All John Wick Movies Ranked From Worst to Best
In preparation for John Wick: Chapter 4, we take a look at all the movies in Keanu Reeves’ gun-fu action franchise, ranked from worst to best.
A man loses his puppy to mobsters and goes out for revenge. It might not sound like a premise that could spawn an entire action franchise, but that’s how life is stranger than fiction sometimes.
Starring the never-aging Keanu Reeves, the John Wick series is an action thriller series directed by Chad Stahelski. It follows the titular main character, who is a legendary ex-hitman in a hidden worldwide society of killers. When a chance encounter with his old boss’s son leads to said son stealing his car and killing his recently deceased wife’s dog, John starts down a brutal path of revenge that eventually escalates into a worldwide conflict.
When the franchise first started off in 2014 with John Wick, I doubt many expected this to be so successful with how simple the premise was. Yet not only has it grown so popular to the point that we got Fortnite memes about it (that’s real, look it up), but it has also been praised for taking a new step in the paradigm of action movies. And today, in celebration of John Wick: Chapter 4, we have ranked all the current movies from worst to best.
Before that, however, there are some things we need to make clear. All of the movies I am about to rank, regardless of their placement, are highly entertaining and well-made action movies, and I would recommend any one of them. Moreover, the reasons for why they are so good remain consistent across all the entries. And since it would be tedious to repeat the same points over and over, let’s first look at the strong points that the John Wick movies all share, and why they have captivated so many over the years.
THE JOHN WICK MOVIES: COMMON STRONG POINTS
The John Wick series isn’t particularly deep or philosophical; it is not concerned about where the protagonist’s suit color is a grim reflection of his mental state or something. Its main strength is seeing the various ways our main character can kill bad guys over its runtime. And it is in that regard that the series’ biggest strength lies.
A trend you can see over a majority of modern action movies is the tendency to employ quick cuts or shaky cam. Both are used for various reasons. It could be to make the action scene feel more kinetic, as having the screen shake the moment a fist connects can help exaggerate the impact, or it can be to cover up poor stuntwork. These aren’t necessarily bad techniques: movies like the Bourne series have used them to great effect. However, it is their overuse that is the real issue. So many action movies nowadays seem unwilling to provide a clear picture of the action.
Which is where the John Wick movies come in. Shots in its action scenes can last up to over ten seconds, which may not seem like a lot, but I should stress in most action movies, the average shot length is about as long as the time I’ll survive fighting Keanu Reeves, aka 2-3 seconds. And these sorts of long takes appear consistently, all the while the camera remains steady on the action. This gives a good sense of clarity and satisfaction for the audience.
Of course, the action cannot be complete without good stuntwork, which Keanu Reeves provides in spades. His movements are downright professional, and because he did most of the action himself, the camera can clearly show us his face instead of having to cheat and switch to an angle where they can CG his face on a stunt double. In addition, the movies show a good understanding of how guns would realistically work, counting ammunition or showing good gun discipline, which adds to the authenticity.
And it isn’t like the series is devoid of lore either. In fact, when you put aside the action scenes, the worldbuilding is what keeps the audience interested when people’s brains aren’t being blown out. This isn’t just the standard mafia at work; this is an entire society of killers with their own set of services like hotels, body cleanup, gun shops, and also has strict rules they adhere to, such as being forbidden to kill within their hotels.
These sorts of details are organically revealed throughout the course of the movies, in how they affect the characters’ lifestyles and options. It gives a uniqueness to John Wick movies, a sense of style that the series marinates in. Of course, these hitmen would pay with ornate golden coins and call a gun shop owner “the sommelier.” And from here on out, what determines superiority between the movies mainly comes down to how successfully each of them balances the aforementioned elements.
ALL JOHN WICK MOVIES, RANKED FROM WORST TO BEST
3. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum
The central issue with Parabellum can be summed up with the phrase, “less is more.” It is easily the most action-packed out of the movies, and at first glance it makes sense. After all, the premise is that John Wick is on the run from every killer in the world now. And to its credit, it has many memorable scenes such as John fighting with throwing knives or dueling ninjas on top of motorcycles.
However, as we move frantically from one action scene to the next, I can’t help but feel tired. Not only are there a lot of action, but some of them also overstay their welcome, such as the shootout with Halle Berry in the middle of the movie or the climax battle in the hotel continental. I might love hot chocolate, but if you kept pouring me bucketfuls every five minutes, I am either going to get indigestion, dump the last bucket on your head, or both.
It doesn’t help that the story progression also feels minimal. We start off with John Wick on the run from the killer society, and we end with him about to fight against that killer society. Granted, there is more to the plot such as Belle Berry’s dog love or ninjas blasting j pop songs in the background, but it still feels like we ended largely back where we started.
Because of this, even though the runtime itself isn’t terribly long – clocking in at 131 minutes – I felt rather worn out by the end. Parabellum feels very clearly like a setup for John Wick: Chapter 4. And while I am excited, it does mean that this movie on its own feels more like a reloading phase than a blowing-out-brains phase.
2. John Wick
Let’s start off with the biggest reason I love the movie: it has the single best action sequence in the entire franchise, that being the Red Circle club shootout. From the music, the snappy choreography that feels specifically tuned to said music, to the lighting and cinematography, there is a simple cleanness to it. It also helps that this is the first real demonstration of why John is so legendary, heightening its impact.
With that said, the rest of the action scenes struggle to leave as much impact. They are still well-made, but both compared to the club scene and also the other sequences in future movies, they aren’t as memorable in setting or moments, boiling down to shootouts in industrial settings. It’s like one shining diamond decorated with glass.
The story is very simple and self-contained, starting and ending with John hunting down the Russian mafia that killed his dog. Despite that however, the story does have a pacing issue different from Parabellum. Slight spoilers but John eventually kills the person who killed his dog. Yet instead of ending there, the movie keeps going for another ten or so minutes, and it feels like the movie is stretching to come up with a reason for John to kill even more people. It doesn’t come across as completely illogical, but the reason they give feels less strong than John’s initial motivation of becoming the puppy avenger.
John Wick I still find great merit in that you could watch just this movie and still get an incredibly solid experience. But in the context of the franchise, it cannot help but feel a bit less brilliant. I get that you couldn’t escalate up to 100 from the get-go, even the Fast and Furious series didn’t start off with skyscraper jumping. But I still am reminded of the fact that this is the first in the series, for both better and for worse.
1. John Wick: Chapter 2
This is the movie that I feel struck the right balance between action and lore. There’s not so much that it gets as overbearing as Parabellum, but there is still a plentiful amount. In addition, the budget seems to have gotten a boost, as the locations are much more exotic and allow for interesting shots, such as a shootout within a gallery full of mirrors.
But what’s just as important is how this movie handles escalation. John Wick’s story was much simpler and remained relatively confined. Parabellum kicked off right away in full throttle. This movie, however, starts off with a simpler mission but then opens up into a full-blown manhunt for John Wick. Since the stakes get raised in the middle of the movie, it keeps our attention and tension completely throughout its entire runtime.
The escalation also pertains to the worldbuilding. Unlike Parabellum, the movie leaves enough breathing room to allow for slower moments that show us more of this hitman underworld that the first movie didn’t. One such detail that stands out is the “tasting” scene where John goes and tests out a variety of guns to use for a mission. It is my favorite non-action scene in the series, because it is both a way of showing off Keanu Reeves’ gun discipline and also provides more details on how these hitmen operate.
John Wick: Chapter 2 is just the best of both worlds between the first and the third movies. I suppose the only “complaint” I have is that this movie ends on a cliffhanger, which sets up Parabellum, but in this case I am fine with it because it ties into the aforementioned sense of escalation. It takes the fear of sequelitis and lands a Mozambique drill on it.
John Wick 4 will be released globally in theaters on March 24, 2023. The other John Wick movies are now available to watch on digital and on demand.