By Jeff Ames/Jan. 10, 2022 11:04 am EST
John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves, quickly rose to culture icon status when audiences first laid eyes on the black-suited, pistol-packing assassin in 2014’s “John Wick,” directed by Chad Stahelski and an uncredited David Leitch. The action flick introduced the world to the art of “Gun Fu,” the mysterious Continental Hotel and its intricate hierarchy, and made audiences cheer on a ruthless gunman as he massacred armies of bad guys all because they were stupid enough to kill his dog.
Also starring Michael Nyqvist, Willem Dafoe, Alfie Allen, Dean Winters and Adrianne Palicki, “John Wick” recalled the action classics of the 1980s whilst reflecting the style and sensibilities of modern films, and delivered an exciting, colorful and surprisingly deep bit of pulpy cinema.
While the “John Wick” universe continues to expand in sequels and TV spinoffs, audiences have a dearth of similar-styled films to discover should they yearn for more stylistic action. So without further ado, here are 15 must-watch action movies for “John Wick” fans.
Obviously, in terms of similar movies with a style akin to “John Wick,” you can’t do much better than the original “Matrix.” Not only does it star Keanu Reeves, but this game-changing, Academy Award-winning film from 1999 boasts spectacular set pieces and stunt work similar to those found in “John Wick,” including a lobby shootout that consistently ranks among the most iconic action scenes of all time.
For those unaware, “The Matrix” tells the tale of Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, a computer hacker who learns he is actually living in a virtual world controlled by machines. Neo’s journey leads to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, who appears in the last two “John Wick” films as the Bowery King), a prophet of sorts who believes him to be the One who will free humans from their digital prison.
As a side, “The Matrix” features “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski as Keanu’s stunt double, a role he would continue in “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.” If that wasn’t cool enough, Stahelski actually appears in the latest “Matrix” sequel, “The Matrix Resurrections,” as Trinity’s husband, aptly named Chad.
As directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski, “The Matrix” ranks among the greatest action films thanks to its well-choreographed shootouts, fight sequences, and groundbreaking digital effects. Should you need more of good ole Mr. Wick, “The Matrix” is a good place to start.
Twentieth Century Fox
“Logan” may not boast the wild spectacle of “John Wick,” but it shares many common traits, including a knack for gruesome carnage, plenty of testosterone-fueled action, and a soft-spoken hero who reluctantly returns to his violent ways in order to achieve something akin to personal self-fulfillment. In this case, Logan, aka Wolverine (once again played by Hugh Jackman, who first stepped into the role way back in 2000’s “X-Men”), must whip out his adamantium claws once more to protect a young mutant called X-23 (Dafne Keen) while preserving his dying mentor, Professor X (Patrick Stewart).
The film, directed by James Mangold, certainly earns its R rating thanks to numerous F-bombs and a number of bloody, grisly fight sequences. Yet, much like “John Wick” (and Wolverine himself), possesses a warm, gushy center that’s ultimately exposed through his relationship X-23.
“Logan” ranks among the top of the comic book film brigade where it stands out as a stunning, powerful film about redemption and the consequences of violence.
For viewers looking for something a little more cerebral, take a gander at 2012’s “Jack Reacher,” based on Lee Childs’ long-running book series. Tom Cruise stars as the titular Jack Reacher, a nomad who spends his days trekking across the United States with nothing but the money in his wallet and the clothes on his back. When authorities come looking for him following a violent incident involving a sniper that leaves several people dead, Jack must team up with a young attorney (Rosamund Pike) to solve the case, stop the bad guys, and save the day.
While not exactly a revenge thriller, “Jack Reacher” still leans on a similar brand of brutal (albeit PG-13) violence as “John Wick,” and features plenty of intense shootouts, chases and gritty hand-to-hand combat to quench any action fans’ appetite. Christopher McQuarrie’s film is also populated with memorable villains, namely Werner Herzog’s terrifying Zec — a man who will literally chew through his own fingers to survive — and Jai Courtney’s formidable Charlie, whose climatic mano a mano smackdown with Reacher mirrors Wick’s memorable bout with Viggo.
Reacher also shares Mr. Wick’s affinity for guns and uses a myriad of weapons such as the M4A1 and SIG Sauer P556 SWAT Hybrid to mow down opponents; and spends his nights outrunning bad guys in his 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS. It’s safe to assume, if the two were ever to meet, Reacher and Wick would get along just fine.
The Bourne Identity
Matt Damon made the leap from well-known actor to bona fide rock star in Doug Liman’s “The Bourne Identity,” a thriller loosely based on the Robert Ludlum novel of the same name in which a young man dealing with amnesia slowly begins to unlock the secrets of his past as a super spy.
Featuring hard-hitting action and a fairly realistic aesthetic, “Bourne” can be seen as a distant cousin to “John Wick.” Except where Mr. Wick spends his days blasting crime bosses to shreds, Bourne deals in political corruption and top-secret government organizations packed with shady, nameless agents, and ruthless politicians. Despite their differences, both Bourne and Wick are capable assassins, possessing the power to wipe out legions of baddies using nothing but common household items such as magazines, books, or even pencils; and each possesses an affinity for holding a grudge against those who wrong them or their loved ones.
“Bourne” was successful enough to spawn three more films with Damon — titled “The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and “Jason Bourne,” respectively — as well as a spinoff starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz, titled “The Bourne Legacy,” all of which offer plenty of “John Wick”-styled mayhem.
“Kick-Ass” was one of the first superhero movies to really explore what a costumed-wearing vigilante would look like in the real world, resulting in an ultra-violent, foul-mouthed, dark comedy only a director as mad as Matthew Vaughn could deliver.
Featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the title role, “Kick-Ass,” based on the comic series by Mark Millar, follows a high schooler named Dave Lizewski and his exploits to rid his city of crime. The kid possesses no powers, no gadgets or gizmos, but finds success by teaming up with an eccentric father-daughter superhero duo, played by Nicolas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Praised by critics and audiences alike, “Kick-Ass” spawned a sequel, made a star out of Moretz, and raised the bar in terms of what was possible in the superhero genre. Its bursts of violence, wicked gunplay, and colorful heroes and villains should easily placate “John Wick” fans in search of another dark action romp.
Imagine the world of “John Wick,” except set in middle-class suburbia, and you might have an idea of what to expect with Ilya Naishuller’s wickedly fun “Nobody.”
Led by “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk, “Nobody” features mild-mannered Hutch Mansell, a man enduring the doldrums of life like any other decent American. When a pair of robbers invade his home and rough him up in front of his family, Hutch’s calm outer shell cracks and exposes a ruthless government assassin — one capable of taking down legions of gun-toting villains and powerful Russian crime bosses.
As written by “John Wick” screenwriter Derek Kolstad, “Nobody” shares plenty of thematic similarities to Keanu Reeves’ action franchise, and boasts an incredible array of set pieces, notably a brutal fight sequence aboard a bus during which Hutch happily engages in a fight with and eventually beats the snot out of a group of good for nothing punks.
Like Wick, Hutch also exists in his own sprawling universe packed with other heavily armed, formidable assassins, including his half-brother Harry (RZA) and their father David (Christopher Lloyd), and the film consistently hints at the wider universe lingering just outside of its borders. Just don’t expect Hutch and Co. to rub shoulders with John anytime soon.
Twentieth Century Fox
Arnold Schwarzenegger was still a star on the rise when he slapped on a camo vest to play John Matrix in Mark L. Lester’s rip-roaring 1985 action extravaganza “Commando.” The pic sees Matrix thrust into a world of violence in order to save his kidnapped daughter (Alyssa Milano) from the clutches of a former South American dictator (a deliciously over-the-top Dan Hedaya).
Less subtle and straight-faced than “John Wick,” “Commando” nonetheless features the same tongue-in-cheek tone as Keanu’s action pics and delivers on its promise of wanton mayhem. The film also boasts colorful side characters, dastardly villains, spectacular showdowns, awesome stunts, and plenty of Arnie’s patented one-liners. For those who love the “Wick” franchise’s set pieces, “Commando” delivers in spades — particularly during a violent climax that sees Matrix take down a legion of troops utilizing everything from rocket launchers, knives, and good old-fashioned machine guns.
“Commando” notably boasts the single highest kill count of any Schwarzenegger film. In the final scene alone, Matrix kills 74 baddies using a variety of high-tech gear, leading to 87 total kills — just four shy of John Wick’s total in his first film.
Shoot ‘Em Up
New Line Cinema
Action doesn’t come any wilder than Michael Davis’ 2007 little-seen gem “Shoot ’em Up.” Starring Clive Owen — during that five-year period when Hollywood tried desperately to make him a star — Paul Giamatti, and Monica Bellucci, the thriller finds seemingly ordinary drifter Mr. Smith protecting a sex worker and a child from an army of gunmen led by a deranged madman called Hertz.
Like “John Wick,” “Shoot ’em Up” goes to great lengths to offer up stylized, R-rated violence, and certainly delivers on that front. An early scene in which Owens’ character uses a carrot as a weapon mirrors John’s use of a pencil in “John Wick 2,” while a sex-filled action sequence between Owen and Bellucci is as thrilling as it is erotic.
Throw in Giamatti’s deranged performance and a plethora of shocking carnage, and viewers strong enough to stomach the excessiveness should have a blast exploring this strange universe with this unwieldy motley crew.
Sony Pictures Classics
Of all the film on this list, the action classic “The Raid” delivers perhaps the most impressive fight sequences — choreographed by Iko Uwais, who also stars in the film as Rama — and certainly gives “John Wick” a run for its money in terms of wanton violence.
Written, directed, and edited by filmmaker Gareth Evans, “The Raid” follows a S.W.A.T. team and their endeavors to take down a ruthless mobster holed up in a skyscraper. Rama and his crew must traverse the building level by level, fighting all manner of henchmen, thugs, and criminals on their journey to bag the big boss. Brutal, bloody, and brilliant, “The Raid” doesn’t have the same “John Wick” soul, but matches its virtuoso style, irreverence, and wicked humor. This is truly an action film fans of Mr. Wick will appreciate.
Coincidentally, cast members of “The Raid,” specifically Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, pop up in “John Wick 3” and go toe to toe with John during the film’s exciting climax.
Twentieth Century Fox
Those who appreciate Keanu Reeves’ action chops even at his advanced age — the actor was 49 in “John Wick” — should also check out 2008’s “Taken,” which transformed 56-year-old Liam Neeson into an action star practically overnight.
The film, directed by Pierre Morel, stars the veteran actor as retired CIA agent Bryan Mills, who travels to Paris to rescue his kidnapped daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Bryan blasts his way through the seedy underbelly lurking beneath the City of Light and encounters a surplus of sleazy villains as he uncovers a dangerous sex trafficking ring that may hold the key to finding his missing child.
Like “John Wick,” “Taken” pulls no punches and provides Neeson’s lumbering super-dad plenty of opportunities to make mincemeat out of his overwhelmed opponents; just as importantly, it makes the bad guys vile enough to root against even when they’re being electrocuted, beaten to death, shot, or strangled by our justice-seeking hero.
Twentieth Century Fox
“The Transporter” offers a different take on the “John Wick” formula by leaning hard on style and ultra-surrealistic fight sequences to tell the story of Frank Martin (Jason Statham), an ex-special forces operator who enjoys a relatively simple life as a skilled driver tasked with delivering mysterious packages around the French Mediterranean while following a strict set of guidelines. Rule One: Never change the deal. Rule Two: No names. Rule Three: Never look in the package.
Frank’s life turns upside down when he breaks his rules and discovers one of his deliveries to be a young woman. Action and mayhem ensue as the transporter must choose between honoring his own code or upending the rules to lay out his own brand of justice.
“John Wick” fans should get a kick out of “The Transporter,” which segues between slick action and cheeky comedy without a care in the world. In one sequence, Frank jump-kicks through a door, tosses a gun up in the air, fights off a bunch of goons with a table cloth, catches the gun, quickly dispatches the remaining crew before engaging in a martial arts brawl with reinforcements, and caps it all off with an exciting car chase. If that action beat doesn’t thrill “John Wick” fans, nothing will.
“John Wick” fans searching for an action film that’s a tad more methodical should check out Antoine Fuqua’s 2014 drama “The Equalizer,” starring Denzel Washington as a mysterious man whose past comes back to haunt him when Russian gangsters threaten a young girl (Chloë Grace Moretz).
About as subtle as a jackhammer, “The Equalizer” checks off all the boxes of typical action films — bone-breaking violence, intense car chases, roguish heroes, and evil villains — but stands out thanks to its strong performances and Fuqua’s assured direction.
Washington in particular is absolutely believable as Robert McCall, a man who resorts to violence only when absolutely necessary and remains perfectly calm amidst the bone-crunching havoc. The finale sees Robert taking on a group of goons in a Home Depot-like hardware store where he utilizes booby traps, fire extinguishers, and barbed wire to get the job done.
Like “John Wick,” “The Equalizer” certainly isn’t for the squeamish, but those who appreciate Robert McCall’s particular brand of justice will certainly find plenty here to enjoy.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Twentieth Century Fox
Another film “John Wick” fans should check out is “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” written and directed by Matthew Vaughn. A rollicking, often hilarious action adventure starring Collin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson, “Kingsman” is as violent as it is irreverent, boasting enough eye-popping fights, gadgets, and set pieces to make your head explode.
The plot follows Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Egerton), who is recruited by renowned secret agent Harry Hart (Firth) to join the Kingsman Secret Service organization and stop a madman (Jackson) from unleashing his diabolical plot to end climate change.
In many ways, “Kingsman” is the anti-James Bond picture, reveling in the type of sex, violence, and shock humor that Vaughn fans will appreciate. Yet like “John Wick,” it carefully constructs a unique world around colorful characters and keeps the proceedings fun, even when the violence — notably a wicked fight sequence inside a church — occasionally goes a little too far.
Man on Fire
Twentieth Century Fox
“Man on Fire” is a pitch black revenge thriller about an ex-CIA operative named John Creasy (Denzel Washington) who goes on a killing spree in order to get back the kidnapped girl he was hired to protect. Creasy’s “masterpiece,” as one character describes the violence he reigns on the kidnappers, includes shooting up a night club, planting a bomb inside a man during an interrogation, and a sequence involving a missile launcher that’s certainly a sight to behold.
As directed by Tony Scott, “Man on Fire” follows a similar trajectory to “John Wick” in that it starts slow and takes the time to establish a relationship between Creasy and Dakota Fanning’s Pita before morphing into an audience-pleasing action thriller. Through it all, Washington more than holds his own as the formidable, brooding Creasy, who discovers an aching heart buried beneath his troubled past.
Washington is flanked by talented supporting actors — particularly Fanning, who does some of the best work of her career — and the always reliable Christopher Walken. If you’re in need of more films about broken-hearted killers avenging the death of a pet or loved one, “Man on Fire” is certainly one to check out.
One can’t have a “Films Like ‘John Wick'” article without including “Atomic Blonde,” which, for the kids playing at home, was actually helmed by uncredited “John Wick” co-director David Leitch. That’s probably why, out of all the films on this list, “Atomic Blonde” is the one that makes the most sense taking place in the Wick universe.
Charlize Theron stars as Lorraine Broughton, an undercover MI6 agent tasked with retrieving a stolen list of double agents from some truly awful bad guys led by Roland Moller’s Aleksander Bremovych. The pic shares the “John Wick” affinity for neon lights and preposterous action, all knowingly scored to the likes of “99 Luftballons,” but its Theron’s stunning magnetism and commitment to the role that takes the cake. She clearly has a blast kicking the snot out of hordes of men in prolonged, single-take fight scenes that often leave her bruised, bloody and broken — this “Atomic Blonde” is not one to take lightly.