Rian Johnson is one of the most innovative and daring filmmakers of our time, who has left an indelible mark on the movie industry with his captivating stories, sharp humor and stunning visuals. With an eye for detail and a knack for crafting multi-layered characters, Johnson has become a darling of both audiences and critics alike.

The director made his first big splash with his 2012 film, Looper, which was a critical and commercial success and launched him into the big leagues of Hollywood filmmaking. Since then, he has directed some of the most memorable movies of the past two decades, showcasing a mastery of genre, tone, and storytelling that has earned him a legion of fans and accolades.

Johnson’s directorial approach is characterized by a love for subversion and experimentation. He has a talent for taking familiar genres and tropes and flipping them on their head, delivering stories that are at once fresh and innovative, yet still deeply rooted in movie history. He is a true cinephile, with a deep knowledge of classic and modern cinema, and a keen appreciation for the art form.

Related: Best Rian Johnson Movies, Ranked

It should come as no surprise, then, that Johnson has a rich and eclectic taste in movies. From timeless classics to modern masterpieces, Johnson has expressed his love and admiration for a wide range of movies over the years through social media, twitter, and various interviews. These are works that have inspired him, moved him, and informed his own storytelling, and they offer a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the greatest filmmakers of our time.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan or just looking to expand your cinematic horizons, these are the movies that Rian Johnson loves and that are sure to captivate and inspire you. So, sit back, grab some popcorn, and get ready to delve into the world of one of the most talented and innovative filmmakers of our time.


10 The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

the treasure of the sierra madre
Warner Bros.

Rian Johnson’s grandfather’s favorite movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a timeless classic that has captured the imagination of audiences for over seven decades. This film follows a trio of prospectors as they embark on a journey to find a legendary treasure in the Mexican wilderness. With standout performances from Walter Huston and a young Humphrey Bogart, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is a tour de force of acting, storytelling, and filmmaking.

For Johnson, this movie holds a special place in his heart, having seen it as many times as any other movie in his life. He finds himself drawn to its timeless appeal, the impactful performances, and the human truth it contains. The film’s tight structure, combined with its engaging story, has made it a timeless classic that Johnson finds himself returning to time and time again. It’s a movie that he knows like the back of his hand and one that he loves with all his heart.

9 Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

Rian Johnson’s admiration for the iconic comedy Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is evident from his words. The film, directed by Jacques Tati, follows the misadventures of the loveable and bumbling Monsieur Hulot as he takes a holiday at a seaside resort. With its witty and sophisticated visual gags, the film is a true testament to the art of physical comedy. Johnson notes that the film has a “hazy warmth and nostalgia” that he connects with, and it’s not hard to see why. The film’s blend of Chaplin-esque humor and Fellini-like whimsy creates a unique and timeless comedy that has stood the test of time.

The film holds a special place in Johnson’s heart, not just for its timeless humor but also for the way it influenced one of the great actors of our time, Daniel Craig. Johnson notes that Craig was inspired by Tati’s work and used it as a reference point for his performance in “Glass Onion.”

8 The Bad Sleep Well (1960)

The VP hangs his head as two men stare at him in Bad Sleep Well

Rian Johnson is a filmmaker with a passion for the classics, and the film that he cites as one of his all-time favorites is the 1960 masterpiece The Bad Sleep Well. This dark and suspenseful crime drama tells the story of a young executive who takes on a powerful corporation and its corrupt leaders in a quest for justice. Directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa, The Bad Sleep Well is a timeless work of art that stands the test of time as a masterpiece of filmmaking.

Johnson has a deep appreciation for the film and its director, and in his own words, he describes the experience of watching The Bad Sleep Well as a “relief” after years of struggling with poor-quality import discs and broken English subtitles. With its powerful themes and stunning visual style, The Bad Sleep Well is a film that continues to inspire and captivate viewers, and it is a true standout in the canon of classic cinema.

7 8 1/2 (1963)

Federico Fellini
Columbia Pictures (France)

Rian Johnson finds himself coming back to the classic film 8 1/2 again and again, drawn in by its unique blend of artistry and complexity. This film, directed by the legendary Federico Fellini, explores the inner turmoil of a film director as he tries to find meaning and inspiration in his work. Through a series of dreamlike sequences and fantasy scenes, 8 1/2 delves into the creative process and the human psyche in a way that is both profound and entertaining.

For Johnson, this film redefined what a movie could be, offering a cinematic experience that is as dense and delicate as a great novel. Its impact on him was so profound that he spent years trying to describe its essence in words, only to find that words could not do justice to its magic. Despite this, he continues to return to the movie, drawn in by its timeless artistry and the endless depths of its meaning. Whether you are a filmmaker, an artist, or simply a lover of great cinema, 8 1/2 is a film that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.

6 The Sting (1973)

Heist in The Sting
Universal Pictures

This classic film, directed by George Roy Hill, is a fast-paced and expertly crafted con-man movie that stars Paul Newman and Robert Redford as a pair of grifters who team up to pull off a major scam. With its sharp dialogue, stylish cinematography, and winning performances, The Sting is a timeless film that remains as entertaining today as it was upon its release.

Rian Johnson loves the “central relationship” in the movie. Johnson is drawn to the way Newman and Redford play off each other, and the fun of the game playing that the movie delivers. He finds that it holds up as a fun ride, and even though its twist may no longer surprise audiences, it remains an essential piece of American cinema.

5 Paper Moon (1973)

Tatum O'Neal and Ryan O'Neal in Paper Moon
Paramount Pictures

Paper Moon is a classic film that has captured the hearts of audiences for generations, and it’s easy to see why Rian Johnson considers it a “perfect film.” This charming and endearing story follows the unlikely partnership between a grizzled con man and a young girl as they navigate their way across the Great Depression-era American Midwest.

With its witty dialogue, unforgettable characters, and warm, humorous tone, Paper Moon is a timeless masterpiece that deserves a place on any list of great films. Johnson’s love of this film shines through in his words, and he’s not alone in his admiration for this film’s “relationships between the characters, and this father-daughter relationship,” all of which is truly remarkable.

4 Brazil (1980)

Jonathan Pryce as Sam in Brazil
Universal Pictures

Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is a visionary masterpiece that continues to inspire and amaze audiences today, and it’s no wonder that it holds a special place in Rian Johnson’s heart. This dark and surreal comedy takes us on a wild journey through a dystopian future where the line between reality and fantasy has become blurred beyond recognition.

With its stunning visuals, unforgettable characters, and inventive storytelling, Brazil is a true tour de force of filmmaking, and a movie that continues to inspire filmmakers around the world. Johnson’s love for the “visual storytelling and the inventiveness” of Gilliam’s filmmaking is evident in his words, and it’s clear that Brazil is a movie that has had a profound impact on his own approach to filmmaking.

3 Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman
Sandrew Film & Teater

Experience the magic and wonder of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, a film that captures the essence of childhood, the power of storytelling, and the complexities of the human experience. Rian Johnson has often expressed his love for this film, calling it a “rich adult fairy tale” that speaks to the way in which we use storytelling to make sense of our lives.

With breathtaking cinematography, memorable characters, and a deeply emotional storyline, Fanny and Alexander is a film that has captivated audiences for decades. From the quivering ruminations on mortality to the symbolic self-reflexive experimentation in film form, this movie is a true masterpiece that continues to inspire and captivate with each viewing.

2 Barton Fink (1991)

John Turturro in Barton Fink
20th Century Fox

Discover the captivating world of the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink, a film that has mesmerized Rian Johnson for years. This movie is a formally crafted work of art that defies easy categorization, with its captivating blend of humor, horror, and existential contemplation. Johnson has described himself as being “beguiled” by movies that are specifically created to be viewed in a setting, and they still have a mesmerizing craft to them. One not many can define.

He finds himself entranced by the film’s ability to “pull [him] in every single time.” With its powerful performances and thought-provoking themes, this film is a timeless masterpiece that will continue to captivate audiences for generations to come.

Related: Barton Fink: Arguably the Greatest Coen Brothers Film?

1 Under the Skin (2013)

Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin

“Under The Skin is, I think, a modern masterpiece.” This quote from Rian Johnson perfectly captures the essence of this enigmatic and captivating film. A hauntingly beautiful work of art, Under the Skin, tells the story of an alien who travels to Earth and begins to interact with the human population in mysterious ways. With Scarlett Johansson delivering a career-defining performance as the alien, this film is a tour de force of visual storytelling, exploring the depths of humanity and the meaning of existence in ways that are both surreal and profound.

Rian Johnson finds himself coming back to this movie, captivated by its ability to reveal new layers with each viewing and marveling at the precision of its construction. His appreciation for this film is a testament to its lasting impact and timeless appeal, making it a must-see for any true fan of cinema.