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The poster for 2014’s John Wick boasts the tagline, “Don’t set him off.” We are glad that the fictional villains taking on our titular anti-hero didn’t heed that advice.
If they did, movie fans would have been denied one of the most entertaining and inventive action movie franchises in the history of ever. If you need to catch up, the entire John Wick trilogy is streaming now on Peacock.
John Wick is an assassin of near-mythic status; his skillset is so legendary in his society of well-coiffed and suited killers that the mere mention of his name yields as much stunned silence as it does thunderous gunfire. It’s a testament to the handlers of the John Wick franchise, and its star, Keanu Reeves, that — with three chapters in — fans show no signs of ever getting tired of taking a trip to the violent, action-packed world of this iconic hero. As 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2 celebrates its 5th anniversary, we raided the Continental's archives to rank the franchise's most memorable action scenes.
10. Book: 1, Bad Guy’s Throat: 0 In ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum’
John Wick: Chapter 3 picks up minutes after where Chapter 2 left off, with John on the run as the clock ticks down to him being “excommunicado” in his world of assassins and their Kevlar designer suits. One cab ride later, John finds himself deep in the stacks of the New York Public Library where a comically-tall assassin named Ernest (played by NBA star Boban Marjanovic) quotes Dante to our anti-hero before trying to kill him. A blur of punches and arm bars ends with Ernest taking a book to the jaw and throat before getting practically curb stomped on it (gross).
The sequence is brief but a perfect tone setter for what the threequel has in store for fans. The brutal action also adopts a more comical tone than those found in previous installments, with Ernest bringing a finger to his lips to shoosh John before pummeling him. (After all, they are fighting in a library.)
09. Bloodiest Home Invasion Ever From ‘John Wick’
John Wick goes from being about a mysterious widower mourning the loss of his wife to an action-packed tale of bullets and revenge with this brutal, Bourne-esque home invasion. Up until this point, audiences had no real idea what John Wick was capable of — or how lethal and legendary his capabilities are. Unfortunately for the intruders in his home, John uses them as our visual aids. In breathtaking fashion, we realize why John has earned the mythic name of “the boogeyman''; John and his home-field advantage make his masked attackers wish they never got out of bed as John uses point-blank gunshots to put them six feet under. The sequence’s slow-burn tension, coupled with Reeves’ unflinching commitment to what the action demands of him, make this one of the best “first fights” for an action hero the genre has ever done.
08. Wick and Charon’s Shotgun Fight From ‘Parabellum’
After three movies, Lance Reddick’s Charon — the Continental’s gentlemanly front desk clerk — finally gets in on the action.
Armed with Benelli-brand, rapid-fire combat shotguns, Charon and John stalk dark, stonewalled corridors for target practice and take out bad guys with ease. In a welcomed departure to the other heightened action scenes that fuel Parabellum, this sequence is memorable for its “less is more” approach to the ensuing gunfight. The level of military precision to John and Charon’s movements helps peel back the curtain on the latter’s background in a way that is more show than tell. By pairing Charon with John, we see how formidable he is as the movie’s barebones approach to this thrilling shootout — full of inventive ways to reload a shotgun in the middle of a firefight — results in an action-packed interlude that pushes both story and character with each foe that the duo takes out.
07. Fight in the Horse Stables From ‘Parabellum’
Sure, it sucks to be excommunicated from your guild of secret assassins. But at least you never run out of new ways to dispatch your enemies.
Case in point: A chase that leads John into a horse stable, where he uses not one but two horses and their hooves to TKO his combatants before riding off on one of the steeds and into a motorcycle chase (more on that later). This set piece serves as proof for why fans can’t get enough of John Wick movies: They tackle familiar action movie tropes in creative and fresh ways that audiences have never seen before. And John using Mr. Ed to dispatch bad guys before riding said horse into a shootout with motorcycles is just *chef’s kiss*.
06. The Motorcycle Chase From ‘Parabellum’
John Wick: Chapter 3 should just be called Crazy Action: The Movie. It’s as if every playtime adventure kids could have with action figures manifested here, with this movie’s fresh take on a rain-slicked motorcycle chase proving to be one of the most entertaining things to come out of this series’ seemingly endless imagination.
Wick, on horseback, struggles to dodge and evade his sword-weilding pursuers and their motorbikes. One would think bringing a very long knife to an elaborate, high-speed gunfight would be a lackluster affair, but Parabellum leans into that potential hindrance and makes it one of the chase scene’s greatest strengths. The swords force John and the filmmakers to get creative with their finishing moves and camera angles, respectively, with the latter staying on John through a series of mini-oners as he destroys his opponents while galloping on a horse.
CG enhances the crazy stunt, but never detracts from its impact — especially when John gets into a sword fight at 60 miles an hour atop a motorcycle.
05. John and Sofia’s Escape From Casablanca in ‘Parabellum’
The trailer for John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum promised us Halle Berry teaming up with Keanu Reeves and some canine pals for a fight, and the movie did not disappoint.
Three movies in, and the bad guys still haven’t caught on to the fact that you just don’t mess with any of John’s four-legged friends. Wick and Sofia (Berry) teach them the error of their ways in a bullet-filled escape from a Casablancan fortress. At this point, fans have seen every way John can use a gun to ruin some vaguely European baddie’s existence, so the filmmakers spice things up by throwing into the mix Sofia’s pair of enemy-seeking German Shepherds.
When John’s not dispensing headshots like Oprah gives away cars, the two dogs are chewing up or biting down on the poor bastards who get in their master’s way. Audiences can’t help but clap and cheer as man’s best friends become the franchise’s official mascot, especially when Sofia orders one to hold a human Milk Bone in its jaws until John can deliver one hell of a fatality.
04. Catacombs Showdown From ‘Chapter 2’
From the moment John and elite bodyguard Cassian (Common) lock eyes in the middle of an open courtyard at a DJ concert, our knuckles go white around our chair armrests. They don’t let go until several minutes later, after John has dispatched a small army of security personnel in the eerily-lit catacombs.
For most of this harrowing sequence, John is a fugitive from both the villainous Santino’s wrath and his goons. After John kills Gianna — an important figure in his world, who half-sacrifices herself before John’s killshot — our assassin must find increasingly-complicated ways to evade his heavily-armed pursuers before it’s too late. The genius of this extended, rapid-fire gun battle is what it shows about John as a tactician. He anticipated this outcome, so he prepared for it by hiding guns and various ammo belts strategically throughout this subterranean maze to give him a combat advantage. Basically, to paraphrase Watchmen’s Rorschach, John’s not locked in here with the bad guys. They are locked in there with him.
Even better? The aftermath of this shootout, the first brawl between John and Cassian, Gianna’s protector. The battle, which finds the two trading shots and fists through and over a row of parked cars, acts as almost an epilogue to the main event that is just as exciting as the catacombs-set action.
03. Subway Fight and Shootout From ‘Chapter 2’
John punches, stabs, and shoots his way through and around the entrance to a subway in one of the franchise’s more intricate and underrated sequences.
After Santino calls in the hit on John, it’s open season and several assassins want to collect — all while Cassian is on John’s tail. The fisticuffs John engages in finds him outmatched a few times, which adds to the tension; we know John is going to survive, but it gives us some thrills when we see how hard it is for him to make good on that expectation — especially when he is forced to confront a killer the size of a sumo wrestler. (The gory, but inventive, way John finally dispatches his attacker is one of the film series’ better laugh moments.) The chase into and down a white-lit subway hallway culminates in a stabby showcase of John’s prowess with a pencil, before John lurches into his next fight with Cassian. It starts with the two — on different levels of the platform — trading silenced pistol fire among a crowd of unsuspecting civilians before erupting into a vicious, close-quarters knife fight aboard a moving subway train.
02. The Red Circle Shootout From ‘John Wick’
Hell hath no fury like a widower/dog lover scorned.
That’s the lesson Iosef (Alfie Allen) and his whole crew of nameless security guards discover when Wick shows up at the elite (and very neon) Red Circle club/bath house to shoot and stab his way through the next stage of his vendetta. John slinks through the club and shoots several black-suited thugs in a bloody ballet of gun-fu. John’s lethal skillset comes into full bloom here, as does the character. If any scene marks the moment when John Wick becomes a movie that Hollywood can build a franchise around, it’s this one.
01. That Epic Knife Fight From ‘Parabellum’
John Wick 3 operates as if it was dared by the previous installments to top all that came before, and it does just that with this one sequence.
In one of modern action cinema’s greatest fights ever, the recently excommunicated John finds himself surrounded by (shocker) assassins. He flees into an antiques store full of old-timey weapons and proceeds to throw the contents of its knife collection into all those who wish him harm. It’s hard to imagine how future John Wick movies can top this battle royale, which is a perfectly edited and choreographed set piece. It plays out in three acts: John first builds a customized gun to add to his record-setting body count, then he and his opponents smash the (CG) knives’ display cases to use their assorted contents like ninja stars. (Ironically, there are no actual ninja stars.)
The finale features John at Peak Blunt Instrument performance, where he introduces a bad guy’s head to the pointy end of a tomahawk. One wet squelch later, our exasperated boogeyman assassin limp-runs into an entire movie’s worth of action that, while impressive, doesn’t hold a candle to this brief but unforgettable fight that kicks it all off.