Shea Serrano on His New Book and Why ‘John Wick’ Is the Ultimate Action Franchise

Writer Shea Serrano has a lot of thoughts about movies. If you’re one of Serrano’s 300K-plus Twitter followers (or even if you’re not), you’ve probably heard a few of those opinions. Serrano’s opinions run the cinematic gamut from action franchises to romantic comedies. And now, Serrano’s put those thoughts on paper.

In his new book Movies (And Other Things), Serrano explores some of the topics and questions he’s been thinking about for years—things like, Would this movie be better if The Rock were in it? What movies should have actually won Oscars? Who would make the perfect movie heist crew? Is Regina George the ultimate movie villain?

Serrano, a staff writer for the sports and pop culture website The Ringer, previously found success with the New York Times best-sellers Basketball (and Other Things) and The Rap Yearbook. So when he got the chance to do another book, he knew exactly what the subject would be.

“I knew eventually I’d want to do a movie book, and I felt this could be another one in this series,” Serrano told Men’s Journal ahead of the book’s October 8 release. “There were lots of similarities to me with movies and basketball. A movie year is like a sports season filled with winners, losers, surprises, awards snubs—all the pieces seemed to fit.”

Author Shea Serrano / Movies (And Other Things) / Twelve Books / Josh Huskin
Movies (And Other Things) / Twelve Books / Josh Huskin

We caught up with Serrano to talk about his new book, what makes The Rock so charming, the John Wick franchise, villains, and much more.

Men’s Journal:What goes into putting a book like this together?

With the basketball book, I had more fun than I thought I would. I liked the structure of it, that each chapter was a different thing, all stitched together with a main through-line. A book like this takes a lot of heavy lifting—figuring out what the book looks like, what it’ll feel like, finding the tone you’re going for. At this point, with it being the second book in the series, I knew there would be illustrations. I knew how I wanted to open it. The whole thing took 18 months from writing to being fully done, and probably nine months were spent in the initial building-out process.

What movies made a big impact on you as a kid?

One is the very first one I saw in a theater, Kickboxer. By that point, I had seen and fallen in love with Bloodsport and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I loved him. My uncle took me to see it—and, in retrospect, it was pretty violent for a kid. But I’ll never forget seeing it in a theater. Another one I remember watching that was kind of profound was Mortal Kombat. What blew my mind at the time was that these different streams of pop culture—video games and movies—could cross together. I didn’t know that was something that could happen. I remember when it opened with the Mortal Kombat dragon logo and the theme music started playing… it was a pivotal moment in my life. That ‘Oh my god’ moment where you realize things can happen. Another one that stood out to me was White Men Can’t Jump. I’m always drawn into shit-talking, basketball player scams and hustles that happen, people trying to figure things out, and I remember that movie drawing me in. Those were three big ones for me when I was like 12 and under.

What’s your favorite action movie of all time?

It’s probably Die Hard. It’s an easy pick, but it’s so clearly when everything shifted in action movies. The trajectory from Stallone and Arnold—who had like 19 combined movies in the 1980s—to Die Hard basically marked the end of that era of big muscles. It became more about regular-sized guys and plausible stories. They still make those big, muscular movies, but overall it marked a major moment. Like in Commando, Arnold jumps out of an airplane and lands in a swamp and it doesn’t even bother him. In Die Hard, Bruce is in tears trying to pull glass from his feet [laughs]. It was a big shift.

What are you looking for in a good action movie?

I’m looking for a bunch of things: Can I be introduced into a new world I’ve never seen before? Can I be introduced to a new idea I’ve never seen before? Can I be introduced into a new set piece or stunt I’ve never seen before? An example is Taken with Liam Neeson. It’s a really smart action movie that jump-started the old-guy-doing-badass-things genre. And there’s a part in that movie where he’s arguing with a guy he used to work with, and that guy has a desk job now, which is a running gag in the movie. At that point, the guy pulls out a gun, and Liam says [“That’s what happens when you sit behind a desk. You forget things. Like the weight in the hand of a gun that’s loaded and one that’s not.”] Liam took the bullets out of the gun! I’ve never seen that before—and he shoots the guy’s wife in the arm. Never seen that in a movie. That’s why I love John Wick so much. It’s a new world, a storyline that makes sense: A guy has something taken from him and he’s going to get revenge. And we get stunts we’ve never seen before.

Here’s that moment from Taken:

Why do you love the John Wick movies so much?

Keanu Reeves is a great movie star. John Wick is a perfect role for him. He leans into the stuff he’s good at: look cool, growl a couple of lines, get in some fights. Some movie stars, they have a thing. The phrase is called “fight confidence.” You watch and it looks believable. Christian Bale, he doesn’t really have fight confidence. Keanu practices all of this stuff in real life. He can basically do all the things John Wick does. He has that confidence. He’s perfect in it. The story is great. It introduces a new world, and the sequels keep bringing in new characters and ideas. In Chapter Four, I’m sure we’ll get more wild stunts and things we haven’t seen before.

Author Shea Serrano / Movies (And Other Things) / Twelve Books / Josh Huskin
Josh Huskin

You have a chapter in the book about whether certain movies would be better if The Rock were in them. What do you think makes him so appealing?

He’s a big, muscular, handsome guy—and he’s incredibly charming. He seems like a great hang. He also seems like he would be a good dad, and those are things everyone’s looking for at all times. He really is a movie star. It makes sense that everybody falls in love with him. The Rock became this global star when that wasn’t happening anymore. The way things were with movie stars 20 years ago—like Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, and so on—it’s just not happening now.

Do you have some favorite movies on your list that might surprise people?

The thing that people are surprised by is that I’m a big rom-com guy. In the book, I knew I was going to do a chapter on Something’s Gotta Give and Diane Keaton. I love that movie. She came along later in my life. I was maybe mid-to-late 20s when I first saw her, and I was like, ‘Who is she? I haven’t seen her in anything.’ And then I found out she’s been around for 30 years and I somehow hadn’t remembered that she was in The Godfather, which of course I had seen. I also love high school movies—ones like Mean Girls, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Can’t Hardly Wait. I think whenever you make one, you need an iconic character that can anchor it, so like in Karate Kid, it’s Daniel, in others you have Regina George, Ferris, they’re iconic ones.

How did you decide on the chapters and topics you’d cover?

More than anything, I wanted the book to feel balanced. I wanted for there to be parts that had some gravity and were serious and more insightful, and others straight-up silly. I have an organizational chart where I keep track of chapters, and I put them in different sections on the chart. I try to make sure the sections are even on my chart, it was the same process that I had on the basketball book. It keeps the pieces organized, so when you look and see you have nine silly chapters and four serious ones, you can see what sections you need to pump up. It’s like making dinner: if someone puts plate in front of you all mashed potatoes and one bite of meat, you’re going to want more of the meat.

You’ve hosted a podcast and written a lot about villains. What do you like about them so much?

Villains to me are oftentimes the most interesting part of the movie. It’s cool to see bad people doing bad things, and see how complicated they can get. With a hero, they’re just a hero. They have to do a good thing, and save the people, and be heroes. Villains can be so much more nuanced, interesting, and appealing in different ways. Like Hannibal Lecter. We can understand how dangerous and vicious this guy is, but there’s something about him that makes you want to talk to him. Someone like Killmonger in Black Panther [played by Michael B. Jordan], that character is interesting because what he says makes sense. Is he actually the good guy? The villains can be so interesting… people like Regina George in Mean Girls and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl.

I appreciated the section on “Who wins in the new Academy Awards.” I love movies and I love the Oscars—but I also hate them because so often it seems they get it wrong, or at least give awards for the wrong reasons. For example, looking back on The Social Network and The King’s Speech, no one has spoken about King’s Speech since that came out and The Social Network is still just as relevant today.

I think you and I have a similar feeling toward awards. We understand the prestige and what it means to win, getting the validation in some way. When it’s a movie that you like or care about, if it doesn’t win, it’s like, ‘F*ck these awards!’ When one does, you’re like, ‘Hell yeah!’ The feeling is like rooting for a sports team. That was among my favorite sections, because I never spent time to dig through all of the past Oscar winners. That chapter starts with 1995. The Best Picture was Forrest Gump and Best Actor was Tom Hanks. You watch it at the time, and it’s a fun movie, and if it came out now, would it do what it did then and win awards? The idea it probably wouldn’t hold up is an interesting conversation about how movies have changed and how viewpoints have changed. It’s cool to see and look through that lens—about how a movie won over these other movies that were totally ignored, and so on. That’s part of the fun. Social Network and TheKing’s Speech—those are big ones. I write about Social Network in the book. Another one is American Beauty. We look back at 1999 as one of the best year’s in film—ever—and that’s the movie that won?

What movies or performances have you liked from this past year?

Hustlers was incredible. Jennifer Lopez, one of my favorite movie stars of all time, she was great and it was cool to see her finally, maybe get her due for an Oscar nomination. She should have one for Selena, that was a big one. I loved John Wick 3, Booksmart, which I write about in the book. I also really liked Crawl.

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