Ten years ago, a small action movie titled John Wick became a sleeper hit and launched Keanu Reeves into a career renaissance.
Though it seemed like a low-budget straight-to-video thriller, it actually made a strong impression on critics and audiences with its cool protagonist, intriguing worldbuilding, and hard-knuckle action.
John Wick banked on a simple formula: cast a veteran action star (or a major star going against type) as an aging assassin, place them in a man-versus-criminal-underworld scenario, and subject them to nonstop shootouts and hand-to-hand combat.
While formulaic, John Wick proved that this premise can be done well enough to be worthwhile watching. But you really know a movie is a hit when it spawns copycats!
Here are my picks for the best movies like John Wick—ones that came before and after—that use a similar formula in their own ways.
11. The Equalizer (2014)
Loosely based on the hit 1985 series, The Equalizer sees Denzel Washington as retired government operative Robert McCall, who uses his old tricks to avenge those who are vulnerable and close to him.
This is the creed he keeps, not just in this film but also in the sequel (and presumably in the upcoming third movie).
All things said, the revenge plot in The Equalizer—in which McCall attempts to rescue a young girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) from dangerous Russian gangsters—is barebones but thrilling.
While it isn't his most iconic action movie role, Washington brings his best qualities and some humanity into every scene.
10. Taken (2008)
As John Wick reinvigorated Keanu Reeves, Taken reinvigorated Liam Neeson as an action star. He plays retired agent Bryan Mills who must rescue his daughter from the criminals who kidnapped her.
Even with its basic action clichés, Taken successfully banked on Neeson selling his age-defying physicality and gruff persona. Who could ever forget his iconic lines during that phone call?
It's a very effective formula that seems hit-or-miss with many imitators, including Neeson's other action vehicles and the two jaded Taken sequels. Even so, Neeson taking down goons and gangsters in the original Taken is satisfying, even on repeat viewings.
9. Kate (2021)
Even female stars can show their range on John Wick-style fares. Small winners include the Jodie Foster-starring film Hotel Artemis and the Karen Gillan shoot-em-up Gunpowder Milkshake, but I'm personally going for Netflix's Kate.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as the titular assassin, who's sent on a mission against the Yakuza but ends up poisoned. With only 24 hours left to live, the jaded killer aims for vengeance.
Despite looking like every other hyper-stylized anime-inspired "girls with guns" thriller, Kate takes full advantage of Winstead in its action scenes and its elaborate swordplay.
8. The Bourne Identity (2002)
Looking back on the Bourne franchise, it's almost puzzling how indie darling Matt Damon became a bankable action star. But he did make a huge splash with The Bourne Identity, which remains one of the most stylish and influential spy movies of all time.
There's so much intrigue in the promise of watching an amnesiac man searching to recover his own identity. Turns out, he's a dangerous assassin for a shady government agency.
The Bourne Identity is full of bare-knuckle fights, thrilling shootouts, and crafty car chases. Matt Damon lives and breathes as Jason Bourne, one of the most compelling anti-heroes in the genre.
7. The Villainess (2017)
John Wick imitators aren't limited to Hollywood and America. South Korea's The Villainess stands out as one of the best.
In this film, a female assassin who avenged her boyfriend's death is captured by the government to be recruited as a sleeper agent—but past enemies soon interfere with her chance at a new life.
Titular assassin Sook-Hee is a compelling one. Trained from childhood to be a cold-blooded killer, she's matchless in her killing abilities and ruthless attitude. Yet, there's a level of affection that makes her motives persuasive and The Villainess a tense watch.
6. Nobody (2021)
Hot on the heels of his astounding success in Better Call Saul comes Bob Odenkirk in the bloody action movie called Nobody.
In this film, Odenkirk plays Hutch Mansell, an innocent father who—after fending off two robbers—toughens himself up to protect his family from a war he unknowingly sparked with a Russian gangster.
Produced by David Leitch, you can see the John Wick inspiration in every scene, to the point that Nobody could be canon to the universe.
5. Die Hard (1988)
There are many great action movies throughout history that became definitive examples of the genre. Die Hard is absolutely one of them, so much so that the phrase "Die Hard in a (movie setting)" became a template for its many imitators.
That template was also instrumental in John Wick's characterization and pathos. If you like John Wick, you'll love Die Hard.
John McClane (Bruce Willis) is stuck fighting a gang of syndicates, using only his wits and one weapon to defend himself while rescuing his wife. That core motivation—even up against death-defying odds—is what makes him an iconic action hero.
4. Atomic Blonde (2017)
Charlize Theron is tremendously consistent in the action-revenge flick genre, as evidenced by Mad Max: Fury Road and The Old Guard. The lesser-known Atomic Blonde is no exception.
In Atomic Blonde, Theron plays a lethal MI6 agent who's sent to Berlin to investigate a fellow agent's murder and retrieve a list of British spies.
Atomic Blonde brings out Theron's best qualities as an action star, applying her stylish presence towards ruthless action scenes. And while it isn't an original setting, the Cold War subtext elevates her character's status into that of a memorable anti-hero.
3. The Raid 2 (2014)
While the first movie (The Raid: Redemption) stressed the intense showdown between the police force and a criminal syndicate, the sequel (The Raid 2) doubles down on that showdown by pitting Rama against the syndicate and the corrupt figures of his police force.
In The Raid 2, there's twice as much bare-knuckle combat, twice as many intense standoffs, and twice as many thrilling car chases. Among all that, the prison riot sequence is a standout.
As ever, Iko Uwais is amazing as Rama, who deals with a tough arc in this film. He's one of the best elements of this epic duology.
2. Oldboy (2003)
Not long after the turn of the millenium, South Korea gave us this incredible neo-noir thriller that's still making waves today.
Oldboy follows a man named Oh Dae-Su, who's abducted and later released and persuaded to to track down his abductors. In doing so, he stumbles into dark truths about his past and his captivity.
This film is as violent and intense as revenge thrillers get, but director Park Chan-Wook balances its grit with grace and a semblance of humanity in Dae-Su's arc. The iconic hallway fight—with its impeccable long-take choreography—is just icing on the cake.
1. Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)
Quentin Tarantino is no stranger to one-man revenge plots, but his most memorable yet remains his Kill Bill duology.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is the ideal revenge flick, centering on a highly-regarded assassin who seeks bloody revenge against the organization who wronged her. Between this and Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Beatrix Kiddo is one of the most iconic female movie characters in history.
Played by Uma Thurman, Beatrix never relents. Her world that encompasses the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad is too lethal to escape, making her revenge story one of the greatest in the genre.