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Franchise / John Wick

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"There are three types of men in this world. Those who have something to live for, those who have something to die for, and those who have something to kill for."
Marquis de Gramont

John Wick is a neo-noir action thriller franchise created by Derek Kolstad and set in a shadowy underworld of assassins and criminals.

John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) begins the story attending the funeral of his terminally ill wife. As a final memento, she arranges for John to receive a puppy to care for so he would not be alone. Unfortunately for John, less than a day later, some young Russian gangsters break into his house to steal his Cool Car, and in the process they kill the dog out of spite.

Even more unfortunately for the gangsters, the man they just crossed wasn't just any random person but the dreaded "Baba Yaga", a retired hitman infamous in the New York criminal underground. Having lost everything keeping him at peace, so begins a Roaring Rampage of Revenge as John cuts a One-Man Army trail back to the punks who wronged him. This unveils a surprisingly complex network of criminal organizations, assassins and a central concierge that everyone defers to as the Continental Hotel. The sequels expand on John's past and his membership in the Continental, which has ties to an Ancient Conspiracy now known as the High Table.

John Wick is known for its tightly choreographed but over-the-top fight scenes using advanced gunplay and lots of headshots. The films can be best described as what happens when Neo is reimagined in the real world as the deadliest assassin alive.

Not to be confused with game designer John Wick.

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John Wick media:

    Canon Media 
  • John Wick - retroactively called John Wick: Chapter 1 (October 24, 2014): A hitman comes out of retirement to get revenge on the men who killed his dog and stole his vintage car.
  • John Wick: Chapter 2 (February 10, 2017): Wick is drawn into underworld politics when a mafia boss calls in an old favor.
  • John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (May 17, 2019): After the events of Chapter 2, Wick is on the run, with everyone gunning for him.
  • John Wick: Chapter 4 (March 24, 2023): With Wick reemerging from hiding after several months, the High Table grants unilateral authority over their resources to a man called the Marquis to finally take him down.
  • Ballerina (June 7, 2024): A Spin-Off about a young woman (played by Ana de Armas) who is raised to be an assassin, pursuing revenge on the hitmen who killed her family.
Live-Action TV

Comic Books

Video Games

  • John Wick Chronicles (February 9, 2017): A VR game where you play as John Wick, taking down targets in the Continental Hotel using a multitude of weapons.
  • John Wick Hex (October 8, 2019): A strategy game developed by Mike Bithell (of Thomas Was Alone and Volume fame).

    Media with Licensed John Wick Content 
Video Games with John Wick DLC

The John Wick franchise provides examples of:

  • Actionized Sequel: The first film had plenty of action but was a slow burn until the first major shootout about 40 minutes in, but still had a number of quieter moments in between the carnage. Each sequel escalates the size and length of the fighting, to where Chapter 4 has some action set-pieces continue for over 30 minutes and it's noted that John Wick himself only has just over 100 words of dialogue.
  • Adventure-Friendly World: Darker and Edgier version anyway. The world's crime organizations have formed The High Table, with the various services of The Continental providing a network of safe havens and services for scores of assassins to conduct their deadly business (in Parabellum in particular, roughly a third of the population of New York appear to be assassins). While this formalised underworld and shadow economy is naturally the perfect background for a crime/action movie, one can only imagine what life is like for ordinary people as a result of criminals having so much power.
  • Ammunition Conservation: John tends to restrict himself regarding how much ammunition he uses against his opponents. This practice gets particular focus in the first film with the Red Circle shootout, where John kills Viggo Tarasov’s men with an average of two and a half bullets per combatant.
  • Apathetic Citizens: There is a general disinterest in the bloody violence that occurs through the films. While much of it is explained as people who are in on the nature of the characters (a cop shows up to Johns' house with bodies on the floor as a "noise complaint" and is non-plussed by the scene, but John knows him as Jimmy) at other times they appear to be outright oblivious to it.
  • Arc Words: "Be seeing you, John."
  • Art Evolution: There is a noticeable evolution and refinement in the films' visual language, as the action goes from relying on mid-to-tight shots in the first film to wider framing to allow for more-elaborate sets and larger, more-complex staging. The fourth film even switched to a digital 65mm format so that even more elements could be put on screen at once.
  • Artistic License – Economics: A justified example. The shadow economy of the High Table and the Continental network runs on favors more than money, with the network minting their own gold coins to represent exchange of favors, along with markers representing non-transferrable, non-refusable blank checks in regards to return favors. Bounties are still offered in dollars, and it's unclear how exactly the conversion between gold coins and conventional currency works.
  • Book Ends: Chapter 1 begins at John's wife's grave. Chapter 4 ends at John's.
  • Boom, Headshot!: "Headshot" could be an alternate title for the series. John (and Sofia in Parabellum) always make sure their targets are down, which means almost all of them get at least one bullet to the head.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Heavily averted to degrees almost unseen in the genre, to the point action scenes are planned out to always account for how much ammunition John has, scripting around when he has to reload or grab another firearm once emptied.
  • Car Fu: Action sequences revolving around using cars as weapons show up a few times. In particular, the franchise loves to have Wick himself get hit by a car, and as a Running Gag the car always hits him on his right: it happens once in the first film, twice in Chapter 2, and once in Chapter 3.
  • Carnival of Killers: Every film but the first has John fight his way through at least one.
  • Central Theme: Rules and consequences: every single plot development across all the films result from someone breaking the rules and suffering the consequences that follow. This is codified into the myriad, archaic rules that govern the assassin underworld that its members are defined and abide by. More broadly, the films also showcase characters that are bound by their past choices and sworn oaths, and the consequences of honoring or not honoring their word.
  • Culturally Religious: The films use a lot of Christian imagery and terminology, although no character expresses real belief in any religion. For example, no business can be done on the grounds of a Continental while it's considered consecrated and those who fall foul of the High Table are declared excommunicado. This is taken to its furthest conclusion in Chapter 4, with the finale taking place at the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, the Harbinger donning a priest's stole and quoting the King James Bible in Latin, while John ultimately becomes a Christ-like martyr (complete with stigmata) and dies while showing his fellow assassins that the grip of the High Table isn't absolute.
  • Deuteragonist: Winston turns into this starting in Chapter 2, after Chapter 1 presented him as the All-Powerful Bystander who was sympathetic to John. While John drives most of the plot and action, Winston is the one primarily interacting with the High Table and its representatives and is ultimately one of the few characters who receives tangible development of any kind other than John.
  • The Dog Bites Back: A recurring plot element in the series is how those in power think they can get away with screwing those beneath them, namely John, thinking their resources will provide protection. They eventually find out it's a bad idea to antagonize a violent man who is The Determinator with Unstoppable Rage.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: The spec script for Ballerina was written as an original story, and was adapted to fit into the John Wick universe after it was purchased by Lionsgate.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Unlike the rest of the series, Keanu Reeves didn't train at Taran Tactical for the first film, resulting in Wick's fighting style being subtly different. The most visible result of this is the complete lack of Product Placement for Taran Tactical in the first film, whereas future films take the opportunity to showcase their logo on several of John's weapons.
    • The first film has a lower budget compared to the other movies, which is apparent in its smaller scope and having a bit more mood and atmosphere; it's notably the only film in the series that doesn't travel abroad, instead taking place entirely within New York City and its immediate surroundings. A Car Chase at the end of the film is comparatively low energy because they didn't have the budget to wreck the vehicles. Later films ramped up the scale with globe-trotting, sustained action sequences and a few VFX shots.
    • Mrs. Perkins isn't refereed to as becoming "excommunicado". Winston simply tells her that her membership to Continental has been revoked, and has four mooks shoot her dead with no fanfare.
    • The first two films dropped multiple hints that Winston is the All-Powerful Bystander and ultimate authority in the assassin's world. He was shown inspecting coins from a craftsman and putting it in circulation, implying that he's the creator and central bank of their financial system. He was also shown keeping the book of blood oaths and markers and most notably Santino was always shown shrinking before him despite being a High Table member. The third movie showed that he's really only middle management and most of his authority can be revoked by the High Table.
    • There's a difference in tone from the first movie regarding the underground economy the Continental represents, where the Continental and the gold coins is presented more as this secondary economy used by the underworld rather than the all controlling murder illuminati it becomes in the second and third film. A lot more emphasis is given to the pageantry and the efforts of the Continental to disguise itself, and it's implied it has clients who know nothing of the criminal activities what with the bar that serves assassins being hidden in the basement beyond the laundromat of the hotel. In later movies it seems no one uses the Continental that doesn't know what it's about, and a lot less effort is made to hide the activities of the hotel. It also shows the assassin world being much smaller - the two assassins taking contracts on John are people he knows himself prior (Perkins and Marcus) despite Viggo's contract on John being an open contract. By the second movie, there are apparently enough assassins in New York for Winston to organize a borderline Flashmob of them, and by the third, it's like half of New York's population is a hitman and John having a contract on him causes dozens of assassins to home in on him.
    • A side effect of the above is that some element of John's backstory in the first movie clash with later revelations. Namely that John had to do favors to the Tarasov Crime Family to retire. Later movies establish John as being not only already famous in the broader organization but in close terms with two separate members of the High Table, and Winston. It seems ludicrous that he'd need Viggo's (who is never depicted as having much ties to the High Table beyond owning some gold coins) permission to retire. Similarly John's fame inside the organization and how many assassins recognize him on sight after only receiving his name and a bounty number makes it really hard to believe Iosef and his two friends didn't know who John is. He's basically the only person in New York who doesn't.
    • Perkins's willingness to kill inside the Continental is seen as just the money (a $2 million bounty) being too good to pass up, but Chapter 2 has Santino put a $7 million dollar bounty on John's head halfway through the movie, which doubles by the end of the movie and continues to climb throughout Parabellum and Chapter 4. Despite this, absolutely no one even tries to kill John while he is in a Continental, even Zero and his students, who are hunting John on behalf of the High Table, until the New York Continental is deconsecrated and invaded in Parabellum.
      • Perkins attempt to do business in the Continental becomes a lot dumber (which is saying a lot, given that her target was John Fucking Wick) when subsequent movies show that doing business within a consecrated facility like the Continentals is considered an act against the most powerful organization in the world, and being declared "excommunicado" and subsequently marked for death by every assassin in New York as penance for violating the Truce Zone is probably your best-case scenario.
    • The series' love of heavy on-set neon color washes was present in the first film, but significantly more subdued and naturalistic, with the bright neons largely being confined to the Red Circle club where it has an easy justification. This change in cinematography style is likely thanks to the inclusion of Dan Laustsen to the production crew, who became the lead cinematographer in Chapter 2 and returned for all of the sequels.
  • Extremely Short Timespan:
    • Each film takes place over the course of a week at most, and are separated by days at most (the end of Chapter 2 and the start of Parabellum are separated by less than an hour in-universe, which is a plot point), which means that all the physical and emotional battering that John has gone through since his wife died at the start of the first film has taken place over the course of a month at most.
    • In Parabellum, the Director even refers to "all the chaos you've caused in the last few weeks," when chastising John for showing up at the theater; that takes place the same night his excommunicado is in effect, and the final scene of the film is the morning after the seven days the Adjudicator gave Winston and the Bowery King.
    • There is a significant Time Skip between Parabellum and Chapter 4, which John spent hiding and healing before going back out to hunt, but the film itself takes place over maybe a week at most like all the others.
  • Faceless Goons: Uses this on a few occasions, most notably during the home invasion scene in the first film, the catacombs fight in the second, and the Casablanca fight and the invasion of the Continental in the third. Otherwise, the films largely avoid this and make a point to show off a mook's face and end-of-life emotions whenever possible.
  • Franchise-Driven Retitling: The first film has been given the subtitle, Chapter 1 to match the sequels.
  • Fun with Subtitles: The franchise has fun Playing With this trope. In the beginning of the first film, when John was a civilian, the subtitled foreign languages were an unobtrusive white text. But as soon as he returns to the criminal underworld, all translations use a bold, noticeable font that highlights significant words with colour, which remains in use for the rest of the series. Subtitles are so ubiquitous the series tries to cram in as many foreign languages as possible, and even has a villain in the second movie who is mute, meaning she can only "speak" subtitles through ASL.
  • Gun Fu: John Wick uses a fusion of Sambo and Center Axis Relock to lethal effect. Unusually for this trope (and despite people depicting him with Guns Akimbo in fanart and elsewhere), John's preference when he goes to work is single-gun.
  • The Masquerade: Though not as distinctly overt as some examples, there's a subtle indication that there are two worlds; one law enforcement, civilians, and mundane existence, and a secret realm of assassins.
    • There's a visual and audible shift when one transitions between the "normal" world and the underworld of criminals and assassins. In the civilian world everything is paler, with a more washed-out color palette and somber music. Once John moves into the underworld of killers and criminals - or said underworld intrudes into the civilian one - the colors become more vibrant and more intense music is played.
    • In more than one case, Winston or other characters speak of the civilian world as being "outside" of the realm of assassins. For example, even though Santino has a Marker given by John, he only cashes it in for John's service when he believes John has "returned" to the world of assassins. The events of both the second and third movies don't outright say it, but civilians don't even seem to be able to perceive assassins killing each other all around them unless it is done so in a way that puts them in danger. John and Cassian can shoot each other with silenced weapons with no response from others, and John and Zero can knife assassins in a crowded train station with no response from anyone nearby.
    • The various dealings of criminals are referred to as being "under the Table". This can be taken both literally (within the rules and sanctions of the High Table) and metaphorically (secretive and out-of-sight).
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The first film is a very grounded neo-noir action film, but the second introduces the High Table and civilians stop responding realistically to the violence around them. It all begins to suggest that the being Under the Table is actually a kind of mystical otherworld that exists alongside the mundane civilian world. However, none of that is ever confirmed and the movies just run on Rule of Cool at any given moment.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Prevalent in the first three movies. In contrast to the 250+ men that John killed throughout the series, the number of female Mooks he has encountered could be literally counted on one hand: Ms. Perkins in the first film, Ares and the Violinist in the second, and the young assassin at Grand Central Station in the third. Of these characters, only the Grand Central assassin was a completely throwaway extra. John Wick: Chapter 4 tipped the balance and added many more female Mooks to go after John (and be gunned down in turn).
  • Nebulous Criminal Conspiracy: There's two in the form of the Continental hotel chain, which acts as a Truce Zone and business ground for criminals and assassins, and the High Table, an alliance of the twelve heads of the world's most influential criminal organizations. The Continental and High Table seem to have some sort of arrangement worked out between each other, with the latter being dominant, but the specifics of it aren't fully delved into.
  • Noodle Incident: Characters occasionally mention the "Impossible Task" that Viggo Tarasov gave John as the condition to leave the criminal underworld. The Impossible Task is never described in detail, beyond that John left behind an ocean of corpses over the course of a single night that allowed to Tarasov Crime Family to become the major power players they are today, and that Santino D'Antonio apparently gave John assistance in exchange for a blood debt.
  • Once per Episode: Or rather once per movie we get a massive shootout during the second act that takes up a good portion of the film’s body count. In all movies except the third, this happens in the middle of a crowded club.
    • Also, once per movie, the Big Bad calls John (or in the third film, Winston) to engage in some Evil Gloating, only for John to hang up on them in mid-sentence without saying a word. In the fourth film, Mr. Nobody gets in on it as well in his last phone call with the Marquis, who called him in a middle of a furious firefight with John Wick to negotiate the price on John's head. Mr. Nobody, fed up with the Marquis's mistreatment of him, simply gives him his final price offer (that goes up to 40 million) before hanging up on his boss before the Marquis could protest otherwise.
    • Each of the films features one prominent scene/sequence where John uses a shotgun as his primary weapon; while it only lasted for one scene in Chapter 1, from Chapter 2 onwards it is always a multi-scene sequence showing John going on a rampage with the shotgun.
  • Prefers Proper Names: Winston and Addy (and Julius, the manager of the Rome Continental) are the only characters in the films to refer to John as "Jonathan". But the third film reveals that this too is an alias.
  • Protagonist Title: As one can easily guess, the series is about a hitman known as "John Wick". Though in the third film, it's revealed to be a nickname he adopted after coming over to the United States from Belarus as "Jardani Jovanovich".
  • Retro Universe: The series is clearly set in the present day, and the "ordinary world" is no different from our own. The assassins' underworld, however, is built on a feudal system of fealty, and they have a strong preference for antiquated technology in everything except weaponry: gold coins as currency, rotary phones and typewriters all see use and go unremarked upon.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: There is a reason why the trope's main page image is John Wick killing everyone involved in the murder of his beloved dog.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: The third film sets up the High Table and the Elder who sits above it as the real antagonists. The fourth film makes the story a conflict between those who value loyalty, friendship, family, and the rules that create community on the one hand and the authority figures who think they're above the rules on the other.
    • John breaks the rules but honestly seeks to make amends, while the High Table cares only for its own power. The Adjudicator bulls through New York punishing people who helped John within the rules, but against the High Table's wishes, or in a conflict between different rules and against the High Table's wishes.
    • The Bowery King helped John; absolutely not against the rules, but he helped John kill a member of the High Table, so his men are killed and he's almost executed. Note that Santino also killed a member of the High Table, but the High Table didn't have a problem with it because he did so to take his sister's seat. They value their power over the rules and see his attempt to acquire that power as legitimate, whereas they view John's grievance at having been used as a tool and discarded as illegitimate.
    • Winston gave John an hour's head start, something that was within his authority, but he is likewise punished because the High Table views it as an insult. His hotel is deconsecrated and his life declared forfeit. When he's offered a path back in, the Table sets the price as the death of his friend.
    • In the fourth film, Winston is punished further because, despite shooting John and causing him to fall off the roof of the New York Continental, John survived. His hotel is demolished and his friend, Charon, the Concierge, murdered in front of him.
    • The Director aided a member of her family and made it clear that it would be the last time he would ever be allowed to call on them. In consequence, many of her family are killed and she gets stabbed through the hands by Zero. The fourth film doubles down on this, as the Director has vanished and we learn that the new head of the family, Katia, saw her father (John's uncle) killed by the High Table in further punishment and then they sent her a bill for the cost of his execution.
    • John earned his Marker with Sofia by secreting her daughter from the underworld, and she consoles herself for that loss with the comforts of her position as Manager of the Casablanca Continental and with a replacement family in her dogs. Markers are extreme and this is extremely It's Personal so she reluctantly takes him to a member of the High Table to beg an audience with the Elder. To punish her for her loyalty, the member demands one of her dogs, then kills it when she refuses. We never learn how or if she was punished for that.
    • The Marquis in the fourth film is given a blank check and suspends all the rules, punishing everyone near John Wick so that he can "kill the idea of John Wick". This backfires, as even the Harbinger is uncomfortable with his excesses and prefers to abide by the rules. The Harbinger ends up siding with John, declaring him the victor of his duel after the Marquis, in his arrogance, steps into the field and leaves himself vulnerable within the rules. Everything about the duel is within the rules, but the Marquis has to be manipulated into it by Winston.
      • The Marquis also plays loose with every deal he makes, ultimately alienating not just the Harbinger, but the Tracker (Nobody) and Caine, who both decide to ally with John, though they've been tasked with killing him or else die themselves. Caine does this out of loyalty to his friend and Nobody because John saved his dog. John repays Caine by allowing the latter to kill him in their duel so he can reunite with his daughter, and so that John can trick the Marquis into entering the dueling ground and be killed.
    • The fourth movie's first act is at the Osaka Continental, where John seeks refuge from his old friend, Koji, the Manager there. Koji all but lays out the film's central premise when he welcomes John at great cost to himself.
    Koji: Friendship means little when it's convenient.
  • Screw the Rules, They're Not Real!: The criminal underworld in the franchise has a lot of rules, overseen by the High Table and its enforcers, which they argue are "the only thing that separates us from the animals." They take the rules very seriously and have a lot of resources to enforce them, but...
    • In the first movie:
      • Marcus and Perkins both accept the contract on John despite the rule that "no business may be conducted on Continental grounds".
      • Marcus plans to snipe John through his hotel room window. This is clearly against the spirit of the rules, but it's possible he thought shooting into the Continental from across the street was a gray area. In any case, Marcus loses his nerve when he actually sees his old friend, and shoots John's pillow to warn him of Perkins breaking into his room.
      • For her part, Perkins murders another assassin in an escape attempt after John subdues her, and is executed for it by Winston's security.
    • Starting in Chapter 2, John becomes increasingly frustrated with continually being dragged back into the underworld by its rules, culminating in him blatantly violating the Truce Zone when his enemy Santino takes refuge in the Continental and John kills him anyway.
    • In Parabellum, the High Table begins a crackdown on people who aided John against their rules, ultimately making an enemy of the Bowery King (setting up the sequel), who is newer to the scene and already doesn't like either them or their rules.
    • Chapter 4 establishes that the rules are truly what matter, because the real enemies are the rulers who think they're above that (a conflict that begins with the Adjudicator in the third film and escalates with the Harbinger and the Marquis in the fourth).
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: After the entirety of the first film took place in New York City and its surroundings, Chapter 2 spends its middle act in Rome, Italy, while Chapter 3 does the same with Morocco. Chapter 4 has the first act in Osaka, Japan, the second in Berlin, Germany, and the third in Paris, France.
  • Serial Escalation: Each film aims to heighten the bodycount, the complexity of the action sequences and have John find new ways to dispatch the hundreds of assassins trying to kill him. Accordingly the budget for each film doubles from the previous one.
  • Shout-Out: John Wick can ingest painkillers to fight with full function, even with debilitating injuries, much like Max Payne does.
  • Signature Move: The Gun Fu John employs relies heavily on headshots, body shots to distract them then follow up with a headshot, or flip someone to the ground and follow up with a headshot. This was especially true in the first film. Later films spice things up with using more martial weapons and not just firearms, but the principles remain similar.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: The antagonists get bigger with each movie. The first movie had the Tarasov Russian mob, who were mostly localized to New York. The antagonists of Chapter 2 operate across multiple countries and had ties to the High Table. Chapter 3 sees the High Table themselves step forward and send their representative and personal assassins after John. Chapter 4 features an even higher-ranking High Table representative with more resources and a much bigger amount of assassins at his disposal.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: While the first movie can be watched standalone on its own, the second one directly follows up on the first and ends on a very clear cliffhanger that leads directly into the third. The third movie ends in another cliffhanger leading into a fourth, it ends up being a two-part tetralogy. Not that anyone's complaining.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Being a henchman in this universe isn't a fun time; while plenty of attention is given to the conflict and politics of the big names in the criminal underworld, their underlings are treated as little more than collateral damage when those names start falling out. For two examples:
    • In the beginning of Chapter 2, John kills or at least seriously injures a number of mooks on his way to find Abram Tarasov, who he is amicable towards and spares without a fight.
    • Chapter 3 really indulges in this. Zero's men slice their way through both The Director's and The Bowery King's men to get to their respective leaders, after which they're physically punished but left alive. Winston shooting John also counts as this, regardless of Winston's true intentions.
  • World of Badass: Apparently, half of the population in any major city of the world in the setting are either hitmen, assassins, bounty hunters, and various kinds of deadly killers who are all part of a criminal world so powerful and vast, they pretty much are their own law enforcement. Even civilians in the setting don't even bat an eye or panic that much when people start killing each other right next to them.
  • World of Jerkass: The titular character is The Dreaded Hitman with a Heart, while the rest of the cast is made up of merciless criminals — some of whom are Affably Evil, however — who are prepared to hunt down and kill one another for money, pleasure, or vengeance.


Video Example(s):


Bikes and Swords

Arriving in New York City, John Wick attempts to escape from Zero and his subordinates, who chase him down with motorcycles. What ensues is a battle in a construction highway with swords whilst driving.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChaseFight

Media sources: