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

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