The first John Wick movie changed the action genre forever when it was released in 2014 — but the director of John Wick was so puzzled by audience hype, he assumed that they’d been puffing on the Devil’s lettuce.
Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character, the first film follows Wick, a former hitman, who is forced to come out of retirement after Russian mobsters steal his car and kill his dog — a gift from his recently-deceased wife. No one could have known it at the time, but the John Wick saga soon grew to become one of the best action movie franchises out there, with new movie, John Wick Chapter 4, being released nearly a decade later in March 2023.
Could anyone have predicted that Keanu Reeves avenging a murdered puppy would be enough material for four different thriller movies? Probably not — and as explained in an interview with the Happy Sad Confused podcast, John Wick director Chad Stahelski didn’t expect it to, either.
In the interview, Stahelski began by recounting family and friends’ reception to John Wick following the film’s first test screening, wherein he admitted that “there wasn’t a lot of applause.”
“People were like, ‘Yeah… good job guys’ and they scooted out, and we’re like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re done,'” the director recalled. “It wasn’t until we’re like, ‘You know what, we’re just gonna lean in.’ We had a Come to God moment with Keanu and we were like, ‘We’re not changing this. We’re gonna own it. We’re gonna do our headshots. We’re gonna do our wacky choreography. We’re gonna do what we wanted and what we saw. We’re not gonna get nervous.’ So, we finished it as best we could.”
Despite the lukewarm reactions, the John Wick team pushed on with their original vision for the film, and headed straight for its first public screening to see what the audiences thought.
“Keanu, myself, and Dave snuck in. We did the midnight show,” Stahelski continued. “Right after the first action sequence, which is late in the movie. It’s an odd movie. There’s no action for 40 minutes and then the crowd went mental, and we’re like, ‘Is everybody stoned?'”
“We didn’t know what was going on,” he added. “We had never had that kind of reaction and that was the first time we knew that we had something cool that I’d want to go see. There’s nothing like seeing it with a real audience, not just the Hollywood crowd.”
So, nobody was high. It turns out people just enjoyed watching Keanu Reeves doing stunts. Like, a lot.
For more on Keanu Reeves’ best movie series, check out our John Wick 4 review along with our other articles explaining the John Wick movies ranked, how to watch John Wick 4, the John Wick cast, who trained John Wick, The Continental release date, the Ballerina release date, and the John Wick 5 release date.