Missing (1982 film)

Missing (stylized as missing.) is a 1982 American historical drama film directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Janice Rule and Charles Cioffi. It is based on the true story of American journalist Charles Horman, who disappeared in the bloody aftermath of the US-backed Chilean coup of 1973 that deposed the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende. Set largely during the days and weeks following Horman's disappearance, the movie depicts his father and wife searching to determine his fate. The film examines the relationship between Horman's wife Beth (Spacek) and her father-in-law, American businessman Ed Horman (Lemmon).

Theatrical release poster
Directed byCosta-Gavras
Produced byEdward Lewis
Mildred Lewis
Screenplay byCosta-Gavras
Donald E. Stewart
Based onMissing
by Thomas Hauser
Music byVangelis
CinematographyRicardo Aronovich
Edited byFrançoise Bonnot
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 12, 1982 (1982-02-12)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$9.5 million[1]
Box office$14–16 million (US) [2][3]

The film was released theatrically on February 12, 1982. It was shown in competition at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival where it was jointly awarded the Palme d'Or (with Yol). It received four nominations at the 55th Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Lemmon), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Spacek) and winning Best Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium). Missing grossed $16 million against its $9.5 million budget. The film was banned in Chile during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship, even though neither Chile nor Pinochet is ever mentioned by name (although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are).[4]


The film opens with Costa-Gavras' statement that the events of the film are true. At first, when Ed Horman arrives in the unnamed Latin American country, which is clearly meant to be Chile, where his son Charles worked, Ed blames his son's and daughter-in-law's radical political views for his disappearance. He is later crushed when discovering that the government he reveres so highly has been involved with Charles's disappearance and possible death as a witness in the killings by the Pinochet Junta, aided by the American government.

He finds that his son was sincere about his politics but terrified of violence, and that the U.S. had many interests in the country that have been enhanced by the coup and its aftermath. One U.S. diplomat is polite and friendly but constantly lies to him; a high-ranking American military attache is blunter and basically tells Ed that whatever happened to Charles was his own fault, noting "You play with fire, you get burned." When Ed receives proof that Charles was murdered by the junta and that the U.S. let it happen, he tells the diplomat that he's going to file a lawsuit and see that he's put in jail for his evil deeds.

As a bookend of sorts to Costa-Gavras' assertion that the events of Missing are true, the film ends with a postscript stating that after his return to the United States, Ed received the body of his son Charles seven months later, making an autopsy impossible, and that a subsequent lawsuit against the US government was dismissed. It also adds that the State Department denies their involvement in the Pinochet coup, a position maintained to the present day.



Missing is based on a book that was first published under the title The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice (1978) by Thomas Hauser (later republished under the title Missing in 1982), and inspired by the case of Charles Horman, who vanished in Chile.[1] The film was shot in Mexico,[5] with a budget of $9.5 million from Universal Studios, marking Costa-Gavras' most expensive production.[1]

The score is by the Greek electronic composer Vangelis. The movie's piano theme has been used extensively in commercials, but an official release of the film's soundtrack has not yet occurred. The main theme appeared first on Vangelis' 1989 album Themes. The main theme is also available on the Festival de Cannes (60th Anniversary) compilation of famous soundtracks. A bootleg release of the soundtrack exists. A sung version with lyrics by Tim Rice has been recorded by Elaine Paige and Nana Mouskouri. A 7-inch single was released by Polydor in 1989 [6]


Missing was released in theaters on February 12, 1982, in limited theaters and was released widely on March 12, 1982, in 733 theaters. It ranked at #3 at the box office, grossing $2.3 million. In its first week, it grossed $5.5 million. In its second weekend, it landed at #5, making $1.8 million. For its second week, it made $2.3 million. After 49 days and 7 weeks in theaters, the film made between $14[2] and $16 million in the US.[3]

The film was released on both VHS and Laserdisc, in 1982 and 1987, by MCA Videocassette, MCA Videodisc, and MCA Home Video respectively. The VHS version was pulled from the market due to the lawsuit filed against director Costa-Gavras. Universal Home Video re-released Missing on DVD in 2004, following the dismissal of the lawsuit. A special edition DVD was released by The Criterion Collection in October 2008.


In 1983, a year after the film's theatrical release, both the film (then in the home video market) and Thomas Hauser's book The Execution of Charles Horman were removed from the United States market following a lawsuit filed against Costa-Gavras and Universal Pictures's (then) parent company MCA by former ambassador Nathaniel Davis and two others for defamation of character. A lawsuit against Hauser himself was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired. Davis and his associates lost their lawsuit, after which the film was re-released by Universal in 2006.



Roger Ebert gave the film three stars, writing that while the film was being cited for courage in criticism of the U.S. government, the criticism was clouded by its direction, but the best scenes were where Lemmon and Spacek's character were bogged down by the embassy's "niceties" in their search.[4] Vincent Canby, writing for The New York Times, positively reviewing the message and Ricardo Aronovich's cinematography.[5]

In his 2015 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin awarded Missing three and a half stars, highlighting Lemmon's acting and crediting Costa-Gavras as a skilled director.[7] The film has a 97% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 29 reviews.[8]


Missing won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, while Lemmon was awarded Best Actor for his performance.[9]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 11 April 1983 Best Picture Edward Lewis and Mildred Lewis Nominated [10]
Best Adapted Screenplay Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart Won
Best Actor Jack Lemmon Nominated
Best Actress Sissy Spacek Nominated
British Academy Film Awards 20 March 1983 Best Film Edward Lewis and Mildred Lewis Nominated [11]
Best Direction Costa-Gavras Nominated
Best Actor Jack Lemmon Nominated
Best Actress Sissy Spacek Nominated
Best Screenplay Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart Won
Best Editing Françoise Bonnot Won
Best Score Vangelis Papathanassiou Nominated
Cannes Film Festival 14 – 26 May 1982 Palme d'Or Costa-Gavras Won [9]
Best Actor Jack Lemmon Won
Golden Globes 29 January 1983 Best Motion Picture - Drama Missing Nominated [12]
Best Director - Motion Picture Costa-Gavras Nominated
Best Screenplay Costa-Gavras Nominated
Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama Jack Lemmon Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama Sissy Spacek Nominated
London Film Critics' Circle 1982 Best Film Costa-Gavras Won [13]
National Board of Review 14 February 1983 Top Ten Films Missing Won [14]

See also


  1. Wolf, William (1 February 1982). "Costa-Gavras Goes to Hollywood". New York. p. 44.
  2. "Missing (1982)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  3. Box Office Information for Missing. The Numbers. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
  4. Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Missing". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  5. Canby, Vincent (12 February 1982). "'MISSING' BY COSTA-GAVRAS". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  6. "Vangelis – Missing". Discogs.
  7. Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 0698183614.
  8. "Missing (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  9. "Festival de Cannes: Missing". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
  10. "THE 55TH ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  11. "Film in 1983". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  12. "Missing". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  13. "AWARD: FILM OF THE YEAR". London Film Critics' Circle. 12 April 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  14. "1982 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved 16 June 2017.

Further reading

  • Hauser, Thomas (1978). The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-151-29456-9.
  • Hauser, Thomas (1982). Missing: A New Film by Costa-Gavras. New York: AVON. ISBN 0-380-49098-6.
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