Glen Powell and Adria Arjona in a bathrub together in Hit Man
(Netflix)

The Surprising True Story That Inspired Netflix’s New Movie ‘Hit Man’

The day is finally here: Hit Man has landed on Netflix. Richard Linklater and Glen Powell reunite to tell the story of Gary Johnson (Powell), a fake hitman who is working with the police to try and catch people hiring hitmen to murder whoever they see fit.

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The film is written by both Powell and Linklater and directed by Linklater. But the most shocking thing about it is that it is based on a real story. Yes, surprise: Gary Johnson really existed and stopped people from getting murdered. That doesn’t mean Hit Man is a completely true story. Which …well, go see the movie and then you’ll know what I’m hinting at.

But the movie does explore the idea that people have of “hitmen” and how that is not really a profession. Gary Johnson really did dress up and trap people trying to commit a murder by hire. His “clients” think he is the greatest hitman in Texas but the reality is that Johnson worked as a staff investigator for the Harris County district attorney’s office. And his job became an important part of the procedures for the police.

The issue with going after people who want to hire a hitman is that the police cannot arrest someone who just wants to murder someone. They have to have made steps towards that murder so that’s where Johnson would come in. And there is documentation of how good Johnson was at his job. All of this was detailed in the 2001 Texas Monthly article that inspired Linklater.

“He’s the perfect chameleon,” Houston lawyer Michael Hinton, who served as one of Johnson’s supervisors, said in the original article. “Gary is a truly great performer who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself. He never gets flustered, and he never says the wrong thing. He’s somehow able to persuade people who are rich and not so rich, successful and not so successful, that he’s the real thing. He fools them every time.”

The real Gary didn’t fall in love with a client

Madison (Adria Arjona) is the woman who breaks through Gary’s facade in the film but it was a storyline created from the Texas Monthly piece itself. One of the clients that seemed to reach out to Gary Johnson was a woman who wanted to escape her abusive relationship. Instead of turning her in, he gave her advice and the number for a social service that could get her away safely.

“The greatest hit man in Houston has just turned soft,” Skip Hollandsworth wrote in the original piece, something that he reportedly said to Johnson. And the real Johnson replied, “Just this once.” This was enough to inspire the love story aspect of Hit Man for Linklater and Powell.

The movie does note that what happens with Madison and Gary is made up for the movie but there are a lot of elements of the real Gary Johnson in the movie. He was a master of his craft and it is fascinating to see how good he was at his job. Even if he did have to kill the dream of being a hitman.


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.