The John Wick franchise has taken the entertainment industry by storm since the first entry came out in 2014. The action scenes have revolutionized the genre, and the success has given star Keanu Reeves a career renaissance. All four are excellent movies, loved by both audiences and critics, making ranking them in this list truly difficult.

#4 John Wick (2014)

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

Assassin John Wick is forced out of retirement after his dog, a posthumous gift from his wife who died of a terminal illness, is killed by the spoiled son of a mobster. Wick must avoid being killed by the mob and other assassins as he seeks revenge. 

The movie that started the franchise also gave new life to Keanu Reeves’ career, which had been faltering by 2014. The realistic action and violence portrayed in the film revolutionized the film industry, with it being replicated in other successful action movies like Atomic Blonde and Nobody.

However, I put it last because of the lack of style within the film and the noticeably lower production values. While it did spearhead a great action-movie style, the rest of what we see on-screen can only be described as boring: everything is drab and grey, and while that color palette could be intentional, it still just doesn’t work for me; other than some long takes, we see nothing notable in terms of camera work; and because of the lower budget, there aren’t any really impressive set-pieces or long waves of bad guys, just small fights in small interiors.

That being said, John Wick probably contains Reeves’ best acting in the series, as Wick struggles to process his grief and anger. My favorite aspect of the first entry is how contained and personal the story feels in comparison to the others. The loss of a loved one is relatable to audiences, and the fact that the villain is only trying to protect his son (who is, admittedly, pretty much completely unsympathetic) is similarly so.

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Best Action Scene: Home Invasion:

#3 John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019)

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

After killing a member of the High Table on Continental grounds in John Wick: Chapter 2, Wick goes on the run. A $14 million bounty makes him the target of nearly every assassin working for his former organization. 

Parabellum ups the stakes from the first two entries, as now John is being hunted by hundreds, if not thousands, after he is declared “Excommunicado” at the very end of Chapter 2. One of the best aspects of the third film is how it carries over seamlessly from the events, and the worldbuilding, of the second. Parabellum expands the universe of the franchise by quite a lot, as we see how far the High Table reaches.

And it’s also the entry where the action begins to go way over the top; highlights of this would be a hilarious fight in a library between the 6’1″ Wick and Ernest, an assassin played by 7’4” NBA center Boban Marjanovic; and a chase where Wick evades motorcycle-riding assassins while on horseback. Parabellum also continues the beautiful stylistic choices of the second entry, largely due to Dan Laustsen, who was director of photography for the three sequels.

However, the addition of bigger action sequences doesn’t propel it to a higher spot, partly because Chapter 2 contains a mixture of over-the-top sequences and realism, whereas Parabellum‘s action and events really lean into the crazy; but like Chapter 2, it attempts to still take it all seriously. The third entry doesn’t subvert audiences expectations as much either, with a story that is the most predictable in the franchise — even if it is an action-based franchise.

Best Action Scene: Knife Fight:

#2 John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

After the events of John Wick (2014), Wick intends to retire once again. However, he is forced into carrying out another hit when a member of the High Table presents him with a “marker”, an unpaid debt, and demands he carry out a contract killing in Rome. 

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John Wick: Chapter 2 takes the simple premise of the first film and builds upon it. We begin to see the scale of the organization John works for, and we also visit other locales for the first time. The rivalry between Wick and Cassian, portrayed by Common, also gives us a few great fight scenes. The reunion between Reeves and Laurence Fishburne after the Matrix movies is awesome to see as well.

Chapter 2 also debuts the unique cinematic style of the series, with animated subtitles and eye-catching color grading and camera work from Dan Laustsen. Reeves’ dedication to the action scenes, while noticeable in the first, really stands out in this one. And the higher budget is on display with the new locations and larger, more over-the-top action scenes. Chapter 2 is extremely friendly to audiences who haven’t watched the first entry, quickly giving us the rundown on the original in the opening sequence.

It was tough to decide between Parabellum and Chapter 2, but Chapter 2 takes the second-place spot for me for a couple reasons. First, Chapter 2 maintains a better combination of the more grounded action from the first entry, and more over-the-top set-pieces. Secondly, the story isn’t as predictable as the third entry, and also sets up a change in the series’ dynamic as Wick goes from the hunter to the hunted. Wick breaking Continental rules and killing the antagonist really is unexpected, but also completely in-character, making it a stellar moment.

Oh, and we finally get to see what Wick can do with a pencil.

Best Action Scene: Catacombs Shootout:

#1 John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023)

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Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

John seemingly discovers a way to defeat the High Table in the most recent entry to the series. Traveling from New York to France to Japan, he must tread cautiously — who knows who he can trust. 

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John Wick: Chapter 4 combines the best aspects of the series. There’s a great story, one that’s both globetrotting and also very personal, as John’s friends must make a choice between helping him or protecting themselves and their people.

I might be contradicting myself by putting Parabellum in third-place for being too over-the-top while putting Chapter 4 in first-place; Chapter 4 just seems to take itself a bit less seriously than its predecessor, fully accepting the action scenes as somewhat goofy. The fight between Wick and Killa is hilariously over the top, taking place in pouring rain, with Killa being portrayed by Scott Adkins in an obviously over-the-top fat suit. The style of the franchise comes to a head here, with this being some of Laustsen’s best work, and he manages to make each set-piece feel visually unique.

The only downside to Chapter 4 is the length: clocking in at nearly 3 hours, it may be too long for some to finish in one sitting, though the near constant action of the last hour or so will probably glue you to your screen regardless.

Best Action Scene: Nunchaku Fight Scene:

What’s Next for the John Wick Franchise?

While it isn’t clear when we’ll be getting the fifth chapter to John Wick yet, the franchise still has more to offer. The Continental, a three-part limited series spinoff and prequel centering on the character of Winston, will premiere on September 22, 2023 on Peacock. Ballerina, a spinoff film starring Ana de Armas, is set to release sometime in 2024. 

For more on suave, slick-suited guys fighting each other to the death, check out our guide, How to Watch the James Bond Movies In Order.

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