Between 'John Wick 3' And 'Toy Story 4,' Keanu Reeves Is More Popular Than Ever
by Scott Mendelson
John Wick: Chapter 3 had a nice hold over its third weekend, dropping just 33% for a $7.4 million weekend and $138 million 24-day cume. It is pennies away from passing the unadjusted cume of The Matrix Revolutions ($139 million in 2003) to become Keanu Reeves' third-biggest domestic earner behind The Matrix ($171 million in 1999) and The Matrix Revolutions ($281 million in 2003). And with a $252 million global cume, the entire John Wick trilogy has now earned $512 million worldwide (and counting) on a combined $145 million budget.
As social media leaks word about Pixar's Toy Story 4 (I'm seeing it Wednesday night, but it's allegedly quite good), Keanu Reeves' Duke Caboom allegedly steals the show. That will be the second movie he's "stolen" in a month after a viral extended cameo in Netflix's Always Be My Maybe. Oh, and he'll be featured in a new story for the Cyberpunk 2077 video game. Whether or not this means he's destined to show up in the next Super Smash Bros. game, Mr. Reeves is having a moment. On the 25th anniversary of Speed, it's worth noting why.
As I've noted many times since the debut of John Wick in October of 2014, the kids who grew up with Reeves via Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, Point Break, Speed and/or The Matrix have become a part of the now-adult critical consensus. A sizable part of the current entertainment media (including myself) is made up of lifelong Keanu "defenders." So, as we lifelong fans slowly became a large part of the new critical consensus (and general media machine), the narrative about Reeves, in terms of his work and his value as a thespian, began to change as well.
By the time Reeves produced (and narrated) the rather terrific documentary Side By Side (about the debate between film and digital as the future for movies) in 2012 and directed the offbeat martial arts actioner Man of Tai Chi in 2013, the tide was turning. By the time Lionsgate opened the first John Wick opened in late 2014, its release was treated as a generational coronation. Lionsgate was able to tap into that groundswell to turn what could have been an offhand B-movie write-off into what is now their biggest ongoing franchise.
There's also our fascination with the 54-year-old actor's seeming refusal to age and his random acts of kindness which play to the idea that he really is as nice as you'd hope every famous person might be. He has also become, almost by accident, perhaps the greatest Hollywood action movie star (all due respect to Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan and/or Donnie Yen) of his generation. Say what you will about the best action movies of (offhand) Denzel Washington, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone or Dwayne Johnson, but they only have a few (or a handful if I'm being honest about Schwarzenegger's work with James Cameron) actioners anywhere near as good as Speed, the John Wick trilogy and (fight me) all three Matrix flicks.
Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break has aged quite well since 1991, furthering her "there are no happy endings once blood is spilled" mentality also reflected in Blue Steel, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and Detroit. You can take or leave 47 Ronin (although he's arguably a supporting player in that pricey flop alongside Hiroyuki Sanada), while Street Kings, Johnny Mnemonic and Constantine aren't really action movies. But when Keanu commits to the bit as an action hero, we get a new classic almost every time. Moreover, he is still able to toe the line between being an "unlikely" action hero (which adds to the charm) and being accepted as a top-tier genuine article
Oh, and unlike most of his run-and-gun peers (save for maybe Denzel Washington and Harrison Ford), he is/was just as convincing as a romantic hero and a dramatic actor as he is in an action flick. It would be deeply against type to see Dwayne Johnson in A Walk in the Clouds, Jason Statham in Something's Gotta Give (okay that one might actually be fun) or Sylvester Stallone in The Lake House. To the extent that he succeeds as both an action star and a romantic lead (see also Destination Wedding with Winona Ryder), he draws audiences at least partially because they want to see Keanu Reeves. He doesn't need a brand or an IP.
If you only look at his work as an action movie star, he has a knack for creating original run-and-gun characters (Johnny Utah, Jack Traven, Thomas Anderson, John Wick, etc.) that don't rely on an IP or popular source material and are engrossing partially because he's playing them. Even Constantine was as much about a big-budget horror thriller starring Reeves and Rachel Weisz as it was a DC Comics adaptation. Until Wonder Woman just two years ago, Constantine was the biggest non-Batman and/or non-Superman DC Comics movie ever. He continues to create iconic onscreen characters that suit him as an actor ("All this over a puppy?") often enough to ensnare a new generation of fans and re-endear him to the last batch.
John Wick: Chapter 3 is a hit for adults who grew up on The Matrix and Speed and kids who only know Reeves from the current action franchise. While you can argue that Harrison Ford has more great action movies than Reeves, mostly due to the his four Star Wars films and his four Indiana Jones movies (along with, give or take, the Jack Ryan films and the Blade Runner movies), Ford hasn't had a "new" hit of this nature since Air Force One back in 1997. What Reeves has pulled off with John Wick would be like if Ford were still launching new action franchises in 2014. Even Stallone has mostly struggled, save for a bright spot from 1993 (Cliffhanger) to 1997 (Copland), beyond Rocky and Rambo.
That's not to say that folks will see Reeves in anything. That, uh, private screening of Replicas during its fifth day of release was swell. He still has an advantage over the Chrises (Pine, Hemsworth, Evans, Pratt, etc.) who can only nab audiences in their court-appointed franchise plays. Ditto for various would-be modern movie stars (Ryan Gosling, Tom Hardy, etc.) who can score in the right IP or during an Oscar-friendly flick. Like (relatively speaking) Denzel Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio, Reeves has not become associated with an IP to the extent that it negates his ability to draw crowds outside of those franchises. John Wick is huge because of the actor playing John Wick.
Reeves is popular today because of the general quality of his action movies and his ability to create new action heroes out of whole cloth in an IP era. It's not so much that he reinvents himself as that he periodically reminds folks why they like him. In terms of Internet fandom and renewed critical acclaim, it's a matter of the current generation differing from the ones before it in terms of relative adoration for the star of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, My Own Private Idaho, Speed and The Matrix. He also represents the fantasy of the world-famous movie star as one of the handsomest and nicest people on Earth, which is why his turn as "asshole Keanu" in Always Be My Maybe was such a hoot.
Keanu Reeves is as beloved as he has ever been. Folks who might not otherwise go to Toy Story 4 (or might not race out on opening weekend) might just do so to see Reeves' allegedly scene-stealing turn as a 1970's daredevil stuntman (yes, he is an added value element). John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is still on track to take a bigger jump from John Wick: Chapter 2 than did Captain America: Civil War from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Reeves didn't need any Avengers to pull that off, he just needed himself, an assist from Halle Berry and the quality of the previous John Wick movies. 25 years after Speed and 20 years after The Matrix, Keanu Reeves is having a moment.