In a genre infamous for producing countless movies that are forgotten almost as soon as they’re released, it takes something truly special to become a stand-out. In 2014, Chad Stahelski’s John Wick received an overwhelmingly positive response that took the world by storm. John Wick has become a highly-acclaimed franchise, with two very successful sequels out and two more in the pipeline. It’s now popularly regarded as one of the best neo-noir action thrillers in recent memory. The reason is simple: John Wick is brilliantly executed and lets every central element or theme shine.
For those that want more of the sinister atmosphere, slick performances, and mind-blowing action sequences that this film series offers, here are 12 more films that share similar ground with the franchise, while being unique in their own right.
1. The Bourne Series (2002, 2004, 2007, 2012, 2016)
Long before there was John Wick, Matt Damon enthralled the world with his performance as Robert Ludlum’s iconic super-spy Jason Bourne — the man who wakes up with no memory other than the muscle memory of his unreal combat skills and multilingual fluency in the first movie of the series The Bourne Identity. Like John Wick, this action-packed and well-executed film gave rise to an entire series, of which the first three movies are particularly edge-of-the-seat good. The character of Jason Bourne does not have a role in The Bourne Legacy (2012), and Jason Bourne (2016) is actually a direct sequel of The Bourne Ultimatum (2007).
This series is a classic, and with good reason. It is a must-watch for fans of John Wick and simply action-thrillers at large. The stunts are thrilling, the performances are brilliant, the mystery of the plotline is exciting, and the series easily meets and maybe even surpasses the high standards of John Wick.
2. The Raid: Redemption (2011) & The Raid 2 (2014)
Like John Wick, Gareth Evans’s The Raid series showcases the mastery of the minimalist approach — it focuses on a few simple things executed flawlessly. These movies are two of the finest examples of straight-to-the-point, well-choreographed, thrilling action movies. Iko Uwais stars as the protagonist, Rama, in both the movies and delivers stunning performances.
The first movie is set in a 15-storey building, where a squad of officers get stuck during a raid gone wrong. What follows is a relentless, intense, and violent explosion of action with a nightmarish, claustrophobic quality. The second movie is even bigger and more explosive as back-breaking brutal brawls break out not within a confined building, but all over Jakarta. Both the movies are a great exhibition of the traditional Indonesian martial art form known as pencak silat. An action movie can scarcely do better than The Raid series. Everything about them is as crowd-pleasing as anything in the John Wick movies.
3. Léon: The Professional (1994)
Like Keanu Reeves’ John Wick, Jean Reno’s Léon is a hitman and a loner, who is a killing machine par excellence. His life changes when there’s a tragedy next door in which 12-year-old Mathilda’s (Natalie Portman) family is killed by a corrupt DEA agent named Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman). Mathilda persuades a reluctant Léon to teach her the skills of his trade so that she can take revenge on Stansfield.
The film is packed with tense action sequences, violence, flying bullets, and a significant body count. But the other element which really makes it shine is the emotional side and the character development of Léon and Mathilda. For a film centring around a hitman and his protégé, it unexpectedly strikes a chord rather close to the heart. The Professional may be a great option for those that appreciated the more relatable, human side of the first John Wick movie.
4. Point Blank (1967)
Stahelski has cited this cult classic as one of the influences behind his John Wick movies. Like John Wick, it is a violent and eye-popping tale fueled by a revenge motive. Lee Marvin plays the mysterious, unsentimental Walker, who goes on a one-man rampage after being double-crossed and left for dead. He is out to get back the rather insignificant amount of money which was stolen from him. And in the process, gets back at anyone and everyone who stands in his way.
The movie offers high-voltage thrills and Marvin’s portrayal of the superbly capable tough guy out on a mission is commendable. It’s also the innovative construction of the movie, the ghostly strangeness of the atmosphere, the ambiguity around the nature of the events, and the dark psyche of Walker which makes Point Blank a masterpiece of the crime genre.
5. Lady Snowblood (1973)
Lady Snowblood is a Japanese period drama based on the manga series of the same name, and is one of the inspirations behind Tarantino’s Kill Bill. This film is directed by Toshiya Fojita, and Meiko Kaji stars as Yuki, a woman born in order to become an expert assassin. Yuki’s mother brings her to the world so that, through her daughter, she can take revenge on the men who raped her and killed her husband and son.
Like John Wick, this movie is action-packed, violent, tense, and is centred around a highly-skilled killer with a revenge motive. However, the unique element that makes this movie shine is the tragic situation of Yuki, who is doomed to live through an imposed identity and a life of blood and horror since birth. The psychological and political complexity of Lady Snowblood along with its well-executed and stylised action make it a great watch.
6. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003) & Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
One of the essential Tarantino classics, the two-part Kill Bill is a martial arts and action fest extraordinaire which sees Uma Thurman in her iconic role as the Bride. Like John Wick, the Kill Bill movies have a simple plot which lets the stunning action sequences shine. Throughout the films, the Bride hunts down a team of elite assassins called the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, of which she was once a member. Her reason, like John Wick’s, is revenge. She is looking to take revenge because her fellow assassins had attempted to kill her and her unborn child on the orders of Bill, the team’s leader and her former lover.
The film presents a beautiful synthesis of Eastern and Western styles of cinema. The choreography is truly spectacular. One of the greats of action movies, the Bride, with her deadly samurai sword, is sure to give the audience an unforgettable experience.
7. The Killer (1989)
The Killer is a classic from John Woo, where an assassin, Ah Jong (Chow Yun-fat), accidentally injures the eyes of a young girl named Jennie (Sally Yeh) during what was supposed to be his last mission as a hitman. He develops a guilty conscience, and when Jennie needs money for an eye surgery, Ah Jong steps back into his bloody field to do one last job, like John Wick in the second movie of the franchise.
This of course leads to an explosion of violent and intense action performed brilliantly by Yun-fat, whose character has now become immensely influential in action movies. The question of morality, guilt, and the Christian redemption arc within a framework of a brutal bullet-fest make this film a unique masterpiece, even considered by some as art cinema.
8. Oldboy (2003)
Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy is a violent revenge narrative with plenty of action, like John Wick. But it comes with a mind-bending twist which makes it a great film regardless of genre. Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) is held captive for 15 years, never knowing the cause of it and who is behind it. Suddenly, he is released as mysteriously as he was captured and finds that his captor can hurt him yet again. So he sets out to find his captor and settle the score.
What follows is a disturbing, twisted, and psychologically complex narrative. Unlike conventional revenge narratives, in Oldboy, revenge is a double-edged knife. It not only comes from two sides, but also focuses on the hollowness of revenge itself. Watch this one for the well-executed action sequences and the unique perspective it brings to the action thriller genre.
9. I Saw The Devil (2010)
Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw The Devil is another twisted, deeply disturbing, and violent action movie. A psychopathic serial killer, Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) kills the fiancée of a National Intelligence Service agent, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), who decides to give the killer a taste of his own medicine. It is a revenge narrative like John Wick, but very dark and thought-provoking. Soo-hyun tracks Kyung-chul down and beats him to a pulp, but does not kill him.
Instead, he begins a cat-and-mouse game with him, and unleashes a side of himself which may turn out to be as evil as the man he is taking revenge on. He keeps track of Kyung-chul and torments him time and again. One of the finest Korean films of the 21st century, it’s a powerful depiction of how far people can go for revenge.
10. The Man From Nowhere (2010)
This movie from Lee Jeong-beom is an action-packed, revenge-motivated thriller with a rather touching emotional centre, resembling John Wick. Won Bin immaculately plays the John Wick type protagonist, Cha Tae-sik, a former special agent who gets pulled back into a world of crime and violence because of circumstances out of his control. Everything about Tae-sik screams iconic action hero.
Tae-sik’s only friend is a little girl named So-mi, whose mother gets into trouble after stealing drugs from some drug traffickers. So-mi’s mother leaves the drugs with Tae-sik without telling him. Once the traffickers realise Tae-sik’s emotional connection with So-mi, they kidnap her and her mother. Tae-sik then sets out to rescue his friend and crushes anyone standing in his way with his incredible combat skills. The movie portrays the emotional side of the story brilliantly and has some thrilling action sequences.
11. A Bittersweet Life (2005)
Kim Jee-woon presents an underworld of slick elegance and wry humour in this movie, which is reminiscent of John Wick. Lee Byung-hun plays Sun-woo, a highly skilled hitman who is loyal to a crime boss named Kang. Kang tells Sun-woo to follow his mistress Hee-soo, around to find out if she is having an affair with another man. Sun-woo develops a soft spot for Hee-soo and chooses not to inform Kang when he finds her with another man.
When Kang discovers this betrayal, he attempts to get Sun-woo killed. Sun-woo escapes and goes on the run, and then sets out for revenge against his former associates. The film is not as action-packed as John Wick, but the sequences are stunning and intense, and the performances and visuals are a treat. One of the greatest gangster films of all time, this one is essential viewing for hard-core fans of the genre.
12. Get Carter (1971)
Mike Hodges’ Get Carter is a masterpiece in the crime genre and a cult classic. Michael Caine plays the fearsome gangster Jack Carter, who sets out for revenge, like John Wick, when he suspects foul play in the death of his brother. Like Wick, Carter loses his stronghold in the underworld community by going against the Newcastle mob and becomes a loner who must get revenge while facing numerous obstacles.
It’s a cold and brutal thriller, but brings out the complexities and bleakness of the underworld and the lower strata of society at large in a visceral and realistic manner. Caine’s performance as a vicious and authoritative gangster makes Carter an unforgettable action hero (or anti-hero).
The John Wick series is loved by action movie fans because it captures the very essence of a dark action thriller besides being visually stunning. The above movies are some of the finest in the action genre, in league with the calibre and class of the towering John Wick franchise. Watch them to re-experience the thrills of John Wick. And if you’ve already seen all the above, here are some more worth checking out: Nobody (2021), Jack Reacher (2012), Atomic Blonde (2017), You Were Never Really Here (2017), The Villainess (2017), and Blade of the Immortal (2017).