The Moment John Wick's Director Realized They Made A Great Movie [Comic-Con]

For a series of movies that now seems like a total no-brainer of franchise, the truth behind the humble origins of "John Wick" is liable to surprise those who weren't on board right from the very start in 2014. The modestly-budgeted first film earned a respectable — though not sensational – $86 million worldwide, turning what seemed like a questionable (and oddly-marketed) B-movie premise into a word-of-mouth critical darling that slowly but steadily earned a loyal and intensely passionate fanbase. Driven by its committed lead star, a deceptively simple inciting incident, and an impressively strong sense of world building that left viewers wanting more, the refreshingly original flick went on to spawn two incredibly successful sequels, with yet another one upcoming (which appears ready to blow our minds all over again) and even a prequel television series that's currently in post-production, as well.

Yet once upon a time, the success of the first "John Wick" was hardly assured. With directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch at the helm, the then-unproven upstarts faced an uphill battle in terms of justifying the continued adventures of the assassin-turned-pacifist-turned-Baba-Yaga. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, it's easy to see the building blocks for an ongoing and sustainable franchise. At the time, however, even Stahelski felt nothing but nerves during the very first screening of the film ahead of its worldwide premiere.

During Collider's Directors on Directing panel during San Diego Comic-Con, Stahelski wound back the clock and reminisced about the moment of truth when he first realized that he had a potential hit on his hands.

Moment of truth

Moderated by Collider's Steven Weintraub, the Directors on Directing panel proved to be a treasure trove of fun details and hidden surprises — not least of all featuring Keanu Reeves himself crashing the panel in order to help debut the "John Wick 4" trailer. With /Film's Jacob Hall in attendance, director Chad Stahelski was asked to pick the biggest "pinch-me moment" of his career. First jokingly alluding to his previous career as a stuntman, specifically when he performed the famous move from "The Matrix" where Keanu Reeves' Neo performs a cartwheel and picks up a gun during the climactic lobby shootout scene, Stahelski then followed up by pinpointing a much more meaningful set of circumstances.

"The first time we did 'Wick,' the first movie, no one had really heard of it. I think we were in Fantastic Fest in Austin (Texas) and I was sitting next to Keanu and we had a little bowl of popcorn and we had snuck in. And the movie ended and it was silence, and everybody started clapping. I was like, 'Holy s***, they're clapping.' And we didn't know why [laughs]. We really didn't. And then all of a sudden they started clapping and we were like, 'Oh f***, they're clapping about the movie.' That was pretty cool."

Filmmakers will tell you that there's nothing more nerve-wracking than sitting in with an audience as their movie is screened for the first time, nervously checking the temperature of the room and anxiously waiting to see how viewers react to the action unfolding in front of them. This lovely anecdote goes to show that, as much of a global phenomenon as "John Wick" has become, one little screening in Austin, Texas ended up making all the difference.