Gorillas in the Mist

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Gorillas in the Mist
Gorillas In The Mist poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Apted
Screenplay byAnna Hamilton Phelan
Story byAnna Hamilton Phelan
Tab Murphy
Based onGorillas in the Mist
by Dian Fossey
Produced byArne Glimcher
Terence A. Clegg
CinematographyJohn Seale
Edited byStuart Baird
Music byMaurice Jarre
Universal Pictures
Warner Bros.
The Guber/Peters Company
Distributed byUniversal Pictures (North America)
Warner Bros. (International)
Release date
  • September 23, 1988 (1988-09-23)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$22 million
Box office$61.1 million[1]

Gorillas in the Mist is a 1988 American drama film directed by Michael Apted and starring Sigourney Weaver as the naturalist Dian Fossey. It tells the story of her work in Rwanda with mountain gorillas and was nominated for five Academy Awards.


Occupational therapist Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) is inspired by anthropologist Louis Leakey (Iain Cuthbertson) 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 (John Omirah Miluwi). 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 (Julie Harris) 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 (Bryan Brown) 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 (Constantin Alexandrov).

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.



The screenplay was adapted by Anna Hamilton Phelan from articles by Alex Shoumatoff and Harold T. P. Hayes and a story by Phelan and Tab Murphy. The original music score was composed by Maurice Jarre. The movie was directed by Michael Apted and the cinematography was by John Seale.



Critical reception[edit]

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.

"At last, [Weaver] may have found a part cut to her scale."[2] wrote Hal Hinson of The Washington Post. "It's a great role for her to pour herself into, and she doesn't skimp." 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." 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."

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"),[3] he felt the character was too distanced from the audience and that her development and motives were unclear. "Gorillas in the Mist 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." 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."

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."

The film holds an 85% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 20 critics' reviews, with an average review of 6.8/10.[4]


Gorillas in the Mist started an exclusive run on 15 screens on September 23, 1988 and grossed $366,925.[1] It expanded to 558 screens the following weekend and was the number one film for the weekend with a gross of $3,451,230.[1][5] 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.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

Gorillas in the Mist was nominated for five Academy Awards at the 61st Academy Awards in 1988 (ultimately winning none).[6]

The film won two awards at the 46th Golden Globe Awards in 1989: Maurice Jarre for Best Original Score and Sigourney Weaver for Best Actress. The film was nominated for Best Film.[citation needed]

The film won a Genesis Award for Best Feature Film.[citation needed]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
61st Academy Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role Sigourney Weaver Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Anna Hamilton Phelan (screenplay/story) and
Tab Murphy (story)
Best Film Editing Stuart Baird Nominated
Best Original Score Maurice Jarre Nominated
Best Sound Andy Nelson,
Brian Saunders and
Peter Handford
46th Golden Globes Best Original Score Maurice Jarre Won
Best Actress Sigourney Weaver Won
Best Film Film Nominated
Genesis Awards Best Feature Film Film Won

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ a b c d Gorillas in the Mist at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Hinson, Hal (23 September 1988). "Gorillas in the Mist". The Washington Post. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 23, 1988). "Gorillas in the Mist". Roger Ebert. Roger Ebert. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  4. ^ "Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved May 11, 2022.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Todd (October 5, 1988). "'Gorillas' Goes Ape; 'Delancey' Keen; 'Hotel' A Disney Heartbreaker". Variety. p. 3.
  6. ^ "The 61st Academy Awards (1989) Nominees and Winners". Oscars. Retrieved October 16, 2011.
  7. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.
  8. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved August 14, 2016.

External links[edit]