Distinguished Alumni Award


Mark Johnson 73MA

2016 Achievement Award

Mark Johnson, 73MA, is a critically acclaimed television and film producer whose impressive body of work has helped shape America's cultural milieu.

Thanks to a host of blockbuster hits, including the Oscar-winning Rain Man and the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning Breaking Bad, Johnson has entertained a generation of movie and television fans since his days as a University of Iowa film student.

What began as a childhood passion for Johnson evolved into a highly successful career that has yielded more than 40 films and television shows. Johnson was born in Washington, D.C., but spent several of his formative years in Spain. While there, he worked as an extra in films such as Dr. Zhivago and Nicholas and Alexandra. These opportunities led to a couple of minor movie roles before Johnson went on to complete a B.A. degree in drama from the University of Virginia and enroll at the UI.

"He came to us with more professional experience than is the norm, and it seemed natural for him to keep his hand in the nuts and bolts of filmmaking," recall two of his former UI professors, Franklin Miller and Dudley Andrew. "We remember his witty short film that offered up a travelogue-style tour of Iowa City as it if were Paris. Very 1970s."

"Mark's gift is that he makes intelligent films and programs that strive to do more than entertain—they consistently inspire, they educate, and they tell the truth about people and their stories."

Shortly after graduating from Iowa, the young producer landed one of the first Directors Guild of America traineeships, allowing him to assist on William Friedkin's existential thriller, Sorcerer, which became widely known for its production difficulties. After cutting his teeth on such experiences, Johnson made a name for himself as a talented leader with a knack for collaborating with others.

From 1982 to 1994, he produced all of writer-director Barry Levinson's films, including Good Morning, Vietnam; The Natural; Tin Men; Avalon; Diner; and the Oscar-nominated Bugsy. Johnson's more recent filmography includes The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, The Little Princess, The Notebook, Galaxy Quest, and The Secret in Their Eyes.

Beyond the big screen, Johnson has served as the executive producer of the award-winning AMC drama Breaking Bad and of SundanceTV's Peabody Award-winning show Rectify. He's also the executive producer of two AMC shows, Better Call Saul and Halt and Catch Fire.

Fellow UI graduate Karen Possner, 75PhD, says, "Mark's gift is that he makes intelligent films and programs that strive to do more than entertain—they consistently inspire, they educate, and they tell the truth about people and their stories."

Such accomplishments have earned him a spot on the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and as chair of the academy's foreign language film selection committee. In addition, Johnson is the founder of the Children's Action Network, which uses the power of the entertainment industry to help find homes for children in need of adoption.

Through an impressive body of work that consistently thrills and uplifts, Mark Johnson has made significant contributions to American pop culture while capturing the attention of millions of people around the world.


About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.


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