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SYFY WIRE John Wick: Chapter 4

'John Wick' director digs into franchise's biggest inspirations: 'These are love letters'

Director Chad Stahelski was inspired by a lot of movies that he put into the John Wick franchise, and they aren't all action movies.

By Tyler McCarthy
Keanu Reeves in John Wick Chapter 4 (2023)

For a film franchise that’s credited with breathing new, modern life into the action genre, John Wick franchise director Chad Stahelski wants viewers to know there is so much else in the franchise beyond mere over-the-top action setpieces. 

From the moment John Wick is forced back into the almost mythological world of assassins, in the first movie, it’s clear to the audience that there is more to this man and the world he lives in than just guns and ammo. Stahelski previously told SYFY WIRE that he believes these movies have to be more than just action setpieces thinly strung together. As for what he puts in between them, he describes it as love letter after love letter to the things he and Keanu Reeves love. 

RELATED: 'John Wick: Chapter 4' director explains ending, what he'd need to make a fifth film happen

“I’m still a director in the making, I guess you could say. [John Wick: Chapter 4] is only my fourth feature that I’ve directed first unit. In the downtime, you try to study, try to get better, try to have inspiration and ambition,” he explained. “But I’m also a fan. If I’m not here talking to you, I’m watching movies just like everyone and trying to break them down.” 

He notes that’s why, despite the massive success of the franchise, he hasn’t taken on many side projects. For him, he wants to pour everything into each new installment, including his version of the filmmakers and stars he adores.

“It’s focus. You make a love letter to the things you love. I love so many things, I geek out over so many things,” he said. “That’s why you see Walter Hill’s Warrirors in there. You see Sergio Leone. John Wick 2 is all about Bernardo Bertolucci."

As for John Wick: Chapter 4, Stahelski noted there is an obvious Kurosawa influence, but noted there are many Japanese filmmakers who told stories with Samurai and warrior code ethics that heavily inspired him throughout the whole franchise, but really came to the forefront in the fourth installment. He even noted the color pallet used for many of the scenes was inspired directly from Japanese manga illustration.

“All the things I want to see as an audience member, they just don’t exist,” he said. “Like, when is the last time you watched a spaghetti western mixed with John Woo with a little bit of Warriors sprinkled in with some techno music and some Vivaldi classical? That doesn’t exist! So Keanu and I were like, ‘f**k it we want to see these weird genre mash things so we’ll just do them.’”

While those kinds of stories and filmmakers helped Stahelski perfect his storytelling skills, when it comes to the action that the John Wick films are known for, he draws from a much different playbook — musicals. 

“As far as the action sequences go and going kooky, like why do one staircase when you can do five, right? That’s the Buster Keaton in me, that’s the Harold Lloyd, that’s the old Hollywood musicals from Sunday Parade to Singing in the Rain. It’s Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, I’m a big musical guy,” he said.

The director is clearly a massive fan of cinema across the board and pulled from the greats of multiple genres to create one of the biggest spectacle action franchises in modern memory. So, the next time you describe the John Wick films as impeccable action movies, remember that Stahelski and the rest of the minds behind the project would very much describe them a different way. Also maybe put some show tunes on behind it, and see what happens?

“We want you to know that John Wick movies are love letters,” Stahelski concluded.

Catch the John Wick movies on SYFY, USA Network and Peacock right now.