These John Wick Franchise Secrets Are Quite Continental

With John Wick: Chapter 4 now in theaters, let's head to the tasting room for a custom blend of piercing secrets about Keanu Reeves' hit action franchise.

By Natalie Finn Mar 24, 2023 4:40 PMTags

The last time we saw John Wick, he was really... pissed... off.

Getting shot and falling off a roof will do that to a man who's already been through ever so much.

But the world loves John Wick when he's angry, as the $589 million box office for the first three films in the franchise can attest. And since it's now been (in no small part due to the pandemic) almost four years since the reluctant super-assassin played by Keanu Reeves survived that plummet from the top of the Continental, you can bet John Wick: Chapter 4 is going to be packing theaters this weekend.

And count Reeves among those who've been literally rubbing their hands together with anticipation for the latest installment, which picks up in the cinematic timeline six months after the action of Chapter 3—Parabellum.

Keanu Reeves's Best Roles

"It was awesome," he told E! News during the press junket about making the film, praising the "visionary" director of all four John Wick films, Chad Stahelski, and promising "unhinged but beautiful" action.

And to think, the now 58-year-old star signed up for the first John Wick flick about a decade ago, having no idea just how much the grieving widower who comes out of retirement to exact revenge on the well-connected thugs who beat him up, steal his '69 Mustang and kill the dog his beloved late wife arranged to be delivered after she was gone...

Excuse us, we need a moment.

Right, okay, just how much that character would resonate, that is. And here we are, nine years later, with the fourth movie in theaters, an idea for a fifth not off the table and several principal cast members, including Reeves, suiting up for the upcoming spin-off film Ballerina, starring Ana De Armas.

But before you pull up a seat at the High Table, re-immerse yourself in the John Wick universe with these secrets about the making of the hit franchise:

Get Off John Wick's Lawn

It's not worth imagining any actor playing John Wick other than Keanu Reeves, so well-suited (pun intended!) he is for the role of a melancholy assassin who can deliver a one-liner with the same razor-sharp precision he applies to vanquishing any opponent foolish enough to get in his way.

But story creator Derek Kolstad, who wrote a screenplay called Scorn that turned into John Wick, envisioned a more grizzled hero. As in, a 75-year-old widower in the Clint Eastwood or Harrison Ford vein who'd been out of the game for 25 years and has a rather old dog.

Reeves, and Only Keanu Reeves

The stars aligned, though: As Kolstad remembers in Edward Gross and Mark Altman's 2022 oral history They Shouldn't Have Killed His Dog, his agent brought him five offers for his script and encouraged him to take the lowest because that group seemed the most gung-ho about getting the movie made.

Then, Reeves' agent at the time happened to ask his good friend Basil Iwanyk, whose Thunder Road Productions had just snatched up Scorn, if he had any good action movies in the works that would be a fit for his client.

Even though the main character was still 75 in the draft he read, Reeves said yes right away (as in the same day)—with the caveat, Iwanyk remembers, that "things" needed to be done to bring the lead closer to Reeves' age.

Which at the time was around 48 but looked like 35 in regular-person years. And, incidentally, that lower number is also the age the actor told Kolstad he envisioned for John Wick.

Building the Vision

Chad Stahelski and David Leitch—who both did stunt work on The Matrix trilogy, with Stahelski serving as Reeves' body double for Neo—originally came in to punch up the action to accommodate Reeves' talents and youthful vitality, and then volunteered to direct the whole thing.

Reeves loved their ideas—"John Wick as an urban legend, a thriller assassin movie with a realistic vibe and otherworldly setting," Stahelski recalled in the book—and that's how the tone of the intense, violent and yet also witty and intricately crafted franchise was arrived at.

Stahelski has been behind the camera for all four films, while after the original Leitch moved on to direct the likes of Dead Pool 2Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and Bullet Train.

Kolstad also wrote Chapter 2, co-wrote Chapter 3 with Shay Hatten and Chris Collins, and remains credited with creating the story and characters. However, he told Collider in 2021 that he wasn't involved with making Chapter 4.

"It wasn't my decision," Kolstad said. But, basically saying that sometimes that's just the way the ball bounces in this business, he added, "I'm never going to talk s--t about John Wick. I want this thing to survive and thrive."

What Drives John Wick

The action of 2014's John Wick is largely triggered by the upsetting death of his dog (given to him by his late wife Helen, played by Bridget Moynahan in flashback throughout, so he'd have something to love [sob] in her absence), but he also wants his mint-condition 1969 Ford Mustang back from the thieves who really didn't think this all through.

But while the doomed ringleader (Alfie Allen) asks John if his Boss 429 is a 1970 model, Reeves only corrects him on the year. The car is actually a 1969 Mustang Mach 1, according to, which knows these things and points out the many features a Mach 1 has—an automatic transmission, something called a "non-functional hood scoop," etc.—that a Boss 429 from that year does not.

The site also reports that five classic Mustangs were used and effectively totaled in the making of John Wick.


John Wick in Action

Reeves has always been quick to shout out his stunt double, Jackson Spidell (who was engaged for a year to John Wick actress Adrienne Palicki after they met making the 2014 original). But Spidell has said that the actor—who was trained by fight and stunt coordinator Jonathan Eusebio in the Filipino martial art of Kali—is more often than not the guy onscreen engaging in hand-to-hand combat.


John Wick in Action

In the oral history, Spidell estimates that Reeves did "90 percent of the fights" in the first three films, while he would "jump in if there were any hard falls, car hits, high falls, stuff like that. The really extreme stuff."

Moreover, Spidell continued, "there's no wires involved. It's all about timing." And, Eusebio said, Reeves "trains constantly," whether it's for the fight scenes, handling guns or anything else to make John Wick's skills look authentic.

Welcome to The Continental

From the outside, the unusual hotel where assassins can hang their hats but not each other is played by the Beaver Building at the intersection of Wall Street Court and Pearl Street in Manhattan.

Various locations around the city stood in for the interiors of the Continental, including an old bank in the Financial District made up to look like the lobby—where concierge Charon, played by Lance Reddick, stood sentry for four films. (In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who transports souls across the river Styx which separates the living from the dead.) 

Reddick died suddenly at the age of 60 on March 17, three days before the John Wick: Chapter 4 premiere. Attendees wore blue ribbons in honor of their late co-star and the film is now dedicated to him.

Who's a Good Boy?

Daisy, the Beagle puppy whose company John Wick only gets to enjoy for a few days, was played (safely and without any incident) by 8-month-old Andy.

And yes, the filmmakers did have second thoughts about Daisy's fate, because, as Stahelski told The Hollywood Reporter, "We were risking credit cards, a house mortgage, everything. Basil Iwanyk put his company up. And then you have that day where you realize we're doing all this and we're killing a puppy? I thought we would never come back from it."

But, they rationalized at the time that the heartbreaking scene was key to the John Wick mythology. "We had to go so overboard," the director said, "so extreme to push it to let you know that it was absolutely symbolic."

It helps that, at the end of the first film, John finds himself another four-legged best friend—a dashing gray pitbull, played by good girls Princess and Cha Cha, who ends up being the ideal nameless companion for her mercurial human.

Touchdown Trot

Equestrian gymnast and trainer Tad Griffith provided several of his own horses for that sure-why-not-let's-put-John-Wick-on-a-horse-in-Manhattan chase scene in Chapter 3. Nip and Tuck ended up doing most of the heavy galloping.

Reeves, in addition to riding three times a week at Griffith's ranch, also took pains to develop a connection with the animals before the cameras started rolling.

"He was very kind to the horses at all times," Griffith told The Ringer. "People just get on them and treat them like a prop. That's the history of the industry, but that's not what he did at all. He was always concerned about their welfare and how they were feeling and he'd always talk to them, which goes a long way because that's exactly how we do it."

The chase scene, with several motorcycle-riding killers pursuing Wick, reportedly took three nights to film. A truck speeding ahead of them, Reeves would be in the saddle and attached to wires, just in case the horse stopped short. And yes, lots of editing was involved afterward.

"A lot of people would run for a mile trying to get three seconds of magic—I like to run for a football field for six seconds of magic," Griffith said, explaining that each shot consisted of about 10 seconds of galloping. "So if we get 10 seconds, I can almost guarantee six seconds of great stuff." 

Today's Secret Ingredient

That's Iron Chef America "chairman" Mark Dacascos as Zero, the sushi chef/assassin/John Wick fanboy on our antihero's trail, in 2019's Chapter 3—Parabellum.

As it turned out, Dacascos loved the movies from the beginning (he said yes before reading the script) and everyone from the films—including stuntman Spinell—was a huge fan of his (because Dacascos is actually a revered martial artist who just had a really cool gig on Food Network).

"Doing those fights with him was a weird full-circle deal in my life," Spinell said in Gross and Altman's book, "but also was just a lot of fun."

The Ghost of Helen

It's unclear what John Wick was doing with his retirement other than being Helen's adoring husband. And Moynahan, who felt the gravity of her small but pivotal role from the beginning, didn't want to know anyone other than the man her character knew and loved. So, she chose to ignore the rest of the plot.

"Helen was bringing the love and the light, and sort of the joy into his life," the Blue Bloods star told FilmIsNow in 2014. "And in that portion of the script, I didn't want to know that side of him that would maybe inform a different story for me. So I chose to leave that and take the side of John that maybe she had actually spent her life with as opposed to that side that he wasn't participating in when they were together."

Trimming the Wick

Lionsgate said in August 2020 that Chapter 4 and would be shot back-to-back, meaning at least two more outings for the royally pissed off John Wick, who at the end of Parabellum was betrayed (But was he, exactly?) by the Continental's manager Winston (Ian McShane) and poised to team up with Morpheus, er, the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) to take down the High Table.

Trimming the Wick

But, though they certainly were happy to go with cliffhangers at the end of the second and third films, director Stahelski told last summer that doing two movies at once didn't work for him.

"It seems in the other franchises that have tried it, they just feel like the same thing done again, right? Like there's no new influence," Stahelski said. "Sometimes you need that creative breath to come up with fresh s--t. Otherwise I'm stressed out about making two movies instead of one really good one. I'm just not that bright. I'm not that clever."

So as far as a Chapter 5 is concerned...we'll see.

"I think it would be unfair to our fan base and unfair to the property in general to just stretch it out in the sake of efficiency or financial or creative efficiency," Stahelski said of automatically going past Chapter 4. "I'd rather do it, take a breather, get our s--t together, analyze our mistakes and see what worked and what didn't."

John Wick: Chapter 4 is in theaters now.