Like the countless henchmen felled by the hitman, audiences did not see John Wick coming. From the get-go, John Wick has felt out-of-time, a standout action series that doesn’t have many contemporaries. By the release of its fourth installment, the Wick franchise has become a beloved institution. This makes ranking the John Wick films a difficult task — how can you differentiate very good from great? Let’s get the John Wick movies ranked and break down what makes each movie so special.
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Best John Wick Movies Ranked
4. John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum
Before you use a horse to kick us in the face, let us say that John Wick 3 is a really good movie. It ups the ante of the first two installments, and further builds out the wild Wick world that began expanding in Wick 2.
Chapter 3 follows John as he faces an onslaught of assassins, picking up from where 2 left off. Wick has a massive bounty on his head, and we spend over two hours watching him fend off people seeking to reap the reward.
Of course, this means that there are a lot of set pieces. This movie is filled with stunning stunts from beginning to end. One of the most mind-boggling is the motorcycle chase.
Take a look:
This scene encapsulates what makes the John Wick franchise great, as well as shows us how Chapter 3 raised the bar.
First, the JW basics. As usual, the John Wick team, led by director Chad Stahelski (a former stunt choreographer), opt for visual clarity.
This is really what makes Wick stand out from its American counterparts. Action isn’t hidden in shaky handheld and strobe-like cutting.
Instead, this sequence, as with most other Wick sequences, comprises long takes of smooth camera movement.
This allows for the audience to clearly understand what’s going on at all times — we always know where John is in relation to his foes.
The Wick team achieves this primarily because Keanu Reeves is doing almost all of his own stunts. This gives cinematographer Dan Laustsen the freedom to cover the action sequences in wide shots without having to hide Reeve’s face or cut around a body double.
But this specific motorcycle chase also shows us how John Wick 3 heightened the action from its predecessors. This sequence was the first set piece in the franchise to make heavy use of CGI.
Take a look at the behind-the-scenes footage here:
This is certainly not taking the easy route. Sure, it’s easier than actually filming this motorcycle chase in real life, which would have been near impossible. But the CGI isn’t being used as a crutch.
“Look, I’m all for VFX… What VFX have done for safety alone in the industry is huge and mind-boggling, and I think that’s completely underappreciated. My only beef is when you use them as a creative ‘out,’ as in when you don’t have an idea so you just decide to ‘fix it in post.’”
— Chad Stahelski
Indeed, that’s not what’s happening here. The stunts are still happening in real time, and the fight choreography is still incredibly complex. The use of CGI is only for safety — if someone messes up, they’ll end up on a green floor, not on asphalt moving a hundred miles an hour.
With set pieces as riveting as this, why is John Wick 3 at the bottom of our list? It’s not because of stunts. The plot is a bit thin, and slightly overstays its welcome by the end of the film’s runtime.
Still, it’s a solid entry in the franchise, and it’s well worth a watch.
Best John Wick Movie
3. John Wick
It all started with a puppy. John Wick has come a long way from his humble beginnings way back in 2014. The first installment almost feels quaint now, but all of the stuff that makes the Wick franchise special was there at the start.
As Wick, Keanu is doing all his own stunts, and the choreography is second to none. Sure, the smaller budget clearly is playing a role in the size of the set pieces, but co-directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (who worked uncredited on the film) show true ingenuity in making the action feel as big as possible without a blank check.
It’s clear that this is a passion project for nearly everyone involved. Watch the behind-the-scenes featurette and feel the contagious excitement.
There’s a lesson here for directors just starting out (as Stahelski and Leitch were). By fostering a collaborative environment where everyone feels heard, you can get a crew on your side, as well as get great advice from veterans who have been to this rodeo hundreds of times before.
The stunts are really what had everyone talking when John Wick was first released. But there’s another element which is arguably just as crucial to the series’ longevity: the writing.
You may be raising your eyebrows, because the Wick franchise has certainly had its fair share of clunky dialogue. But the script for the first John Wick is a masterclass in screenwriting efficiency.
Brutal, right? Writer Derek Kolstad slows this moment down to make it excruciatingly painful – if there’s one thing an audience doesn’t want to see, it’s a cute dog dying.
Kolstad did the work in the opening pages of the script to establish how much Moose means to Wick, making this moment all the more sad. It’s an inciting incident which is brilliant in its simplicity. Whatever John does now, the audience is on his side. You don’t kill a dog.
Smartly, Stahelski and Leitch opted not to show too much of the dog's death, since a vivid death would have risked alienating the audience.
Watch how it plays out in the film:
In the larger context of the franchise, this moment proves to be even more important. Wick kills a lot of people, and yet we’re still on his side because of this one incident from way back in the first film. It’s a testament to how powerful the scene is – it’s a launching board for an entire series.
For more on the writing of John Wick, check out our video on the subject:
And for as good as John Wick is, the sequel manages to improve upon it.
Best John Wick Movies Ranked
2. John Wick: Chapter 2
John Wick: Chapter 2 is a great movie and an even better sequel. Stahelski and his team don’t just continue the story from the first installment, they blow it up exponentially.
Chapter 2 cements the John Wick world as one which can be explored for as many movies as its creators see fit. The world-building is fantastic. The set pieces are bigger. The cast of characters is broadened.
It’s everything you want out of a sequel.
But perhaps Chapter 2’s greatest addition to the franchise is cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Laustsen established a new visual palette for the series, pushing the look of the franchise into a more stylized, experimental direction.
With Laustsen by his side, it’s clear Stahelski felt emboldened to take visual inspiration from unexpected places.
“When I watch In the Mood for Love, I’ll talk with Dan about why the color red punches up a scene or why a certain color makes me sad. We’re always exploring these things… applying these theoretical ideas about color.”
— Chad Stahelski
These arthouse influences are on full display in John Wick 2. Watch this scene from the film, arguably one of the most famous sequences in the series:
It goes without saying that the choreography is great, but what makes this scene truly stand out is its dynamic lighting. By placing the sequence at a concert, Stahelski and Laustsen are able to be as experimental as they want with light sources.
Take a look at behind-the-scenes footage to see just how complex these lighting setups were:
It infuses a ton of life into the scene, and it’s a taste of what’s to come later in the series – Stahelski and Laustsen would continue to put fights in places where lighting can be hyperstylized.
John Wick Movies Ranked
1. John Wick: Chapter 4
John Wick: Chapter 4 is a culmination of everything that we’ve discussed so far, or in other words, everything that makes John Wick great. The stunt choreography is top of the line. The script is without frills – getting us from action sequence to action sequence without too much downtime.
The cinematography is the best it’s been yet.
As with the other sequels, Chapter 4 follows Wick as the bounty on his head has increased even more. Hey, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
This time, however, John Wick’s gone international, searching for the top assassins across the globe.
In regards to stunts, Chapter 4 offers some of the most iconic set pieces in the series so far. Take the stair scene, for example. Keanu Reeves works his entire way up the stairs, fighting bad guy after bad guy. Then, at the very top, he falls all the way back down.
It’s all done for real, and we can feel it. The viscerality of the fighting, combined with the exhaustion at the top and the long, long fall make for one of the franchises best sequences.
It’s painful but it’s also funny – which is by design. One of Stahelski’s biggest inspirations is Buster Keaton, probably the most influential stuntman of all time. Keaton’s incredible stunt work was always paired with simple and very funny humor, and that style makes its way into JW4 repeatedly, to great effect.
That’s not the only inspiration Stahelski wears on his sleeve this time around. According to Laustsen, Stahelski wanted to shoot the fourth installment like a Bernardo Bertolucci movie.
This is no small task. Bertolucci is one of the most acclaimed Italian directors, and his films are known for their breathtaking cinematography. The Conformist, particularly, uses stylized lighting to create a stunning palette.
But they say shoot for the moon and hit the stars, and hit the stars Stahelski and Laustsen did just that. Chapter 4’s imagery is the best of the series, and its visuals are made even more cinematic by using an ARRI Large Format camera.
Stahelski boasted before the film’s release:
“If you thought the last film was kooky, wait until you see what we’re doing this time with a whole new spectrum of colors. And we’re not just going to go neon to noir. I’m going to push the highlights and bring the blacks back. I’m going to skylight Keanu, and we’re not going to see an eye. We’re going portrait.”
— Chad Stahelski
The visuals live up to the hype. Check out this scene breakdown, where Stahelski discusses the stunts, lighting, and story working in unison:
There are so many set pieces which stand out in Chapter 4 (that’s why it’s number one on our list).
Let’s just take the waterfall fight scene, which encapsulates Wick 4’s incredible combination of stunt work, camera work, and lighting.
We’ve imported a portion of the scene into StudioBinder’s storyboard software:
This is action at its finest, and it’s scenes like this that make John Wick special and John Wick: Chapter 4 our favorite of the franchise.
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You now know the best John Wick movie. Speaking of Keanu Reeves, check out our list of the best action stars of all time. Does Keanu make it? Click the link to find out.