No Beef With This Wick

If you’ve ever spent any time in Western New York, particularly Buffalo, there’s two must-have local favorites you must experience, calories be damned. Real Buffalo wings, particular those from the Anchor Bar, and with celery and blue cheese dressing as a side, is a must.  So, too, is a hearty sandwich called a “Beef on ‘Wick”, which Wick–er-WIKipedia, yummily describes like this:

beef on weck is a sandwich found primarily in Western New York State, particularly in the city of Buffalo.[1][2][3] It is made with roast beef on a kummelweck roll, a roll that is topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds. The meat on the sandwich is traditionally served rare, thin cut, with the top bun getting a dip in jus and spread with horseradish.

My mouth is watering just at the thought of it.   And if you happened to be having it in Buffalo, you’d be within a short distance of Canada, which is the home base for many great things, including the braintrust of Lionsgate.  And last weekend, that little Canadian independent studio once again outsmarted and found a way to bring people into theatres, with the fourth and most successful installment to date of JOHN WICK.   And it exceeded most experts’ expectations, including some of their executives’, who had all but planned for this Wick to ba a wake.  As THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Pamela McClintock recounted:

John Wick: Chapter 4 had widely been expected to be the final installment in the main action franchise, but a fifth installment is back on the table after the movie’s astonishing opening at the global box office, according to Lionsgate motion picture group chair Joe Drake.

Directed by Chad Stahelski and returning Keanu Reeves in the titular role as the iconic assassin, the unstoppable action pic served up a huge $73.8 million domestically after pristine reviews and an A CinemaScore from audiences. Overseas, the results were just as impressive, where the movie debuted to a resounding $67.6 million from 71 markets for a global start of $141.4 million, a series record on all fronts.

The JOHN WICK franchise had been successful for Lionsgate since the first film was released nine years ago.  It has an iconic big name star, lots of action, exotic locations and an escapist feel where you root for the “bad guy”.  And, as Wikipedia also reminds, the motivation for Wick’s character to kill or be killed is as relatable and as moral as any one could imagine:

The film follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves), a legendary hitman who is forced out of retirement to seek revenge against the men who killed his puppy, a final gift from his recently deceased wife. 

Between that, and the familarity that Reeves has from THE MATRIX and, even before that, the BILL AND TED franchise, Wick’s a most likeable and relatably righteous dude.

And with the latest film, as well as an upcoming spinoff, John Wick’s getting some company in that league of villains you can root for.  As Jen Yamato of the LOS ANGELES TIMES reported:

Fleshing out the western- and jidaigeki-influenced underworld of “John Wick: Chapter 4” as the titular man in black ramps up the body count in his quest for vengeance, stuntman-turned-director Chad Stahelski tapped a bounty of top international action stars to complicate his antihero’s journey.

Japanese screen legend Hiroyuki Sanada was initially set to reunite with his “47 Ronin” co-star Reeves in “John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum” but had to drop out due to a training injury. A few years later, Stahelski called about a new role that had been written just for him: Shimazu Koji, the principled owner of the Osaka Continental, who shares a deep and loyal brotherhood with John Wick.

Pop singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama was looking forward to a rare bit of downtime after writing her second album when she got a call too intriguing to pass up: The director of the “John Wick” movies wanted to meet with her — and was she free for the next three months?

“John Wick 4’s” not-so-secret weapon is the biggest action star to join the franchise: Hong Kong cinema icon Donnie Yen.

As the blind assassin Caine, another old friend and antagonist of Wick’s maybe-final chapter, he fills the screen with cool wit and lethal grace — a deadly Fred Astaire with a bladed walking stick who steals the movie each time he glides onscreen.

And with such a multicultural cast, and with a plot line that needs no translation, the appeal of WICK to the crucial Asian theater-going audience is unlimited.  So this not only sets up Wick for further sequels, but also the potential of a true Wick-verse.  As McClintock added:

Regardless of John Wick 5‘s fate, there will be more Reeves as the character in the future, albeit not in the lead role. He shows up in Ballerina, the series’ first spinoff that stars Ana de Armas as another determined assassin. Ian McShane, Anjelica Huston and the late Lance Reddick also star in the film, which is expected to hit theaters next year, and takes place between the events of John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum and John Wick: Chapter 4 and is directed by Len Wiseman.

And as Zach Sharf of VARIETY! noted, this kind of performance opens up even more possibilities, especially given Chapter 4’ambiguous ending:

Is John Wick really dead? The end of “John Wick: Chapter 4” throws fans of the long-running action franchise a twist by seemingly killing off the eponymous assassin. John participates in a sunrise duel to free himself of the High Table, with his opponent, the Marquis Vincent de Gramont (Bill Skarsgard), nominating Caine (Donnie Yen) to take his place. Caine shoots John and John seemingly misses Caine during the third round of the duel, but John was merely saving his final bullet to kill the Marquis instead.

And for Lionsgate CEO Joe Drake, who is in midst of his own personal redemption, this now gives him another quiver in his bow that, initially, he thought would be limited (ironically) to a resurrection of THE HUNGER GAMES.  As THE WRAP’s Jeremy Fuster explained in a detailed victory lap interview with Drake:

Drake, who served as co-COO of Lionsgate until 2012, returned to lead the studio’s film division in late 2017 alongside Nathan Kahane, with whom Drake had founded the production company Good Universe and who now serves as motion picture group president. The pair was tasked with guiding Lionsgate into a new chapter after the end of the studio’s lucrative “Hunger Games” saga, which grossed $2.95 billion worldwide.

The new leaders’ initial box office results were mixed. The studio’s domestic annual total in 2018 cratered to $352 million, but that rough year was sandwiched by years where the studio released hits like “Wonder” and “Knives Out,” with 2019 annual grosses rising to $910 million.

But there has been no bigger post-“Hunger Games” success for Lionsgate than “John Wick,” which just saw its latest installment open to $137.5 million worldwide. With incredibly strong reception from critics and audiences and currently standing as a unique offering in theaters as an R-rated action thriller, “John Wick 4” has the chance of being the first film in the series to cross $400 million globally.

And, with even greater irony, Lionsgate is also tapping into a completely alternative, but lucrative fan base, to expand its growth.  Fuster added:

That’s not the only theatrical success Lionsgate has enjoyed this year. Earlier this month, Lionsgate’s faith-based film production partners Kingdom Story Company released “Jesus Revolution,” a $15 million true-story tale that has become Kingdom’s highest grossing film in its young history with $49 million.

After mostly day-and-date releases last year, “Jesus Revolution” and “John Wick 4” mark a significant return to theatrical releases for Lionsgate, with upcoming titles like “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” “White Bird: A Wonder Story” and the return of franchises like “The Expendables,” “Saw” and “The Hunger Games,” the latter of which will adapt the prequel novel “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.”

Zigging when the rest of the world zags.  Theatrical releases.  Faith-based audiences.  Escapist, populist, global-appeal, franchisable IP.

Many experts still believe that Lionsgate is ripe to be acquired, given its lack of a wholly owned platform.  Its pay cable network, Starz, has been separated off and now is more aggressively targeting an African-American niche audience, hoping to capitalize on the homogenization of Showtime and the looming muting of HBO in a world of MAX, though initial returns suggest little moving of its needle.  As a TV producer, Lionsgate has outstnding but aging leadership, ripe for a payday.  Drake is no spring chicken, either.  But this sort of run strongly suggests he’s a way better judge of what can and can’t work than many others currently in place elsewhere.  Any potential buyer, be they a direct or indirect competitor, would strongly benefit from his expertise.

In so many ways, WICK is just like ‘Weck:  tough, resilient, populist, and delicious.  All indications are this could be the this year’ TOP GUN, given how weak the April release schedule for larger studios is.

Take a bite of of both Wick and ‘Weck sometime soon. You’ll likely be satisfied.

Until next time…


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