The “John Wick” series had a humble start with its inaugural entry in the fall of 2014. Keanu Reeves had been out of the limelight for a while, which made the trailers’ proclamations of “Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back!” noticeably meta. The movie itself, meanwhile, turned out to be the year’s most surprising sleeper hit. Under the direction of veteran stuntmen David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, “John Wick” built a hidden, clandestine world of assassins with its own language, currency, rules, and cultural norms, while crafting a blend of gun-fu and martial arts that made it one of the most refreshing action movie experiences in years.
Fast-forward a few years, and “John Wick” has emerged as a consistently electrifying action movie series. With two sequels out and a third in the works, each film in the “John Wick” franchise has topped the last with stunning action sequences and ever-expanding world building, while the character is now on par with Neo as Keanu Reeves’ signature role.
KFK already did a rundown of the highlights of the first “John Wick”, but with the franchise responsible for some of the most out-of-this-world action of the last half-decade, a more forensic examination of the series’ crowning action achievements is absolutely warranted.
So have your Continental membership cards ready to flick out in a flash to grant you access, readers – to KFK’s Top 10 John Wick Movie Fights (in descending order)!
- John Wick vs Ms. Perkins — John Wick (2014)
- Nightclub Battle — John Wick
- Battle in Morocco — John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)
- Hall of Mirrors — John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
- Garage Fight — John Wick: Chapter 2
- Horse Stable Fight — John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
- Knife Fight — John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
- John Wick vs Cassian — John Wick: Chapter 2
- John Wick vs Zero — John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
“John Wick” unfolds the rules of its world gradually in the character’s big screen debut, and one of the things we learn is that The Continental is effectively holy ground for assassins, where “business” is expressly forbidden. However, Ms. Perkins, played by Adrianne Palicki, likes to live dangerously, and goes after John after being properly incentivized to “break hotel rules”.
Although John’s Judo skills had been put to use earlier in the film, it is here where the series really established its impeccable talent for crafting some of the best grappling-driven martial arts outside of a Donnie Yen MMA movie. Adrianne Palicki is a true natural here, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lovers will surely delight at seeing her utilize her leather jacket exactly as one would a Gi. Furthermore, aside from how thoroughly John and his adversary trash his Continental suite, this battle is that much more potent for its subtext. Just listen to the dialogue here and in their prior interactions, and it’s pretty clear this is a battle of two ex’s!
Upon its debut in the fall of 2014, the original “John Wick” had an advantage that its two sequels never did. Being the world’s introduction to its title character, “John Wick” could afford to bide its time in rolling out the stunning action the series is known for and easing us into this brave new world that we were being dropped into.
Although we’d already gotten a vivid glimpse at John’s capabilities as an assassin (along with The Continental’s definition of a “dinner reservation”) in the attack on his house earlier in the film, the nightclub shootout was where we finally got to see John Wick fully unleash on his enemies. It was also here where the world got its first full taste of the series’ truly one-of-a-kind marriage between gun-play and martial arts, and it was something that would totally demand further helpings.
John’s use of Judo gave a whole new shade to the myriad of martial arts disciplines Keanu Reeves’ has taken up over the course of his career, something he’s always been notably modest about in interviews. Additionally, John’s skill with his side arm is like seeing a brain surgeon go to work in the middle of a zombie outbreak, with our hero possessing an ability in this arena that can only be described as, well, surgical.
The “John Wick” movies would only get bigger and better from here, of course, but it was in the nightclub shootout of his big screen debut that audiences truly knew that John Wick was a force to be reckoned with.
With each successive chapter of the “John Wick” franchise, we learn a little bit more about the title character’s past. In “Parabellum”, we learn that there exists some very bad blood between John and his former associate, Sofia, played by Halle Berry, without ever finding out exactly WHAT led to their falling out.
That only makes their subsequent battle in a Moroccan castle that much more enthralling. We know they are, for all intents and purposes, enemies, but we don’t know the specifics, and it becomes necessary for them to set their differences aside in order to survive a stand-off that’s like the nightclub battle in the first “John Wick” on steroids.
Halle Berry quite literally throws herself into the role of Sofia, and she’s described the experience of training for and taking part in “Parabellum” as “life-changing”, but by the end, she’s every bit Keanu Reeves’ equal. Although Sofia only appears in the middle section of the film, seeing her throwing down and blasting away side-by-side with John is a partnership that will hopefully be continued in “Chapter 4”!
As “Enter the Dragon” homages go, few can compare to the rather obvious nod made to the Hall of Mirrors finale in the climax of “John Wick: Chapter 2”.
Of course, to just have our hero punch, kick, and throw a bunch of faceless henchmen would both be too bland a tribute to Bruce Lee’s seminal masterpiece, and unbecoming of the innovation its predecessor brought to action movies. So, naturally, we get a nice helping of the surgically fine-tuned ballistic action established in the original “John Wick” blended in with the grappling-oriented martial arts he excels at.
Although the sequence features waves of opponents that John Wick must battle his way through, Ruby Rose’s mute assassin Ares, is the obvious standout. She’s one of the few adversaries who has demonstrated herself capable of lasting more than ten seconds against John Wick and gives him quite a one-on-one challenge.
Additionally, it’s admittedly a minor element of the Hall of Mirrors sequence, but John blasting off his sidearm against his approaching enemies while holding another in a triangle choke adds a subtle element of danger. Especially when John finally puts one in the guy’s temple, true testimony to his grappling abilities and his skill as a marksman (we’d certainly hate to think what would’ve happened if John’s aim had been off by an inch!).
One of the many strengths that the “John Wick” franchise has displayed with both of its sequels is that it has an unparalleled skill in its curtain-raising action sequences.
With the first “John Wick” serving as our introduction to the clandestine world of assassins and The Continental, there was far more of a demand for the sequel to start out stronger.
That was apparently a mandate shared by Keanu Reeves, Chad Stahelski, and the stunt crew of the film, as their collective efforts saw “Chapter 2” blast off about five times stronger than even the audience could have expected.
Avenging his beloved dog was only half the battle for John Wick, who seeks to retrieve his stolen Ford Mustang, which is so beaten up when all’s said and done that it’s hardly even worth fighting over. But John is, of course, a man of principle, and won’t stop until the score is settled.
A pulse-pounding chase followed by a Judo brawl proves to be a perfect winning combo for the opening of the first sequel to 2014’s sleeper hit, but of course, “John Wick: Chapter 2” isn’t even close to finished yet!
Remember that point about the “John Wick” series displaying its mastery of opening an action movie with its first sequel? “John Wick: Chapter 3” turns that up to an eleven with its opening act, which is effectively a symphony orchestra of John narrowly escaping one harrowing assassination attempt after another.
Where its predecessor left off on a cliffhanger of John Wick on the run with one hour until the contract on his head goes live, “Parabellum” doesn’t waste a second in diving right into the peril John must battle his way through.
The horse stable fight is just one component of what makes it one of the best action movie openings ever made, but even in isolation, it’d be a grand slam. If you were in the parking lot outside of your local theater, you’d still have been able to hear the thunderous “Ooooooh!” when John enlists those horses to do a little drop-kicking of their own.
And while car stunts have always been a stable of the series, “Parabellum” may be the first action movie in history to elevate a horse and motorcycle chase to “Mad Max: Fury Road” levels of chase sequence awe factor.
Like its predecessor, “Parabellum” was set up for an unusually tall order for an action sequel, but if there’s one thing the “John Wick” movies are more capable of than virtually any other action movie franchise, it’s outdoing themselves in just their opening few minutes.
That horse stable smackdown would’ve been plenty enough a satisfying opening action scene for the third “John Wick”, but in its introduction, it also manages to serve up a knife fight to rival the finale of “The Raid 2“.
As John flees his determined pursuers, he finds himself repeatedly cornered by fellow assassins eager to cash in the massive bounty on his head. It’s actually one of the more subtle bits of comedy worked into “Parabellum” when John and his adversary realize just how much cutlery is available to them, as if it’s suddenly dawned on them, “Oh, right, we’re surrounded by blades!”
Additionally, the sequence sees Keanu once again face-off with his good buddy Tiger Chen, following their previous battles in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Man of Tai Chi“, before ending on a further note of dark humor.
To see “Parabellum” to start off this strong is to see the film truly plant its flag as THE action movie to beat for the 2019 summer movie season. Be sure to also check out KFK’s in-depth interview with Tiger Chen where he also shares a look behind the scenes of making “Parabellum”!
The “John Wick” series has often seen our hero forced to fight off swarms of opponents, but his first smackdown with Cassian in “Chapter 2” was the moment when the series solidified that it could deliver the goods in one-on-one match-ups, as well. To be sure, its predecessor had already made a case for that (as seen above) but it was here where the franchise really set that in stone.
Common steps into the role of John’s rival, assassin Cassian, and proves to be such a worthy opponent that (spoiler warning) one can’t help but hope he returns in the forthcoming “Chapter 4”. It’s also testimony to just how hardcore the action we’ve come to expect from the “John Wick” movies is, seeing Keanu and Common both sweeping and throwing each other over and over again onto solid concrete.
Ultimately, things end in a bit of a stalemate situation with our two combatants, their fight later being resumed in an excellent subway encounter – that also ends stalematedly. But, as mentioned, we can only hope that Cassian returns for “Chapter 4” so he and John can properly finish things off!
“Parabellum” added quite the ensemble of renowned martial arts masters to its roster, one of whom happened to be the great Mark Dacascos, and he did not disappoint in the slightest as the Shinobi leader, Zero. Recruited to take out John after his direct violation of the rules of The Continental in “Chapter 2”, Zero is a true John Wick fanboy, and makes his feelings known in between attempts to put him down. Zero is also, without a doubt, the best villain of the “John Wick” franchise to date, a whirlwind of blades and spinning kicks who goes from zero (no pun intended) to one thousand at the snap of an Adjudicator’s fingers.
He also delights in taunting John with a blend of fanboy hero worship and smug semi-apologies that he has no choice but to end John’s life. His and John’s final confrontation is one that happens almost in silhouette, thanks to the neon lights of the finale (which also shatters enough glass to rival the ending of “Police Story”), with Mark proving to be as swift and nimble as ever.
Like the opening of “Parabellum”, the finale is a smorgasbord of the sharpest action of the 2019 summer movie season, and John Wick’s final one-on-one duel with Zero is a critical component of that astonishing strength.
…and in at #1 is…
John Wick vs Shinobi Assassins — John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
Oh shoot! Wonder what earned this puppy a spot on the list of John Wick’s most rollicking big-screen beatdowns!
Sarcasm aside, the addition of Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman of “The Raid” movies had action aficionados doing back flips long before even the trailer had been released. Needless to say, they didn’t disappoint in the Silat smackdown with our titular hero.
What made “Parabellum” such a thrill for “John Wick” fans was the fact that, as mentioned above, Yayan and Cecep were only two of a host of martial arts legends who joined the film.
The added ensemble was made that much better by the fact that nobody felt shortchanged, with the opening and finale of “Parabellum” being a veritable doctoral thesis on how to kick off and wrap up an action movie. Indeed, viewers actually get two martial arts fights for the price of one here, as John’s smackdown with Yayan and Cecep is preceded by a quite literally shattering confrontation with a few of their fellow Shinobi, including Chad’s fellow veteran of 87Eleven Action Design, Jon Valera.
Meanwhile, Yayan and Cecep’s roles are further enlivened by the fact that they, like their leader Zero, are big fans of our hero, forgoing several clear openings to move in for the kill purely out of respect for the man they’ve been tasked with eliminating. That subtle touch of humor, another trademark of the “John Wick” series, just serves to make their simply mesmerizing Silat skills that much more astonishing every time they let John up for another go.
“Parabellum” scored martial arts movie royalty by enlisting the services of Mark Dacascos, Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman. And, thankfully, we’ll never have a reason to say that their talents were underutilized (as is so often the case for way too many action movies) in the number one smackdown of the “John Wick” series!