The adventures of a former assassin out for vengeance against those who have wronged him is not uncharted territory in the action genre. But thanks to Keanu Reeves, 2014’s John Wick—the titular character being a former assassin out for vengeance against those who have wronged him by way of murdering his dog—quickly became an action classic. Two sequels, 2017's John Wick: Chapter 2 and 2019's John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum followed. The latest, John Wick: Chapter 4, arrives March 24, 2023. For more on John Wick, including its complex choreography, why Reeves needed ice baths, and why not every actor read the entire script, keep reading.
1. John Wick was originally titled Scorn.
Screenwriter Derek Kolstad wrote a revenge thriller titled Scorn that first circulated back in 2012. Kolstad said he was inspired by films like 2008’s Taken and 2004’s Man on Fire, which both featured determined men with special skills out for revenge. By the time the movie was released in 2014, it had become John Wick. The reason, Kolstad explained, was that Keanu Reeves kept referring to the script by the character’s name and distributor Lionsgate believed it would be too much free publicity to lose.
2. John Wick got his name from a real person.
When Kolstad was writing Scorn, he decided to name his protagonist after his grandfather, John Wick, a businessman who owned Wick Building Systems in Madison, Wisconsin. Kolstad was initially worried his grandfather might not consider it a compliment—Wick is a contract killer, after all—but the real Wick was flattered. “I was tickled by Derek using my name for a movie, and the hit man character was frosting on the cake,” the real Wick told Madison magazine in 2017.
3. John Wick was directed by the stuntmen who worked with Keanu Reeves on The Matrix.
When Reeves committed to John Wick, he looped in Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, two stuntmen with whom he had collaborated on the intense action sequences in 1999’s The Matrix who operated 87Eleven Action Design, an action and stunts company. Reeves wanted them involved with the action choreography for John Wick, but was also secretly hoping the two would want to direct the film. Fortunately for all involved, they agreed. (Stahelski ultimately received a solo directing credit on the film due to Directors Guild of America rules; Leitch was credited as a producer.)
4. John Wick was originally 75 years old.
In their oral history of the John Wick franchise, They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action, writers Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman revealed that Derek Kolstad originally envisioned Wick as being a good deal older. Wick, in Kolstad’s mind, was a spry 75-year-old who’s been retired for a quarter-century. When Reeves came onboard the project, he told Kolstad, “I’m going to play him 35.” Kolstad, eager to see his script produced, said that would be fine. (Reeves will turn 59 in September.)
5. Reeves recovered from shooting by taking ice baths.
Though he was nearing the age of 50 when he began shooting John Wick, Reeves was still game to perform many of the stunts and tumbling around that come with an action film role. In 2014, Reeves told The Los Angeles Times that he had a method for recovering from a long day of shooting: ice baths. “I first learned about ice on The Matrix, but this was another level,” he said. “I’d get home from a day of filming, get the water to 37 degrees, and lie in it up to my neck. Heaven.”
6. Bridget Moynahan didn’t read the entire script.
Bridget Moynahan—who plays Helen Wick, John’s deceased wife, in flashbacks—said she purposely didn’t read the entire script so that she wouldn’t be affected by her onscreen husband’s aptitude for killing [PDF]. “There was a large portion of the story that I didn’t want to be informed about,” Moynahan said. “I didn’t want or need to know that side of John. Helen brought love and light and joy into his life. Knowing the other side of it would make it a different story for me.”
7. The movie's intense action had to be muted on the set.
Few viewers walk away from John Wick thinking the film was too reserved in its action sequences. But on location in New York City, Stahelski and Leitch had to exercise caution when it came to staging shootouts and car chases, and not just for safety. Their filming permit didn’t allow for blank ammunition, so computer-generated muzzle flashes were often used. The permit also prohibited cars from speeding even when streets were blocked off.
8. Wick has a hobby that didn’t make the final cut.
While Wick’s interests in life seem to be mostly restricted to killing people in creative ways, he’s apparently able to express himself through less violent means, too. According to Reeves, the script for John Wick included a scene in which Wick works on restoring old leather-bound books. It was filmed, but didn’t make the final edit.
9. Wick killed an NBA player in the third film.
In the laboriously-titled John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum (that’s Latin for
"prepare for war"), Wick encounters his largest foe to date in the New York Public Library. Not late fees, but NBA star Boban Marjanović. The Philadelphia 76ers player, who stands 7 feet, 3 inches, was meant to invoke the kind of outsized henchmen James Bond sometimes encounters. Marjanović had done some commercials in his native Serbia but had otherwise never acted before. Wick dispatches him using a book as a bludgeon.
10. Each John Wick film nearly doubles the gross of the one before it.
It’s not always a given that sequels will outperform their predecessors. In the case of John Wick, filmmakers and studio Lionsgate essentially double their success each time out. John Wick (2014) grossed $43 million domestically, a modest hit. 2017’s John Wick: Chapter 2 made $92 million. In 2019, John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum earned $171 million. If this trend continues, John Wick: Chapter 4 could be on track for netting around $350 million at the box office.
11. A John Wick-verse is coming.
Each John Wick film reveals more about the professional code of conduct governing the assassin’s trade. Their common ground is the Continental, a hotel designed to cater to killers without fear of being attacked. (This sometimes doesn’t work, as people try to kill John Wick there anyway.) Lionsgate is pursuing a three-part television series, The Continental, based on the hotel, that’s expected to premiere on streaming service Peacock in 2023. Meanwhile, a spin-off film, Ballerina, about a dancer-slash-assassin out for revenge, began filming in 2022; Ana de Armas (Blonde) stars. Reeves has said he'll make a cameo appearance in the movie.
12. The studio never really wanted John Wick's dog to die.
Despite everything in the John Wick series being set in motion by the senseless murder of his dog Daisy, Lionsgate executives were apprehensive about that particular plot detail. As Hollywood thinking goes, audiences hate seeing animals harmed. The detail was in flux right up until a preview screening, in which audiences understood it would take a serious infringement to get Wick out of retirement. “There was this pushback and pushback from all different angles until that first screening,” Derek Kolstad said in 2020. “We were watching the audience. As soon as the dog died, and seeing their reaction and then seeing the siege in house, we were like, yep, we were right.”
A version of this story ran in 2020; it has been updated for 2023.