In 2014, John Wick came out of nowhere to become a box office hit. The film, starring Keanu Reeves as the titular assassin avenging the death of his beloved dog, was also a critically loved surprise.
It’s the kind of modestly budgeted action film that you don’t see much anymore. It was a labor of love from filmmakers Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who took decades worth of stunt experience and applied it to a stylish and unique movie world. With John Wick: Chapter 2 about to hit theaters, it’s time to look back at a few totally badass action scenes that influenced the John Wick series.
5. They Live
If you ever wanted to see two men pummel each other for five minutes, They Live is your movie. Wick usually dispenses with his foes with a headshot after a punch or two, but a brutal fight in Chapter 2 between Wick and a rival assassin played by Common recalls this John Carpenter classic. They Live is by no means as stylized as John Wick: Chapter 2, but it’s a good example of including an overblown fight scene as necessary action. Roddy Piper and Keith David’s characters throw punch after punch as a way to progress the plot. A piece of vital information needs to be passed between characters, and it’ll only happen if Roddy wins. Similarly, the John Wick films always used its fight scenes to undercut the character’s intent. It’s gratuitous, but for good reason.
4. The Raid: Redemption
John Wick is essentially a cinematic video game. A main character must fight his way through a bad guy-filled scenario to achieve an end goal, and move on to the next level. The Raid: Redemption blows that framework up into making the entire movie one nonstop action scene.
Despite all the harrowing build-up, that film’s final showdown stands out as a Wick influence for its hand-to-hand combat. Our hero, Rama, meets up with his long-lost brother and engages in a two-on-one battle with Mad Dog, the henchman of the crime lord that held the brother captive. The five-minute fight is relentless, but the balletic pugilism never gets repetitive. You’re there the entire way because you’ve endured and want to get to the next level along with the characters.
The neon hues of Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy predate the fluorescent glow of John Wick, especially in the climactic scenes in the sequel that feature Wick battling a bevy of bad guys in a fictional museum. Oldboy also had a spectacular hallway fight scene.
The extended battle gradually unfolds in one long take as main character Oh Dae-su fends off at least a dozen attackers with nothing but a hammer and his willpower as weapons. It’s not graceful, but the fierce ebb and flow of the violence stands out. Oh Dae-su, like Wick, is driven by a desperation to survive. Their fighting styles are a thematic extension of the characters themselves, and they’ll fight on no matter what with whatever’s available.
2/. Hard Boiled
The three-minute-long, one-take hospital sequence in John Woo’s Hard Boiled precedes John Wick’s embrace of gun-fu. Woo pioneered this technique in the 1980s by giving his characters guns and having them run wild with them. The gunplay was the point, and its often brutal precision highlighted the heightened reality of the scene at hand. Scenes that were often just action beats became art unto themselves. In these scenes, there’s often an impossible amount of villains for our hero to vanquish — and there’s often an excessive amount of ammo being expended for the sake of the action.
The John Wick sequel’s scene, set amongst Roman ruins, followed Woo’s lead in making violence into a gloriously choreographed and bullet-ridden dance.
1/. The Matrix
The Matrix is an obvious choice, but it’s not just because Keanu Reeves headlines both series. Wick filmmakers Stahelski and Leitch spent nearly half a decade doing stunts with the Wachowskis on The Matrix films, and it’s obvious they learned a lot. Every single fight scene in the John Wick movies owes something to the tactical and stylized energy of the lobby scene from the first Matrix movie. It’s controlled chaos, and it makes a scene that must have been ridiculously impossible to set up look effortless.
Photos via Lionsgate