When the first John Wick movie hit the big screen nine years ago, few would have expected the series to become a global word-of-mouth phenomenon, much less a perennial tentpole franchise that would revolutionize the action genre forever.
What started as a relatively self-contained, low-budget revenge tale about a retired assassin (Keanu Reeves) resuming his bloody ways to avenge his dead puppy soon developed into a globe-trotting, sprawling epic saga that just recently racked up $350 million at the global box office. Former stunt coordinator turned maverick director Chad Stahelski has continued to up the ante in every way imaginable, with each installment in the series proving bigger, bolder, and more exciting than the last. With “John Wick: Chapter 4” still fresh in our minds, we have assembled 10 high-octane titles cut from the same cloth as the Keanu Reeves-led blockbuster that should scratch that action itch.
1. The Matrix (1999)
Kicking things off with probably the most obvious choice, a little-known gem by the name of “The Matrix” that took the world by storm and essentially redefined the modern blockbuster as we know it at the century’s close. Not only should the 1999 sci-fi actioner be credited for pushing the Wachowskis and Keanu Reeves into the stratosphere of Hollywood stardom, but also for laying the groundwork for the entire John Wick series.
Reeves found the role of a lifetime in Neo, a computer programmer turned virtual messiah who leads the rebellion against a machine-run dystopia. Serving as Reeves’ stunt double was Chad Stahelski, who along with fellow Matrix alumni David Leitch, would later reunite with the Canadian actor in the Wick series. “Without The Matrix or the Wachowski influence, John Wick doesn’t exist, I don’t exist”, confided Stahelski. “I don’t know how I’d be the person I am without them.” If you’re a Wick aficionado and somehow haven’t seen this or “Point Break” yet, you have some serious homework to do.
2. The Killer (1989)
In the same vein as in “John Wick”, the codes of honor, and brotherhood are captured with mighty rapture in the films of John Woo, the trailblazing Hong Kong director who carved a cool niche for himself with explosive cinematic cocktails of gun-fu action ecstasy.
Nestled right between “A Better Tomorrow” and “Bullet in the Head”, this cops-and-bad-guys extravaganza struck a fine balance by fusing Woo’s signature themes of male friendship with guns-a-blazing, heroic bloodshed. The fates of a soft-hearted but tough-as-nails hit man and a rogue policeman intertwine in unexpected ways over the course of the film, with the two men forging a unique bond not unlike John and Caine in the fourth Wick installment. Surrender yourself to the gonzo rhythms of this bullet ballet and you may just find your next cinematic obsession, as well as a brand-new favorite built to withstand repeated viewings.
3. Ip Man (2008)
There’s no denying that Keanu Reeves is still the coolest guy around in the Wick universe, but boy did martial arts superstar Donnie Yen steal the show and give him a good run for his money as the suave blind assassin Caine. Whether we’ll see more of the latter in future installments remains to be seen. But if like us, you simply can’t wait to see the legendary Hong Kong actor back in action kicking ass, then consider giving the Ip Man series a try.
Yen gets to showcase his fighting skills as the eponymous Wing Chun master, known for his expertise in martial arts and loyal students, the most famous one being Bruce Lee. At once a fast-paced wuxia and sprawling historical epic, the 2008 film spawned three sequels and established Yen as a household name at the global stage. And if you’re hungry for more Ip Man biopics, feel encouraged to add Wong Kar-wai’s “The Grandmaster” to your watchlist — a wuxia touchstone praised by “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski for its use of color and choreography.
4. Le Cercle Rouge (1970)
“The coolest guy ever”. Those were the exact words used by the “John Wick” director to describe Alain Delon’s character in this classic seventies thriller. Other than Keanu Reeves, few actors in film history have excelled at playing calm, silent killers as much as the French icon did throughout his brilliant career. Though mostly known overseas for his memorable turn in Melville’s “Le Samouraï”, Delon delivers a finely tuned performance here as Corey, a recently released criminal who vows never to end up behind bars again. The film picks up right after he’s released from prison, as we see him orchestrate an elaborate jewel heist with the aid of a crooked cop and a former sniper.
Stahelski would tip his hat to Melville’s lean crime caper by naming the New York nightclub owned by Viggo Tarasov in the first John Wick film after it. Fans of the franchise will get plenty of bang from their buck with this ice-cold thriller. The nerve-racking, 30-minute-long climactic heist sequence the film is best remembered for is enough to earn it a shout-out in the list.
5. Nobody (2021)
Bob Odenkirk had already proven that he could hold his own thanks to his dramatic roles in television, both as a beloved side character in “Breaking Bad” and leading man Slippin’ Jimmy in “Better Call Saul”. At 58, he surprised about everyone when he stepped into the spotlight and made a sudden reinvention of his career as a bona fide movie action hero.
Meet Hutch Mansell, a mild-mannered, lame suburban dad, who must reconcile with his dark past as a former assassin and put his skills to good use against the Russian mob after a botched home invasion. Sound familiar? Let’s just say that if former “Wick” writer Derek Kolstad took notes from his earlier script here, “Nobody” proved that the ongoing man-on-a-mission formula is yet to be exhausted. Watching a pissed-off Saul Goodman square off against legions of bad guys looks as badass on-screen as it might sound on paper. Extra points go to Odenkirk for doing his own stunts after putting in the hard work and training exhaustively for months with Chad Stahelski’s team.