Ahead of the release of John Wick 3: Parabellum on May 16, action movie aficionado Daniel Rutledge revisits the two modern action classics that preceded it, narrowing the rather large combined body count down to his top 20 moments of retribution.
Warning – this piece examines acts of onscreen violence in some detail.
Recently a trailer for a film called it the “biggest, baddest, killingest action event of the year”. That was a silly claim—not because “killingest” is a not even an actual word, but because that movie wasn’t a John Wick movie.
If you want a ridiculously over-the-top cinematic killfest, you want John Wick. If you want fun, fantastical on-screen murder constructed by virtuoso action directors using long takes and wide shots, you want John Wick. If you want the killingest action event of 2019, you definitely want John Wick 3: Parabellum.
The third movie has been promised to come with the highest body count of the franchise yet, which means it’ll top the 77 kills of the first film and 128 of the second. For extreme action movie nerdery, a hilarious collection of statistical data on ever single one of those 205 kills was put together by George Hatzis, who painstakingly created infographics for John Wick and John Wick 2.
Before we marvel at all the beautifully rendered, inventive violence of the third movie, here’s my top 20 kills from John Wick and John Wick 2.
20) Kitchen Neck Break
Takes place – 30:56 into John Wick.
This one is pretty silly, but it’s a great example of a simple sound effect and subtle digital effect put to good use. After a bit of a fist fight with a balaclava-clad bad man, John Wick positions him on a kitchen bench face-up with his head sticking over the side—then bashes his head down, fatally rupturing his spine.
19) Human Shield
Takes place – 56:37 into John Wick 2.
After throwing a fella to the ground when he got too close in the catacombs, John Wick is fired upon by some other guys, so rolls the first guy around to be used as a human shield. Holding him in a leg lock, John Wick changes mags on the semi-automatic rifle he’s using before using it to take out two approaching assailants, standing, finishing off the guy he was just holding with a point blank shot to the head – then finishing off two other nearby dudes with two shots for each in rapid succession.
18) Fuck You, Basin
Takes place – 48:20 into John Wick.
John Wick drowning a bloke in a basin might not sound like a stunning death, but it’s the dialogue that makes this one great. The last thing he says to the man before killing him is “you killed my dog”, then, as the victim is spluttering water with his final breaths, he kind of gargles “fuck you” as a reply.
17) Church Assault
Takes place – 1:01:23 into John Wick.
You know who was a chill bro? Jesus Christ. I think the one time in the gospel he gets proper pissed is when he finds a temple being used by traders and gamblers, so smashes the place up. The church scene in John Wick has the titular character at his most Christ-like, when he finds the Russian mob desecrating a church. He gets up in there regulating viciously, blasting the baddies and torching their riches. But he pauses to let the ladies escape, because he’s a gentleman, too.
16) Groin Trauma
Takes place – 01:15:51 into John Wick 2.
Just before this guy has a blade rammed into his chest to finish him off, John Wick gives him the kind of reach-around no one ever wants. After slowing the guy down with a shot to the shoulder, John Wick wrestles with him a little before thrusting a knife-carrying arm through his legs from behind. He then brings it back, blade up, bringing an ugly torrent of blood with it. Ouch.
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15) Uppercut Headshot
Takes place – 1:31:49 into John Wick 2.
Here John Wick takes out two guys at close range with several shots, but the final shot to a man whose wrist he’s holding is particularly good. Although it seems like it’d be easier to shoot directly through this dude’s face, John Wick goes for a more stylistic approach by reaching down and pointing the pistol back upwards in a sort of uppercut motion, perhaps to make sure the blood splatter is more in frame. Bless.
14) Car to Pole
Takes place – 9:58 into John Wick 2.
The sequel kicked off with a bunch of lovely vehicular action, with this being the very best bit. The victim here had already been injured when John Wick rammed him with his car, before he tried to stagger away. Slamming the car in reverse, John Wick quickly catches up to him, then pulls a 180° so the bonnet smashes him and sends him toppling through the air and into a steel pole.
13) Blade Meets Wrist
Takes place – 49:53 into John Wick 2.
John Wick was forced to kill a woman he really didn’t want to, so opts to do it in a respectful manner. He lets her accept her fate, get into a nice hot bath and then cut her own wrists. It’s a particularly cringe-inducing moment of violence that’s hard to watch, even amongst all the insane violence we’ve already seen. Oh and she doesn’t actually die by suicide—he shoots her in the head, don’t worry.
12) 7 Headshots in 3 Seconds
Takes place – 1:30:14 into John Wick 2.
John Wick generally leans toward thoroughness with his killing more than being conservative with ammo. He almost always puts at least one shot in the body before putting one in the head—sometimes even when it’s ridiculously unnecessary. But in this instance, as the situation demands, he showcases a bit of classic Clint Eastwood-style quickdraw, dropping seven enemies in a heartbeat.
11) Beautiful Bear
Takes place – 50:31 into John Wick.
Of all the men John Wick dispatches in the sauna/spa raid of the first movie, this guy is the most handsome. His physique combined with the lighting and camera angles make for an aesthetically pleasing canvas onto which a gorgeous, deadly combo is painted—a stab to the shoulder, a stamp to the foot, three shots to belly then one to head. Then the bearded muscular beauty falls back with a splash into a hot pool, which subsequently turns red with his blood. There’s a jazzy rhythm to this kill that really zings.
10) Car Roof Roll
Takes place – 1:26:40 into John Wick.
With no sight of his prey, John Wick uses sound and timing to kill here in a very cool way. He runs his car into a meanie, who then rolls over the roof of said car—so John Wick shoots several pistol shots through the roof, resulting in a bloodied corpse flopping over his windscreen and ultimately onto the road in front of him.
9) Ruby Rose
Takes place – 1:38:40 into John Wick 2.
This is partially because her character was the worst thing out of the first two movies, but also because the climax of her fist-fight with John Wick is nice and nasty. He stabs at her but she blocks, so the blade passes through the palm of her hand. It pauses there for a moment, before he uses his body weight to lurch forward and drive the knife into her heart.
8) Beard Yank
Takes place – 53:08 into John Wick.
Men with the dreaded combo of a shaved head, a beard and a twirly moustache are fun to see get killed. John Wick grabs a hold of this one’s beard and yanks it, bashing his head onto a bar table before putting two point blank rounds through his cranium. The shaved head makes the blood stand out more.
7) Pistol Reload
Takes place – 52:03 into John Wick.
While it was bested by the shotgun reload in the sequel, this sweet as moment of artistic violence was a real thrill in the first movie. John Wick pops a round into a bad man’s shoulder, shoves him, then pistol whips him in the throat before going to take the killshot—and hearing the click of an empty chamber. He then casually changes magazine with stylistic flourish as the guy writhes around in pain before popping him in the head, just in the knick of time.
6) Arm-bar to Headshot
Takes place – 1:30:59 into John Wick 2.
This guy walked past John Wick’s hiding place at very close range, allowing himself to be firstly shot in the leg. He’s then thrown onto the ground and put into an arm-bar, as John Wick assumes a reclining position and shoots two other oncoming assailants dead. Then, propping the first guy’s head up with his foot while maintaining the arm-bar, John Wick blows his brains out.
5) Multi-tap Overkill
Takes place – 1:05:52 into John Wick.
John Wick’s penchant for shooting first in the body, then in the head, is often over the top. But here it’s ludicrous. He grabs a fairly sizeable bloke with his left hand while holding a fully loaded Coharie Arms CA-415 in his right hand. He uses that to shoot another guy, then insists on firing a burst of automatic gunfire into the guts of the guy he’s holding, at point blank range, before putting some rounds through his head.
4) Pencil Versus Ear
Takes place – 1:13:37 into John Wick 2.
In the first movie, we hear a few stories about John Wick’s legendary killing ability—including his deadly use of pencils. We don’t get to see that in action until after halfway through the second film. After inflicting a bit of warm-up damage with it, John Wick buries a pencil into an assassin’s ear with his right hand, then brings his left over top to ram it all the way in there.
3) Pencil Versus Neck
Takes place – 1:13:40 into John Wick 2.
There was actually multiple pencils and a second assassin in the scene. The second one has a bit of rudimentary throat surgery performed with a pencil by John Wick, who then holds the writing instrument against a wall and throws the chap into it. Hopefully, he wanted more lead in his upper neck / lower skull area. And to be dead.
2) Knife Punch
Takes place – 31:33 into John Wick.
When a team of assassins raid John Wick’s house just shy of half an hour into the first movie, the delight of this franchise reveals itself. The last of those bad guys to get it dies by a blade rather than a bullet. There’s a fierce struggle that ends with the pair on the floor, but John Wick ends up holding a knife with one hand and punching it repeatedly into his victim’s chest with the other.
1) Shotgun Reload
Takes place – 58:05 into John Wick 2.
Perhaps the most glorious kill in the incredible catacombs shootout is one of the many performed with the Benelli M4 Tactical Shotgun. After judo-throwing a chap to the ground then shooting down two others, John Wick realises he needs to reload to perform the killshot—but the dude may get away. So John Wick uses the shotty as a blunt force weapon to pin him against a wall as he loads in a round before finally pulling the trigger to end the guy’s life. It’s hard to describe in print, but it’s bloody exhilarating to watch.