In the nine years following the first John Wick‘s release, this surprise franchise hasn’t just influenced the action genre – it’s downright revolutionized it. Films like 2015’s Hardcore Henry, 2017’s Atomic Blonde, 2020’s Birds of Prey, 2020’s Extraction, 2021’s Nobody, 2021’s Gunpowder Milkshake, 2021’s Kate, 2022’s Bullet Train, and 2022’s Violent Night – and their highly stylized action choreography often shot in long single takes (drenched in lively neon lighting) – wouldn’t exist without Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves paving the path for the genre’s revitalization (with the help of initial co-director David Leitch, who eventually left to pursue solo projects and start his own production company, 87North Productions, which has made many of Wick‘s “imitators”) and reminding audiences around the world that action films aren’t simply entertainment – they’re art as well, and should be regarded as such. So why then has John Wick – and its continually exemplary cinematography, editing, and sound work – always been ignored by the Oscars?
Immediately, I can already hear some saying “why does it always have to be about awards?” And to be fair, the John Wick franchise has been plenty successful without The Academy’s assistance, coming off its highest grosser yet with John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum ($171 million domestic/$328 million worldwide) and heading to another box office highpoint with this weekend’s John Wick: Chapter 4 (to say nothing of its aforementioned obvious impact on the action genre). But, whether people like it or not (and despite their ability to consistently miss the mark), the Oscars remain an incredibly respected and influential awards body in the industry, upholding the standard of storytelling and craftwork that all artists should aspire to. And though John Wick clearly doesn’t need their stamp of approval to inspire said artists, it’s becoming harder and harder to accept line-ups of five cinematography nominees, five editing nominees, five sound nominees, and so on and so forth that don’t include the John Wick films in years in which they are eligible. How much longer can you justify these craftspeople – craftspeople who quite literally changing the look and feel of the entire artform – being left out?
If these line-ups are meant to represent the five films with the Best Cinematography, the five films with the Best Editing, the five films with the Best Sound, and on and on, then they should do just that, rather than often being categories for Best Picture nominees to rack up additional nominations by virtue of their “higher profile” across-the-board (and that’s not to say that many Best Picture nominees don’t often have awards-worthy cinematography, editing, and sound as well, but that there are more than a few instances in Academy history of films being boosted here simply because they’re “bigger contenders” overall, and not because they truly deserve to be in the “top five films of the year” for the recognition of these respective crafts). It’s rare that an action film has a story or “narrative” that truly captures the entire Academy’s attention – which makes phenomenons like Mad Max: Fury Road and Top Gun: Maverick all the more impressive – but when it comes to the “best of the best” in these specific categories, you’ll be hard-pressed to argue against their craftwork, as that’s exactly what audiences are coming for in the first place, and yet, the very voters that should recognize said work for how it moves the medium forward turn their noses up at it, time and time again.
Additionally, John Wick is hardly the first action franchise to be given short shrift by The Academy, as Mission: Impossible is another boundary-pushing and wildly influential series that has never once been nominated for an Oscar – across six films over two decades. And aside from a critical lowpoint in 2000 with Mission: Impossible 2 (57% on Rotten Tomatoes), the series has been as well-received as Wick, with the latest three films – Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout – all scoring between a 93% and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. These films are adored by crowds and critics; what more does The Academy need to see to take them seriously? Even as they continually up the ante with each installment (the latest entries in both the John Wick and Mission: Impossible franchises – Chapter 4 and Fallout, respectively – have been their best reviewed and most successful), there still seems to be a sense of snobbishness directed at both series, with many voters apparently believing that both have still failed to reach this perception of being considered “true art,” and thus must remain on the outside looking in.
There’s also the question of that ever-elusive hypothetical “Best Stunts” Oscar. For years, many have pushed back against the creation of a “Best Stunts” Oscar because they believe it would inspire actors to attempt increasingly dangerous stunts in their films in an effort to win this award, but let me poke a few holes in this belief for a sec. For starters, SAG has been giving out an award for “Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture” since 2007 (with a corresponding award for work in television), and I haven’t seen any complaints about that. And furthermore, some actors – such as Keanu Reeves and Tom Cruise, the stars of the two main franchises we’re discussing here – will continue to attempt increasingly dangerous stunts even without the potential for awards glory; they just loving doing this shit (we all saw that IMAX featurette for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One where Tom Cruise literally rode a motorcycle off a cliff). So why not give ’em an award while they’re at it, since they’re gonna be doing it anyway and lord knows The Academy isn’t honoring their films elsewhere. Make something new to give them if you have to!
I can rave until I’m blue in the face about Dan Laustsen’s colorful and consuming cinematography for the John Wick franchise (that practically warrants a career achievement award at this point) or Nathan Orloff’s expeditious, energizing editing in the propulsively paced Chapter 4, or the strikingly scopious sonic atmosphere shaped by the film’s staggeringly talented sound team, and I will in the months to come. As the John Wick franchise appears to be coming to a close – at least temporarily – there’s no time like the present to finally give these masters of their crafts the awards recognition they’ve long deserved, or at least endeavor to make a change in how we honor stuntmen and stuntwomen in this industry, after their contributions to cinema have been overlooked for far too long. Or better yet, celebrate them all instead of choosing just one group – because acknowledging revolutionary art like this, no matter what genre it comes from, is what The Academy was made for, and they have an obligation up uphold that duty.