Rian Johnson

Rian Craig Johnson (born December 17, 1973) is an American filmmaker. He wrote and directed the neo-noir film Brick (2005), the comedy-drama The Brothers Bloom (2008), the science fiction thriller Looper (2012), the space opera Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), and the murder-mystery Knives Out (2019).

Rian Johnson
Johnson in 2017
Rian Craig Johnson

(1973-12-17) December 17, 1973
Alma materUSC School of Cinematic Arts
Years active1990–present
Known for
Karina Longworth (m. 2018)
RelativesAaron Johnson (brother)
Nathan Johnson (cousin)

He also directed three episodes of the AMC crime drama television series Breaking Bad: "Fly", "Fifty-One" and "Ozymandias". For his work on "Fifty-One", Johnson won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series in 2013.

Early life

Johnson was born in Silver Spring, Maryland.[1] He grew up in Denver, Colorado until sixth grade,[2] when he moved to San Clemente, California.[1] He attended San Clemente High School (graduating in 1992),[1] where Brick was predominantly filmed. He attended the University of Southern California and graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 1996.[3] Johnson's first short film, Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!!, loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", was included as an easter egg on the Looper Blu-ray.[4]


Johnson's film career, as told to Robert K. Elder, author of The Film That Changed My Life, was largely inspired by Annie Hall, a film that he said "broke so many rules in terms of film narrative." He stated: "It moved me in a way that very few other films have moved me. That's something that, I pray to God, if I am able to keep making movies, I can only hope, twenty years down the line maybe, I'll be able to approach."[5]

His debut film, Brick, made for just under $500,000, is a crime drama. Johnson has often said that he looked to the novels of Dashiell Hammett as inspiration for the film's unique use of language. While the film is classified as a film noir, Johnson claims that no references were made to film noir during production, so as to focus the production away from reproducing a genre piece. Brick was released on DVD by Focus Features.[6]

Johnson directed the video for the Mountain Goats' song "Woke Up New" in 2006. He is a professed fan of the band, and was asked to direct the video when bandleader John Darnielle noticed a reference to them in the credits for Brick. A song is credited to "The Hospital Bombers Experience", which is a reference to the Mountain Goats song titled "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton". Johnson also directed a live performance film of the Mountain Goats' 2009 album The Life of the World to Come. The film consists of a single shot, depicting Darnielle performing the entire album on guitar and piano with minimal accompaniment. This film was screened in New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon upon its completion, and was released as a limited edition DVD on Record Store Day (April 17, 2010).

Johnson's second film, The Brothers Bloom, is a con-man story released in theaters in May 2009 to moderately positive critical reviews. [7] On Metacritic, the film was assigned a weighted average score of 55 out of 100 based on 26 reviews from mainstream critics.[8][9][10][11][12] It was later released on DVD by Summit Entertainment.[13]

Johnson's third film, Looper, began shooting in Louisiana on January 24, 2011, and was released on September 28, 2012, by TriStar Pictures and FilmDistrict.[14] Set in the near future, it has been described as dark science fiction, and involves hitmen whose victims are sent from the future.[15] The film opened the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival[16] and the 2012 Palo Alto International Film Festival.[17] Looper was a surprise success at the box office.

Johnson has made a number of short films, some of which are available on his website. His short film from high school titled Ninja Ko is available as an easter egg on the Brick DVD. The Brothers Bloom DVD features a short, Buster Keaton-esque silent film he made in college. After working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt on Brick, the two shot a short film in Paris, France titled Escargots. In 2002, he directed a short film titled The Psychology of Dream Analysis, which is available to view on his Vimeo account.[18] Johnson directed the episode "Manifest Destiny" of the TV series Terriers.[19]

In March 2010, Johnson announced that he was directing an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad for its third season. The episode, "Fly", aired on May 23, 2010. Johnson directed a second episode of the show, "Fifty-One", which aired on August 5, 2012, and earned him a Directors Guild of America Award.[20] He directed a third episode, "Ozymandias", which received high praise from critics, frequently cited as being 'one of the best television episodes' to air.[21][22][23][24][25][26]

On June 20, 2014, news broke that Johnson would write and direct the eighth installment in the Star Wars film series.[27] Johnson confirmed the report that following month and the film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was released on December 15, 2017, to positive reviews from critics and audiences [28]

After Colin Trevorrow departed Episode IX, Johnson turned down an offer from Lucasfilm to write and direct the follow-up to The Last Jedi.[29] On November 9, 2017, it was announced that Johnson would write a new trilogy of Star Wars films, separate from the main story arc of previous films in the franchise, and would direct the first installment of his trilogy.[30]

Following The Last Jedi, Johnson directed the murder mystery film Knives Out, starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Christopher Plummer.[31] He penned the script and worked with longtime producing partner Ram Bergman.[31] Knives Out was released on November 27, 2019 and was a major success with critics and audiences.[32] The film made $41.7 million for the opening holiday weekend, beating box office estimates.[32]

In September 2019, Johnson and producer Ram Bergman launched T-Street, an company that will generate original content for film and TV shows.[33] The venture is fully capitalized by global media company Valence Media.[33] T-Street launched with a first look deal with Valence Media's Media Rights Capital for film and television projects.[33] Valence Media holds a substantial minority equity stake in the company. Johnson and Bergman intend to make their own original creations through the company, and produce others.[33]

Personal life

Johnson is a folk singer and banjo player. His brother is music producer Aaron Johnson. His cousin Nathan Johnson composed the scores for Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, and Knives Out. Rian and Nathan make up a folk duo called the Preserves.[34]

Johnson has been married to film writer and podcaster Karina Longworth since 2018.[35][36]


Feature films

Year Title Director Writer Producer Notes
2005 Brick Yes Yes No Also editor
2008 The Brothers Bloom Yes Yes No
2012 Looper Yes Yes No
2017 Star Wars: The Last Jedi Yes Yes No
2019 Knives Out Yes Yes Yes

Short films

Year Title Director Writer Notes
1996 Evil Demon Golfball from Hell!!! Yes Yes Also editor
2001 Ben Boyer and the Phenomenology of Automobile Marketing Yes No
2002 The Psychology of Dream Analysis Yes Yes


Year Title Director Writer Episode Notes
2010 Terriers Yes No "Manifest Destiny"
2010–2013 Breaking Bad Yes No "Fly"
Yes No "Fifty-One"
Yes No "Ozymandias"
2014 HitRecord on TV No Yes "RE: Trash"

Other works

Music videos

Year Title Artist
2008 "Woke Up New" The Mountain Goats
2018 "Oh Baby" LCD Soundsystem

Technical credits

Year Title Role
1995 Omaha Production Assistant
1997 Greater Than a Tiger Editor
1998 Phyfutima Camera Operator
2002 May Editor

Acting roles

Year Title Role Notes
2015 BoJack Horseman Bryan (voice) Episodes "Yes, And" and "Out to Sea"
2016 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Imperial Technician Cameo role

Awards and nominations

Year Work Award Result
2005 Brick Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize for Originality of Vision Won
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Nominated
2006 BIFA Award for Best Foreign Independent Film Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Central Ohio Film Critics Association Award for Best Overlooked Film Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Director Won
Citizen Kane Award for Best Directorial Revelation Won
Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Breakthrough Filmmaker Nominated
2007 Empire Award for Best Male Newcomer Nominated
2012 Looper Austin Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Screenplay Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Houston Film Critics Society Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Nominated
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Best Screenplay Won
National Board of Review Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Won
Utah Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
2013 Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay Nominated
Saturn Award for Best Director Nominated
Breaking Bad Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series
(Episode: Fifty-One)
2018 Star Wars: The Last Jedi Empire Award for Best Director Won
Saturn Award for Best Director Nominated
Saturn Award for Best Writing Won
Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form) Nominated
Circuit Community Awards for Honorable Mentions Won
Denver Film Critics Society for Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated


  1. Dwyer, Shawn (2010). "BIOGRAPHY". Turner Classical Movies.
  2. Dawson, Nick (May 15, 2009). "Rian Johnson, The Brothers Bloom". Filmmaker Magazine.
  3. "Rian Johnson Biography". iMDb.
  4. "Blu-ray.com". Bluray.highdefdigest.com. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  5. Johnson, Rian. Interview by Robert K. Elder. The Film That Changed My Life. By Robert K. Elder. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011. N. p17. Print.
  6. Stephen Holden (March 31, 2006). "Joseph Gordon-Levitt Is a Teenage Bogart at Noir High in 'Brick'". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  7. "The Brothers Bloom reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  8. "Brothers Bloom, The reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  9. Puig Claudia (May 17, 2009). "'Brothers Bloom' is a con story that doesn't cheat". USA Today. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  10. Wilonsky, Robert (May 13, 2009). "The Brothers Bloom Is No Joke". The Village Voice. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  11. Ebert, Roger (May 20, 2009). "The Brothers Bloom". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  12. Abele, Robert (May 15, 2009). "'The Brothers Bloom'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  13. Stephen Holden (May 14, 2009). "My Brother, My Partner in Crime". The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2012.
  14. "Official Looper production blog". Loopermovie.tumblr.com.
  15. Fischer, Russ (May 13, 2009). "Rian Johnson lets slip a few more details about Looper". CHUD.com. Archived from the original on May 17, 2009. Retrieved May 18, 2009.
  16. "Looper to launch Toronto film festival". BBC News. Retrieved July 25, 2012.
  17. "PALO ALTO INT'L FILM FESTIVAL RETURNS SEPT. 27–30 2012" (PDF). Palo Alto International Film Festival. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 4, 2013. Retrieved September 4, 2012.
  18. from rcjohnso Plus 5 years ago Not Yet Rated (August 19, 2008). "Vimeo.com". Vimeo.com. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  19. "TV Squad". TV Squad. Retrieved March 5, 2014.
  20. Couch, Aaron; Kilday, Gregg (February 2, 2013). "DGA Awards: Ben Affleck Named Best Director for 'Argo'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved February 7, 2013.
  21. Ryan, Maureen (September 15, 2013). "'Breaking Bad' 'Ozymandias' Recap: Devastation". The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 16, 2013.
  22. Mendelsohn, Tom (September 17, 2013). "Is Breaking Bad's Ozymandias the greatest episode of TV ever written?". The Independent. Retrieved September 18, 2013.
  23. Branham, Matt (October 7, 2016). "The 10 Best Episodes Of TV History". CraveOnline. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  24. Bishop, Hunter (February 15, 2016). "The Five Best TV Episodes Of All Time". FanSided. Retrieved February 28, 2017.
  25. Carter, Matt (November 24, 2016). "From Buffy To Breaking Bad: What Is The Best TV Episode Of All Time?". Moviepilot. Archived from the original on November 1, 2016. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  26. Forcella, Dan (September 15, 2013). "Breaking Bad Review: For Family". TV Fanatic. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  27. Jr, Mike Fleming; Jr, Mike Fleming (June 20, 2014). "UPDATE: 'Star Wars' Bombshell! Rian Johnson To Write, Direct Next Two Films".
  28. D'Alessandro, Anthony (December 17, 2017). "Did Audiences Enjoy 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi'? Deciphering Online User Reviews From Exit Polls". Deadline. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
  29. Jr, Mike Fleming; Jr, Mike Fleming (September 12, 2017). "JJ Abrams Returning To Director's Chair On 'Star Wars: Episode IX'".
  30. Jr, Mike Fleming; Jr, Mike Fleming (November 9, 2017). "Rian Johnson To Create New 'Star Wars' Universe Film Trilogy".
  31. "Toronto: Daniel Craig Joins Rian Johnson Murder Mystery 'Knives Out'". Hollywood Reporter.
  32. McClintock, Pamela (December 2, 2019). "How Original Films Saved the Thanksgiving Box Office". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 2, 2019.
  33. Fleming Jr., Mike (September 5, 2019). "'Knives Out' Duo Rian Johnson & Ram Bergman Form T-Street With Funding From Valence Media/MRC: Toronto". Retrieved November 24, 2019.
  34. "For 'Last Jedi' Director, The Journey To 'Star Wars' Began With Action Figures". NPR. December 15, 2017. Retrieved November 18, 2019.
  35. "Karina Longworth on Instagram: "We got married."". Instagram. Retrieved September 23, 2019.
  36. Schulman, Michael (September 30, 2016). "Ghosts of Old Hollywood, as a Podcast". New York Times. New York Times Company. Retrieved November 25, 2017. Ms. Longworth said, at the house in the Los Feliz neighborhood that she rents here with her boyfriend of five years, the director Rian Johnson ("Looper").
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