Gorillas in the Mist

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Gorillas in the Mist
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Apted
Screenplay byAnna Hamilton Phelan
Story by
Based onGorillas in the Mist
by Dian Fossey
Produced by
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byStuart Baird
Music byMaurice Jarre
The Guber-Peters Company
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 23, 1988 (1988-09-23)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million[1]
Box office$61.1 million[2]

Gorillas in the Mist[a] is a 1988 American biographical drama film directed by Michael Apted from a screenplay by Anna Hamilton Phelan and a story by Phelan and Tab Murphy. The film is based a book of the same name by Dian Fossey and the article by Harold T. P. Hayes. It stars Sigourney Weaver as naturalist Dian Fossey and Bryan Brown as photographer Bob Campbell. It tells the story of Fossey, who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas, and later fought to protect them.

The film was theatrically released in the United States by Universal Pictures on September 23, 1988. At the 61st Academy Awards, it earned five nominations, including Best Actress for Weaver and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. The film won Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama for Weaver and Best Original Score for Jarre at the 46th Golden Globe Awards, where it was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Drama.


Occupational therapist Dian Fossey is inspired by anthropologist Louis Leakey to devote her life to the study of primates. She writes ceaselessly to Leakey for a job cataloging and studying the rare mountain gorillas of Africa. Following him to a lecture in Louisville, Kentucky in 1966, she convinces him of her conviction.

They travel to the Congo, where Leakey and his foundation equip her to make contact with the gorillas, and introduce her to a local animal tracker, Sembagare. Settling deep in the jungle, Fossey and Sembagare locate a troop of gorillas, but are displaced by the events of the Congo Crisis and forcibly evicted from their research site by Congolese soldiers, who accuse Fossey of being a foreign spy and agitator.

Fossey is resigned to returning to the United States, but Sembagare and her temporary host Rosamond Carr motivate her to stay in Africa. Fossey establishes new research efforts in the jungles of neighboring Rwanda, where rampant poaching and corruption become apparent when she discovers several traps near her new base at Karisoke. Nevertheless, Fossey and her colleagues make headway with the gorillas, taking account of their communication and social groups. Her work impresses Leakey and gains international attention.

National Geographic, which funds her efforts, dispatches photographer Bob Campbell to highlight her research. Fossey, initially unreceptive, grows increasingly attached to Campbell after several photo sessions with the gorillas, and the two become lovers, in spite of Campbell's marriage. Campbell proposes to divorce his wife and marry Fossey but insists that she would have to spend time away from Karisoke and her gorillas, leading her to end their relationship. Fossey forms an emotional bond with a gorilla named Digit, and attempts to prevent the export of other gorillas by trader Van Vecten.

Appalled by the poaching of the gorillas for their skins, hands, and heads, Fossey complains to the

Rwandan government
and is dismissed, but a government minister (Waigwa Wachira) promises to hire an anti-poaching squad. Fossey's frustrations reach a climax when Digit is beheaded by poachers. She leads numerous anti-poaching patrols, burns down the poachers' villages, and even stages a mock execution of one of the offenders, serving to alienate some of her research assistants and gaining her various enemies. Sembagare expresses concern at Fossey’s opposition to the emergent industry of gorilla tourism, but she nonchalantly dismisses his worries.

On December 27, 1985, Dian Fossey is murdered in the bedroom of her cabin by an unseen assailant. At a funeral attended by Sembagare, Carr, and others, she is buried in the same cemetery where Digit and other gorillas had been laid to rest. Sembagare symbolically links the graves of Fossey and Digit with stones as a sign that their souls rest in peace together before leaving.

The epilogue text explains that Fossey’s actions helped save the gorillas from extinction, while her death remains a mystery.



Box office

Gorillas in the Mist started an exclusive run on 15 screens on September 23, 1988 and grossed $366,925.[2] It expanded to 558 screens the following weekend and was the number one film for the weekend with a gross of $3,451,230.[2][3] The film went on to gross $24,720,479 in the United States and Canada and $36,429,000 internationally for a worldwide total of $61,149,479.[2]

Critical response

The film received generally positive reviews from critics, with many praising both Weaver's performance and the technical accomplishments of the movie while some were frustrated by the lack of depth in Fossey's on-screen characterization. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 84% of 19 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10.[4]

Hal Hinson of The Washington Post declared, "At last, [Weaver] may have found a part cut to her scale", adding "it's a great role for her to pour herself into, and she doesn't skimp."[5] However, he had his misgivings about the restrictions placed on Fossey's character: "The chief problem with Gorillas in the Mist is that it banalizes its heroine; it turns her into one of us. And by all accounts Fossey was anything but ordinary."[5] He also accused the filmmakers of toning down Fossey's unstable mental state: "Fossey was more than merely eccentric...The movie hints at these aspects of her character but tries to soften them;...the filmmakers have done more than sanitize Fossey's life, they've deprived it of any meaning." Hinson concluded that "Gorillas in the Mist isn't a terrible film, but it is a frustrating one."[5]

While Roger Ebert was also happy with the casting of Weaver as Fossey ("It is impossible to imagine a more appropriate choice for the role"), he felt the character was too distanced from the audience and that her development and motives were unclear.[6] He wrote that the film "tells us what Dian Fossey accomplished and what happened to her, but it doesn't tell us who she was, and at the end that's what we want to know."[6] However, Ebert was impressed by the scenes with the gorillas and the way live footage of gorillas was seamlessly blended with gorilla costumes: "Everything looked equally real to me, and the delicacy with which director Michael Apted developed the relationships between woman and beast was deeply absorbing. There were moments when I felt a touch of awe. Those moments, which are genuine, make the movie worth seeing."[6] Hinson also agreed that "whenever the cameras turn on the gorillas — who are the film's true stars — you feel you're witnessing something truly great."[5]


Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards[7] Best Actress Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Anna Hamilton Phelan and Tab Murphy Nominated
Best Film Editing Stuart Baird Nominated
Best Original Score Maurice Jarre Nominated
Best Sound Andy Nelson, Brian Saunders, and Peter Handford Nominated
British Academy Film Awards[8] Best Cinematography John Seale Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[9] Best Actress Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Genesis Awards Best Feature Film Won
Golden Globe Awards[10] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Sigourney Weaver Won[b]
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Maurice Jarre Won
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Foreign Feature Won
Jupiter Awards Best International Actress Sigourney Weaver Won
National Board of Review Awards[11] Top Ten Films 9th Place
Writers Guild of America Awards[12] Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Anna Hamilton Phelan and Tab Murphy Nominated


  1. ^ Also known as Gorillas in the Mist: The Adventure of Dian Fossey.
  2. ^ Tied with Jodie Foster for The Accused and Shirley MacLaine for Madame Sousatzka.


  1. ^ "Gorillas in the Mist". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d "Gorillas in the Mist". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved March 24, 2023.
  3. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 5, 1988). "'Gorillas' Goes Ape; 'Delancey' Keen; 'Hotel' A Disney Heartbreaker". Variety. p. 3.
  4. ^ "Gorillas in the Mist". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 24, 2023. Edit this at Wikidata
  5. ^ a b c d Hinson, Hal (September 23, 1988). "Gorillas in the Mist". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (September 23, 1988). "Gorillas in the Mist". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved December 29, 2023.
  7. ^ "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  8. BAFTA
    . 1990. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  9. ^ "Chicago Film Critics Awards – 1988–97". Chicago Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on April 22, 2016. Retrieved July 21, 2015.
  10. HFPA
    . Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  11. ^ "1988 Award Winners". National Board of Review. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  12. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.

External links