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) 97%

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) 86%

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) 88%

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

Horror Box Office Character Guide Infographic romantic comedy Marvel Action psycho Pop cartoon Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Amazon canceled 2015 Sundance President Warner Bros. Women's History Month Amazon Prime Video The Arrangement screenings Esquire Fall TV TV crime drama ABC Hulu 2016 Rock south america CW Seed Syfy Disney+ Disney Plus Comedy Superheroe Brie Larson Shondaland Awards Tour Kids & Family medical drama Winter TV Crackle FXX Thanksgiving ITV OWN 007 boxoffice latino Certified Fresh free movies batman MSNBC Awards stand-up comedy American Society of Cinematographers SundanceTV Drama romance CMT Comic Book FOX Summer LGBTQ mutant canceled TV shows Cosplay sitcom Spectrum Originals zero dark thirty adventure period drama Chernobyl dramedy psychological thriller nature game show Netflix green book unscripted game of thrones Lucasfilm spy thriller dragons dc Christmas Tomatazos halloween E! Song of Ice and Fire travel Extras Apple TV+ Rocky spain video RT History TV renewals Mudbound TNT YouTube Cartoon Network anthology NBC 21st Century Fox richard e. Grant science fiction Pixar Pet Sematary disaster Nickelodeon Bravo TV Land El Rey based on movie Winners Rom-Com 24 frames SDCC WarnerMedia Reality Super Bowl Creative Arts Emmys Paramount Network The Witch Food Network Election NYCC Film YA spinoff spanish language Universal Martial Arts witnail Spring TV Biopics festivals revenge justice league Red Carpet cinemax Film Festival cancelled TV shows cops Apple TV Plus History Showtime independent Star Wars PBS Toys See It Skip It Disney streaming service Mary Tyler Moore Mary Poppins Returns Valentine's Day Superheroes APB Holidays television social media VH1 comiccon Nat Geo National Geographic supernatural DC Comics Acorn TV historical drama ESPN cats Amazon Prime DirecTV Sony Pictures ratings breaking bad Arrowverse war YouTube Premium Lifetime X-Men what to watch Pride Month theme song Paramount docudrama Country Turner talk show Anna Paquin Marathons miniseries GIFs Marvel Studios DGA Disney Plus Cannes Teen kids Adult Swim Quiz Western comics mockumentary First Reviews Elton John serial killer Tarantino USA Network FX Tumblr MTV casting Sneak Peek cults Music Calendar Video Games cancelled Set visit foreign tv talk Podcast Trailer jamie lee curtis spider-man The Purge golden globes Disney GoT transformers TBS Ovation hispanic Premiere Dates Lionsgate Netflix Christmas movies YouTube Red Emmys Best and Worst christmas movies natural history LGBT HBO Freeform elevated horror Oscars doctor who Animation RT21 slashers Hallmark harry potter politics Turner Classic Movies Musicals Writers Guild of America police drama werewolf TCM IFC Logo joker Photos Black Mirror Apple sports Heroines Sci-Fi Binge Guide Shudder blaxploitation Countdown Mary poppins Trivia Spike Trophy Talk VICE HBO Max Starz crossover TLC Schedule 45 Captain marvel Mindy Kaling Opinion Fox News Pirates BET IFC Films Family Lifetime Christmas movies movies comic Ellie Kemper San Diego Comic-Con Britbox Grammys robots 2017 technology award winner singing competition political drama children's TV TIFF A24 New York Comic Con Walt Disney Pictures E3 TruTV streaming zombies anime animated Classic Film teaser SXSW Television Academy indie Ghostbusters 2018 The Walking Dead vampires WGN thriller cars series finale Dark Horse Comics CNN discovery Masterpiece CBS All Access Watching Series biography MCU Mystery The CW DC Universe renewed TV shows Emmy Nominations Vudu versus ghosts Sundance Now sequel facebook CBS A&E Fantasy Star Trek binge Year in Review dceu adaptation Stephen King Epix Nominations crime Musical ABC Family Interview Crunchyroll Holiday rotten movies we love space cooking cancelled TV series Comics on TV book Peacock AMC Polls and Games TCA GLAAD 71st Emmy Awards Disney Channel cancelled television hist diversity 20th Century Fox strong female leads blockbuster USA toy story BBC quibi Marvel Television Rocketman First Look TCA 2017 DC streaming service crime thriller 2019 Hallmark Christmas movies Columbia Pictures true crime aliens Comedy Central BBC America Reality Competition PaleyFest zombie composers Chilling Adventures of Sabrina