One of the big releases currently in theaters is the Brad Pitt-led Bullet Train. This adrenaline-fueled slice of cinematic absurdity about a speeding train traveling from Tokyo across Japan that just so happens to contain multiple hitmen battling over a mysterious briefcase is the ticket to catch at the moment for film lovers who value practical stunt work and fight choreography over bombastic CGI spectacle. The man behind Bullet Train is a director well-versed in the art of film action: David Leitch.
While Leitch has helmed high-profile and successful films like Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2, his first directorial effort (shared with Chad Stahelski) is easily the most influential action film of the past decade: John Wick. There’s much to be said about the Wick franchise, from its clandestine world of sharp-dressed assassins to the heroic yet humane character at its center with low-stakes but relatable motivations. But it really changed the action game when it came to how it depicted fight sequences, blending traditional kung fu staging with martial arts that don’t often show up in movies, like the throw-based judo and limb-breaking jiu-jitsu.
On top of that, the series features gunplay choreography that puts an emphasis on dynamic yet tactical level-changing movement, and manages to be clear and easy to understand despite the chaos happening on screen. Leitch and Stahelski’s background as former stunt performers (Stahelski doubled for Keanu Reeves, no less) goes a long way toward that, and plenty of other studios have caught on and started to place former stunt professionals in directing roles (and putting more of an emphasis on stunt performers in front of the camera) in hopes of capturing some of that John Wick magic. That’s a Hollywood trend we can get behind. So, if you have seen Leitch’s latest or if you are just itching for some on-screen action, we have compiled a list of 10 similar action films that came out in Wick’s wake that you can watch right now without having to leave your house. Every entry on this list shares creatives, concepts, or just plain vibes with the Keanu-led modern classic and works wonderfully as a follow-up if you’ve seen Bullet Train and want more like it.
Several contract killers gather at a secret pub that caters only to people in their unique profession. They come there to relax, have a drink, and get the details of their next job. One of these patrons is Mike Fallon (martial artist and action star Scott Adkins). His specialty is making his contracted hits look like freak accidents. He’s a consummate professional, but when the love of his life is taken out by someone who frequents the bar, it becomes all too personal. Now the “Accident Man” is going to work his way through every hitman, mercenary, and psychopath in the place until he finds the one responsible for her death.
Adkins, for many years, has been amassing a filmography full of quality action films that consistently overachieve despite their small budgets and limited production schedules. This one, adapted by Adkins himself from a little-known British comic book, is one of his strongest endeavors. It’s perfect for anyone who loves the Wick franchise but also thinks those films could stand to be a little less self-serious. Accident Man is chock-full of great martial arts sequences (for example, Adkins squares off with Black Dynamite’s Michael Jai White and Darth Maul himself, Ray Park, in a memorable two-on-one encounter) and loads of comedic quirk that help it never lose sight of the fact that action movies can be fun as well as exciting.
Accident Man is available to watch on Prime Video, or for free with ads on Tubi and Plex.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Superhero films demand a certain level of spectacle. If your heroes happen to be gritty street-level characters like Harley Quinn, the Huntress, and Black Canary, the typical approach for the genre of CGI spectacle just won’t cut it.
Warner Bros. wisely realized this when they commissioned lengthy reshoots for Birds of Prey to beef up the action sequences, and put the team behind the action of the John Wick series, known as 87eleven, in charge of the process. The end results are some of the best filmed and choreographed practical hand-to-hand fight sequences of any recent superhero movie. Whether it’s Margot Robbie’s Harley taking out a precinct full of cops single-handedly or the entire squad going toe-to-toe with a gaggle of masked goons in an abandoned amusement park, Birds of Prey proves you don’t need to rely so heavily on computer-generated effects for great superhero action.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is available to watch on HBO Max.
One wonderful by-product of John Wick’s success has been more studios recognizing that no one understands how action looks best on screen better than stunt performers, following the example of Stahelski and Leitch’s respective career arcs. This has led to more former stunt performers getting a chance to sit in the director’s chair for high-level projects, like this Netflix original. Directed by Sam Hargrave, who was the stunt coordinator on several MCU films (including Avengers: Endgame) and starring another Marvel stalwart — Chris Hemsworth — Extraction is a nearly nonstop demonstration of the prowess of the film’s stunt team (and its very game superstar leading man). The action on display ranges from tense tactical shootouts to expertly performed car chases to beautifully brutal fight sequences.
Extraction, which is about a mercenary’s attempt to rescue a kidnapping victim, feels like everyone involved crafted it under the assumption that they would never get another chance to make a project like this again — so they went all out. Judging by the jaw-dropping sequence at the halfway point of the film that features the hero battling his way through a section of urban sprawl to protect the target of his mission — in which Hargrave uses seamless editing to make it appear as if all 12 minutes of it are continuous action performed in one unbroken shot — maybe that feeling is not so far-fetched.
Extraction is available to watch on Netflix.
Akira Sato, a hitman with a mythic reputation, is given a peculiar order by his boss (and mentor) after a particularly large-scale job. He is to lie low and live a normal civilian life for one year. Most importantly, he must refrain from killing anyone during this forced downtime. Despite his hesitations, Akira agrees, and before long, the man who the Japanese underworld speak of in hushed tones as “The Fable” is trying to simply find a day job and not be noticed. Trouble soon arises in the form of an unstable and recently paroled yakuza underling, as well as a pair of starstruck, aspiring young killers, complicating the situation. Can Akira keep his word with all these looming threats? And why exactly does his boss insist on him taking this sabbatical from the only thing he’s good at, anyway?
This Japanese action-comedy poses an interesting idea — someone who kills people for a living would probably be pretty socially stunted. It seems obvious once it’s stated, but it’s not something normally explored in movies with shootouts and heavy stunt work. The Fable deals with this concept in a thoughtful (yet lighthearted) way, allowing the viewer to spend a lot of time with Akira as he tries (and awkwardly fails) to adjust to being a “normal” person with a job and friends. The oddball humor and lengthy stretches without any action may be too much for some, but those with patience will be rewarded with slick, frenetic action set-pieces that prove action doesn’t have to be lethal to be exciting.
There is a sequel as well (also available on Netflix): The Fable: The Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, which ups the action quotient considerably while downplaying the eccentric comedy.
The Fable is available to watch on Netflix.
An action film trope that has become less prevalent in recent years is the idea of the untouchable hero. It was not so long ago that lead characters in these sorts of films would go through hails of gunfire and numerous brawls with barely a scratch to show for it. The popularity of the John Wick series helped remind a lot of audiences (and filmmakers) that it can be narratively satisfying to see the hero get a little roughed up before they ultimately triumph.
2021’s Kate takes this simple notion to an almost absurd level. The film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the title character, an American assassin working in Japan who is poisoned and has just hours to live, and even less time to find those responsible and make them pay for what they’ve done. In her quest for vengeance, the rapidly deteriorating Kate is run through a gauntlet of thrilling, intricately choreographed, and wildly violent conflicts with the yakuza that leave her a shambling, rageful mess of bullet wounds and bloody cuts. The action on display is (again) courtesy of members of the 87eleven team (continuing their working relationship with Winstead from the previous year’s Birds of Prey) and is some of their strongest work to date.
Winstead’s part in selling the action on screen deserves special mention. She comes across as equal parts vulnerable and ferocious when the fighting starts, and the film works as well as it does thanks to her. Hopefully, she’ll have many more opportunities to showcase her unique physicality in action roles in the future. In the meantime, though, Kate is one not to be missed.
Kate is available to watch on Netflix.
While multiple films on this list feel like they could be previously unseen stories pulled directly from the John Wick universe, 2021’s Nobody is the only one where facts actually point to that possibly being the case. Written by Derek Kolstad, the creator of and scriptwriter behind the Wick series, the film focuses on a former government assassin trying unsuccessfully to live out his retirement as a suburban family man who unintentionally runs afoul of Russian gangsters. As you can already likely tell from that brief description of the plot, there are a lot of overlapping thematic elements between John Wick and Nobody. That sense of connection is only strengthened by the fact the 87eleven action design and stunt team was involved with the movie from its inception.
With so much shared DNA, it’s easy to make the argument that they are connected even if that was never actually the intention. Nobody stands on its own, though, thanks to Bob Odenkirk and the “average Joe” vibe he brings to the lead character. His casting was the film’s big selling point during its release. Every interview on the promotional tour focused on the two-year-long training regimen that the actor went through with 87eleven and action legend Daniel Bernhardt (who also appears in the movie) to prepare for the role. Odenkirk put in an amazing effort to appear as a credible threat on screen, and when the film lets him first cut loose during a bus brawl against multiple assailants, all that hard work shines through in one of the best action sequences from 2021.
Nobody is available to watch on HBO Max.
Many of these “assassin with a score to settle” movies tread familiar ground. This 2021 entry from director Martin Campbell (GoldenEye), for example, doesn’t do anything particularly innovative with its story of a career assassin (Maggie Q) looking to avenge the murder of her mentor and surrogate father (Samuel L. Jackson). It makes up for that fact, though, in two very key ways. The first is the casting. The aforementioned Jackson and Q are capable and engaging performers, but the film’s secret weapon is Michael Keaton as the mysterious “Rembrandt,” who works as both a foil to and love interest for Maggie Q’s deadly lead character. Keaton not only nails the dramatic beats of the story and the struggle of his attraction to her, but when the story calls on him to be physical, the 70-year-old actor throws himself wholeheartedly into the action with an intensity and focus that is surprising and commendable.
The other key to success for The Protégé is rock-solid direction from its veteran director. While the choreography of the action on display is clearly influenced by the John Wick films, Campbell’s way of capturing this very modern action style on screen is decidedly classic and reserved in its approach. It lets the actors (and their stunt doubles) work within the space and doesn’t obscure their efforts with unneeded close-ups or overly aggressive editing. The Protégé may not be very original, but it is a strong melding of old- and new-school sensibilities for any viewer who likes a more thoughtful approach to their mayhem.
The Protégé is available to watch on Prime Video.
India has been a hotbed for genre cinema in recent years, and its newfound accessibility thanks to streaming sites has made it easier than ever before to explore. But the sheer number of titles available can make it intimidating to figure out where to start. If you are an action fan, there is no better jumping-on point than 2019’s War.
The film, about a rogue special forces commander (Hrithik Roshan) on a warpath of revenge and the up-and-coming soldier (Tiger Shroff) who tries to stop him, borrows heavily from American films like the Mission Impossible and Fast & Furious series, but does so with a sense on cinematic exaggeration that is pure Bollywood excess. It’s no stretch to say that the opening bit of violence that kicks the story off, involving a neon-soaked assassination by sniper rifle, would fit right into a John Wick story. All the influences and homages to Western action cinema in War are perfectly suited for easing a trepidatious international film novice into India’s unique style of melodramatic action.
War is available to watch on Prime Video.
Wrath of Man
A low-level security guard for a cash transport truck foils a robbery attempt and is lauded as a hero. But a question lingers: How did a man who barely passed the test to get hired for the job in the first place suddenly become so adept at gunfighting? And why does he seem to welcome more chances to face off with would-be thieves? This is the central mystery behind 2021’s Wrath of Man, starring Jason Statham.
This film is high in the running for the darkest entry of Statham’s entire career. Reuniting the actor with Guy Ritchie, the filmmaker who gave him his first leading role, Wrath of Man is a bleak revenge tale that involves shadowy government organizations, paramilitary bank robbers, and ruthless gangsters. It eventually explodes into one of the most ferocious gun battles in recent film history. At the center of all the chaos is Statham’s singular presence as an unstoppable force of righteous retribution. While the film is loosely based on a 2004 French movie titled Cash Truck, the look of Wrath of Man and the way it drops the viewer into a clandestine world of killers with their own codes of conduct and expects them to keep up is very similar to the approach of the John Wick series.
Spain is not a country typically known for its action films, but that fact did little to deter stuntman-turned-actor Teo García. Xtreme (aka Xtremo) was a longtime passion project for the veteran screen performer that took several years to get fully funded and produced in his home country. The end result is a straightforward action yarn with all the gunplay, martial arts, and general badassery that an action fan could want delivered with a post-Wick glossy sheen. Garcia brings a unique screen presence to Xtreme that is best described as “What if a pit bull could throw spin kicks?” The film uses this aura of bruising menace to really sell the impact of his fight scenes.
The film was sadly lost in the shuffle of Netflix’s seemingly never-ending barrage of content when it was released last year, but it is worth seeking out for action lovers looking to broaden their horizons. Oh, and just to give you a taste of what to expect from Xtreme: at one point García dispatches some bad guys in brutal fashion with a detached car seat headrest. Keanu would be proud.
Xtreme is available to watch on Netflix.