A John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) publicity still. WHOA!
He's got this beautiful, tragic conundrum—these two selves. The John who was married, and John Wick, the assassin. John wants to be free. But the only way he knows how is through John Wick. And John Wick keeps fucking killing people and breaking rules. We're really watching a person fight for their life and their soul.
– Keanu Reeves, GQ
Let’s get real. John Wick, the widowed top assassin and broken-hearted warrior, is a straight-up Gallantry Man legend. Sharp, calm, cool, and stoic, but also aggressively in-your-face and no bs, all depending on the occasion.
We’re going to keep things short and sweet, but basically, we’re going to layout a nice little Wick primer and recap. We’re going to get into how the legend of John Wick was born as well as the legend behind the legend (i.e. Keanu Reeves). We’re going to contextualize the original outlaw, outlier nature of the Wick franchise, We’re going to dive into what makes the John Wick revenge thriller (revenge thrillers are money) franchise so awesome as well as the reasons we love and root for him (you don’t ever mess with a man’s dog, especially when that man has a code of honor like John Wick, or you may just end up getting hit with that John Wick revenge quickness). We’ll do a few power rankings. And, finally, we’ll look towards the future to see where the Wick universe is heading.
A LEGEND IS BORN
You have this over-the-hill assassin whose wife dies of natural causes, gives him a puppy, some Russian punk kills his puppy, and he kills 84 people. How many studios do you think said no to that picture? The answer is all of them.
– Chad Stahelski, GQ
The iconic American neo-noir John Wick may be a massive franchise now, but believe it or not, it was actually born of humble beginnings (at least by Hollywood standards).
Since its inception, Hollywood has been historically notorious for steering clear of any material in which a dog gets killed (“Never work with children or animals" as the saying goes) Furthermore, Hollywood, particularly post-recession Hollywood, wasn’t exactly hot at the knees for new original material (“pre-awareness is still a preferred buzzword for studio executives), particularly new original material with an actor like Keanu Reeves (as of the first half of the 2010’s, the once unstoppable tour-de-force hadn’t had a major blockbuster hit since The Matrix Revolutions in 2003) attached. So when the credited director of the Wick movies, Chad Stahelski (Keanu Reeves’ former Matrix stunt double), and his co-director, David Leitch, another longtime stunt coordinator (neither Leitch nor Stahelski had actually directed a movie before, they’d only served as second-unit directors) first shopped screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s script about an aging, broken-hearted widow assassin seeking revenge for the death of the puppy given to him by his late wife around town, it was nothing but straight crickets.
Sidenote: We have never doubted Keanu for a second. We’re just summarizing the mindset of the folks that write the checks in LaLaLand.
If Keanu was going to have one last shot at superstardom, it would have to be in a role that gave him the room to go full Keanu. John Wick was the end of the line for him. If the project got greenlit, Keanu could once again play the kind of character that played to his strengths in the kind of R-rated Action flick that launched him into superstardom in the first place (see Point Break, Speed, and The Matrix). It was Wick or bust time.
Stahelski on the set of John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum.
“I don't know anyone that puts more into the game, collaboratively, physically, intellectually. I've never experienced anyone that could have survived [The Matrix]. It just took a different type of person. To be open to that. To allow yourself to be constantly soaking wet, sore, tired, beaten up, for years. Now fast-forward to 20 years later, and you've got your former stunt double directing you. So he knows what you're capable of. And his expectations are even more psychotic than the last decade and a half of directors you've worked for. I can say, I know you have more. Don't lie to me. Get up. And Keanu, 20 years later, is holding that up! That's not just physical. That's mental. That's a certain kind of mental fortitude.” - Chad Stahelski
With Keanu attached, Stahelski and Leitch finally secured $20 million of financing for Wick, one branch from falling off the lower middle class of produced theatrical Action films in the 2010’s. It wasn’t ideal, but Keanu, Stahelski, and Leitch would just have to make the best of it and make it work with what they had. It was do-or-die time, for real.
As Chad Stahelski told GQ in 2019:
We had no choice. We had no money. We couldn't afford all the fancy editing and fancy camerawork. The long takes, the close-quarters gun stuff—yes, those were ideas we had. But we couldn't afford not to do long takes. We had to do long takes because we only had one camera. The first guy who dies [in a fight scene] is also the last guy—he's gotta get up, run behind the camera, and come back into the shot and get hit by Keanu [again].
Thankfully, as they say, it all starts on the page – and what was on the page for Wick was the perfect material for the legend known as Keanu Reeves.
On October 14, 2013, filming for John Wick, a total Hail Mary for all involved parties, finally commenced in New York City.
David Leitch & Chad Stahelski observe the action on the set of John Wick.
THE EXCEPTION TO THE RULE
I think that they wanted to do it right, and so there were elements where [the studio said], 'Let's cut the dog out. Let's just focus on it as an assassin coming out of retirement.' That kind of thing.
You ready for a contrarian take on John Wick? Because here it comes. If you had asked us in 2012 if John Wick would be a hit with Keanu attached, we would have told you absolutely (and that’s without changing one thing in the script). You want to know why? Rather than view the death of Daisy, the puppy John receives from his late wife, Helen (Bridget Moynahan), as a defect, we would’ve understood it for what it really was – a brilliant set-up for an entire universe! We mean, who the hell wouldn’t root for a widowed anti-hero if the exact circumstances were that said character was to come out of retirement because some spoiled, snot-nosed gangster kid punk (in the case of John Wick, this would be Iosef Tarasov, played Alfie Allen from Game of Thrones) killed his adorable little pooch?! What a great way to get men and women into action! As the old adage goes, a great male protagonist is someone who the ladies want and the guys want to be – and that’s exactly who the character of John Wick is.
The death of Daisy, in essence, basically gives John Wick a license to kill. Who cares about a body count when we’re talking about getting revenge on a toolbag that gets his rocks off by stomping on a helpless puppy given to a man as a present by his late wife that just died from cancer? No one does, that’s who! Let the guy take out the entire population of Russian mobsters in New York City if he has to! The puppy must be avenged!
If you ask us, however, what really makes the Wick franchise special is the franchise’s ability to succeed on its own terms without heavy CGI (something The Fast and Furious franchise jumped the shark on in number eight) or any semblance of the supernatural. John Wick was the kind of outlaw, an outlier of a movie that Americans that grew up on the Action movies of the 80’s and 90’s had been craving (none of that infantalizing comic book crap). In other words, it should’ve been obvious that Wick was perfectly designed to serve an extremely underserved market.
The success of John Wick and its subsequent sequels is, in our humble opinion, anything but rocket science. The truth is that the so-called “experts” in Hollywood, the ones that initially rejected Wick, are totally full of crap and wouldn’t know a hit if it slapped them across the face. All that consultancy, data mining, and polling in Hollywood? It’s a fugazi! Modern voodoo that never yields results based in reality (whether or not this is by design or not is another story for another time and place, but we digress).
Give people what they want, and, more importantly, give them some friggin’ credit, you know what we mean? These studios may swear by their algorithms and their little focus groups, but there’s a reason why they spend gazillions of dollars on movies that end up getting nothing but a couple of measly quarters again and again - and that reason is them!
We mean, really. In retrospect, you’ve just got to ask yourself - what the hell were these studios that passed on John Wick thinking? In any case, the Wick brigade ultimately had the last laugh (and they’re still laughing…all the way to the bank).
John Wick talks to Winston (Ian McShane), owner of The Continental hotel for assassins.
To date, there have been three Wick flicks. John Wick (2014). John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), and John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019).
John parks his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS 396 in front of The Continental.
With hardly any marketing behind it, the first Wick made $70,874,303 ($43,037,835 domestic, $86,013,056 worldwide) on a mere $20 million budget (again, chump change by contemporary Hollywood standards), mostly via word-of-mouth.
Stahelski on the set of John Wick: Chapter Two.
John Wick: Chapter 2 made $171,547,802 ($92,029,184 domestically, $79,518,618 internationally) on a $40 million budget (still relatively low by contemporary Hollywood Action standards).
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum made $326,709,727 ($171,015,687 domestically, $155,694,040 internationally) on a $75 million budget.
If money talks, the John Wick franchise walks. There’s something to be said for playing the long game, right?
As the snowballing success of the Wick franchise has proven, it’s never actually been more clear that the audience is still there, waiting quietly and patiently to continue sending Hollywood the message. As of today, the three John Wick films, with a combined budget of $135 million, have made well over $500 million-plus.
“In your face!”
As for Keanu? Well, the star of two different multi-million dollar franchises (John Wick, The Matrix) now has two golden gooses in his repertoire.
WHAT MAKES JOHN WICK A LEGEND
The idea of having honor and a code that you refuse to comprise (i.e. don’t ever f*** with a man’s dog, especially a John Wick dog, or you might just get hit with that John Wick revenge quickness) is one that we don’t see too often in movies these days. It’s also the reason so many people connect with the protagonist of John Wick. Ever since Dirty Harry came out fifty years ago, Americans have always had a soft spot for antiheroes with a code and a sense of honor.
The story of John Wick is also really the story of Keanu Reeves. Reeves has had a tragic personal life filled with a tragic loss, so it’s not all that surprising that his best projects of the last two decades have been the ones that have afforded him a level of catharsis. In a way, John Wick isn’t just a revenge thriller for its title character, it’s a way for Keanu to tell his haters “I still got it!”.
NYC crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist), John Wick’s former employer, unloads on his moronic son upon learning that he’s forced “Baba Yaga” (John Wick’s nickname) – not the boogeyman, but the one you send to kill the boogeyman – out of early retirement.
The Wick movies really are just awesome movies with nonstop, balls-to-the-wall, mind-blowing action sequences that knock your socks off. It’s really impossible to imagine anyone else other than Keanu playing the title role. It really was tailor-made for him.
John and his late wife, Helen Wick (Bridget Moynahan), in simpler times.
WHY WE ROOT FOR JOHN WICK
Even if John Wick can kill without hesitation, it’s really tough to root against a guy who not only loses the incredible, beautiful woman that got him out of the assassin life to cancer, but also the adorable pup that she left behind for him (all in the first ten minutes, mind you). As a matter of fact, we’d argue it’s actually impossible.
John looks at photos of his late wife throughout the Wick movies just in case you ever even think about forgetting what drove him back into the assassin life.
It also doesn’t hurt that dogs are indeed a man’s best friend. For John Wick, dogs are - quite literally - a lifesaver. Even though he loses Daisy in the first ten minutes of the first Wick, he’s so into the idea of being a dog owner by the end of the movie that he adopts an awesome (albeit unnamed) pit bull in order to save the pooch from getting put down.
John Wick and his new buddy in John Wick: Chapter 2.
Suffice to say, this pit bull keeps John going. And you want to know something else? It keeps us – the audience – going, too! Go get ‘em Johnny Boy!
John looks at a photo of his late wife in John Wick: Chapter 2 after killing a lot of people just in case you forgot that she died from cancer and left behind a cute puppy for him that died, too.
John may have just killed a hundred people, but look at him and his awesome man’s best friend!
JOHN WICK POWER RANKINGS
We dig all three John Wick flicks at Gallantry HQ, but if we had to rank ‘em individually against the franchise as a whole, the order would be this:
GOLD COIN: John Wick (2014)
SILVER COIN: John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
I thought it was cool. Keanu thought it was cool. I don't think the studio thought it was cool. I'm a big Sergio Leone fan, so no matter what, I was putting Keanu on a horse in this movie. If you've got an actor who can ride horses, ride motorcycles, do fight scenes, why not? I made a list of every skill Keanu has—we sat down and I said, 'Give me everything you can do really well.' And we put all that in the movies. Drive a car, check the box. Ride a horse, check the box. Nobody wanted the horses. I had to fight for that one. People thought it was too weird.”
- Chad Stahelski , GQ
BRONZE COIN: John Wick: Chapter 2
All three John Wick movies have some of the most killer Action sequences to hit the screen, but if we to do a top three list…
GOLD COIN: The Red Circle Nightclub Shootout
Watch this most epic of sequences HERE, wherein John Wick fights, stabs, and blasts his way through New York City’s most high-class nightclub, owned by Viggo Tarasov, in order to get to and kill Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), Viggo’s dim-witted offspring that stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog. John takes out a seemingly infinite number of Tarasov’s men, first in the club’s private basement bathhouse, then in the main club.
Is this the most badass nightclub action scene since Michael Mann’s 2004 Gallantry Man classic Collateral (you can watch that gem here)? We think so.
SILVER COIN: The Nightclub/Catacombs Shootout in John Wick: Chapter 2.
Watch this epic sequence HERE, wherein John tries to escape after “assassinating” his target Gianna D’Antonio (Claduia Gerini) on behalf of her brother, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamrcio), the Italian Camorra crime bross that forced Wick to do the job, only to get double-crossed by Ares (Ruby Rose), Santino’s mute top enforcer, and pursued by Cassian (Common), Gianna’s top bodyguard, Gianna’s men, and all of Santino and Ares’ henchmen.
BRONZE COIN: The Knife Fight in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
Watch this thrilling scene HERE, wherein John has a bloody, knife-throwing showdown with a few assassins trying looking to take him out at any cost.
BONUS BRONZE COIN : “Escaping Casablanca” in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
Lastly, all three Wick flicks have cool dialogue, but our favorite lines and/or exchanges are as follows…
GOLD COIN: John Wick is back in the first John Wick.
“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer. But now, yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” –John Wick, John Wick (2014)
SILVER COIN: The calm before the storm (watch it HERE) in John Wick: Chapter 2.
Cassian: You working?
John: Yeah. You?
Cassian: Yeah. Good night?
John: Afraid so.
Cassian: Sorry to hear that.
BRONZE COIN: Winston drops a “Do what you do best. Hunt. Si vis pacem, para bellum” in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum on John before an epic gun battle in The Continental.
“If you want peace, prepare for war.” – Winston (Ian McShane)
THE FUTURE OF JOHN WICK
John Wick only continues to get more popular with time, so filming has already commenced for John Wick 4, John Wick 5 is already in the works (John Wick 4 and John Wick 5 were originally going to be filmed back-to-back but those plans were scrapped once the pandemic hit), and the John Wick Starz spin-off series, The Continental (the upcoming three-night special-event TV series got green-lit in 2018), set in the 1970’s, just got Mel Gibson attached to star.
Mel Gibson (featured here in S. Craig Zahler’s 2019 Crime/Thriller classic, Dragged Across Concrete).
As for how long the legend known as Keanu Reeves will continue the franchise for? According to Keanu, “As far as my legs can take me. As far as the audience wants to go.” What a classic Gallantry Man legend answer.
There really is an authentic, enduring, everlasting appeal to the Wick franchise, so we’re down for all of it. By the way, the movie landscape is looking these days, it might just be the last great quintessentially American Action franchise that we get.
John Wick aims a massive shotgun at a soon-to-be-dead dude in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.
STREAM THAT WICK RIGHT QUICK
Every John Wick film is available for rental in HD on Amazon Video for $3.99:
Watch John Wick HERE.
Stream John Wick: Chapter 2 HERE.
Stream John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum HERE.
“There's a comfort in being alone sometimes, especially when you're working on something.”
– Keanu Reeves , GQ
EVEN MORE AWESOME JOHN WICK ISH
Check out the John Wick featurette “The Assassins Code” HERE.
Looking to get in that John Wick shape? Let Keanu’s trainer, Patrick Murphy, tell you how to do it right HERE! Keanu’s brutal training is no joke! After all, you’ve got to be in tip-top shape to withstand those Wick stunts.
Watch a cool Keanu Reeves John Wick: Chapter 2 tactical training featurette right HERE.
Watch John Wick: Chapter 2 “Firearms Training with Keanu Reeves & Taran Tactical” HERE.
Watch Keanu Reeves train and practice his fight choreography with The Machado Brothers at 8711 Stunts HERE.
Read Alex Pappademas’s GQ article, “The Legend of Keanu Reeves,” HERE.
JOE ROGAN LOVES JOHN WICK!
“That’s John f*****’ Wick!” - Joe Rogan
“Keanu Reeves is legit.” - Joe Rogan
“We should all aspire to be like Keanu Reeves.” - Joe Rogan
“Keanu Reeves is a regular guy!” - Joe Rogan