What’s the best John Wick movie? The answer is harder than it may seem since all four (so far) movies in the franchise are so darn good. From the first movie’s origins as an under-the-radar film that quietly launched in the fall of 2014 to the latest installment John Wick: Chapter 4‘s big box office success, the John Wick movies have only increased in popularity and critical acclaim in the nine years it has existed.
Every John Wick movie has been praised for its innovative action and stylish direction, but which one ranks at the top? Is it the original John Wick, which established the series in the first place? Or is it Parabellum, which dramatically expanded the scope and depth of the franchise? The following is a list of all the John Wick movies, ranked in ascending order by their Rotten Tomatoes score.
It’s shocking to find out that the original John Wick, the one that started it all, is the worst-reviewed movie of the series. Don’t be mistaken though; an 86% score is very impressive, not only for an action film but for any film in any genre. The movie introduced action movie vet Keanu Reeves as the titular assassin, who, still mourning the death of his wife, accepts a last gift from her: an adorable puppy. This being an action movie, the dog is brutally killed by a Russian gang, and Wick seeks revenge for his beloved pup.
Most critics like Time’s Richard Corliss praised director Chad Stahelski’s unique approach to a tired trope, the brooding killer, by “bring[ing] a sleek, chic gusto to the six or seven big action scenes, shooting the mayhem in longish takes rather than chopping it into short shots.” Similarly, Reeves, whose flagging career was revived due to the success of the film, was also singled out as being “in his element: a natural in hard-edged action thrillers from Speed to The Matrix, he has the benefit of a screenplay that gives him little to say.” The people who did initially catch John Wick in theaters agreed, and helped spread the word about the movie, which really caught fire on DVDs and streaming.
With John Wick quickly becoming a word-of-mouth sleeper hit, it was only inevitable that a sequel would be made. Three years later, John Wick: Chapter 2 came out in 207, continuing the story of Reeves’ assassin as he’s drawn into his past profession by Italian gangsters and the mysterious ways of The Continental, the super secret organization that pretty much every assassin belongs to in this world. A bigger budget meant more action and more stars, so joining Reeves in this chapter was his old Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, and John Leguizamo.
Chapter 2 turned out to be the rare sequel that exceeded the original as critics welcomed back Wick and his hyper-realized world of secret societies, blood oaths, and archaic codes. The Detroit News’ Adam Graham praised the film, claiming that “in the wrong hands, this type of thing could be a drag, but John Wick 2 is one of the most fun action pictures in recent memory.” Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times thought Reeves was why the sequel worked, rhetorically asking “who would have guessed Keanu Reeves’ stoic, black-clad, one-man killing machine would become THE go-to bad guy/action hero of the 2010s?” Audiences answered in the affirmative, doubling the total gross of its predecessor and demanding a third chapter in the series.
Just two years later, they got their wish, as Chapter 3 was fast-tracked and quickly shot and released in the summer of 2019. Like the last one, the third John Wick brought in even bigger names like Oscar-winners Halle Berry and Angelica Huston and expanded the word of Wick and the Continental, making the High Table a legitimate threat and planting the seeds for future spinoffs like the Ana de Armas-led Ballerina.
Surprisingly, Chapter 3 received just as many accolades as Chapter 2. NPR’s Chris Klimek compared the John Wick movies to another beloved action franchise by asserting that “the set pieces are more imaginative and daring than ever. There’s a musicality and wit to the action that only the Mission: Impossible series can equal.” The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips proclaimed Parabellum “the best of the three so far” while Little White Lies’ Matthew Thrift thought that it was an “astonishing spectacle of action and staging.” Again, moviegoing audiences couldn’t get enough, with Parabellum becoming the highest-grossing John Wick film yet with $328 million in the bank.
Fourth installments in film franchises usually don’t fare too well with critics; just look at Scream 4 or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. [Better yet, don’t.] But John Wick: Chapter 4 bucked the trend, becoming the most highly praised installment in the nearly decade-old franchise. With its 169-minute runtime, epic action scenes that rival Mad Max: Fury Road‘s jaw-dropping stunts, and an extended cast that now includes martial arts master Donnie Yen, It actor Bill Skarsgård, and pop singer Rina Sawayama, Chapter 4 pushed the series forward in exciting new directions, and could be the most successful John Wick movie yet.
With its impressive 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating, it’s not only the most well-reviewed John Wick movie so far, but one of 2023’s best pictures as well. The critical consensus is echoed in MovieFreak.com’s review, where critic Sarah Michelle Fetters writes that “few series of this type have maintained this level of quality and ingenuity over four installments without growing stale.” Even The New York Times loved it, proclaiming Chapter 4 was “pure, eye-popping, body-shaking, transporting entertainment, something that (to borrow from another philosopher) has a good beat and you can dance to.” While Digital Trends’ own review of John Wick: Chapter 4 was mixed, that was just one of the few who found fault with it, and the movie received near unanimous praise. If there ever is a John Wick: Chapter 5, it will be tough to beat Chapter 4, but if any series can do it, it’s John Wick.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently in theaters. For John Wick fans, read John Wick: Chapter 4’s ending explained, John Wick: Chapter 4’s best scene, 5 reasons why John Wick is the best action movie ever, and does John Wick die at the end of John Wick: Chapter 4?
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