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The untold truth of John Wick

Thanks to its mind-bending action sequences, careful world-building, and beloved star, the John Wick franchise is incredibly popular, performing admirably at the box office and faring well with both critics and fans. With Keanu Reeves starring as the deadly title character, these revenge thrillers have delighted viewers since the franchise started, and demand for further installments and spinoffs remains strong. Packed with unbelievable fight scenes and impeccable stunts, the Wick films have changed the face of action cinema, and their legacy will almost certainly impact action films and fight scenes in the years to come.

Though hardcore fans may have seen the John Wick movies countless times and combed through them for references, fun facts, and more, the mysterious world of everyone's favorite dog-loving assassin still holds plenty of secrets. From "gung-fu" to surprise producers and more details on those mysterious coins, here's the untold truth of the John Wick series.

It's not an adaptation, but an original script

Thanks to the incredibly detailed world of the John Wick films, from Wick's intense backstory to the hotel that houses some of the world's most deadly assassins, many fans might have assumed that the first film was based on some kind of adapted source material, but John Wick was actually a completely original script. In 2012, writer Derek Kolstad developed the idea and started work on the spec script, originally entitled Scorn, about a man who trafficked in evil and finally gets some sort of redemption only to lose it. After a few studios showed interest, he sold it to Thunder Road Pictures because they promised to make the movie as soon as possible. Though Wick was originally written as a much older retired hitman, Kolstad revised the script once Thunder Road purchased the rights, making Wick younger and applying any changes the studio wanted (aided by Reeves, who helped revise the script as well).

The film might not have been based on a comic book or video game, but the character of John Wick has now inspired works in both mediums — Dynamite Entertainment has since released a comic book series about Wick's origin story, and gamers can get into Wick's mindset by playing John Wick Chronicles. Just before the first film was released, Wick also appeared as a playable character in Payday 2, solidifying him as an action star even before his film debut.

It's deeply connected to The Matrix series

Keanu Reeves has appeared in plenty of famous films, but perhaps his most widely known role is that of Neo in the Matrix film series, a trilogy and universe that set new standards for action films as well as giving pop culture one of its best theories about alternate realities. As Neo, the mystical "One" who can control the synthetic world of the Matrix and fight the machines holding humans hostage within the Matrix and the real world, Reeves established himself as a true action star, making him the ideal choice to play one of the world's most lethal hitmen in John Wick.

Beyond sharing a lead actor, The Matrix and John Wick film series have quite a lot in common, including the crew who worked on both films as well as a few other cast members. The two directors of the first film, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, were stuntmen on The Matrix, and Stahelski was actually Reeves' stuntman; the second chapter in the series, John Wick: Chapter 2, reunited Reeves with Laurence Fishburne, who appeared as Neo's mentor Morpheus in The Matrix. Diehard Matrix fans may have caught another cameo as well — Randall Duk Kim, who played the Keymaker in The Matrix Reloaded, showed up as a doctor in the first John Wick film.

Keanu Reeves chose the original directors himself

Keanu Reeves had plenty of input on the film, helping to shape his character and working closely with writer David Kolstad, who said Reeves was closely attuned to even the smallest details that could help flesh out his otherwise mysterious character. Keeping in mind Reeves' famously generous nature, it's no surprise that he turned to former crew members from The Matrix to help him create a great action film — specifically, David Leitch and Chad Stahelski.

Though Reeves initially reached out to the two veteran fight choreographers and stuntmen to see if they would simply design the film's action, he hoped they would direct, and luckily for Reeves, they were more than happy to take on the challenge. Having worked with Reeves plenty of times before, Leitch and Stahelski were familiar with both his prowess and his process, making stunts and fights on John Wick that much more seamless. Both Leitch and Stahelski have credited their work on The Matrix as an inspiration for John Wick as well as a guiding light for their overall careers; Stahelski has said that not just John Wick, but most films he's worked on as a stuntman wouldn't exist without the template of The Matrix, and both directors have said that watching Lana and Lilly Wachowski, the directors of The Matrix trilogy, was essentially a master class in directing action that still had an emotional core.

Reeves does basically all of his own stunts

Throughout his career, Reeves has gone from goofy comedies like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure to plenty of different action films, and he's now an experienced stuntman in his own right, learning countless forms of fighting and performing many of his own stunts throughout his storied career. John Wick is no exception.

To prepare for Wick, Reeves spent months training with veterans from SWAT teams as well as former Navy SEALs, thanks to Leitch and Stahelski's insistence that the star not use any of his previous martial arts knowledge in the film and instead learn entirely new methods of fighting. Reeves went on to do a large amount of the stunts seen in John Wick (a tradition in his films) and most of them with no double in John Wick 2, where the stunts and fights far surpassed the first film, upping the ante for Reeves as well as for loyal viewers. Early footage from John Wick 3 shows even more death-defying acts from Reeves, proving that even as he ages, he's still more than capable of stunning audiences with his stunt work as well as showing his complete commitment to what has now become one of his signature roles.

A surprising producer

Celebrities produce blockbuster films more often than you might think. Some have even won Academy Awards for their production work — Brad Pitt earned an Oscar when 12 Years a Slave, which he helped produce, won Best Picture, and both Ben Affleck and George Clooney picked up statues for Argo as producers, with Affleck also serving as director for the Best Picture winner.

Actors sidelining as producers isn't uncommon, in other words, but one of the producers on the first John Wick film might still come as a surprise to most fans. According to the DVD commentary, Eva Longoria, best known for her role on Desperate Housewives as well as numerous film and television appearances and modeling contracts, is a credited producer; Leitch and Stahelski both noted that they've never met her, but they're grateful to her for "writing a check." Whether you knew it or not, we have Longoria to thank for funding one of the century's best action movies.

Influences include spaghetti westerns, Kurosawa, and Clint Eastwood

Leitch and Stahelski obviously drew from their experience working on other action films, including The Matrix, but John Wick also drew its unique tone from everything from classic action movies to horror novels. The two directors cited several direct influences on the film, which ranged from Clint Eastwood's classic Western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly to crime films like Point Blank and foreign releases like China's The Killer and France's Le Cercle Rouge.

Interestingly, though the film certainly has a noir feel and could even be classified as neo-noir, the directors have also said that noir wasn't as strong of an influence, invoking spaghetti westerns and directors like Kurosawa instead (his name comes up quite frequently when the two discuss the first film in the series). Beyond Kurosawa, Leitch and Stahelski have also brought up names like Steve McQueen, Sergio Leone, and Burt Reynolds, looking to classic action stars and directors from the 1970s and 1980s for inspiration. As far as world-building goes, writer Derek Kolstad mentioned horror writer Stephen King as a huge influence, especially to show how far a broken man will go (a common theme in King's works), as well as Scottish novelist Alistair MacLean.

One of the original directors went on to other projects

Even though Stahelski and Leitch technically co-directed the first John Wick film, the Director's Guild of America ruled that only Stahelski could be credited as the director, while Leitch was listed among the film's producers. In any case, though the two clearly maintained a good professional relationship, they parted ways for the second film, and Stahelski went on to direct John Wick: Chapter 2 as well as John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum by himself.

Meanwhile, Leitch embarked on an incredibly lucrative career of his own — the same year Stahelski helmed John Wick 2, Leitch directed Atomic Blonde, an action thriller starring Charlize Theron that also immediately became famous for its incredible action set pieces, especially its signature one-take fight in a stairwell. After that, Leitch took the reins on Deadpool 2, the second outing for Ryan Reynolds' foul-mouthed mercenary, and is attached to upcoming action films including a Fast & Furious spinoff as well as an adaptation of popular video game The Division, proving his departure from John Wick didn't hurt this stuntman-turned-director one bit. He also stays in touch with Stahelski to help with ideas in an advisory role.  

Director Chad Stahelski wants the series to go on forever

It's fortunate for the John Wick series that they've been able to retain most of the creative team throughout all of the movies, especially director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad, both of whom have been working on Wick since the very beginning. Between the comic books and video games, as well as upcoming spinoffs set within the world, it's clear that there's plenty of material to mine from the John Wick universe, and Stahelski, along with plenty of audience members, hopes that the series goes on for quite some time.

"I enjoy making these movies because there's no limit. We create our own mythology, and we have a studio that both stays out of our way and supports us on the wacky decisions," said Stahelski, also noting that he and Reeves, who is heavily responsible for the mythology of his character, have "ideas for days" and that he would happily spend the rest of his career existing within John Wick's dangerous, violent world. Considering the success Stahelski has enjoyed with the Wick franchise thus far, it's certainly understandable that he'd be content to keep telling this seemingly endless story.

The world-building is incredibly precise

One of the many things that fans love about the John Wick series is the careful and detailed world in which the main character lives and kills, which is full of small details without being obvious or clichéd. Throughout most of the first film, audiences are actually unaware of Wick's past until other criminals realize that one of the most dangerous hitmen alive is coming out of "retirement," and it isn't until he returns to the Continental, the heart of this underground world, to begin seeking his revenge, that the world-building truly begins in earnest.

In a lengthy interview with Honest Trailers & Screen Junkies, Leitch and Stahelski divulged plenty of details about the world of the film, including little ones that fans may not have caught during a casual viewing. One such detail is that no "innocents" die in the John Wick series, which includes police officers — and not only are police officers spared by the assassins, they have their own underground which works in tandem with the criminal underground, and each side essentially leaves the other alone to do their job. All in all, it's pretty sophisticated for a worldwide crime syndicate responsible for brutal murders.

There's a lot of rules regarding the coins

Yet another perfect example of world-building in the John Wick series is the use of its coins, which hitmen like Wick can use as currency for everything from a hotel room to a well-stirred cocktail or a closet full of machine guns. Since these prices seem fairly inconsistent, to say the least, fans have worked tirelessly to try and figure out exactly how the gold coin-based economy actually works within John Wick's criminal underground, and some experts have even weighed in to say that this is fairly realistic when it comes to organized crime. Others have speculated that by pricing everything at the same point, the Continental prevents assassins from overstaying their welcome at the hotel, forcing them to use it as a simple stop during their missions.

As far as the directors are concerned, their view is that while the pricing is all over the place, it also doesn't matter, because that's not really what the coins are about — Leitch and Stahelski have said that they're essentially "business cards" that allow point of entry as well as indicating that the coin-holder is "in the know." Wondering about the currency value is, ultimately, missing the point. It's about the custom, not about getting change back for your Negroni or closet full of AK-47s.

The films are a genre some call gun-fu

Overall, the John Wick films are difficult to categorize — they're an odd hybrid of noir, spaghetti westerns, crime thrillers, action movies, and several other genres that seem like they might not blend seamlessly. However, the franchise can actually be categorized within a very specific genre called "gun-fu," which can be traced back to the films of John Woo, among others.

Taking the balletic approach of classic kung-fu movies, including more modern iterations featuring actors like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, Woo introduced guns into the mix with films like Hard Boiled, which, in particular, is famous for a three-minute fight scene regarded as one of the best ever shot. The Wachowskis were the next directors to employ "gun-fu," making gunfights an elegantly shot affair that elevated a typical action sequence; crucially, The Matrix used famed choreographer Yuen Woo-ping, who went on to help choreograph other homages to the kung-fu genre, including Kill Bill. John Wick is among a new group of films joining the genre, using the weapons as props in highly stylized sequences and creating clearly fake but optically gorgeous set pieces to please audiences.  

The universe will continue in an upcoming TV series

The hotel in the films, the Continental, is shrouded in mystery, despite its few yet clear rules (you can't kill on the grounds, you must use their signature gold coins as currency), and naturally, fans want to know as much about this criminal-ridden way station as possible. Luckily, the minds behind John Wick, including star Keanu Reeves, are working on a new part of the Wick world that might explain some long-standing mysteries about the hotel, its guests, and its history.

In early 2018, it was announced that Starz would be developing a television series based on the John Wick universe called The Continental which would, naturally, focus on the hotel. Keanu Reeves is listed as an executive producer on the project, and executives from the network told fans they shouldn't rule out seeing him appear on the show as well. Writer Derek Kolstad will be working on the show alongside Leitch and Stahelski, lending added credibility to this already exciting project.