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The Most Brutal Deaths In John Wick

When it comes to joyous escapes from reality, the John Wick franchise has done more than just set the modern standard for action-packed entertainment — it has taken the standard and beat it into bloody submission with brass knuckles and a sneer. 

Beginning with 2014's unexpected blockbuster hit "John Wick," Keanu Reeves has taken audiences for a wild roller-coaster ride through a hallucinogenic world of colorful characters, beautiful cars, and heroic dogs. The gorgeous cinematography and brilliant stunt choreography never fails to transform all the gratuitous violence into visual poetry. Topping it off, the story's lens is framed through the unique perspective of series director Chad Stahelski, who began his career as a stunt performer and uses that background to inform his compositions. 

There's something for everyone in the "John Wick" movies — unless you don't care for violence, then, perhaps you're in the wrong place.

Throughout the course of the films, Baba Yaga has killed hundreds of opponents unwise enough to get in his way — most of which have been downright brutal. A quick death from a bullet is too kind a demise for most of John Wick's foes. Most of them face more creative, painful ends from elements like car bombs, random inanimate objects like books and pencils, and even being mauled by animals. Below are some of the hardest-to-watch, most memorably brutal deaths in the "John Wick" series thus far.

Killing Miss Daisy

This is the death that set John Wick off on his killing spree, and any animal lover can likely relate to such an urge. Underneath all the glorious violence and destruction, this franchise is ultimately an ode to man's best friends: dogs and cars. Director Chad Stahelski professed a love of dogs to Uproxx in 2019, saying his began as a child in a household that raised Irish Wolfhounds. 

Stahelski's background inspired him to incorporate dogs into the "John Wick" films, beginning with the adorable baby beagle gifted to Wick posthumously by his recently deceased wife, Helen. Her passing sets the stage for the first film, and knowing her time was near, she scheduled Daisy's arrival for when John would need her most. The puppy acts as an anchor for the grieving husband, giving him a reason to keep going each day. 

Tragically, his tentative grip on becoming whole slips away when Russian thugs break into his house, murder Daisy, and steal his prized '69 Mustang — a wedding gift from Helen. It's heartbreaking to see the little puppy die, so much so that even the actor tasked with "killing" the puppy on-set felt the need to cuddle Daisy between takes. You can't blame John for hunting down every person affiliated with murdering that innocent puppy and stealing his car — but, thankfully, in real life the beagle is alive and well, and has been living with a loving family who have since renamed him "Wick."

I know dog-fu

Being mauled by any sort of animal has to be one of the worst ways to die —if you have any doubts, you could ask the Moroccan coiner Berrada (played by "Game of Thrones" Jerome Flynn), who learned the hard way in "John Wick Chapter 2" — except, yeah, he's dead. 

Halle Berry took a big bite out of a good bone of a character as Sofia Al-Azwar, manager of "The Continental Hotel" in Casablanca and owner of two highly trained Belgian Malinois. These dogs are prized for their agility, intelligence, and discipline, and audiences learned why when they saw Sofia's four-legged friends perform on-screen. 

After to give him one of her dogs as a "gift," Berrada shot the poor animal, prompting viewers to gasp, "Not another dog death!" Sofia then shot him in the gut in retaliation, and in the ensuing chaos it looked as though Berrada will get away. Thankfully, it turned out the dog was alive and only playing dead, thanks to a custom bulletproof vest. 

In a magnificent moment of redemption, the dog leapt up, bit Berrada squarely in the crotch, and then took him down. This scene triggers the renowned "dog-fu" sequence, resulting in a beautiful display of what can happen when dogs and humans work together — along with several bad guys getting their throats torn out, limbs mangled, and at least one other baddie getting bitten in the crotch. Good doggies!

Death by horse

Wick committed the ultimate unforgivable sin in "John Wick Chapter 2," when he killed Santino D'Antonio on the neutral ground of "The Continental." This set every bounty hunter in the city after Wick, who attempted to lose them in "Chapter 3 – Parabellum" by hiding out in a Central Park horse stable. In one of his most creative and brutal moves, Wick used one of the horses in the stable as a weapon to fend off his pursuers. 

Placing the horse between himself and one of the assassins, Wick encouraged the horse to back kick his opponent in the sternum, then slapped the horse's thigh so it followed with a double-back kick to the guy's jaw, who instantly dropped like a sack of potatoes. Then, Wick wrapped the horse's reins around his last living opponent's neck, dragging him from the stable behind him. 

Stahelski told Polygon in 2019 that he conceived of this epic "horse-fu" scene after first seeing the Central Park horse stables in person, and becoming enamored with the multi-story brick building's iconic New York architecture. He also has personal experience with how powerful horse kicks can be, noting that more than twenty years prior he'd been kicked in the arm and shoulder by a horse while performing stunts, and it hurt so badly he could hardly move his arm for a week.

The lone ranger

After escaping from the stable on his death horse in 2019's "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum," Wick is pursued by motorcyclist gangsters through downtown Manhattan. In the process, Wick executes some amazing trick riding and manages to vanquish all those in pursuit. Some of the more extraordinary deaths in this scene occur when Wick shoots a few of the motorcyclists and they collide with other cars, resulting in Michael Bay-level explosions. 

Amazingly, Keanu Reeves performed the stunt riding in this scene, skills he originally acquired while shooting the underseen 2013 action/fantasy "47 Ronin." Stahelski told Yahoo Entertainment that was one of the reasons he put this sequence in "Parabellum," along with an excuse to sneak an homage to Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns into his movie. In order to keep Reeves safe while filming the scene, the crew set-up a custom wire-harness to act as a safety net in case he fell, or the horse took off unexpectedly. 

The actor told Yahoo in the same 2019 interview, "I don't think that had ever been done before." Even with the safety harness, Reeves had some close calls, which required him to quickly pull his feet out of the stirrups and "make himself small" so as not to hit anything. It sounds like Reeves's job, sometimes, is almost as dangerous as that of John Wick.

John Wick: The Pencil

In an ironic twist, the Russian thug who orchestrated breaking into John's house was the son of Russian crime boss Viggo Tarasov. 

As we learned in the original film, Wick and Tarasov were former associates when he was still an assassin, before Wick quit his life of crime and murder to settle down and marry Helen. So, after Viggo learns what his son has done, he warns Iosef about Wick's "focus, commitment, and sheer will," comparing him to the Russian Boogeyman known as Baba Yaga. 

To give his heedless son an idea of how dangerous Wick is, Viggo tells Iosef about how he once killed three men in a bar using only a pencil. This story is later repeated by Viggo's brother in "Chapter 2," but Stahelski wasn't content to just let his audience hear about this mind-boggling feat. Later in "Chapter 2," Wick would bring the legend to life by re-creating it while escaping assassins in New York. 

Cornered by two men in a small café area, and bleeding badly, the scene has Wick managing to deflect one assassin's gunshot while grabbing for a pencil lying by a server's notepad. Then, he stabs one assailant in the chest with the writing implement, and shoves another pencil into the other baddie's ear (eliciting squeamish squeals from many a-viewer). When the guy who got stabbed in the chest gets back up, Wick finally vanquishes him by shoving a pencil in the back of his foe's neck — which can't help but make you look at office supplies in a whole new, twisted light.

Be seeing you

Out of all the bad guys John Wick faces off against, one of his most dangerous opponents happens to be a woman. Ares, played by Ruby Rose of "Orange is the New Black," was a mute bodyguard and assassin who worked for Italian crime boss Santino D'Antonio, and in a classic showdown in 2017's "John Wick: Chapter 2," she showed herself to be about the closest thing audiences have seen to Wick's equal.

After completing a job for Santino in Rome (who blew up Wick's house to convince him to work for him), Ares is sent to tie up any "loose ends" affiliated with the job (and maybe because he feared retribution from the whole blowing up John's house thing). Ares and her henchmen chase Wick through Rome's catacombs, leading to a final face-off between the two badasses in an art exhibit full of mirrors. 

After cornering Ares using trick mirrors on display, Wick breaks her arm, then stabs her in the hand with one of her Wolverine-like knives, then he keeps pushing until it pierces her sternum. Ares gives Wick a look that would melt iron, while signing the eerie phrase, "Be seeing you," before finally succumbing to her wounds. There's a long cinematic tradition of classic scenes involving mirror hallways — from "Citizen Kane" to "The Lady From Shanghai" to "Enter the Dragon" — and the Wick franchise's contribution uses the beauty of the reflections to disorient and contrast with the violence, effectively summing up the franchise as a whole.

Ernest in the library with the book

In "Chapter 3 – Parabellum," John Wick adds to the list of random inanimate objects he uses to kill people, when he executes a fellow assassin using only a book in the New York Public Library. You would think a library would provide a safe haven to read, but even there Wick can find no peace. Boban Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks plays his towering opponent, Ernest, who corners Wick down one of the abandoned aisles and uses his long limbs to his advantage (in another sequence that echoes Bruce Lee, this time his "Game of Death" showdown with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

To make matters worse, Marjanovic's character has a knife and manages to strike true, stabbing Wick in the shoulder after a few deflected shots. Then, he grabs Wick and kicks him down the aisles while loudly and ironically whispering, "Ssh!" The tides turn for Wick when he manages to grab a particularly thick tome and hit Ernest squarely in the crotch, throat, and face with it. 

Wick follows with a crushing death blow by placing the book on a tabletop, smashing Ernest's face into the spine, and bending his neck and jaw back in horrific angles accompanied by a sickening crack. Stahelski told "The LA Times" in 2019 that Marjanovic was actually able to stretch his neck like that in real life, which only added to the gross realism of the final scene.

Bull in a weapons shop

Perhaps one of the wildest sequences in the "John Wick" films takes place in "Parabellum." While on the run from ninjas, Wick makes a stop inside an antique weapons store to arm himself Old West style. His foes follow him inside and they all begin volleying knives at one another like Nerf darts, shattering countless glass display cases and mirrors in the process. 

One of the ninjas gets stabbed in the back by two knives thrown by his comrade, before being stabbed in the crotch and a few other parts of the body by Wick — talk about ouch! Much more stabbing follows, culminating with one of the last surviving ninjas getting slowly shanked in the eye, which is super uncomfortable to watch. To top it all off, Wick finishes off the last ninja by throwing a tomahawk into his skull from across the room. 

It may look like chaos, but this sequence was intricately planned, and took a massive amount of effort to complete. Stahelski told Polygon the inspiration for this scene came from "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly," when Eli Wallach as the big bad Tuco went into a gun shop after-hours for supplies. After starting with that spark of inspiration, Stahelski expanded the scene to include an epic knife fight, akin to what he eloquently described as a "snowball fight" — only far deadlier.

A Zero-sum game

It's always satisfying when the big baddie of a story is finally vanquished, such as the scene where John Wick takes down Zero in "Chapter 3 – Parabellum." 

A leader and mentor to a group of ninja-assassins, Zero was also a sushi chef, which is about as ultimate as assassins come. He was also employed by members of the High Table to execute Wick after he killed Santino D'Antonio on the neutral grounds of "The Continental Hotel." 

Ironically, Zero professes to be a fan of Wick's "work," even after fighting him several times. After Wick takes out all of his fellow ninjas, the two face-off for one final Akira Kurosawa-esque duel to the death. Wick gains the upper hand and stabs Zero in the chest, then pulls the sword out and slowly sticks it back in. The two collapse onto the floor, exhausted, and Zero compliments Wick on the fight, calling it an "honor" to have opposed him. 

As Wick walks away, Zero claims he'll catch up with him later, to which John replies, "No, you won't," and Zero slumps over, silent and still at last. Although it's safe to assume the ninja-assassin is gone for good, it's always possible Zero didn't die from his wounds and may reappear later in the series, or who knows, maybe even in a spin-off. When the actor who plays the villain, Mark Dacascos, was asked by Express.co.uk in 2020 if he'd be willing to return, he gave an emphatic, "Of course! Yes yes yes! I'm crossing my fingers and I'm hoping Zero catches his breath."

Stab him with the pointy end

Many scenes in the "John Wick" films use a combination of CGI and practical effects to create images that would otherwise be impossible or incredibly dangerous to perform without digital aid. One such example is an epic motorcycle chase scene in "Parabellum," when some of Zero's ninjas are chasing Wick through Brooklyn. 

The scene gets even spicier when the ninjas pull out katanas and attempt to slice and dice Wick while they're all riding around on two wheels. Wick manages to turn their swords against them, skewering ninjas like shish kabobs, who then crash into each other in an explosive domino effect. Despite the hyper-realism of this scene, the riders hitting the pavement were all edited into the scene with CGI, layered into shots with real actors astride motorcycle sled-rigs mounted in front of green screens. 

Production visual effects supervisor Rob Nederhorst told Befores and Afters magazine in 2019 that they even took the time to measure the dimensions of the Verrazano Bridge and its lane lines, so as to make the choreography and final visuals as accurate and realistic as possible. The final cringe-inducing scenes go to show how great of a job the visual effects team performed.

Great balls of fire

Burning to death sounds like one of the most painful ways to face your final moments, but those are the consequences for being implicit in the murder of John Wick's dog and theft of his car. This fiery moment of vengeance takes place in the original film when Wick finally locates Iosef Tarasov, thanks to his dad Viggo sharing the information with the determined assassin. It seems there's no honor among thieves, even when they're family. 

Wick tracks Iosef and his thugs to a safehouse in Brooklyn, which suddenly becomes no longer safe, and the thugs flee for their cars in hopes of a quick escape — but Wick remotely blows up their cars before they can flee, which explode in spectacular fashion. When did he have time to plant bombs on multiple cars? Who cares! They go "boom" while Keanu Reeves walks in slow-motion, and that's what matters. 

While trying to make one final desperate escape, Wick shoots Iosef in the stomach, before shooting him in the head while he's in the process of protesting that it was "just a bleeping dog." He got off easy compared to the guys who caught fire from the car bombs — and a dog is never just a dog.

Smoking kills

John may not be able to bring his puppy Daisy back (although a crossover with the "Pet Sematery" would be pretty interesting), but at least he's able to reunite with his car. "Chapter 2" opens with Wick infiltrating the chop shop of Abram Tarasov, uncle and brother to the late Iosef and Viggo, respectively. With Wick's '69 Mustang in his shop, he fears the "Boogeyman" will come for his car, and leave a path of collateral damage in his wake. 

Abram fills an accomplice in on the gritty details of Wick's capabilities, repeating the same myth his brother used to tell about Wick once killing three men in a bar with a pencil. While Tarasov is telling his story, Wick is right outside, working his way into the shop by quietly taking out Abram's guys one at a time. 

One of those guys is on a smoke break when Wick sneaks up behind him, and as Tarasov's voiceover plays on, describing Wick's "focus, commitment, and sheer will," Wick shoves the cigarette down the man's throat from the rear, then punches him in the gut and while covering his mouth, forces the smoldering cigarette down the man's throat. One can only imagine how brutally that would hurt — but after decades of folks complaining that Hollywood glamorizes smoking, here's one scene that would seem to drive home another (albeit somewhat rare) danger associated with nicotine addiction.

Gasping for breath

Wick continues his quest to get his car back with his next most brutal kill, which follows shortly after choking Abram's thug with his own cigarette. The vengeful assassin sneaks up behind the next baddie he crosses paths with at the chop shop, only this bad guy has made the wise decision not to smoke. So Wick does what he does best, and improvises by taking him down and choking him with a wire. 

It seems like a very slow, painful way to die, especially compared to how quickly a lot of the other deaths occur in the film via more "humane" manners, such as point-blank gunshots. This may seem like a hard death to swallow (pun intended!), but many follow in John Wick's bloody footsteps. At least he gets his car back, even if he does immediately trash it while making his getaway.

It just goes to show with the right level of "focus, commitment, and sheer will," anything is possible — even killing hundreds of people in endlessly creative and savage ways. Considering Stahelski told "The LA Times" in 2019 that he and his stunt team get bored easily with repetition, it will be interesting to see how they keep all the killing feeling novel in the upcoming films.