves has struck gold with these pair of films, and unlike “Speed” or “The Matrix”, it’s all his own.


  12. speed and matrix are his own


  13. Why didn’t Keanu Reeves become a bigger star?

    I liked Keanu in the Matrix but since then he really hasn’t had another big hit. Sure his acting doesn’t make you go wow, but neither does Leonardo Di Caprio’s.

    —Anonymous (381 views)

    31 replies 28 9 hours ago


  14. Actors who succeeded after flops?

    5 hours ago QuotePost Options Post by DiBiase is Good on 5 hours ago
    Keanu Reeves has a habit of following up hits with bizarre choices and flops. And vice versa.

    Dracula and Much ado About Nothing were followed by Little Buddha.

    Speed was followed by Johnny Mnemonic

    The Matrix was followed by The Replacements

    Chain Reaction and Feeling Minnesota were followed by The Devil’s Advocate

    47 Ronin was followed by John Wick.


  15. How the hell did The Fast And The Furious launch one of cinema’s biggest franchises?

    The Fast And The Furious was practically a beat-for-beat remake of Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s near-perfect 1991 surfing-bank-robber movie. The similarities went right down to the dazed, Keanu-esque look in perma-chill undercover cop Paul Walker’s dreamy, ice-blue eyes. But on that seemingly flimsy foundation, a whole empire was built. The Fast And The Furious would spawn its own immediate rip-offs, movies like Torque and Biker Boyz, as well as its own string of ever-bigger, ever-more-ridiculous sequels. Seven movies later, the ongoing Fast And The Furious saga is now the most consistent, lovable, and bankable summer blockbuster franchise that we’ve got going right now (even if the movies don’t always open in the summer). And when the inevitable Point Break remake came along in 2015, the new movie came out as a rip-off of the Fast And The Furious series. The biter had become the bitten.

    Everything about The Fast And The Furious was unlikely. Vin Diesel had only just come off of his first action-star role, in the low-budget Aliens bite Pitch Black, and while he certainly had a forbidding charisma, there was no guarantee that he would be anything. Paul Walker, like Point Break-era Keanu Reeves, had only just stopped playing high schoolers, and he seemed hopelessly bland and wooden except in this one role, where he found a weird way to turn that blandness and woodenness into zen thrill-seeker cool. Director Rob Cohen was the veteran schlockmeister who’d made Dragonheart and Daylight and The Skulls and who would go on to make Stealth and Alex Cross and The Boy Next Door; nothing in his filmography, before or since, suggests that he could pull off a scene as cool and visceral as the climactic Fast truck heist. But he pulled it off. They all pulled it off.


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