I Think It's Finally Time To Declare John Wick The Greatest Action Movie Franchise Of All Time

SPOILER WARNING: The following article gives away the story told in the John Wick movies in, nearly, its entirety. We won’t declare you “excommunicado” if you haven’t seen the films yet, but do recommend that you proceed with caution if you continue to read on.

When walking into the fourth installment of any franchise, no matter how beloved, it is not uncommon to be overcome with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. This is essentially how I felt when I went to see John Wick: Chapter 4; the reason being that despite this series’ reputation, it is very rare for such a franchise to live up to fans’ expectations this late in the game and go out on a high note, if we are to confidently believe this movie concludes the legend of one of Keanu Reeves’ most badass roles. Well, not only did the film exceed my expectations and totally stick the landing in my opinion — and that of most critics — it also convinced me that no other action movie franchise, as a whole, has reached this same level of quality. Yeah.

Now, I understand that this is a bold statement, and to be fair, I cannot say that I have watched all of the best action movies ever made. However, I do know enough about this genre to confidently say that few film series associated with it can claim to have received increasingly positive reactions with each new installment and, arguably, revolutionized the genre as we know it today, and all within the span of less than a decade. I could go on much further about why I believe the John Wick movies have earned their place at the top of the High Table... so I will — starting with discussing the complex world in which they are set.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Lore Only Gets Deeper

The movie that started it all — directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch’s John Wick from 2014 — boasts a pretty simple story. It follows the titular, recently widowed former assassin (Reeves) as he comes out of retirement to punish the men who stole his car and murdered his pet beagle, Daisy. However, beyond the basic revenge plot lay hints to the mysterious and cleverly crafted criminal underworld these films revolve around — which entails a chain of very secretive hotels, a universal currency of unspecific value and sometimes even the use of carrier pigeons to announce contracts.

In 2017, John Wick: Chapter 2 clued fans into just how vast this coalition of contract killers truly is and how sacred the code they live by is held, with enough proof in the final shot of John running out of a city park full of disguised assassins alone. The franchise would only to continue to expand on the rules and intricacies of this universe in Chapter 3 — Parabellum, which dives deeper into the organization’s history as John searches the globe for a way to get the target off his back, and in Chapter 4, which offers additional facts to reflect on. Each film gives us a little more to discover about John Wick’s insane world, but without ever sacrificing its enigmatic allure, leaving fans curious to see more. 

Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Donnie Yen, and Bill Skarsgard in the John Wick: Chapter 4 trailers

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Cast Only Grows Larger

While the first John Wick movie marked the beginning of a major comeback to the A-list for Reeves and is obviously synonymous with his character, let it be understood that he is but one member of a stellar ensemble that also includes Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe and John Leguizamo, to name a few. Of course, as is typically the case with a seres this violent, not everyone would get to come back. Luckily, we had Ian McShane’s Winston and the late Lance Reddick’s Charon as franchise staples in a cast that only continued to get bigger and better each time.

Common and Ruby Rose proved to be memorable adversaries in Chapter 2, which also has a great Peter Stormare cameo and sees Reeves reunite with his Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King, who would return in the next two movies. The threequel brought in more legends, like Mark Dacascos, Academy Award winner Halle Berry and Angelica Huston as John’s adoptive mother, The Director. However, I personally believe that Chapter 4 boasts the greatest cast additions, especially with genuine martial artists like Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Scott Adkins entering the mix. The John Wick movies are full of amazing characters brought to life by brilliant actors who never feel wasted, which is rare in a genre that typically gives its central heroes the most attention.

Mark Dacascos in John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

The Villains Only Get Meaner

Then again, history has shown that the phrase “A hero is only as good as its villain” is certainly no fluke, and the John Wick movies seem to have taken that mantra to heart. The franchise’s first big bads — Viggo Tarasov (Nyqvist) and his thieving, dog-killing son, Iosef (Alfie Allen) — were certainly serviceable to the revenge story, but no match against John’s skills. Fortunately, Chapter 2 was sure to up the ante with the scheming Santino D’Antonio (Ricardo Scamarco) and the vengeful Cassian (Common), and the stakes only got higher from there.

Chapter 3 essentially makes the whole world a foe to John after he is branded excommunicado, but with the obvious standout being Dacascos’ Zero, who may admit to being a fan of John’s at one point, but is still an undeniable force of fury who delivers some of the most gorgeous and intense. The villainy meter is off the charts in the John Wick: Chapter 4 cast, however, with an unrecognizable Adkins dazzling as Killa, Yen and Shamier Anderson teetering the line between ally and adversary wonderfully as the blind warrior Caine and mysterious Mr. Nobody, respectively, and IT’s Bill Skarsgard giving possibly his best antagonist performance yet — which is really saying something — as the ruthless Marquis. If a hero truly is only as good as its villain, considering how many instantly iconic villains this franchise boasts, John Wick has to be the greatest action hero of all time.

Keanu Reeves in John Wick

(Image credit: Summit Entertainment)

The Action Only Gets Crazier

Of course, is it really the intriguing lore, the expanding cast, and the rogues gallery that keeps audiences coming back for more John Wick? Not nearly as much as it is the mind-blowing action sequences and death-defying stunts that made the original an instant classic. It is impossible to count all of the best fight scenes in the John Wick movies on one hand because they keep getting more inventive, enthralling and simply gorgeous — and not just with each film, but with each and every sequence.

The first film introduced a nearly unprecedented combination of martial arts and firearm use referred to as “gun-fu,” which the sequel expanded on with even more evocative technical mastery — such as in an epic one-take sequence through a maze of catacombs and another that sees John demonstrate his mythologized skills with a pencil. While many believe the best scene in Chapter 3 sees John tossing throwing knives like frisbees, I was especially impressed by how it adds animals into the choreography, with John riding through the streets on a horse and being aided by Sofia (Berry) and her vicious Belgian Malinois shepherds in Casablanca. Yet, Chapter 4 has not only the best sequences of the series, but some of the greatest action scenes I have seen in the last decade by incorporating the same balletic structure of the previous films, but with a grounded, off-the-cuff rawness to keep it feeling really fresh.

In conclusion, the world has seen many highly influential and iconic action movie franchises, including the Die Hard films, the Terminator series, Lethal Weapon and its sequels, and plenty more classics. However, I cannot think of another that has managed to consistently one-up itself in every possible way — from its world-building, star-power, fight choreography and even the dialogue — with each installment better than the John Wick movies. It makes me happy to know that — with the Ana de Armas-led spinoff Ballerina and a TV series about the Continental in the works, my choice for the greatest action movie franchise the world has ever seen is, to quote the Bowery King, not very good at retiring. 

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.