How John Wick Completely Raised The Bar For Martial Arts Movies

How John Wick Completely Raised The Bar For Martial Arts Movies

The John Wick franchise raised the game for action movies, and it’s proven particularly influential for martial arts films. The John Wick series is one of the primary factors in the renaissance of Keanu Reeves’ career, with John Wick now standing as one of Reeves’ most iconic characters. Though the first John Wick arrived in 2014 with few expectations attached, action films now regularly emulate the formula and style that it established.

The John Wick movies make use of many different kinds of action and stunt work. However, one of the unequivocal strongest components of the John Wick films has been their approach to martial arts. Under the direction of veteran stunt man Chad Stahelski (and, in the case of the first John Wick, fellow stunt man David Leitch), the John Wick movies haven’t just delivered outstanding martial arts fights. The franchise itself has raised the bar of martial arts in action films across the board, and even begun to rival other series like The Expendables.


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John Wick certainly isn’t the first martial arts-driven series to do this, but when it comes to what measuring stick action fans now use, John Wick is the standard to meet. The franchise as a whole has been quite meticulously crafted, and with its approach to martial arts specifically, there are a few elements that helped push it to where it is. Here’s how John Wick was able to raise the bar for martial arts films.

John Wick’s Martial Arts Have A Perfect Balance Of Flash & Realism

Keanu Reeves in John Wick 2 pic

Keanu Reeves’ martial arts training for Neo in The Matrix films took him to literally new heights. In The Matrix series, Keanu Reeves’ and his castmates often fly across the screen in the franchise’s wire-fu heavy martial arts sequences. Lacking any sci-fi or fantasy elements and telling a story about a legendary assassin, the John Wick movies had no room for wire-fu. As such, the fight sequences in the John Wick films generally obey the laws of physics with grounded and plausible martial arts fights. That being said, the series also doesn’t forsake the right amount of flashiness needed to make an action scene really pop.

While John and his opponents don’t defy gravity in the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sense, the martial arts sequences of John Wick are still breathtaking to behold. John Wick keeps its fight scenes realistic in terms of what is and is not humanly possible, but still makes full use of the capabilities of the fighters on-screen. Audiences see the entire breadth of what John and other characters can do in terms of kicks, throws, and stunts, as the franchise is always eager to show the art in the martial arts on display. Keanu Reeves’ training for John Wick also re-shaped his on-screen fighting style, enabling him to showcase a whole new set of combat skills than he had as Neo. In the current action movie landscape, John Wick keeps its action as grounded as it can while also giving it the flair it needs to stand out.

John Wick Brought Gun-Fu & Martial Arts Together Better Than Ever

John Wick isn’t strictly about fists, kicks, and throws in its action scenes. Being so heavily steeped in a world full of assassins, the John Wick movies are also big on an assortment of weapons, especially guns. More accurately, John Wick is big on gun-fu. Many of the franchise’s gun-fu battles even look like they could’ve been pulled right out of a John Woo movie. What makes the gun-fu of John Wick even better is the fact that it is frequently woven into the franchise’s primary martial arts fights.

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One such example is in John’s first confrontation with one of the villains, his fellow assassins Cassian (Common), in John Wick: Chapter 2. As the two grapple on the ground, John pulls out his sidearm to shoot his opponent, who obstructs John’s arm with his leg. The franchise has also merged gun-fu and empty-handed combat in other big set pieces, like the nightclub battle in the first John Wick or the Moroccan compound war in John Wick: Chapter 3 -Parabellum. Even when the films outright switch from guns to fists in their action scenes, the transition is a very fluid one usually involving a huge gun-fu sequence preceding a martial arts fight. When it comes to gun-fu, John Wick not only is up with the best around, but also knows how to bridge it with the series’ martial arts in both organic and clever ways.

John Wick Movies’ Martial Arts Styles Are Very Diverse

On top of the exquisitely orchestrated martial arts of the John Wick movies, they also incorporate a wide range of martial arts disciplines. The first John Wick was very heavy on fighting styles geared towards grappling, such as Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. At the same time, the movie also utilized martial arts with more of a striking emphasis too, such as Karate and Tae Kwon Do. John Wick 2 doubled down on this with another eclectic blend of martial arts, while Parabellum took it further than ever. By the end of the first three John Wick movies, audiences had seen everything from kung fu to Ninjutsu to Silat put to use in the series, a trait almost unheard of in Western action films. Testimony to the popularity of MMA in action movies (entering with Donnie Yen’s help) and interest in different martial arts being blended together, the John Wick franchise leaves no stone unturned in incorporating every martial art it possibly can.

As an offshoot of that distinction, the John Wick movies have also become the place to be for famed martial artists in action films. Parabellum brought aboard Mark Dacascos, Tiger Chen, Roger Yuan, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman, all names well-known to martial arts fans who each injected their own martial arts knowledge into the film. John Wick: Chapter 4 is continuing that in having Donnie Yen, Hiroyuki Sanada, Scott Adkins, and Marko Zaror as part of its cast. Though the film has been delayed to 2023 from its original May 2022 date, the anticipation for it doesn’t just exemplify how much the John Wick cinematic universe delivers on everything it promises. It also shows that, when it comes to martial arts in contemporary action films, the John Wick franchise is the best game in town.

The John Wick movies have made an incredible impact on action films, but how much they elevated martial arts on the big-screen is one of their most impressive feats. With at least two more movies in the series on the way (along with a prequel series, The Continental), the John Wick franchise still has quite a way to go. With so many incredible martial artists boarding the series, fans of the franchise can certainly look forward to John Wick continuing to be the gold standard of martial arts films for the foreseeable future. How the franchise might top that achievement is a good question, but John Wick 5 being a team-up movie might be a good start. 

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  • John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)Release date: Mar 24, 2023

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