Keanu Reeves Is Back: Lionsgate Announces 'John Wick 2'
by Scott Mendelson
“People keep asking if I’m back and I haven’t really had an answer, but yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
That quote-worthy line, which was featured heavily in the trailers, works both as a declaration of the film’s lead character, as well as a commentary on the reemergence of its lead actor. It is now a prophecy. John Wick 2 is a go, and Keanu Reeves is indeed “back.” Lions Gate Entertainmentis officially going forward with John Wick 2. Also returning are original directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, and screenwriter Derek Kolstad. I won’t speculate on returning cast members since revealing who might in-fact return would constitute a spoiler for the first film. Okay, I’m guessing Lance Reddick will be around in some capacity. The film will be released by Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment label and will be produced by Thunder Road’s Basil Iwanyk, who produced the first picture. Lionsgate will be selling the film’s international rights at Cannes this week, and the release date is currently unknown.
Now this isn’t exactly a shocking development, as Reeves and other related parties have openly discussed the likelihood of a second chapter in the John Wick saga, but this is still a welcome development just the same. John Wick was one of the happier surprises of last year, one of the best films of 2014 as well as a rare film that performed above expectations through sheer force of will. If Keanu Reeves’s Speed is the best of the would-be Die Hard knock-offs, then John Wick, which concerned a retired hitman who seeks out the young mob-connected punk who murdered his dog, is easily the best of the “older actor goes on revenge-fueled killing spree” to come out in the wake of Liam Neeson’s Taken. Although my opinion that John Wick is better than Taken is probably less controversial than my opinion that Speed is better than Die Hard, but I digress.
The picture was a somewhat last-minute pick-up for Lionsgate, just 11 weeks before its debut and with no financial obligation beyond prints-and-advertising. I was aware of the movie beforehand, as I’m in that odd category known as “Keanu Reeves fan,” but I was under the impression that it would be something of an under-the-radar release, perhaps a mostly-VOD offering along the lines of Salma Hayek’s Everly. But bit-by-bit the film became more of a big deal, first as it was acquired by Lionsgate, then it was slotted for a somewhat wide release on October 24th (“Hey, Box Office Mojo now lists it with bold letters in their release calendar!”), and then when it was given an IMAX release. Point being, by the time, October 24th rolled around, John Wick was indeed being treated as a serious theatrical release.
Lionsgate did a heck of a job turning what could have been a VOD/DTV action title into a genuine mainstream release, and something of an event for action junkies. I’m not just saying that because I got quoted in the ad campaign right before release. Of course, it helped that the film was good and had material for great trailers. I was lucky enough to see it relatively early on (a couple weeks after the film’s smashing debut at the Fantastic Fest), and I was quite impressed. But what pleased me most about the film’s reception is how it represented something of a coronation for longtime Keanu Reeves fans, and something of an open acknowledgement that Mr. Reeves, long ridiculed for his underacting and somewhat quirky personality, was in-fact (A) very cool, (B) a darn good actor and an engaging screen presence, and (C) a much smarter guy than he was often given credit for, even by those who had seen his dynamite “film versus digital” documentary Side By Side back in 2012.
The film felt like a generational homecoming, uniting fans who had grown up with (depending on your age)Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Point Break, Speed, and/or The Matrix trilogy. Now he has mostly done smaller-scale fare (like Thumbsucker and Street Kings) and periodic “big” movies that didn’t leave much of an impact (Constantine, The Day the Earth Stood Still, 47 Ronin) over the last twelve years. But point being, the John Wick capitalized on a generation that grew up with Reeves and were now old enough to be the critical consensus and thus give him his due. Lionsgate was able to parlay the film’s unexpected quality into a chief marketing chip, and the film continued to build steam thanks to strong reviews while Reeves sold the hell out of it (partially by teasing a probably non-existent Bill and Ted 3 in interviews). A video game tie-in with the Payday 2 video game didn’t hurt either.
The end result is John Wick, which was tracking at $7 million on its opening weekend ended up with a $14m debut weekend, including strong business from IMAX and various PLF theaters. Now those are not blockbuster numbers, but it frankly felt darn good, as a critic, to see what clearly was a case of a good film overperforming thanks partially to overwhelming critical support. That may be a periodic occurrence for artier fare and/or indie darlings, but it’s exceedingly rare for wide releases. So yes, as stupid as it may sound, I took some pride and some ownership in the relative box office triumph of John Wick, which earned $78m worldwide off a $20m production budget. It also earned around $20m from digital platforms alone, as well as around $17m from DVD and Blu Ray sales.
Again, it’s not a monster hit, but it’s not hard to imagine that John Wick 2 (or whatever they end up calling it) ends up being, on a relative scale, the kind of breakout sequel I always talk about. Now I’m not saying thatJohn Wick 2is going to open with massive numbers, but it’s hard not to see the sequel to the buzzy and leggy original film, one whose reputation has only grown in the months since its theatrical release, blowing up a bit over opening weekend as a result of earned goodwill from the first installment. Lionsgate presumably sees this as a new franchise, and frankly the film’s “expanded universe” is actually interesting enough to make me want to see more of the world.
But beyond mere speculation, we are in-fact getting a second John Wick. Because sometimes we deserve more than the truth, because sometimes we deserve to have our faith rewarded. John Wick was a rare case of an unexpected mainstream genre hit in a world where the genre-centric box office hits seem all-but-preordained with little room for a genuine surprise. To the critics who championed the film, to the fans who saw it early and told your friends, to the Lionsgate marketing department who helped make an iconic hit out of a movie no one else wanted, savor this win. It is well-deserved. The press release is below.
LIONSGATE RELOADS “JOHN WICK 2”
Keanu Reeves, Directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski Return
Lionsgate (NYSE: LGF) has confirmed plans to produce a sequel to 2014’s critically-acclaimed breakout hit “JOHN WICK,” it was announced today by Rob Friedman and Patrick Wachsberger, Co-Chairmen of the Theatrical Motion Pictures Group. Keanu Reeves along with directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski as well as screenwriter, Derek Kolstad are set to return for the sequel. The film will be released through Lionsgate’s Summit Entertainment and will be produced by Thunder Road’s Basil Iwanyk, who produced the first film.
In the follow up to last year’s adrenaline-fueled revenge and redemption thriller, legendary hit man John Wick is back.
“With such tremendous fan and critical support for ‘John Wick,’ we knew that there was still so much more of this story to tell,” said Jason Constantine, President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions. “We are thrilled that Keanu, David and Chad have re-teamed with us and promise to bring audiences even more excitement the second time around.”
Jason Constantine and Eda Kowan at Lionsgate will oversee the project on behalf of the studio.
Lionsgate International will be selling the picture internationally at the upcoming Cannes Film Market.