Rian Johnson Signs Producing Deal With Warner Bros., What Does It Mean for His Future?

Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman have signed a two-picture producing deal with Warner Bros. Here's what this means for both parties.
Knives Out - Rian Johnson

It was announced earlier this week that Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman’s T-Street production banner has signed a two-picture producing deal with Warner Bros.

The move comes on the heels of their latest producing child, Cord Jefferson’s American Fiction, earning a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. They also backed Chloe Domont’s Fair Play, which was instantly forgotten by the Netflix algorithm despite its outstanding screenplay and a $20M acquisition at the Cannes Film Festival (on top of being led by two rising stars in Phoebe Dynevor and Alden Ehrenreich).

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The deal is the latest sign that Warner Bros. wants to recruit as many high-profile filmmakers as they can thanks to their WB Pictures co-heads Mike De Luca and Pam Abdy’s great relationships with Hollywood creators. Those infamous decisions of throwing movies in the can by their boss, David Zaslav, haven’t prevented yet filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson or Alejandro G. Iñárritu from signing their new films with Warners, or major stars like Leo DiCaprio and Tom Cruise from joining their respective projects either. Not to mention the Ryan Coogler-Michael B. Jordan new movie that had every studio in town salivating over and which was just dated for March 2025.

So this is great news for Warner Bros. They get to add another big name to their list of creative partnerships that will hopefully make their company more attractive for purchase once they are legally able to enter talks in April of this year. Or, worst case scenario, they get two new great movies that they can make some money on. But 1) what does this mean for Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman, and 2) is there more to this than meets the eye? Let’s begin with the latter.

Netflix TUDUM 2022
Tudum 2022. Rian Johnson from Glass Onion A Knives Out Mystery. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

The Perks of Rian Johnson’s New Deal for Warner Bros.

It should be noted up front that this has been reported as a producing deal and not one in which Rian Johnson will act as writer/director. However, as we’ll explain in a little bit, the writing is on the wall. Johnson will be finishing the script for the third Benoit Blanc movie (which we’ll tentatively call Knives Out 3 for the sake of discussion), which is expected to shoot later this year.

Rian may be looking at a new production home after Knives Out 3 should his deal with Netflix not be renewed (again, more on this later). Warners just seems like a perfect place for that. But it will still be another two years before that happens, and in the meantime, maybe T-Street can actually produce a couple of films that we can score Oscar nominations on.

Whether these two films from the deal are made before Knives Out 3 is released or not, we don’t know, and might be irrelevant. This is probably a partnership that will get renewed and a relationship that they want to maintain, to eventually morph into one where he will be writing and directing the films.

Daniel Craig Knives Out
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L – R) Kate Hudson as Birdie, Jessica Henwick as Peg, Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel. Cr. John Wilson/Netflix © 2022.

Just think about it: The Last Jedi, as controversial as it was with the Star Wars fanbase, made $1.3 billion at the box office and the critical reception was through the roof. Two years later he comes back with a wholly original murder mystery and makes $400 million at the box office out of nowhere, on top of getting his script nominated for an Oscar. And then he did it again with the Netflix sequel!

But what else have we learned from the production of those Netflix films? People line up to work with this guy. We’ve now been through two “who’s who” streams of casting reports, where people are throwing everything they have to go hang out with Rian Johnson, Ram Bergman, and Daniel Craig. Those vibes on set are notoriously known in the industry now, and with the resources that WB can offer (and that Netflix or Lionsgate, for various reasons, could not), the sky is the limit.

What’s In It for Rian Johnson?

Well, for starters, a lot of money… Or is it? We don’t know the number, but it’s certainly less than the $100M he got at Netflix to do the two Knives Out sequels. (Plus the other $100M Ram Bergman got, and the other $100M Daniel Craig got!) However, Johnson was visibly upset that Glass Onion didn’t receive a bigger theatrical window back in the fall of 2022, even if it was the first time Netflix experimented with a 600+ release in multiplexes.

Reed Hastings, then CEO of the company, was very clear about it: they left money on the table by not expanding it wider and leaving it on for more weeks, but that is simply not their business model.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

And that’s where the disagreement comes in. Johnson, like most creators in town, wants his movies in theaters, and he’s likely been thinking for a while that after he’s done with Knives Out 3 he would like to return to a traditional movie studio. Also to consider: the Netflix film department is cutting costs significantly, and the $300M+ investment they made into simply getting the aforementioned trio through the door is entirely out of the question under Dan LIn’s leadership. Lin is set to slash Scott Stuber’s 80-film-a-year slate in more than half, making 20-30 movies at much-reduced costs.

So the financial incentive of staying at Netflix will probably go away, even if Glass Onion still ranks among one of the most watched films on the platform, ever, and Knives Out 3 will likely be up there as well. And the incentive of a theatrical release was never there. A Netflix exit was then always going to happen, and Warner Bros. just seems as good a home as any.

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A lot has changed over there in the past couple of years, and De Luca and Abdy are creatives-first executives who get along very well with high-profile directors and writers. Now it’s only a matter of time before we get Rian Johnson to direct a Lord of the Rings movie! (Sort of kidding here, I’m sure they would love to, I’m sure, but I don’t think Johnson would touch that IP with a ten-foot pole.)

What do you think about Rian Johnson/Ram Bergman’s producing deal with Warner Bros.? Do you agree that it makes sense for them to leave Netflix and look for a traditional studio as a new home? What films/franchises from the Warners catalog would you like to see them tackle? Notice that the deal is with WB and not DC Studios! Let us know your thoughts on our social media or our Discord server, and stay tuned for more movie news!

SOURCE: Deadline