Chances are if you’re an action movie nut, the John Wick movie was something of a ‘Hallelujah’ event.
All things considered, the plot just gets in the way of good bone-crunching, collarbone-shattering action. John Wick epitomizes this attitude perfectly.
The action in John Wick can be labeled as Gun-fu. A hand-to-hand martial art with one or both hands holding a gun.
John Wick has more of a free-flowing state of combat that moves between chops, kicks, shots, stabs, slices, and other generally pain-inducing acts.
The choreography was so good that it has become its own sub-sub-genre. Chris Hemsworth’s Extraction is a case in point.
A pretty silly story pretending to harbor strong sentiments, while really being about some jaw-dropping action sequences.
Rather than fixating on the bad story aspect of these movies, I want to list some other action movies that made me go Hallelujah.
A quick round-up of movies like John Wick
- The Bourne Trilogy – Buy or Stream
- The Equalizer – Stream
- The Raid – Buy or Stream
- The Raid 2 – Buy or Stream
- Taken – Stream
- Shanghai Noon and Knights – Buy or Stream
- Atomic Blonde – Stream
A growing list of Movies like John Wick
I remember having the same visceral reaction to Matt Damon’s epic 5-second takedown of two cops in a Paris park, as I did when watching some of John Wick’s action movies.
What was particularly great about Jason Bourne was that he came in at a time when a secret agent was defined by James Bond in the mainstream.
Getting a non-action man like Matt Damon to star as the forgetful secret spy-person, who has qualms about what he does for a living, was the perfect antithesis to the James Bond drivel.
Remember Die Another Day? Yeah. That was what was expected of spy movies.
Then Doug Liman came along and adapted the Bourne series of books by Robert Ludlum, and redefined what action movies can be.
It didn’t have to be cocktails and slippery gowns. It could be a book to the face, both the cover and spine of the book, pencils between fingers.
It didn’t have to be the latest Aston Martin prototype with laser beams, it could be a Mini Cooper bouncing down stone steps.
It didn’t have to be satellite lasers threatening to melt the polar caps to cause global flooding (heh), it could be a shady agency trying to hush up their own operatives when they grow a conscience.
Agreed, Casino Royale did kind of make Bond cool again, but the next 3 promptly buried his legacy with midlife crises.
The others keep you engaged while throwing in brutal fistfights, parkour sequences, and car chases in traffic.
If you’re interested in the books that spawned the franchise, check out Ludlum’s introduction to the world of Bourne.
Oh, and skip Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy. It’s a blatant cash-grab. Or at least, they didn’t bother with hanging too much of the formula from the first 3.
And definitely skip Jason Bourne, the epic-sounding crap-fest, that for some reason Matt Damon agreed to do.
Granted, this isn’t my strongest recommendation. But it too has an uber-cool leading man, who learned martial arts to execute his own stunts, rampaging through unsuspecting criminals on his righteous path.
Ok, Denzel Washington is a proper actor too. But like Keanu, you want to watch him in whatever movie he’s in.
The sequel was a bit of a cash-grab. But the first one had excellent action scenes. Good bone-crunching stuff and the best part was that Washington’s character could time his fights.
It had a serviceable story and a long action sequence in a home depot, that was so long it went into 90s action territory.
It’s a good way to pass the time.
This is the big one. My strongest recommendation. The alpha and omega of martial arts movies. Why is it in #3? I’m not organized.
I guess you could look at action movies and categorize them into 2 broad kinds. The low budget stuff, that lives and dies by the quality of the actors and stuntmen working on it.
Think of Tony Jaa with his Ong-Bak. The picture looks older than it is, and the acting ain’t great, but when the action starts, it doesn’t matter. You’re hooked till every tendon in the villain’s leg has been severed with an elephant bone.
You can enjoy these movies, but there’s always a level of engagement that’s missing.
Then you can look at Hollywood blockbusters like the Fast and Furious Franchise, which are visually amazing but lack that visceral punch of movies like John Wick.
But they have great production, cinematography, camerawork, post-production, etc.
In my estimation, Mad Max is the only one of these big-budget movies, where you feel it in the rib cage.
Until The Raid came along, our best bet of combining these 2 aspects, good martial arts, and Hollywood polish, were Jackie Chan movies. Those were my favorites back then.
But then director Gareth Evans used filmmaking techniques from the West and combined it with his love of Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat and blew the pants off of action movie aficionados.
Now don’t get me wrong, The raid isn’t a polished effort. It has classic action movie flaws like bad dialogues here and there with asynchronous timing.
But what it has going for it is the best system of capturing the players in action when subjecting each other to holy hell.
The camera movies with every panther-like jump, dive, punch, kick and block. It got us the closest to experiencing every crunching hit in a bloody fight.
The story is OK I guess, but it doesn’t really matter. It gives us a setup where the action gets to run wild. It also gave us one of my favorite martial artist villains, Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian.
Why are the Raid movies split into two, while the Bourne movies were put in one neat package? Because the Raid movies are awesome, and it’s my list.
Also, I don’t like The Raid 2 nearly as much as the first. But it’s still awesome. That tells you how much I like The Raid.
The Raid 2 made the classic Hollywood move of making the second one bigger and better in every technical aspect.
The difference in budget, and therefore production values, is very obvious. The action sequences are longer and technically more impressive.
Even the stakes seemed higher than the first. But more, bigger, higher, doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Think The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises. Boat going up in flames versus the entire city going up in smoke. I didn’t care for the city that much to be honest.
I love the action sequences in Raid 2, but for some reason that will become apparent to you after watching both, I didn’t love it as much as the first.
If you want to check out Gareth Evans’s first attempt at an action movie surrounding Pencak Silat, check out Merantau. It also stars Iko Uwais from the Raid movies.
Liam Neeson’s first movie about a former Spec Ops guy saving his daughter from kidnappers was gold. The later entries were bad.
I won’t talk about this much. Chances are you would’ve seen this anyway. And it’s not my favorite among these, but you might as well see it.
It’s got excellent action, a leading man with the coolest voice and lines, and good old-fashioned righteous vengeance.
I did mention Jackie Chan in passing earlier, but I feel I would be cheating if I didn’t bring up the man that got me into action movies (him and Arnie really).
But the Shanghai Noon and Knights movies were the first time I realized action scenes could be closer to dance choreography at its core.
A team of highly trained professionals who each had to pull off 30 difficult things in sequence, for one shot to come out correct.
Again, if you want pure Jackie Chan, you’d have to watch his earlier efforts. But this was when a good budget and decent plot met with great choreography and martial artistry.
Things that did not seem to be out of place in the shot were used to ramp up the beauty of what you were watching. Umbrellas, vegetables, fruits, bottles, baskets, to name a few such objects.
It also had good comedy, with the ridiculously charming Owen Wilson thrown in for good measure. Also, Shanghai Noon had a young Lucy Liu whom I didn’t recognize on first viewing.
Charlize Theron’s John Wick-like jaunt in 1980s Berlin was very memorable for its music, cinematography, and yes, the action that Theron herself performed.
It oozed sexiness when it wasn’t showing us some serious brutality, making for a good all-round watch, not just for action movie nuts.
My only complaint was that they tried to put too much of the Cold-war espionage element in it, that sort of robbed the movie towards the end with convoluted double-, triple-, and quadruple-crosses.
But the first 70% of the movie is engrossing and you won’t find much reason to turn away from the screen.
At the end of this list (which will be updated often as I remember more examples of good ass-kicking), I think I understand what kind of movies I’ve been recommending.
These are movies with kinetic action. The sense of movement is very strong in these movies.
It is tough to follow fast-paced fights, think about all the shaky-cam nonsense we’ve been subjected to.
But when the right people come together to plan out a good fight sequence with every big moment captured in its essence, like when the camera slants sideways to show good a dodge is, the action takes on a whole new dimension.
These are the movies that understand kinetic action. Let me know how you enjoyed these movies, in the comments.