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The True Story Behind Netflix’s 'Hit Man'!

Written by Emma Kassel. Published: June 16 2024
(Photo: Netflix)


[Warning: This article contains spoilers!]


After a short theatrical run, Hit Man is now streaming on Netflix. The film stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona and is directed by Richard Linklater, who has helmed films such as Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and School of Rock. Powell and Linklater wrote the screenplay together after being inspired by a 2001 article written by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly Magazine.


Gary Johnson is the most sought-after professional killer in Houston. In the past decade, he's been hired to kill more than sixty people. But if you pay him to rub out a cheating spouse or an abusive boss, you'd better watch your own back: He works for the cops,” Hollandsworth writes.



As of this writing, the movie is 97% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 93% audience score, and is the #1 movie on Netflix. Safe to say this movie is a hit!




Let's fact-check Hit Man to see how much of it is based on the real Gary Johnson’s life.


The movie starts accurately, showing Gary at his job as a college professor in New Orleans teaching a psychology course and then going home to his cats and his botany hobby. The beginning introduces Gary as a simple man who admits his life may look a little plain, but he doesn’t mind. He works part-time undercover with the local police department after finding a love for electronics and digital media.


In reality, Johnson was a cop who taught one human sexuality course and one general psychology course at a community college in Houston. What the movie leaves out is that, prior to this stage of his life, Johnson was a military officer in Vietnam. He started working undercover as a drug addict to identify local dealers upon his return.


The most exciting part of the movie is Johnson’s disguises that switch up in order to please each client. He conducts research ahead of time and shows up to the meeting as the client’s ideal hitman, changing aliases from a tattoo-covered country boy to a Patrick Bateman-inspired murderer. “Gary is a truly great performer who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself,” lawyer Michael Hinton told the Texas Monthly regarding Johnson. Despite Powell's extravagant outfits and wigs in the film, the real Johnson wasn't quite as excessive with his disguises as the movie depicts.



The movie also features a romance subplot, as Gary, who’s taken on a character he named Ron, gets hired to kill a woman named Madison’s husband. Ron convinces Madison to walk away, and she does, but they end up falling for each other and keeping their romance a secret in the process. Although this may seem like an epic love story, it’s not exactly what happened in real life. Johnson got a call about a woman wanting to kill her boyfriend for abusing her, and as he started looking into her case, he learned that she was too terrified to leave him because of what he might do. Instead of organizing a sting to bring down the woman, he made the decision to support her. To ensure she had the support she needed to leave her partner and check herself into a women's shelter, he put her in touch with social services and a therapist.



Spoiler Alert: A big plot twist in the movie is that Madison ends up killing her husband after he meets with Powell’s character to kill her. Although this is quite a dramatic movie plot, it didn’t happen. The real Gary Johnson never murdered anyone, so don't stress. In the Hit Man credits, Glen Powell and Richard Linklater confess to inventing that portion of the plot. Little notes disclosing details about the real Gary Johnson's life — such as the fact that he was a Buddhist and a member of the military — flash on the screen when photographs of him appear. It is clearly stated beneath one photograph that "we made that part up" and that the real Johnson never killed anyone.


Hit Man is now streaming on Netflix!