Theatrical release poster
Directed byCosta-Gavras
Screenplay byCosta-Gavras
Donald E. Stewart
Based onThe Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice
1978 book
by Thomas Hauser
Produced byEdward Lewis
Mildred Lewis
CinematographyRicardo Aronovich
Edited byFrançoise Bonnot
Music byVangelis
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 12, 1982 (1982-02-12)
Running time
122 minutes
CountryUnited States[1]
Budget$9.5 million[2]
Box office$16 million (US)[3][4]

Missing (stylized as missing.) is a 1982 American biographical thriller drama film directed by Costa-Gavras from a screenplay written by Gavras and Donald E. Stewart, adapted from the book The Execution of Charles Horman: An American Sacrifice (1978) by Thomas Hauser (later republished under the title Missing in 1982), based on the disappearance of American journalist Charles Horman, in the aftermath of the United States-backed Chilean coup of 1973, which deposed the democratically elected socialist President Salvador Allende.[2]

It stars Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Melanie Mayron, John Shea, Janice Rule and Charles Cioffi. Set largely during the days and weeks following Horman's disappearance, the film examines the relationship between Horman's wife Beth and his father Edmund and their subsequent quest to find Horman.

Missing was theatrically released on February 12, 1982 to critical acclaim and modest commercial success, grossing $16 million on a $9.5 million budget. The film premiered at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival where it was jointly awarded the Palme d'Or (along with the Turkish film Yol), while Lemmon won the Best Actor prize. It received four nominations at the 55th Academy Awards; Best Picture, Best Actor (for Lemmon), Best Actress (for Spacek) and won Best Adapted Screenplay. The film created significant controversy in Chile and was banned during Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship; neither Chile nor Pinochet is mentioned by name, although the Chilean cities of Viña del Mar and Santiago are.[5]


Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon), a conservative businessman fron New York arrives in Chile to search for his son Charlie (John Shea), a journalist who disappeared during the recent military coup. Ed meets his daughter-in-law, Beth (Sissy Spacek), with whom he has a strained relationship, and they argue over politics. Ed blames his son and daughter-in-law's radical political views for Charlie's disappearance, while Beth blames the American government. Ed leverages his connections to meet with various government officials to uncover the truth about his son's vanishing.

As he investigates, Ed discovers that the American embassy is not as helpful as he expected and suspects them of concealing information about Charlie. One U.S. diplomat is polite and friendly but consistently lies to him; a high-ranking American military attaché is blunt and tells Ed that whatever happened to Charlie was his own fault, stating, "You play with fire, you get burned." Together, he and Beth learn that the U.S. had many interests in the country that were enhanced by the coup and its aftermath, and that many military officials aided Pinochet in the coup. As Ed becomes disillusioned with the American government, he comes to respect the work Beth and Charlie were doing, and he and Beth reconcile. When they receive proof that Charlie was murdered by the junta and that the U.S. allowed it to happen, he tells the embassy officials, "I just thank God we live in a country where we can still put people like you in jail!"

The film concludes with a postscript stating that, after Ed's return to the United States, he received Charlie's body seven months later, making an autopsy impossible, and that a subsequent lawsuit against the U.S. government was dismissed. It also adds that the State Department denies its involvement in the Pinochet coup, a position maintained to the present day.



The film was shot in Mexico[6] with a budget of $9.5 million from Universal Studios, marking Costa-Gavras' most expensive production.[2]


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. A 45rpm single of the title track backed with "Eric's Theme" from Chariots of Fire was released by Polydor in 1989.[7] 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.


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[3] and $16[4] million in the US.

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 libel.[8] 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.[9]



Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon's performances received widespread acclaim and earned them both Oscar nominations, Best Actress and Best Actor.

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,[5] but the best scenes were where Lemmon and Spacek's character were bogged down by the embassy's "niceties" in their search:

By the time Missing begins its crucial last half-hour, a strange thing has happened. We care about this dead American, and his wife and father, almost despite the movie. The performances of Spacek and Lemmon carry us along through the movie's undisciplined stylistic displays.[5]

Vincent Canby, writing for The New York Times, positively reviewed the film's message and Ricardo Aronovich's cinematography.[6]

The American filmmaker Wes Anderson listed Missing as one of his favorite films.[10]

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.[11] The film has a 94% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 32 reviews with the consensus: "Thanks in large part to strong performances from Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon, Missing is both a gripping character exploration and an effective political thriller."[12]


Missing won the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, while Lemmon was awarded Best Actor for his performance.[13]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards 11 April 1983 Best Picture Edward Lewis and Mildred Lewis Nominated [14]
Best Actor Jack Lemmon Nominated
Best Actress Sissy Spacek Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Costa-Gavras and Donald Stewart Won
British Academy Film Awards 20 March 1983 Best Film Edward Lewis and Mildred Lewis Nominated [15]
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 [13]
Best Actor Jack Lemmon Won
Golden Globes 29 January 1983 Best Motion Picture – Drama Missing Nominated [16]
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 [17]
National Board of Review 14 February 1983 Top Ten Films Missing Won [18]

See also


  1. ^ "Estudios Churubusco". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on August 11, 2016. Retrieved March 22, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c Wolf, William (February 1, 1982). "Costa-Gavras Goes to Hollywood". New York. p. 44.
  3. ^ a b "Missing (1982)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  4. ^ a b Box Office Information for Missing. The Numbers. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1982). "Missing (1982)". RogerEbert.com. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Canby, Vincent (February 12, 1982). "'MISSING' BY COSTA-GAVRAS". The New York Times. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "Vangelis – Missing". Discogs.
  8. ^ "Davis v. Costa-Gavras, 580 F. Supp. 1082 | Casetext Search + Citator".
  9. ^ Taylor, Stuart Jr. (January 11, 1983). "Libel Suit is Filed Against 'Missing'". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Zack Sharf (July 16, 2021). "Wes Anderson's Favorite Movies: 35 Films the Auteur Wants You to See". IndieWire. Penske Business Media, LLC. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  11. ^ Maltin, Leonard (2014). Leonard Maltin's 2015 Movie Guide. Penguin. ISBN 978-0698183612.
  12. ^ "Missing (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: Missing". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved June 12, 2009.
  14. ^ "THE 55TH ACADEMY AWARDS". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  15. ^ "Film in 1983". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  16. ^ "Missing". Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  17. ^ "AWARD: FILM OF THE YEAR". London Film Critics' Circle. April 12, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "1982 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved June 16, 2017.

Further reading