The Zodiac Killer {FILM}

Image result

Directed by

David Fincher

Produced by

Screenplay by

James Vanderbilt

Based on

Zodiac by Robert Graysmith


Music by

David Shire


Harris Savides

Edited by

Angus Wall


Distributed by

Release date
  • March 2, 2007
Running time

158 minutes


United States




$65 million

Box office

Real Person

$84.8 million

The Zodiac Killer

Zodiac is a 2007 American mysterythriller film directed by David Fincher. The screenplay by James Vanderbilt is based on the 1986 non-fiction book of the same name by Robert Graysmith. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr., with Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Dermot Mulroney, and Chloë Sevigny in supporting roles.

Zodiac tells the story of the manhunt for a notorious serial killer who called himself the “Zodiac” and killed in and around the San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s, leaving several victims in his wake and taunting police with letters, blood stained clothing, and ciphers mailed to newspapers. The cases remain one of Northern California’s most infamous unsolved crimes.

Fincher, Vanderbilt and producer Bradley J. Fischer spent 18 months conducting their own investigation and research into the Zodiac murders. Fincher employed the digital Thomson Viper Filmstream camera to photograph the film. However, Zodiac was not shot entirely digitally; traditional high-speed film cameras were used for slow-motion murder sequences.

Reviews for Zodiac were very positive, lauding the film’s writing, directing, acting and historical authenticity and Fincher won the “Best Director” prize from the Dublin Film Critics’ Circle in 2007. The film grossed over $84 million worldwide against a production budget of $65 million.


On July 4, 1969, an unknown man attacks Darlene Ferrin and Mike Mageau with a handgun, at a lovers’ lane in Vallejo, California. Mageau survives; Ferrin dies.

One month later, the San Francisco Chronicle receives encrypted letters written by the killer calling himself the “Zodiac” and taunting the police. Political cartoonist Robert Graysmith is not taken seriously by crime reporter Paul Avery or the editors and is excluded from the initial details about the killings despite his interest in the case. When the newspaper publishes the letters, a married couple is able to decipher one. At a local bar, Avery initially makes fun of Graysmith before they discuss the coded letters. Graysmith interprets the letter, which Avery finds helpful, and Avery begins sharing information. The Zodiac killer attacks law student Bryan Hartnell and Cecelia Shepard at Lake Berryessa in Napa County on September 27, 1969. Shepard dies two days later, and Hartnell survives. One of Graysmith’s insights about the letters is that the Zodiac’s reference to man as “the most dangerous animal of them all” is a reference to the story and film The Most Dangerous Game (which features General Zaroff as a man who hunts live human prey). The fact that both Zaroff’s surname and the name “Zodiac” start with a “Z” also seems significant.

Two weeks later, San Francisco taxicab driver Paul Stine is shot and killed in the city’s Presidio Heights district immediately after dropping the killer off. The Zodiac killer mails pieces of Stine’s blood stained shirt to the Chronicle, along with a taunting letter. San Francisco police detectives Dave Toschi and his partner Bill Armstrong are assigned to the Stine case, and work closely with Vallejo’s Jack Mulanax and Captain Ken Narlow in Napa. The killer, or someone posing as him, continues to toy with authorities by sending more letters and speaks on the phone with lawyer Melvin Belli when he makes an appearance on a television talk show. Avery and Graysmith form an alliance, delving deeper into the case as time permits.

In 1971, Detectives Toschi, Armstrong, and Mulanax question Arthur Leigh Allen, a suspect in the Vallejo case. Allen behaves suspiciously during the interview. They ask to see his watch and notice that he wears a Zodiac brand wristwatch which has the same logo used by the killer. However, a handwriting expert insists that Allen did not write the Zodiac letters, even though Allen is said to be ambidextrous. Avery receives a letter threatening his life; becoming increasingly paranoid, he turns to drugs and alcohol. At one point, he shares information with the Riverside Police Department, angering both Toschi and Armstrong. The case’s notoriety weighs on Toschi, who is bothered when Graysmith shows up at the theater where Toschi is watching a Hollywood film, Dirty Harry, loosely based on the Zodiac case, with his wife.

In 1978, Avery leaves the Chronicle, and moves to the Sacramento Bee. Graysmith persistently contacts Toschi about the Zodiac murders, and eventually impresses the veteran detective with his knowledge of the case. While Toschi cannot directly give Graysmith access to the evidence, he provides contact names of other police departments in other counties where Zodiac murders occurred. Armstrong transfers from the San Francisco Police homicide division, and Toschi is demoted for supposedly forging a Zodiac letter. Graysmith continues his own investigation, which is profiled in the Chronicle, and he allows himself to be interviewed on television about his book-in-progress concerning the case. He begins receiving anonymous phone calls with heavy breathing. Because of his immersion in the case, Graysmith loses his job and his wife Melanie leaves him, taking their children with her. Graysmith acquires more information that points to Allen as the Zodiac, and although circumstantial evidence seems to indicate his guilt, the physical evidence, such as fingerprints and handwriting samples, do not implicate him.

In December 1983, Graysmith tracks Allen down to a Vallejo Ace Hardware store, where he is employed as a sales clerk. The men have a brief encounter before Graysmith leaves. Eight years later, victim Mike Mageau meets with authorities and identifies Allen from a police mugshot. As the authorities walk by an airport book store, copies of Graysmith’s book Zodiac are shown. Final title cards inform the audience that Allen died in 1992 before he could be questioned further. A DNA test performed in 2002 on an archived autopsy sample did not match a partial DNA sample gathered from the postage stamp on one of the Zodiac letters, but this does not rule him out as a suspect.


  • Jake Gyllenhaal as Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle. While researching the film, Fincher considered Gyllenhaal to play Graysmith. According to the director, “I really liked him in Donnie Darko and I thought, He’s an interesting double-sided coin. He can do that naive thing but he can also do possessed.” To prepare for his role, Gyllenhaal met Graysmith and videotaped him in order to study his mannerisms and behavior.
  • Mark Ruffalo as SFPD Inspector David Toschi. Initially, Ruffalo was not interested in the project but Fincher wanted him to play Toschi. He met with the actor and told him that he was rewriting the screenplay. “I loved what he was saying and loved where he was going with it,” the actor remembers. For research, he read every report on the case and read all the books on the subject. Ruffalo met Toschi and found out that he had “perfect recall of the details and what happened when, where, who was there, what he was wearing. He always knew what he was wearing. I think it is seared into who he is and it was a big deal for him.”
  • Robert Downey, Jr. as Paul Avery, a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle who covered the Zodiac killer case.
  • Anthony Edwards as SFPD Inspector William Armstrong. When casting the role, Fincher said he thought of Edwards because “I knew I needed the most decent person I could find, because he would be the balance of the movie. In a weird way, this movie wouldn’t exist without Bill Armstrong. Everything we know about the Zodiac case, we know because of his notes. So in casting the part, I wanted to get someone who is totally reliable.”
  • Brian Cox as Melvin Belli, a prominent defense attorney who received a letter from the Zodiac killer.
  • Elias Koteas as Sgt. Jack Mulanax, a police detective from Vallejo.
  • Donal Logue as Captain Ken Narlow, a police detective in Napa.
  • John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen, a prime suspect in the case. Allen was never charged with these crimes.
  • Dermot Mulroney as Captain Marty Lee, Armstrong’s and Toschi’s supervisor in the SFPD homicide division.
  • Philip Baker Hall as Sherwood Morrill, a handwriting analyst. Baker Hall had previously appeared in the 2005 film The Zodiac.
  • Chloë Sevigny as Melanie Graysmith, Graysmith’s wife.
  • John Getz as Templeton Peck, Chronicle managing editor.
  • John Terry as Charles Thieriot, another editor at the Chronicle, who is involved with the first Zodiac letter.
  • Adam Goldberg as Duffy Jennings, a journalist who replaces Avery at the San Francisco Chronicle when the latter goes to work for the San Francisco Examiner. In 1978, he receives a letter from the Zodiac.

Top ten lists

Only two 2007 films (No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood) appeared on more critics’ top ten lists than Zodiac. Some of the notable top-ten list appearances are:

In the British Film Institute‘s 2012 Sight & Sound polls of the greatest movies ever made, three critics and one director – Bong Joon-ho – named Zodiac one of their 10 favorite films. The film’s stature has also grown in recent years: in August 2016, it was ranked 12th on a critics’ poll conducted by BBC of the 21st century’s greatest films.




Related: The Zodiac Killer   —    Catch Me If You Can {Frank Abagnale} 💰    

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