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5 Reasons ‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Was a Rare Bigger Sequel at the Box Office

Great reviews and perfect counter-programming helped the Keanu Reeves film shoot its way to a strong debut

Lionsgate’s shoot-em-up action thriller “John Wick: Chapter 2” blasted its way to twice the opening weekend its predecessor did, even with two other box office heavy hitters also debuting the same night.

Keanu Reeves stars as a retired hitman with a bounty on his head in the sequel to 2014’s “John Wick.” The film, directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad, also features Common, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane and Laurence Fishburne — reuniting with Reeves for the first time since “The Matrix” films.

Most movie sequels don’t open as strong as the first films — including the two others that came out this weekend — but “John Wick” did it easily. Here are five reasons why:

1. Ideal counter-programming

“John Wick: Chapter 2” placed just third at the box office this weekend behind Universal’s “Fifty Shades Darker” and “The Lego Batman Movie
from Warner Bros., but its $30 million gross would have easily won the two previous weeks when holdover “Split” topped the charts.

“They were all franchise films, all familiar brands to moviegoers and all extraordinarily different in their point of view and appeal,” Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst at ComScore, told TheWrap “This is sort of textbook programming, if you will. Each audience was served perfectly to what they were looking for.”

2. “John Wick” became more popular after it left theaters 

The first “John Wick” made just $14.4 million its opening weekend on its way to a $43 million domestic gross, but the film found a strong second life on TV and home video. Dergarabedian said that created a lot of anticipation that simply wasn’t there the first time.

“This is a classic example of a film that was somewhat marginalized and not really understood when it first hit theaters, and became a massive hit on the small screen,” he said.

3. It met a “primal need”

There hasn’t really been a “hard-R” action movie that’s generated positive buzz in a while, which left the plentiful fans of the genre hungry for something like “John Wick: Chapter 2.” Awards dramas and family movies have dominated the charts recently, and thrillers like “Split” and “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” tap into something different than the shoot-em-up ethos of “John Wick.”

“It is a primal need,” Dergarabedian said. “The gritty R-rated action movie is a staple of the moviegoing diet. If they tried to dilute the ‘John Wick’ brand by going PG-13, it wouldn’t have been a success.”

4. Great reviews

“John Wick: Chapter 2” scored a sterling 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and picked up an A- Cinema Score. That’s unusual for a movie in this genre, which Dergarabedian said likely piqued interest.

5. Perfect casting

Reeves is a perfect fit as John Wick, Dergarabedian said, as the role taps into a lot of what made him so effective as Neo in “The Matrix.” And bringing back “Matrix” co-star Fishburne only adds to the interest.