Keanu Reeves’ First Movie: How 1985 Film ‘One Step Away’ Launched His Career

by Megan Molseed
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(Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Longtime actor Keanu Reeves has certainly made an impact on Hollywood over the last few decades. During the actor’s prolific career in film, he has amassed a film library of nearly one-hundred movies. And, among these films are some of the most iconic of all time.

From portraying titular character, John Wick, in the John Wick film franchise to wowing audiences as Neo, the computer hacker-turned hero battling the futuristic artificially intelligent robots holding humankind hostage in The Matrix franchise, Keanu Reeves has seemingly done it all. But, where and when did the actor get his start in the movie business? Has Keanu Reeves always been up for playing John Wick-type roles? Or was it another type of role or genre altogether that first inspired the popular movie star to break into the industry?

Keanu Reeves Joins Some Big Names in a Variety of Early Movie Roles

Before we visit the first major film role Keanu Reeves took on as he was starting his career, it makes sense to touch base with his first acting gigs. Among these, of course, is the actor’s 1985 film debut which found the actor starring in the film short One Step Away.

One Step Away

  • Release Date: September 13, 1985
  • Director: Robert Fortier
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves; Diana Belshaw; Kathleen Fee

This short film was produced and released by the National Film Board of Canada. In the film, Keanu Reeves stars as a troubled teen named Ron Petrie. Petrie struggling as he faces major fallback from some questionable decisions. Finding himself at a crossroads in life, Ron Petrie must decide what is more important, redemption or a life of crime on the streets.

Shortly after impressing audiences in this moving short-film role, Keanu Reeves landed a number of small-screen film roles including the Charles Bronson film Act of Vengence, and the 1986 film The Brotherhood of Justice in which he co-starred with Keifer Sutherland and Billy Zane.

Act Of Vengence

The Brotherhood of Justice:

  • Release Date: May 18, 1986
  • Director: Charles Braverman
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves; Kiefer Sutherland; and Lori Loughlin

From Co-Star and Supporting Character, Keanu Reeves Makes His Star ‘Permanent’ in ‘Permanent Record’

By 1988, audiences had fallen in love with the young actor. And, his star-power was only just beginning to shine. It was around this time that the actor took on a variety of film roles that would turn Reeves into a household name. The first of these roles is the 1988 drama, Permanent Record.

Permanent Record

  • Release date: April 22, 1988
  • Director: Marisa Silver
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves as Chris Townsend; Alan Boyce as David Sinclair; Michelle Meyrink as M.G.; Jennifer Rubin as Lauren; Barry Corbin as Jim Sinclair; Kathy Baker as Martha Sinclair; Pamela Gidley as Kim; Richard Bradford as Leo

In this moving film, Reeves portrays Chris Townsend, the oddball best friend to Alan Boyce’s David Sinclair. While the duo is attending an ocean-side party, David decides to take a long walk along a cliff overlooking the ocean. We soon learn that despite the appearance of a perfect life that David presents, things are very different underneath the surface.

Initially, David Sinclair seems to have it all. He is popular, smart, talented, and people just enjoy being around him. However, as the movie continues, it is revealed that David is feeling overwhelmed by expectations. These feelings lead the young student to a rash and heartbreaking decision.

When Keanu Reeves’s character decides to sneak up on David during his walk, he is shocked to find that David has disappeared. It’s later discovered the teen has fallen to his death. Initially, the tragedy is thought to be a devastating accident. However, Chris receives a suicide note from David in the mail.

The film is a moving look into the profound effects suicide has on everyone including the victim. It explores the various ways the friends and family of those lost to suicide work through their unspeakable grief. The film was declared by Roger Ebert as one of the best movies made that year. However, it was in 1989 that Keanu Reeves would step into his biggest role yet.

Keanu Reeves Explores the Past in Time-Traveling Breakthrough Role

Permanent Record may have been the first leading role of Keanu Reeves’ successful Hollywood career. However, the actor’s breakthrough film came about a year later. In 1989, Reeves portrayed the bumbling high school student Ted “Theodore” Logan in the science fiction hit Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

  • Release Date: February 17, 1989
  • Director: Stephen Herek
  • Starring: Keanu Reeves; Alex Winter; George Carlin

From there, Reeves has continued his successful film career, starring in some of our favorite films over the years. In 1994 he boarded a bus to join Sandra Bullock in saving a busload of passengers from a bomb in Speed and in 1997, Reeves went face-to-face with Al Pacino’s devil character in The Devil’s Advocate.

Since then, Reeves has moved into action films, first starring as Neo in the Matrix franchise. Later, Reeves took on the role of John Wick a role that would later go on to inspire a number of sequels.

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