7. John Wick (2014)
The first installment in the most significant film series Reeves has starred in post-Matrix, John Wick was a new breakthrough in the genre. In fact, it revitalized the actor’s career after years drifting through genre films after playing Neo. A highly stylized action film that creates a well-crafted fictional world of assassins, complete with its own established mythology and set of rules, the film is adept at building an immersive universe that would be expanded upon in subsequent sequels.
Of course, it’s the action that propelled it to such popularity. The innovative fight sequences combine gunplay and martial arts in a way that felt fresh and exciting. The film’s “gun fu” style hooked action fans while Wick’s ultra-sympathetic backstory (don’t mess with a world-class assassin’s dog, kids) encouraged film fans to cheer on his wanton slaughter of those that had wronged him. It’s the kind of memorable film that left audiences wanting more. Fortunately, more was on the way.
6. The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
The direct sequel to the hugely influential action-sci fi film The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded was an immediate smash hit that heightened the action from the original film. Incorporating even more of the “speed bullet” sequences that slow down the high-octane real-time action so the viewer can absorb the action going on, the sequel’s action sequences were bigger, louder, and longer.
But that doesn’t necessarily make it better: this was also when the already heady concept of The Matrix began to get fleshed out, the post-apocalyptic reality of the unplugged is depicted, and loads of more characters and plot added. While the action sequences are still dazzling, often the viewer is waiting for (or skipping to) the next big spectacle while the uninteresting stuff, like Zion and The Oracle and CGI robots, is happening on-screen. At least it’s better than Matrix Revolutions. Still, a solid action flick.
5. Speed (1994)
Point Break brought Keanu Reeves into the action film world, but Speed made him a star. Playing hot shot cop Jack Traven in pursuit of serial bomber Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), who has been terrorizing Los Angeles by targeting civilian targets for ransom. His next target? A moving bus filled with people that Traven has to enter before he can attempt to save it. But there’s a catch: once in motion, if the bus goes under 50 miles per hour the bomb will detonate. Traven has to keep the bus moving while avoiding the crowded streets as Traven and his team figure out how to stop the bomb and the bomber.
A thrilling action movie featuring extraordinary car (well, bus) stunts and stand-out performances from both Reeves and Sandra Bullock (in her star-making role), Speed is easily one of the best action films of its decade. While a ridiculous high-concept premise, this is easily overlooked for its high-octane action, constant sense of tension and suspense, and charismatic lead performances. Still a memorable action film, it also ranks as one of Reeves’ best.
4. John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)
John Wick has been fighting for years: after losing his wife, his dog, his house, his reputation, and his finger, he returns to exact revenge upon the High Table. This fourth entry into the John Wick franchise is just as high energy and high body count as the previous, now with Baba Yaga traveling the globe to exact his brand of merciless revenge.
A film series that has yet to slow down, John Wick: Chapter 4 just keeps on delivering everything its fans have come to look forward to with each installment. The world the previous films have established comes into criss-cross play, with Wick out of necessity creating agreements and alliances with those he seeks to destroy. As is the style with the franchise, the action sequences are clever, extremely well-choreographed, and continually raises the stakes with each scene. Perhaps the best in the series, it is not at the top of this list only because it is the most recent release and this kind of blistering action needs to cool down before you can handle it.
3. The Matrix (1999)
I don’t know if anyone’s heard of this obscure film, but The Matrix is one of the best films ever made. A groundbreaking movie that posits – and stay with me on this one – that the world we live in is a computer simulation and we are all just power sources for a massive AI machine network. But what if someone woke up from the simulation?
I’m joking, of course: everybody has seen this film (and its sequels) since its release, most likely multiple times. And for good reason: a thought-provoking, eye-popping action visual spectacle, The Matrix introduced the idea of the “bullet time” effect, where through complex high-speed camera arrangements, the effect of capturing the action in slow-motion as the “camera” seemingly catches it from all angles.
Groundbreaking for its time and still highly impressive today, this film seemingly inaugurated the future of film just at the turn of the century. It also reinvigorated Reeves’ career, launching him into being one of the biggest stars of the world and launching one of the most successful franchises in film history. There’s little else to say other than it’s one of Keanu’s best action films – and an amazing film in general.
2. John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
It seems inevitable the top spots on this action film list focusing on Keanu Reeves would be topped by a John Wick entry. After all, it’s the best action film franchise of the 21st century, extremely popular and delivering to action film fans what they’ve been waiting for: high-velocity gunfights and hand-to-hand combat (often both!) centered around a compelling and sympathetic protagonist.
John Wick: Chapter 2 raises the action bar even further as the world of John Wick expands. With new characters, new globe-hopping locales, and larger and larger action sequences as Wick continues to prove why he has the reputation he does in the criminal world, our extremely capable hero finds himself on a cliffhanger ending. What will happen next?
1. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
The answer is: Parabellum. The best John Wick movie (well, the fourth may be, but again: that’s molten lava at this point). Picking up directly after the events of Chapter 2, John finds himself excommunicated and on the run with a $14 million, Wick travels to The Continental to try and resolve his persona excommunicado status. Instead he finds himself in service to the even more high-stakes, ultra-violent world of the High Table cabal. And then he finds even more trouble.
Explosive, raging, violent action sequences including: a knife and sword fight in New York Public Library, an exhilarating motorcycle chase through the streets of New York City, and the climactic brutal battle in The Continental, a series high point to this point. What the John Wick series demonstrates is how an action franchise can continue to escalate each entry with higher stakes, bigger action sequences, and more intense battles.
A reevaluation when the next John Wick comes out may find John Wick 4 at the top of this list, but even then it will need to be re-evaluated the next time Keanu Reeves puts out the next chapter of his excellent action film career.