John Wick 3
John Wick Image Credit: Supplied

‘John Wick: Chapter 4’, the fourth installment in the Keanu Reeves assassin series, debuted with a franchise-best $73.5 million (Dh269.9 million) at the box office, according to studio estimates.

The Lionsgate film, starring Reeves as the reluctant-but-not-that-reluctant killer John Wick, exceeded both expectations and previous opening weekends in the R-rated franchise. Since first launching in 2014 with ‘John Wick’ ($14 million, or Dh51.42 million, on its opening weekend), the Chad Stahelski-directed series has steadily grown as a ticket-seller with each sequel. The 2017 follow-up opened with $30.4 million (Dh111.64 million), and the 2019 third chapter, ‘Parabellum’, debuted with $56.8 million (Dh208.6 million).

But ‘Chapter 4’, running two hours and 49 minutes and costing at least $100 million (Dh367.3 million) to produce, is the biggest film yet in the once-lean action series. Critics also said it was a franchise high point, scoring 95% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The film, which drew a 69% male audience, added $64 million (Dh235 million) overseas. It’s Lionsgate’s biggest success of the pandemic era.

“When you make a fourth in an action franchise, you have to expect it to go down. That’s the nature of these franchises,” said Joe Drake, chairman of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. “But we kept seeing signals and it was wonderful to see the movie they delivered. We saw the audience wanting more.”

Though ‘John Wick’ has been bigger at the box office with each new release — an enviable and rare trajectory among Hollywood franchises — ‘Chapter 4’ brings some finality to Reeves’ character. The actor hasn’t entirely dismissed continuing the series, telling interviewers “never say never”.

Regardless, the franchise is set to keep humming. A spin-off titled ‘Ballerina’ starring Ana de Armas and co-starring Reeves has already been shot. The miniseries ‘The Continental’, with Mel Gibson, is upcoming on Peacock.

“Chad and Keanu have created this world and that world continues to expand. I don’t know what all the edges of that world are, still,” said Drake. “As best they can, they’ll continue to try to seduce Keanu to come back and do things. He gets beat up in these shows. He really does. And at the end he’s like, ‘I’m not doing it anymore.’ Then you watch him sit in the theatre and feel that audience.”

“So we’re going to continue to look for ways to meet that demand.”

The release of ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’, which included a surprise premiere at SXSW, was also bittersweet. Lance Reddick, who plays the Continental Hotel concierge, Charon, in the films, unexpectedly died at the age of 60 a week before the film’s release.

But the success of ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’ adds to a strong start in 2023 for Hollywood. After ticket sales rebounded to about 67% of pre-pandemic levels last year, the release lineup is steadier and more packed this year. Sequels have led the way, including ‘Creed III’ and ‘Scream VI’. Ticket sales are up 28% from last year, according to data firm Comscore.

But there have been some exceptions. After its disappointing $30.5 million (Dh112.5 million) debut last weekend, the superhero sequel ‘Shazam! Fury of the Gods’ slumped to second place with $9.7 million (Dh35.62 million) in its second weekend. The Warner Bros. release dropped steeply, tumbling 68% from its launch.

‘Scream VI’ took third place with $8.4 million (Dh30.85 million) in its third weekend, bringing its total thus far to $90.4 million (Dh331.9 million) domestic and $139.3 million (Dh511 million) worldwide. ‘Creed III’ followed in fourth with $8.4 million (Dh30.85 million). Michael B Jordan’s sequel is up to $140.9 million (Dh517.46 million) domestic.

The weekend’s other new releases were more modest.

Zach Braff’s ‘A Good Person’, starring Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman, opened on 530 theaters. The MGM release grossed $834,000 (Dh 3,062,865). IFC Films’ ‘The Lost King’, with Sally Hawkins and Steve Coogan, debuted with $575,000 (Dh 2,111,687) in 753 locations.