Here’s every major movie role Keanu Reeves passed on. The beloved A-lister had amassed a fascinating body of work on the big screen in the years since he started acting in the mid-1980s – one that includes everything from iconic sci-fi films to smash-hit action movies, fan-favorite comedies, and even an acclaimed William Shakespeare adaptation. Recently, he’s enjoyed a resurgence in popularity thanks to his role as John Wick, leading to him being cast as everything from a daredevil toy in Toy Story 4 to a caricature of himself in Always Be My Maybe.
Along the way, Reeves has (naturally) turned down his fair share of films that would then fall into development limbo, like when he reportedly passed on playing Kaneda in Warner Bros.’ still-unmade live-action adaptation of Akira. He’s also been seriously considered for roles that would go on to make big names of other actors, with the best-known example being when he was eyed to play Wolverine in Fox’s original live-action X-Men movie prior to Hugh Jackman being cast. Ever the good sport, Reeves has always expressed support for those who’ve beaten him out for a much-coveted part.
For as many popular films as Reeves has starred in, he’s still turned down some pretty big ones. Here’s a rundown of all the major ones he’s passed on.
Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam War drama Platoon not only won four Oscars (including Best Picture), it also showcased the acting talents of a lot of then up and comers, including Johnny Depp, John C. McGinley, and Charlie Sheen as its young lead Chris Taylor. In an interview with EW in 2011, Stone confirmed he’d offered the role of Chris to Reeves but the actor turned it down “because of the violence. He didn’t want to do violence.” It’s a little funny to think of the star of the John Wick movies passing on a film because of its violent content… though, to be fair, there’s a real difference between the heightened nature of the John Wick universe and the grim realism of Stone’s portrayal of the hell that is war.
Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat is easily one of the most influential crime thrillers produced in the last twenty-five years thanks to its blend of highbrow visual storytelling and top-form performances by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The movie also nearly included Reeves in a key supporting role as Chris Shiherlis, a member of professional robber Neil McCauley’s (De Niro) crew and a character who would end up being played by Val Kilmer. Instead, Reeves turned the role down and headed off to Winnipeg, Canada to go play Hamlet for a season at the Manitoba Theater Centre.
Speed 2: Cruise Control
After Jan de Bont’s 1994 action-thriller Speed grossed nearly 12 times its budget at the box office, it was only to be expected 20th Century Fox would want to make a sequel. When interviewed by The Telegraph in 2015, Reeves explained that he read the script for Speed 2: Cruise Control but couldn’t get onboard with the premise, fairly pointing out “It’s called ‘Speed’, and it’s on a cruise ship’.” After he passed, his character from the first movie, LAPD SWAT officer Jack Traven, was written out and replaced with a new one, SWAT Officer Alex Shaw, played by Jason Patric. It ended up being a smart move on Reeves’ part: Speed 2 was slammed by critics and bombed at the box office when it opened in 1997.
Reeves and The Matrix co-director Lana Wachowski are currently working together for the first time since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions on, fittingly enough. Of course, they nearly reunited between then and now on her and her sibling Lilly’s live-action Speed Racer movie in 2008. As Reeves explained to MTV in an interview published just over a month before the film premiered in theaters, the siblings had approached him about playing Racer X, the mysterious masked racer who advises Speed (and is secretly his presumed-dead brother), but he ended up passing for reasons he didn’t get into. Instead, Matthew Fox played the role and Speed Racer went on to bomb at the box office before gaining a cult following for its hyperreal style in the years after.
As part of the same interview with MTV in 2008, Reeves also revealed he’d been offered the role of Doctor Manhattan in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen movie (prior to Billy Crudup being cast), but said things “didn’t work out.” One presumes he had to pass on Snyder’s comic book adaptation because it directly conflicted with his filming schedule on Scott Derrickson’s The Day the Earth Stood Still remake in late 2007/early 2008. Still, since both productions were based on Vancouver, Reeves was able to visit the Watchmen set while it was shooting. Of the pair, only The Day the Earth Stood Still would go on to become a commercial success, despite being heavily criticized for its narrative incoherence. By comparison, 2009’s Watchmen was a polarizing flop that, like so many of Snyder’s movies, continues to inspire lively debates to this day.
According to Kevin Feige, Marvel Studios has approached Reeves about playing a role in the MCU “for almost every film we make.” There are a lot of rumors out there about the specific MCU characters he’s been eyed for in the past, but one of the more believable ones claims he was lined up to portray Carol Danvers’ Starforce commander and mentor Yon-Rogg (a role Jude Law would go on to tackle) in Captain Marvel. And while he had to turn it down because it conflicted with production on John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, his ongoing courtship with Marvel, combined with his near-casting as Doctor Manhattan and outspoken interest in returning to his DC movie role as John Constantine, suggests the actor has a real soft spot for superhero projects in general.
Hobbs & Shaw
On the subject of Reeves and shared universes: last year, when we interviewed him, Dwayne Johnson confirmed the actor had been eyed to play (or, rather, voice) the the mysterious Director of the cyberterrorist organization Eteon in the former’s spinoff film, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. In the end, Reeves passed after discussing the role with Johnson and his collaborators because, as The Rock told us, “it just didn’t feel right creatively.” Much like Feige and the MCU, Johnson’s ultimate goal is to get Reeves to join the Fast & Furious off-shoot in some capacity, so who knows: depending on how the actively-developing Hobbs & Shaw 2 shakes out, Reeves may end up playing some other character – be they friend or foe to the titular duo – in the sequel.