Five Favorite Films

John Wick Chapter 3 Director Chad Stahelski's Five Favorite Action Films

The former stuntman also explains why working with Keanu Reeves is so easy and reveals how to get a part in a John Wick movie.

by | August 23, 2019 | Comments

Isa Foltin/Getty Images

(Photo by Isa Foltin/Getty Images)

It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that director Chad Stahelski is so simpatico with John Wick star Keanu Reeves. After all, the former stuntman was literally Reeves’ double on The Matrix films, and the pair have turned this creative synergy into one of the most unlikely action franchise success stories of the last 20 years. Measured against the multi-film universes being built by Marvel Studios, John Wick was a relatively simple tale of a former hitman avenging his murdered puppy. But the strange underground world of assassins it introduced continues to grow and develop thorough two sequels, with more to come.

After co-directing John Wick with Deadpool 2 director David Leitch, Stahelski took the reins himself on John Wick: Chapter 2 and the most recent John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The Wick films gained a huge following not just for the stylish world they built, but for the refreshing clarity of their action sequences. Rather than frantically cutting around, the camera pulls back and lets you see every carefully choreographed move and jaw-dropping action sequence. So the question is where does Stahelski go when he needs some inspiration? Although he claims to  have “hundreds” of favorite action films, we asked him to narrow down the five that most influenced John Wick.


Seven Samurai (Shichinin no Samurai) (1956) 100%

Let’s go with Seven Samurai. I’m a huge Akira Kurosawa fan. You can tell that Parabellum is the closest thing to a western chanbara film—which is a Japanese slang term for a samurai/sword-fighting movie. John Wick is basically paying tribute to all the great samurai and spaghetti westerns out there. That’s where we get it.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) 97%

Let’s support Sergio Leone, too. If you look at the composition and the editorial style of Seven Samurai and Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, obviously, Leone and Kurosawa are very close. Both in style and thematics.

Bullitt (1968) 98%

John Wick 1 was heavily influenced by Steve McQueen, by Bullitt. The Mustang and the turtleneck… Also, French Connection, that sort of thing. All those great ’70s films, they were a big part of John Wick 1.

The Raid: Redemption (2012) 87%

John Wick 2 was really influenced by Hong Kong and Asian films and John Wick 3 went even crazier and was heavily influenced by The Raid. Gareth [Evans’] stuff, it’s great.

House of Flying Daggers (2004) 87%

I love Zhang Yimou. I worked with him briefly when I was prepping a show for Legendary Films – I didn’t stay on that show, the timing didn’t work out, but I got to work several months with Zhang Yimou which was great. His use of colors, that’s what we used in John Wick. My cinematographer Dan Laustsen and I were very influenced by the artistic way he used color, because Zhang Yimou is also a photographer and amazing artist. It’s funny; when asked what my influences in action are, I usually choose them based not on the actual action choreography. It’s the vibe, the thematics of the action. Or how it’s shot and composed. That’s very important to me.


Eric Alt for Rotten Tomatoes: As you continue to push the John Wick world further, do you ever think about stunts or sequences that are just too over the top?

Chad Stahelski: Honestly, the answer is yes, all the time. The amount of ideas that pile on in the beginning of prep — hundreds of different stunts and fights. They say the hardest thing to do is take a blank piece of paper and make something out of it, and that’s what we do every time. It’s easiest when I can say, “He’s a military guy who can only do Krav Maga.” Gun-fu just didn’t exist. We have to make that s— up. You don’t often see sword fights on motorcycles — you have to make that s— up. Or you have to take something you’ve seen a million times and turn it on its head — that’s how we choreograph.

RT: Where are the boundaries?

Stahelski: The boundaries are just a gut instinct, to be honest. I’m very opinionated on everything from film to color to music. Apart from that, I’ve just been incredibly lucky that the things I like, people also think are cool and want to see. I’m happy to go to extremes — I’m happy to run horses down Brooklyn, I’m happy to do motorcycle ninja fights, so long as its done in a way I feel fits this world. The great thing about the John Wick world is that, between Keanu and I, we are the world. If we’re creating the world as well as the action, we feel we can do no wrong. It’ll fit.

RT: Having a stunt background yourself, you must feel pretty protective of the action sequences.

Stahelski: You watch [Steven] Spielberg or you watch [Christopher] Nolan or you watch James Mangold or [David] Fincher — they control the tone in every shot. A director directs. They direct everything. He should have an opinion on everything. If I was a second unit guy coming in where the director didn’t care about the world and the cinematographer didn’t care, that’s when things get really disjointed. It’s why so many times in film you can see the tone changing throughout the movie — I feel like the filmmaker hasn’t made a commitment. The Wachowskis were not kung fu experts before The Matrix; they spent a year of their lives studying [Yuen] Woo Ping and meeting with him and watching every kung fu movie out there and diagramming and breaking down choreography and going to every stunt rehearsal to figure out what made it tick.

RT: Is it difficult to get new actors onboard with the way Wick films work?

Stahelski: Well, we have a little street cred now, so… Like, we’re doing John Wick 4 and anybody who wants to get together and meet or chat… If someone’s a fan of the show, I’d love to meet them. And that’s how I met Halle [Berry] and Mark Dacascos. All these guys. They liked John Wick 2 and they lobbied to have a cup of coffee and meet and talk. They were aware that I shoot the way I do, that it would require a different kind of training — not just learning moves, but becoming an actual martial arts performer, a stunt performer. If you have the heart and you have the interest and you have the mental fortitude to do it, we put them through the training.

RT: So Halle Berry just said, “I want to be in John Wick 3?”

Stahelski: Yeah, Halle actually lobbied me. I had never met Halle before, and we started prepping John Wick 3. She contacted my agent, showed up at my office, and was like, “Hi, I’m Halle Berry, and I want a job on your show.” She literally said that, and I was like, “We don’t have a script yet!” She said, “Whatever. When you get one, I’m in it.” When you have that kind of desire… She jumped into the training. I mean, the training is not easy for a 25-year-old; when you’re talking Keanu and Halle and myself, we’re all, let’s just say, north of 40. The commitment you have to have is a different level. I mean, Keanu is in great shape, and Halle came to us already in great shape, but to go through the training and the martial arts and the gunfighting. That sounds fun, but it’s arduous after five months. And Halle pulled muscles, she broke a toe, she injured her ribs — I can’t tell you how many times she got bumped in the head or twisted a wrist or sprained her ankle, and just kept coming back. When you do it with that intent and that desire you get a very special product.

RT: Keanu Reeves is becoming the new Bill Murray, where everyone seems to have a whimsical story about encountering him. Do you have a go-to Keanu story?

Stahelski: I’ve known him for 22 years; I probably have a thousand. I just know that every time I turn around on set — he never leaves set, he’s always there — he gives me a smile or a nod. He’s very aware, both self-aware and aware of the environment on set, all the drama and the problems and issues, and it’s always nice to look over your shoulder and see him smiling back and giving me the nod like, “Ain’t giving up today, are you?” “Nope.”

He’s a solid, solid, solid creative partner. I don’t know what I’d do without him. When you’re galloping down Brooklyn under an elevated train at 35 mph on a horse and your actor’s got to hang off the side of a saddle and shoot a guy — I don’t know if you know, but if you fall off a horse at 35 mph, that’s not a good thing. You rehearse it, but when it’s time to actually do it, you look him in the eye and you go, “You good?” And Keanu, in true cowboy fashion, goes, “Yup.” Sometimes you have to hang yourself out there a bit to get those special moments, and to have a guy like that who is calm, cool, and collected… We all have fears, no one wants to get hurt, we’re all nervous. But to hold his s— together and give you that nod, it just makes you very proud to work with that guy.


John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum arrives on digital August 23 and on DVD and Blu-ray on September 10.

Tag Cloud

political drama BBC Horror Superheroes Musical 93rd Oscars documentaries Trivia spy thriller Super Bowl The Arrangement Captain marvel obituary ViacomCBS GIFs rom-coms spider-man NBC Interview Toys Family GLAAD Nickelodeon 20th Century Fox zero dark thirty parents Rock biography History Disney streaming service politics Lifetime Christmas movies independent justice league Paramount jamie lee curtis Trailer Travel Channel zombie Mystery toronto Best and Worst Women's History Month ITV The Witch video on demand comic game of thrones The Academy BET Awards TV movies Fantasy OneApp prank international TV Land Disney Heroines true crime Elton John miniseries romantic comedy remakes Action Marathons cancelled TV series Pixar festivals MTV cartoon Tumblr scary movies talk show football IFC Films rotten basketball kong Hallmark Christmas movies hispanic Baby Yoda classics San Diego Comic-Con dark versus saw archives Columbia Pictures Apple TV Plus Country video ABC jurassic park Tokyo Olympics australia Comic-Con@Home 2021 renewed TV shows cars NYCC films Sundance TV cults Exclusive Video Crunchyroll CMT cancelled PBS boxoffice Logo PlayStation Winter TV 4/20 FX on Hulu First Reviews Spectrum Originals Disney Channel BET spinoff series Martial Arts HBO YA Lifetime Watching Series Holidays Chernobyl The Walking Dead Election Photos Pirates RT21 Stephen King YouTube Premium A24 2016 movies TNT Film Fall TV mission: impossible dceu Mindy Kaling Ovation Legendary Shudder richard e. Grant blaxploitation Cannes E! space Amazon Studios cooking unscripted Adult Swim Tarantino ABC Family CBS Fox Searchlight Set visit GoT sitcom rotten movies we love Sci-Fi spanish Christmas Awards Tour golden globe awards live action medical drama Avengers golden globes Britbox Creative Arts Emmys Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt TLC Comics on TV streaming movies Thanksgiving Opinion lord of the rings black japanese Warner Bros. psycho Western Anna Paquin criterion cops 1990s 007 DC Comics razzies MSNBC french Classic Film Lucasfilm superman Winners Tubi mutant 72 Emmy Awards Paramount Plus period drama Binge Guide suspense crime drama emmy awards Oscars Spike animated screen actors guild singing competition Amazon Prime Crackle FXX Vudu Showtime zombies diversity festival Marvel Television First Look hidden camera breaking bad women Infographic new zealand Alien blockbuster witnail television trailers DirecTV Star Wars Academy Awards OWN stoner war comic books pirates of the caribbean deadpool new star wars movies Countdown Endgame Peacock book adaptation dragons latino rt archives CNN ABC Signature 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Disney Plus superhero Box Office anime 2018 sequel USA directors Mary Tyler Moore DC streaming service Writers Guild of America Music christmas movies VOD 2020 screenings Teen teaser SXSW venice cancelled TV shows CW Seed Broadway Television Academy Chilling Adventures of Sabrina BBC One TIFF blockbusters worst movies Awards transformers Freeform Ellie Kemper Star Trek Universal Hulu laika Cartoon Network Funimation serial killer 99% adaptation documentary composers Lionsgate Acorn TV Rocky revenge Apple TruTV 2017 Mary Poppins Returns comiccon Walt Disney Pictures ghosts The Walt Disney Company historical drama kids Dark Horse Comics free movies Nat Geo A&E what to watch fresh indiana jones universal monsters disaster Animation Musicals japan American Society of Cinematographers robots The CW ID 2021 Turner Television Critics Association WarnerMedia streaming police drama heist movie Marvel science fiction godzilla satire social media Sony Pictures DC Universe New York Comic Con hollywood asian-american SundanceTV new york nfl halloween tv dc FOX Nominations 45 adenture Superheroe TCA concert supernatural werewolf psychological thriller dramedy El Rey National Geographic Image Comics olympics Sundance Now TBS Arrowverse Hallmark book Ghostbusters Bravo VH1 Brie Larson Song of Ice and Fire Black Mirror ESPN Mudbound 2019 2015 natural history sports Biopics Paramount Network know your critic AMC south america E3 high school target LGBTQ monster movies Kids & Family Fox News spanish language Emmys cancelled television worst Apple TV+ Starz docudrama james bond boxing travel YouTube Red VICE Calendar WGN romance Pet Sematary canceled TV shows Comic Book SDCC HBO Go Polls and Games reboot APB joker Netflix Christmas movies Turner Classic Movies die hard award winner stand-up comedy crime thriller President FX TV canceled Extras Drama See It Skip It Rocketman sag awards chucky technology Valentine's Day binge TCM popular adventure X-Men indie anthology 21st Century Fox Spring TV comedies YouTube Certified Fresh TV One MCU comics king kong nature Food Network vampires telelvision Character Guide Esquire thriller ratings reviews theme song BBC America Podcast PaleyFest Grammys crossover finale crime Netflix NBA RT History Pop TV Comedy Central harry potter spain scorecard HBO Max Quiz Disney+ Disney Plus scene in color Masterpiece Red Carpet franchise USA Network slashers TCA Awards TCA 2017 Black History Month marvel cinematic universe green book TCA Winter 2020 Marvel Studios Cosplay Trophy Talk TV renewals Schedule toy story best DGA child's play discovery Summer children's TV LGBT Premiere Dates 71st Emmy Awards strong female leads Pacific Islander elevated horror Amazon Tomatazos dogs twilight 90s Holiday Hear Us Out nbcuniversal aapi tv talk 24 frames quibi news fast and furious halloween Sundance based on movie critics mockumentary cinemax aliens casting docuseries BAFTA IFC Pride Month The Purge Reality name the review a nightmare on elm street Epix Discovery Channel kaiju Shondaland doctor who Rom-Com all-time Wes Anderson Emmy Nominations foreign cats sequels CBS All Access italian Syfy facebook stop motion Video Games game show Mary poppins Pop Sneak Peek Amazon Prime Video batman Reality Competition Year in Review Comedy hist movie Film Festival