Today, November 22, marks the 45th anniversary of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That the tragedy in Dallas’ Dealey Plaza would go on to inspire an entire subcategory of film is perhaps not much of a surprise — especially when you consider the quantity of footage and stills that survive from photographers and witnesses who followed the motorcade, not to mention the most famous of them all, Abraham Zapruder’s 8mm home video.
Although countless TV specials and documentaries have explored the events leading up to that world-altering moment — and plenty of movies hinge on other political conspiracies (Vantage Point, The Parallax View) — only four feature films have incorporated the actual incident into their storyline. Each of these movies unfolds the mystery from a different angle, and each brings something different to how we think about a crime that still shakes us.
JFK (1991): Oliver Stone’s depiction is probably the best known of the bunch. Told from the point of view of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), JFK focuses on his investigation into perceived inaccuracies in the Warren Report — and the ensuing prosecution of businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones). The movie raised a ruckus — even while it was still filming — and led to 1992′s Assassination Records Collection Act, which compiled evidence related to the assassination for public examination.
(1973): Here the story is told from the conspirators’ point of view,
including Burt Lancaster as a black ops specialist. This time, it’s a
cabal of industrial, political and intelligence leaders behind the
assassination. The first movie to present an alternative to the Warren
Report, it reopened the debate as to exactly what happened on the grassy knoll –
and fed the public’s fascination with it.
(1992): Starring Danny Aiello, Ruby focuses on Jack Ruby, the man who shot Kennedy assassin Lee Harvy Oswald.
More fiction than fact, this movie depicts Ruby as a man who was motivated to act in order to
expose a Mob and CIA conspiracy.
In the Line of Fire
(1993): While not precisely about the assassination, Clint Eastwood’s
Secret Service agent character, Frank Horrigan, is introduced as the
only still-active member of the security detail on duty in Dallas that
fateful day. His residual feelings of helplessness are in part
what drives him to stop another would-be assassin (John Malkovich).
You can decide for yourself what’s fact and what’s fiction — or share your own theories below.