9 great movies that inspired John Wick spin-off The Continental, according to its directors

Winston Scott stands in an open elevator with his hands in his pockets in The Continental TV show
The Continental: From the World of John Wick was inspired by many iconic movies. (Image credit: James Dimmock)

The Continental: From the World of John Wick is the first of two – possibly more, depending on their success – spin-offs that'll expand the action-thriller franchise's engrossing universe.

With the prequel miniseries out now on Peacock in the US and Prime Video internationally, John Wick fans are likely immersing themselves in its 'disco noir'. Well, as long as they didn't read our review of The Continental, which we labeled middling at best. In short: don't expect to see it on our best Prime Video shows list any time soon.

Regardless of whether we think the TV spin-off lives up to the movies, there are some brilliant action flicks that inspired its design, style, tone, and vibe. Below, The Continental's directors Albert Hughes and Charlotte Brändström exclusively reveal which nine films (and one surprising TV show) had the biggest influence on it.

A little housekeeping before we begin: most of these inspirations can be found on the world's best streaming services. In some instances, however, you can only rent or buy them from video-on-demand (VOD) services, including the Google Play Store, Apple TV, and YouTube. Bear this in mind before you go searching for them. 

48 Hrs.

Where to stream it: Paramount Plus (US and UK), rent or buy (Australia)

This 1982 buddy cop action-comedy, starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as a cop and convict tasked with catching two hardened criminals, played a big role in calibrating the dynamics between The Continental's various partnerships, including Winston and Charon's burgeoning bond.

"One of our head writers, Kirk Ward, is a huge 80s action fan," Hughes explains. "Having a partner in crime like that, you feel like you have to go and watch those classic action comedies of that decade."


Where to stream it: Paramount Plus (US), Disney Plus (UK and Australia)

This Arnold Schwarzenegger-fronted adventure is as explosive as it gets from an action standpoint. Commando, which sees the man affectionately dubbed 'Arnie' conduct a one-man mission to rescue his daughter from a former Latin American dictator, is a clear influence on The Continental's over-the-top gunplay.

"This type of filmmaking had a sense of winking to, nodding at, and having fun with the audience," Hughes muses. "It's a form of grandiose escapism, in a way". Fans of 'Arnie' should also check out the hugely popular FUBAR, one of 2023's best Netflix shows, if they haven't already.

The Conformist

Where to stream it: Kanopy (US), rent or buy (UK and Australia)

The Conformist, a 1970s Italian political drama, might not have been at the top of many people's lists. However, from visual and politicking standpoints – The Continental sees Winston put his diplomatic skills to good use throughout its three episodes – its influence is clear. And, with its tale centered on mid-level right-wing official Marcello Clerici, who is ordered to assassinate his former antifascist professor, the parallels with Winston attempting to take down brutal adversary Cormac are striking.

"The Conformist is one I really looked at," Hughes admits. "It's in the Bible of cinematographers and directors all over the world, and with good reason!"

The French Connection

Where to stream it: Rent or buy (US), Disney Plus (UK and Australia)

William Friedkin's legendary 1971 action-thriller is a titan of the neo-noir film genre, which the John Wick franchise largely draws from. It tells the tale of New York police detectives Jimmy 'Popeye' Doyle and Buddy 'Cloudy' Russo as they pursue wealthy French drug smuggler Alain Charmer. 

Fascinatingly, The French Connection's protagonists are based on real-life cops Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso, who were the inspiration behind Robin Moore's 1969 book of the same name, and the two made cameos in the multi-Oscar winning flick. With the hard-boiled detective KD (Mishel Prada) on Winston's case throughout the show, The French Connection's influence is evident from the outset.

The John Wick movies

Where to stream them: Peacock (US), Sky and Now TV (UK), Netflix and Stan (Australia)

An obvious inspiration, but one that needs to be included all the same. The Continental wouldn't exist without the John Wick films and, despite the franchise being four movies-deep by this point, there's still plenty of mythology and lore we don't fully know. 

The Continental: From the World of John Wick, then, is well placed to fill in some gaps in this absorbing universe's lore, especially from a time before Reeves' celebrated hitman burst onto the scene. Find out how to watch the John Wick movies in order while you're here, or read our review of John Wick: Chapter 4.

Select titles are also available on Starz in the US, and Prime Video in the UK and Australia.

The Lethal Weapon movies

Where to stream it: Rent or buy (US and UK), Paramount Plus and Binge (Australia)

Another buddy cop action-comedy and one that, like the John Wick movie series, currently comprises four films. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover star as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, LA police detectives who, despite their clashing personalities, work together to put an end to various criminal activities across the franchise's quartet of flicks.

Like 48 Hrs., the Lethal Weapon series' narrative and thematic threads, as well as its action sequences, played a part in various aspects of The Continental – not least the hiring of Gibson as the miniseries' chief villain Cormac. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the controversial actor's casting was met with dismay in some quarters, though Hughes and Brändström defended his involvement and told TechRadar why Gibson was 'the best man for the job' ahead of the show's release.

The Man in the High Castle

Where to stream it: Prime Video (US, UK, and Australia)

The only TV show to directly impact The Continental: From the World of John Wick's development, this dystopian historical series, which ran from 2015 to 2019, has fingerprints all over its cousin.

Set in the 1960s in a parallel universe where Germany and Japan won World War II, The Man in the High Castle follows several characters as they unearth a mass conspiracy involving the two nations. The show's title refers to a mysterious figure, who is believed to be behind the newsreels and home movies that suggest Germany and Japan's global dominance isn't what it seems. 

"We had a really good team who had already put plenty of work in before I joined," Brändström reveals. "Production designer Drew Boughton, who I knew from The Man in the High Castle, worked on this show and gave it a very cinematic feel."

Midnight Cowboy

Where to stream it: Paramount Plus (US), Prime Video (UK and Australia)

Based on James Leo Herlihy's 1965 novel of the same name, Midnight Cowboy ("one of my favorite movies", says Hughes) stars Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as ailing con man Rico Rizzo and sex worker Joe Buck, who strike up an unlikely friendship. The 1969 Jon Schlesinger-directed flick won three Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture. 

With its penchant for throwing characters with contrasting personas together to see the unexpected bonds that emerge from such team-ups, The Continental certainly drew on Midnight Cowboy's dynamic to imbue its ensemble cast with thematic and comedic flair.

Summer of Sam

Where to stream it: Hoopla (US), Disney Plus (UK and Australia)

The most recently-released film on this list, 1999's Summer of Sam is a crime-thriller that explores the impact of a series of gruesome murders in 1977 on a neighborhood in The Bronx, one of New York's most infamous districts. It helped to shape The Continental's juxtaposition of fantasy and reality.

"A lot of the films I've listed are steeped in reality," Hughes says. "But the John Wick universe is all about escapism, so it's actually about taking those movie influences and doing an impressionistic version of 1970s New York. We have little nods to the Vietnam War in the series, but I was also trying to introduce events like Summer of Sam's depiction of the 1977 New York City summer blackout. Again, this is a parallel universe so, while we wanted to include real-life events, it was about peppering our world with such incidents, rather than heavily focusing on them."

Taxi Driver

Where to stream it: Rent or buy (US), Sky and Now TV (UK), Netflix and Paramount Plus (Australia)

Martin Scorcese's 1976 neo-noir psychological thriller is an electrifying, bold, and shocking movie. In it, De Niro plays Travis Bickle, the titular taxi driver whose deteriorating mental state leads to explosive and catastrophic events as the story plays out. While you're here, find out where we ranked it in our best Martin Scorcese movies guide.

It's been influencing movies for almost half a century now, including DC Extended Universe (DCEU) flick Joker – one of the best superhero movies, in our view – which is all but a comic book-inspired take on the Robert De Niro-starring movie. With its grimy aesthetic, gritty atmosphere, and focus on moral corruption and sociopolitical issues, Taxi Driver's roots run through The Continental.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

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