281 user 131 critic

The Art of Self-Defense (2019)

2:29 | Trailer
After being attacked on the street, a young man enlists at a local dojo, led by a charismatic and mysterious sensei, in an effort to learn how to defend himself from future threats.


Riley Stearns


Riley Stearns
4,585 ( 117)
5 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Jesse Eisenberg ... Casey
Alessandro Nivola ... Sensei
Imogen Poots ... Anna
Steve Terada ... Thomas
David Zellner ... Henry
Phillip Andre Botello ... Kennith
Jason Burkey ... Alex
Mike Brooks Mike Brooks ... Steve
C.J. Rush ... Other Steve (as CJ Rush)
Davey Johnson ... Gun Store Owner
Hauke Bahr ... Grant
Katherine Martin Katherine Martin ... Bakery Woman
Cameron Murphy ... New White Belt (as Patrick Cameron Murphy)
Nicholas Hulstine Nicholas Hulstine ... Pickup Truck Driver
Lena Friedrich Lena Friedrich ... French Girl


After he's attacked on the street at night by a roving motorcycle gang, timid bookkeeper Casey (Jesse Eisenberg) joins a neighborhood karate studio to learn how to protect himself. Under the watchful eye of a charismatic instructor, Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), and hardcore brown belt Anna (Imogen Poots), Casey gains a newfound sense of confidence for the first time in his life. But when he attends Sensei's mysterious night classes, he discovers a sinister world of fraternity, brutality and hyper-masculinity, presenting a journey that places him squarely in the sights of his enigmatic new mentor. Written by Bleecker Street

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for violence, sexual content, graphic nudity and language | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


DOJO RULES: 1. No shoes on the mat. 2. No food or drinks on the mat. 3. Bow when stepping on/off the mat. 4. Always bring your belt. 5. Wash your gi. 6. Respect your opponent. 7. Tap or hear it snap. 8. Tap or take a nap. 9. Stay hydrated. 10. If it works, use it. 11. Guns are for the weak. See more »


Sensei: [after Anna beats a fellow student to a pulp] You're done for the night.
Anna: So is he.
See more »

Crazy Credits

At the beginning of the end credits, the show's "title logo" is shown in a "black metal" font, mirroring the front cover of the CD Casey buys (albeit in yellow). See more »


The Witch Cunt
Performed by Thou
Written by Thou
Courtesy of Mitch Wells
See more »

User Reviews

Smart, Witty, and Sharp as a Samurai Sword
12 July 2019 | by MetaflixSee all my reviews

'The Art of Self Defense' is a coming out party for writer/director Riley Stearns, who has not only overcome the obstacle of a sophomore feature film, but has completely vanquished the notion that it should pose a problem in the first place.

The key to his success? Time. Stearns' first feature film, 'Faults', debuted in 2014. That means he had five years (voluntarily or otherwise) to develop his next project. And the evidence of having that much time to fine tune and meticulously polish what would become 'The Art of Self Defense' is most evident in the writing, which is witty, funny, incisive, and without a shred of overwrought excess.

The film blends comedic elements-sometimes light, sometimes dark-with character study and sociology in a 'Karate Kid' meets 'Fight Club' mashup that is delightfully entertaining the entire way through. Despite some violence and a couple of injuries which could have been toned down to broaden the mass appeal of the film, achieving as much probably isn't Stearns' primary goal, and we expect both he and his trenchant film to garner a well-deserve cult following.

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Official Sites:

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English | French | German

Release Date:

19 July 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Art of Self-Defense See more »

Filming Locations:

Louisville, Kentucky, USA


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$114,374, 14 July 2019

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

End Cue See more »
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Technical Specs




Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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