209 user 66 critic

Mississippi Burning (1988)

1:34 | Trailer
Two F.B.I. Agents with wildly different styles arrive in Mississippi to investigate the disappearance of some civil rights activists.


Alan Parker


Chris Gerolmo
1,887 ( 222)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 16 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Gene Hackman ... Anderson
Willem Dafoe ... Ward
Frances McDormand ... Mrs. Pell
Brad Dourif ... Deputy Pell
R. Lee Ermey ... Mayor Tilman
Gailard Sartain ... Sheriff Stuckey
Stephen Tobolowsky ... Townley
Michael Rooker ... Frank Bailey
Pruitt Taylor Vince ... Lester Cowens
Badja Djola ... Agent Monk
Kevin Dunn ... Agent Bird
Frankie Faison ... Eulogist
Thomas B. Mason Thomas B. Mason ... Judge (as Tom Mason)
Geoffrey Nauffts ... Goatee
Rick Zieff ... Passenger


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:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


At one point, Gene Hackman decided that he would no longer make more violent films, after seeing a brief and violent clip of his performance in this film (and taken out of context, he thought) at the 1989 Oscars. That stance prevented him from accepting a future job as director of The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and almost cost him the Sheriff role in Unforgiven (1992), which he reluctantly accepted after being convinced by Clint Eastwood, a role that earned great acclaim, and his second Oscar. See more »


The movie is set in "Jessup County", Mississippi. The events on which the film is based occurred in Neshoba County, but it is likely that the producers deliberately altered the setting to dispel perceptions that the film is a true documentary. 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 Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Atomic Brain (1993) See more »


Take My Hand Precious Lord
Words and Music by Thomas A. Dorsey
Performed by Mahalia Jackson
Courtesy of CBS Records
See more »

User Reviews

Great acting and directing ...but a severely compromised script.
24 September 2005 | by MarkhoystedSee all my reviews

THE FILM: The third of Parker's 80's heyday films following Birdy and Angel Heart,Mississippi Burning is an acting masterclass.From Hackman and Defoe in the leads to all the supporting cast. As per usual it looks great and has some strong images. For all this it gets 7 out 10.

THE STORY: Is based on the real events of the murder of 3 civil rights activists in 1964 Mississippi and the subsequent FBI investigation into their deaths. The problem is not with the ongoing story of how the Fed's crack the case.This is fiction based on fact and as a police story it works fine.

THE COMPROMISE: 1, the FBI. J.Edger Hoover in 1964 was possibly the most powerful man in the country, with a file on everyone of importance or power.The FBI was his private fiefdom. Mr.Hoover believed Martin Luther King was a Communist and had no sympathy for the Civil Rights Movement.This is mentioned in one small line of script.The Bureau would have to go after murderers but was certainly on no crusade. Mr.Hoover detested the Kennedys and only kept his job because he had enough info to destroy them.So how the Defoe character, as a Kennedy man , got beyond a filing job is hard to say. Mr.Hoover used Hollywood to create the myth of the G-man ,this myth is still alive and kicking in this film.The Gene Hackman character had been a Mississippi sheriff and obviously part of a Bureau dirty tricks squad and we are expected to believe he has a bleeding heart under his badge. What would have made it interesting if his character was more truthful.The FBI was an all white agency and it certainly was not politically correct.Mr Hoover's views were no secret so rascism would certainly not effect anybody'career.Again this is hinted at in his speech about his father. 2,the KKK, It seems the whole white community in the South is a member which oversimplifies the situation a lot. Also, it does not show the main cause of the hatred was the Southern establishment,the wealthy landowners who encouraged the politicians,the police and judiciary to preach segregation as a classic measure of divide and rule of the poor- whites and African-Americans. It also ignores the fact that segregation had been twisted into the very fabric of the Southern states post- Confederacy identity. 3,the African-Americans, The docile passivity,gospel singing over ashes of churches and the lack of anger is patronising in the extreme.The Civil rights movement was born in South and the churches were its most vocal advocates.

Maybe if this film had been made in the 70's rather than the 80's these major background issues would not have been ignored.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

27 January 1989 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Three Lives for Mississippi See more »


Box Office


$15,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$225,034, 11 December 1988

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Orion Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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