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Mississippi Burning (1988)

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Two FBI agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.



3,709 ( 77)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 16 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Pell
Sheriff Ray Stuckey
Lester Cowens
Badja Djola ...
Agent Monk
Agent Bird
Thomas B. Mason ...
Judge (as Tom Mason)
Rick Zieff ...


Two FBI agents investigating the murder of civil rights workers during the 60s seek to breach the conspiracy of silence in a small Southern town where segregation divides black and white. The younger agent trained in FBI school runs up against the small town ways of his former Sheriff partner. Written by Keith Loh <loh@sfu.ca>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


1964. When America was at war with itself.


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

27 January 1989 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Three Lives for Mississippi  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)


$34,603,943 (USA)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Don Johnson campaigned heavily for the role that went to Willem Dafoe. See more »


At the burned-down church that Ward and Anderson visit, there's a tree standing within ten feet of it with no scorch marks on it. See more »


[first lines]
Driver: Uh, oh.
Passenger: What is it?
Passenger: [seeing the car behind them] What do they want?
Driver: I don't know... just pass me... pass me...
Driver: [trying to identify the following car] Is it a cop?
Passenger: I can't see.
[they are hit from behind]
Driver: What the fuck are these jokers playin' at?
Rear passenger: Oh, they ain't playin', you better believe it.
See more »


Referenced in Timeless: Pilot (2016) See more »


Try Jesus
Words and Music by Roberta Martin
Performed by Vesta Williams
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Where does hatred come from?
18 July 1999 | by (Toronto, Ontario) – See all my reviews

Where? Where does racism come from? How can one race feel superior to another? Are we born with it? No. Do we become it on our own? Maybe? Or is it perhaps that we are taught it? There is a small scene in Mississippi Burning that is just as powerful as any Gene Hackman speech or any violent montage to gospel music that is in this film. There is a rally at a park with the head of the KKK ( without his hood ) telling thousands of people that have gathered that he loves being white. He loves the fact that Mississippi is segregated. And in the crowd the camera pans across and shows three year old kids smiling and cheering as gleefully and loudly as their parent's are. It is haunting.

This film is bit like JFK in a way. It is not an absolute recreation of the events that took place in 1964, but it is a film that tells a true story and then adds a bit of fiction to make it more interesting for a mass audience. For example, the case was not cracked by Mr. Anderson fooling around with Pell's wife. But that is besides the point, the point being that this film is mesmerizing. Everything from its direction, cinematography, acting, writing and music, it is the best film of 1988. And having Rain Man take most of the major awards is really quite sad. Because Mississippi Burning is much more ambitious, important and well done. Rain Man is a very good film and I will even go as far as to say that Hoffman is the only one that deserved to win best actor just as much as Hackman did. But 1988 was a bad year for the rest of the Oscars. Anyway...

I have been edgy before. Boyz and the Hood did that to me, but this film makes me angry. It makes me want to jump back into 1964 and try to do something to stop this. The film is that strong at showing us how terrible and pointless racism is. And in order to make this film work, there has to be strong elements in all areas. But for me, what really made me feel the things that I did is the actors that played their roles.

Hackman is brilliant. He gives the performance of a lifetime and it is his anger that gives him his edge. He sees things differently than Mr. Ward does and that sometimes makes them bump heads with each other. But they ultimately have the same goal in mind. Just different ways of achieving that goal. Dafoe is great as well, but it is the supporting cast that really makes this film. From Dourif to R. Lee Ermey to Stephen Tobolwolski, these characters are richly portrayed by the actors that play them. There is however one actor in particular that I wanted to touch on and that is Michael Rooker. He plays Frank, the nastiest, meanest, no conscience, negro hating person that I think I have ever seen on film. I don't know where his anger comes from, but he is the kind of character that you can imagine had a violent father that drank too much and always told stories about how bad the black man was. When Rooker is on screen you listen. You pay attention to what he is saying and doing. And my hatred of him was one of my favourite parts of the film.

Mississippi Burning shows us how strange people are when it comes to racism. The characters in this film don't know why they hate the way they do, they just know that they do. And they are powerless to stop themselves. What happened to the three civil rights workers was a disgrace and a tragedy. But not just because three boys were murdered, but because no one knows why they were murdered,besides racism that is. Why did they have to die? Because they were a different colour of skin? Because they were Jewish? It really doesn't make any sense.

Mississippi Burning is one of the best films I have ever seen. It is important and it is entertaining. If you haven't seen it, do so just for the scene with Mr. Anderson and Deputy Pell at the barber shop. That is worth the price of the rental alone. But for a really important film that has something to say, this is one of the best.

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