John Wick’s action movies were a rewrite of the classic book in 2010. They came up with their style and many large-budget Hollywood replicas.
It’s not hard to forget the fact that John WICK was released with low expectations, just like Liam Neeson’s debut film movie, Taken. The audience was so accustomed to the “retired assassin out for revenge” trope by 2014, that the twist of revenge on a dead dog felt like a parody of the trope more than any other film. The trailers were not the most impressive. Keanu Reeves was not chosen, an actor who although well-loved, was still reeling from more than a decade of disappointing movies following the Matrix trilogy.
However, all that changed after word of mouth began to spread. John Wick was 2014’s surprise hit. The no-holds-barred action film combined stylized gun-fu shootouts and an intriguing but fascinating underground assassin culture backdrop. It’s an outstanding example of an action movie. Nine years later, that one film inspired three acclaimed sequels, including the newly-released John Wick: Chapter 4 which rekindled Reeves his career and placed John Wick atop the pantheon of action movie icons. However, the most significant achievement was one that went beyond the system: convincing Hollywood to follow the example of John Wick at nearly every turn.
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John Wick Redefined Action Movies
Hollywood frequently undergoes “phases” with action movies. They imitate the basic idea and the choreography of a film to reclaim the spark contained in the bottle. It happened with all the 1990s Die Hard clones. The problem was that early 2000s movies overused The Matrix‘s bullet time slow-mo effects and leather/latex wardrobe. The first Bourne trilogy was the catalyst for the creation of a series of fight scenes that relied on disorienting shaky cam “realism,” a style that was amplified by the film Taken’ss unexpected success, led to a multitude of films where revered, old movie stars routinely kick ass with quick cuts (i.e., The Equalizer, 3 Days to Kill, and so on).).
John Wick had the premise of a movie that brought me back to older movies that featured a widower who, after his son, who is a Russian mobster, takes his car and kills the dog that he abandoned, returns to his former life as “Baba Yag” a vengeful, unstoppable hitman. Director Chad Stahelski, and David Leitch, and their many years of experience as professional stuntmen allowed them to make a movie with a lot of action but few clear sequences. The viewers could watch all the action. So they could watch the 50-year-old Reeves fight goons and then take endless punches back. It shared more with John Woo and Park Chan-wook — plus a bit like The Matrix — than a standard Bourne fight scene. For American fans, John Wick was a refreshing alternative to every non-Marvel Cinematic Universe, Mission: Impossible, and Fast & Furious-style action film on the market. The sequels only added excitement.
So did its worldbuilding. With each sequel, the John Wick films introduced new, more colorful characters as well as a variety of lore and mythological elements that, however simple (i.e. there is there was no fighting on Continental Hotel grounds, upholding a Marker’s blood oath), lent the neo-noir universe a distinct identity. There was a real stake involved in Wick’s life-or-death saga. And the franchise’s success produced a good number of celebrity cameos, with bits of roles (Clarke Peters, Franco Nero), big stars (Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Halle Berry), unorthodox castings (Common, Boban Marjanovic), and even overt action movie homages ( The Raid’s Cecep A. Rahman and Yayan Ruhian). John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently featuring its most prominent cast to date with Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Bill Skarsgard to join Reeves and franchise staples Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, and the late Lance Reddick in Wick’s world. All of them are enjoying their time and then some.
Related: Keanu Reeves Explains the John Wick Saga in Full to Prep Fans for Chapter 4.
John Wick Had Hollywood Chasing a New Trend
That’s not even mentioning the possibility of the films that were inspired by John Wick. Throughout the back half of the 2010s, Hollywood did everything possible to replicate Reeves, Stahelski, and Leitch’s popularity, particularly after the debut of Charlize Theron’s spy-thriller Atomic Blonde. Despite being an adaptation of a graphic novel, the film of 2017 directed by Leitch — felt incredibly Wick-like with its characters and color palettes that were stylized and sometimes exhausting, hardcore action scenes. The ten-minute fight on the stairs that Lorraine Broughton was fighting for her character spoke for itself. The movie, Atomic Blonde came out a couple of months after John Wick’s second chapter. It was evident that the Wick formula is becoming mainstream.
Not all Wick replicas are alike, and certainly, not all are memorable or even good. But all have at a minimum: 1. A master killer/assassin, 2. An underground style geared toward hired killers or 3. Some form of physical battle or gunfight in which one can witness the protagonist acting out their moves. These are seen in The Accountant and Hotel Artemis as well as Extraction, Nobody, Gunpowder Milkshake, and The Prodigy. It’s a sizable number that Hollywood intends to grow shortly.
Many of these films were born out of the Johnwick creators’ involvement or mark on the film industry. Leitch produced the above-mentioned Atomic Blonde and Bullet Train, while Stahelski was a producer for Day Shift. Sam Hargrave, a former stuntman directed Extract and its sequel. Leitch’s production company, 87North Productions, helped finance Wick replicas such as Nobody and Kate. These films represented a dramatic change in the quality of action regardless of their critic score. Thanks to John Wick, studios and filmmakers have more tools to help actors learn how to perform stunts, and the stars appear to be interested in the process. Following years of poor camera quality, which made fights hard to watch and could be unclear geographically, it’s a different world for action.
Related: Keanureeves Explains John Wick’s Surprising Stunts and BRZRKR’s Brutal Thrills
John Wick’s Legacy
The John Wick films are basic and that’s what sets them apart from the rest of their competition. These are true action films that are committed to their craft and can raise the bar for excellent fight scenes thanks to the experience of Stahelski and Reeves’ utter commitment to the character he plays. However bizarre its story, the most memorable performances in a Johnwick film can be found in action. Its stunts, however, are just bloody monologues. People are willing to sit through nearly three hours of John Wik: Chapter 4. They eagerly anticipate its spinoffs Ballerina, and The Continental. Moviegoers now know that the excitement is real.
The John Wick phase of Hollywood continues to be enjoyed by viewers. It’s a time where the only expectations any John Wick sequel should exceed are their own. The rest of the world will consider Mr. Wick’s tale a good template for making more action-oriented films. The industry of entertainment is paying attention.