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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
3,293 ( 222)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 16 wins & 24 nominations. See more awards »



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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 »


Official Sites:






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 »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Dolby SR


Color (DeLuxe)| Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


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


When Rupert and Ward are in the motel room and the shotgun blast occurs, the mirror on the wall cracks a split second before the window and blinds shatter. 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 Double Date Night: Episode #1.4 (2016) See more »


Take My Hand Precious Lord
Words and Music by Thomas A. Dorsey
Performed by Mahalia Jackson
Courtesy of CBS Records
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A sad story, A great Movie
10 February 2008 | by General-RomanovSee all my reviews

Mississippi burning shows Gene Hackman at his best and at his side is Willem Dafoe who also plays very strong. Mississippi Burning is a dramatic movie made in 1988 directed by the talented Alan Parker (who has also directed Fame and Midnight Express). The lead roles are played by Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe and Frances McDorman is at her best playing a supporting role. The movie is based on the true story of the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964, so the movie is set in 1964 Mississippi.

The movie begins with the three civil rights workers who are brutally murdered; the viewer now already knows that the police are involved. Allan Ward and Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe) are sent to Mississippi to shed some light on the case. The two agents have very different personalities, Rupert Anderson used to be a sheriff in a small Mississippi town, just like the town where they are investigating missing civil right workers, he does not like to do everything by the book, in contrary to Allan Ward, he is a hard working FBI agent who likes to do everything by the book. Not long after they enter the town they see that it will not be easy, the townspeople are very hostile towards them and the KKK is involved, Mr. Ward soon ask for more FBI agents, even when Mr. Anderson thinks it is a bad idea. Soon there are an enormous amount of FBI agents in the small town, but that only makes the townspeople angrier. The KKK set a church for black people on fire to scare the black people into not talking to the FBI, when Ward and Anderson walk into a restaurant and try talking to a black person he says: ''I have nothing to say to you'' but still the townspeople beat him up for talking to people from the FBI. The FBI agents search trough the endless swamps and find the car of the civil rights workers, but they still find no bodies. Agent Anderson feels a connection with the wife of the deputy sheriff and feels that she knows something but she won't tell anything. When Ward lets Anderson do it his way they finally see what really happened.

The acting in Mississippi Burning is close to brilliant, Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe are both good actors, but together they are brilliant. Gene Hackman is born for the role of an old Mississippi sheriff who knows how it all works. Gene plays very dominant and the scene in the bar where he threatens the townspeople is one of the best moments in the movie, because you don't expect it from him but still it fits him very well. Frances McDorman plays the cop who does everything by the book excellent, even his appearance, the glasses and his pale skin. Especially the scene where Anderson beats someone up in the barber shop you see that this goes against his principles.

The music in Mississippi Burnin is phenomenal; there are a lot of gospel songs for example the song by Vesta Williams '' Try Jesus ''. The soundtrack is by Lannie Spann McBride, she made the very powerful song ''Walk On By Faith''. There is also a tune in the film when something bad is about to happen, when you hear it for the first time in the movie recognize the tune immediately, when you hear it you feel uncomfortable and are at the tip of your seat. Also Kitty Wells and Mahalia Jackson have made songs for the movie which are all beautiful.

This movie is a beautiful movie with a perfectly cast. The music is very well made and used. Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe are a perfect duo and should do more movies together, they fit the term '' good cop bad cop '' perfectly as Gene Hackman really does look as a hardened, bad cop and Dafoe as good cop. What they shouldn't have done was basing it on a real story, because clearly the director didn't want to be restrained, because a lot was different in the movie than what really happened, only a couple of things are historically correct, asides from that it's a must watch, I give this movie an 8 or 9 out of 10, so a small 9 out of ten.

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