Why Making The Continental A John Wick Prequel Was A 'Genius Idea,' According To The Producers

The premise of Chad Stahelski's 2014 film "John Wick" was appealing for its trim simplicity. A former assassin (Keanu Reeves), trying to leave the lifestyle, experienced a painful personal tragedy when his wife died. One of her last gifts to John was a sweet little puppy dog, an animal he swore to cherish. When some brash Russian gangsters kill the dog in a fit of violent pique, it more or less drags John Wick back into the violent underground he once occupied, eager to lay waste to anyone who wronged him. One dead dog = 10,000 dead gangsters and assassins. The equation makes perfect sense. 

To add some texture to the premise, however, screenwriter Derek Kolstad invented a fascinating notion. It seems that John Wick and the assassins of the world all belong to a complex, well-organized professional network, overseen by a shadowy cabal of executives — the High Table — who ensure that assassins all play by the rules. In the universe of "John Wick," assassination is an exclusive and posh profession, and most who work for the High Table are well-dressed and have very refined taste in booze, clothing, and high-end firearms. 

When assassins want to be safe from the murderous machinations of one another, they can retire for a few nights at the Continental, an expensive hotel where violence is strictly forbidden. It's like a Vegas hotel, if they also offered death machinery as a perk. 

In September 2023, the hotel will be getting the star treatment in the origin story miniseries "The Continental," a story of how the hotel came to be. According to a recent interview with Deadline, producer Basil Iwanyk, focusing on the hotel — and its origins — as an expansion of the "John Wick" universe was a genius move. 

Competing with John Wick

Basil Iwanyk, of course, expressed trepidation about continuing the "John Wick" movies as a more expansive franchise. Like many striking hit action films, "John Wick" was never meant to expand into sequels and TV shows, so finding fresh material was a concern. Iwanyk said: 

"It's an original idea that was never meant to be a franchise, and we've been making it up as we've gone along. The issue we had with television was, how are we going to create a 'John Wick' offshoot without cannibalizing ourselves or feeling like we've stripped-mined the franchise. Also, the action in the movie just got so big, we shot up half of Paris in the last one. How do you compete with that?"

Competing with "John Wick: Chapter 4," however, wasn't a terrible concern once "Continental" showrunners Greg Coolidge and Kirk Ward came up with the basic premise: merely set "The Continental" in the past. It would be about the early days of the hotel in the 1970s and would follow a younger version of Winston Scott (Colin Woodell), the character played by Ian McShane in the movies. Iwanyk was impressed with what immediately came to his mind in terms of aesthetics and tone. He told Deadline:

"Our showrunners came in with the idea of the prequel, for Winston and the start of the Continental. [...] I love the film aesthetic of New York in the '70s; Sidney Lumet is one of my three favorite directors of all time. What a genius idea of doing a prequel because, as we expand the current day 'Wick' franchise, it all feeds the prequel, it doesn't take storylines away from the TV show."

Once comfortably ensconced in the past, the stories came naturally.

More to the world

Basil Iwanyk pointed out that the time frame really allowed for a more organic expansion of the world of "John Wick," and explained the presence of other spin-offs as well. Director Len Wiseman, for instance, is currently working on a film called "The Ballerina," an action thriller starring Ana de Armas as Rooney, a dancer/murderer who once met John Wick. This is a world of colorful assassins and exotic, expensive locations. It seems that, even if John Wick will no longer be the star, there's a lot more space to inhabit. Iwanyk said: 

"The more good characters we come up with for 'The Ballerina,' or whatever spin-offs we come up with, it's more material for the prequel to grow. It was so different than anything we have had in the 'Wick' world." 

As of this writing, "John Wick: Chapter 4" was a big hit, and "The Ballerina" and "The Continental" are the only publically announced spin-offs. Given the huge number of characters that had been introduced over the course of the four "John Wick" movies, the possibilities for additional spin-offs and solo projects are more or less endless. While the appeal of the films may have been Keanu Reeves, Iwanyk is clearly banking that some audience members have become so enamored of the world and its supporting players that they'll flock to new projects in droves. 

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen.