Everyone loves a good action movie. From the original Terminator back in 1984 to last year’s Brad Pitt-lead Bullet Train, audiences have flocked to see things get blown up real good for decades. It’s no secret that action movies usually dominate the box office; after all, would you rather see Bruce Willis sneak around the Nakatomi building in Die Hard or a three-hour movie about shepherds in Siberia?
In the last decade, no action film franchise has quite dominated the charts as the John Wick franchise. From 2014’s sleeper hit to 2023’s John Wick: Chapter 4, these Keanu Reeves-starring action movies have quietly won over the hearts of fans worldwide. But which one is the most popular? Is it the sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2, or the original John Wick, one of the greatest action movies ever? Using each movie’s worldwide box office gross, the following is a list of the most popular John Wick movies in ascending order.
Note: * means the film is still in theaters and making money. These figures are current as of April 26, 2023.
4. John Wick ($86 million)
It’s no surprise that the original John Wick is at the bottom of this list. When it came out in 2014, no one really thought much of the movie. Saved at the last minute from going direct-to-DVD by Lionsgate, John Wick had few things going for it. Its director, Chad Stahelski, was new and untested. Its star, Keanu Reeves, had suffered a series of critical and commercial flops, culminating in the notorious 2013 bomb 47 Ronin the year before. Its release date, October 24, was a no man’s land for action films, and it wasn’t a big shock when the cheesy horror movie Ouija beat it as the No. 1 movie that weekend.
And yet, John Wick persisted, grossing decent enough numbers to justify its small $20 million to $30 million budget. An $86 million total gross doesn’t sound like a lot for an action movie, but with its tiny budget and non-existent marketing campaign, the movie was able to make a tidy profit from its theatrical run. More importantly, John Wick did extremely well in home entertainment, expanding its fanbase to such a degree that Lionsgate felt confident enough to greenlight a sequel with a slightly bigger budget. And the rest, as they say, is action movie history.
3. John Wick: Chapter 2 ($174, 348,632 million)
Every sequel is designed to be bigger and better than the original. Ridley Scott’s spare and suspense-filled Alien was followed by James Cameron’s bombastic, action-heavy Aliens. The ultra-low budget Evil Dead spawned Evil Dead 2, a gnarlier, more comedic sequel that upped the blood, guts, and weird camera angle. And so like many sequels before it, John Wick: Chapter 2 aimed to be just a little bit better than its predecessor.
It worked. With a slightly bigger but still lean budget of $40 million, John Wick: Chapter 2 more than doubled the original’s worldwide gross. Part of the reason why was the cast, which expanded to include the rapper Common as Cassian, comedian John Leguizamo as Aurelio, Ruby Rose as Ares, and Reeves’ old Matrix co-star Laurence Fishburne as the Bowery King. Another factor was the impressive worldbuilding returning director Stahelski instigated in the sequel, which saw Reeves travel to Italy to complete an assignment and survive a memorable fight in the Roman catacombs. The action sequel was a hit with critics as well, who enjoyed the stylish director and deeper subplots involving the Continental and the High Table.
1. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ($328,349,387 million)
How many threequels are actually good? I love Scream 3, but it’s generally considered the worst in the franchise. Ditto Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Friday the 13th Part 3-D, Jaws 3-D, and The Godfather Part III. For every Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Creed III, there are about a dozen other threequels that a truly terrible.
John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum bucked that trend. With all the usual sequel improvements like a bigger budget (now $75 million), more stars (Halle Berry was added to the roster), and more locations (Casablanca), Chapter 3 boasted some of the most complex action scenes yet in the franchise, including one where John engages in a fight at the New York Public library with NBA basketball star Boban Marjanović and Reeves riding a horse under a subway on the streets of New York City. Wick’s world was significantly expanded with this installment, with The High Table’s members The Elder, The Abdicator, and The Director all receiving significant screen time. The movie was the highest-grossing John Wick movie in the series, a record that is likely to fall given John Wick: Chapter 4‘s phenomenal success.
1. John Wick: Chapter 4 ($359,094,319 million*)
In just over 2 weeks of release, John Wick: Chapter 4 had already outgrossed the original and John Wick: Chapter 2. What was it about this one that drove fans to see it? The awesome action scenes, which are already being called legendary? The memorable kills, including one in a rain-soaked Berlin nightclub? Is it the possibility that John Wick may die in this chapter? How about all of the above and more?
While Chapter 4 had the highest budget of all the John Wicks at $100 million, that’s still pretty conservative when compared to other blockbusters like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which cost at least $200 million. Chapter 4‘s immediate success showcases the likability and endurability of Wick’s assassin hero, who could only be played by someone as coolly remote as Keanu Reeves. It’s the perfect marriage of an actor and a role, and it’s largely why people keep coming back for more. Well, that, and the spectacular action scenes, which are some of the best Hollywood has ever produced.
John Wick: Chapter 4 is currently playing in theatres.
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