6. Tokyo Drifter (1966)
“John Wick: Chapter 4” proved that style can also be substance at the same time. The franchise as a whole has raised the bar of how action sequences should be staged and lit, ensuring its relentless carnage-fests never overstay their welcome or become dull with kinetic camerawork and striking visuals to boot. The classic Yakuza movie “Tokyo Drifter” similarly turned a formulaic story about a loner hit man trying to go straight into one of the coolest action films of the sixties with sleek visuals, colorful production design, and jazzy score.
Seijun Suzuki’s neon-hued actioner stretched the fabric of genre cinema, plunging viewers into Tokyo’s bullet-ridden underworld, where reformed killer Phoenix Tetsu finds himself in the middle of a dangerous power struggle full of shifting loyalties after his former boss decides to dissolve his criminal empire. If you ever wished John Wick had an even cooler stepbrother who sings his own theme song while hacking up Yakuza members, “Tokyo Drifter” is the right film for you.
7. Point Blank (1967)
An early contribution to the one-man army action subgenre that would proliferate during the eighties and be further refined down the road in the John Wick franchise, John Boorman’s poised thriller pits hard-nosed gun-for-hire Walker (Lee Marvin, in one of his finest outings) against an entire crime syndicate.
“Point Blank” was cited, rather unsurprisingly, as a key touchstone in devising Wick’s character storyline, with series co-creator David Leitch claiming to have watched it on loop with the writing crew during pre-production. Not coincidentally, you don’t have to squint to notice the similarities between the two. Suffice to say, both feature taciturn, super-efficient assassins who, after being wronged, double-crossed and left for dead, single-handedly wage war against a powerful criminal organization. Lean, mean, and definitely in sync with the tone of the “John Wick” saga, watching this influential neo-noir will be time well spent.
8. The Raid (2011)
If your John Wick binge has left you craving for over-the-top action films with the same near-unparalleled level of fight choreography and built around a straight-forward set-up that demands as little as possible from you in the narrative department, look no further than “The Raid” series.
In a moment in time when Hollywood action epics feel in rather short supply, this Indonesian crossover hit reminded global audiences what a purely unfiltered, no-holds-barred spectacle looks like. Professional martial artist Iko Uwais challenges John Wick’s total body count within the first film as the leader of an elite team of police officers sent to a secluded high-rise building in Jakarta, where he must square off against legions of deadly enemies. The 2011 film will most likely get your adrenaline juices flowing, but feel free to double dip with the 2014 “The Raid 2”, a high-flying follow-up that raised the stakes and surpassed its predecessor, much like each of the Wick sequels.
9. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
If you were to put Samurai films, Westerns, ’70s Blaxploitation, old-school gangster flicks, French noir, American mumblecore and ’90s hip-hop all into a wild cinematic blender, you’d probably get something close to “Ghost Dog”.
When he’s not listening to Wu-Tang Clan, reciting passages from the book of Hagakure, or sheathing his gun in his holder like a katana, Forest Whitaker’s badass assassin spends his day carrying out jobs for the Italian mob in modern New York City. A clear inspiration for Laurence Fishburn’s Bowery King in the Wick saga, Ghost Dog is a man who tries to stick to the old-school way of doing things, even if that means communicating only by homing pigeons or adhering to the Samurai bushido code. Jim Jarmusch’s action-zen genre-hybrid might seem a bit more character-driven and self-reflective than your usual John Wick fare, but its sense of flair and panache will likely delight any hardcore fans of the franchise.
10. A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Chow Yun-fat would eventually become a perennial A-lister between the 1990s and 2000s, starring in box-office juggernauts like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. But for sheer flavor and fun, has he ever turned in a better performance than in this 1986 action melodrama?
In “A Better Tomorrow”, Chow oozes coolness and charisma as Mark Lee, a retired Triad member haunted by his troubled past who rekindles his friendship with a former associate after the latter is released from prison. The film gleefully toys with a vital element that is also keyed into in the John Wick series, exploring how the code of chivalry binds Hong Kong’s underground world of criminals. An often-imitated classic in action cinema that spawned two sequels and has stood the test of time as the crème de la crème of gun fu flicks, “A Better Tomorrow” is required viewing for any movie lover, let alone John Wick aficionados.