Producer Jon Peters, who was dating Barbra Streisand at the time, bought the screenplay as a starring vehicle for the actress, but Streisand eventually decided not to take the role because of "the kinky nature of the story," as Peters later explained. As a result, the role went to Dunaway, who had just won an Oscar for her performance in Network. Streisand nevertheless felt that "Prisoner," the torch song from the film, would be a good power ballad vehicle for her. She sang it on the soundtrack and garnered a moderate hit as a result (the record peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100).
Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a glamorous fashion photographer who specializes in stylized violence (based upon the work of Helmut Newton, who provided the photos used for the film). In the middle of controversy over whether her photographs glorify violence and are demeaning to women, Laura begins seeing, in first person through the eyes of the killer, real-time visions of the murders of her friends and colleagues.
John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), the lieutenant in charge of the case, shows Laura unpublished police photographs of unsolved murders that very closely mirror Laura's fashion shoots. Laura's visions continue, including visions of the killer stalking her and continuing to murder those around her. Meanwhile, Laura and Neville fall in love. The murders continue as Laura's various colleagues, acquaintances and past romantic interests come in and out of focus as potential suspects or victims, until a final confrontation between Laura and the killer occurs.
At her apartment, Laura is affected by one last vision of the killer, who has now come for her. The killer attempts to break in through her front door, but Laura deadbolts it before he/she can enter. Upon hearing her distress, Neville (who had been on his way to meet her) breaks through her balcony window. He proceeds to tell Laura they have caught the killer, a troubled colleague of hers named Tommy, and begins an elaborate explanation of Tommy's motivations and back story. Knowing Tommy well, Laura recognizes this as a lie and that Neville himself is the killer. As Neville details more of his own story, it is implied that he may have multiple personalities. Because of this, and his love for her, he cannot bring himself to murder her and instead asks that she end his life. She shoots him to death, calling the police as the camera view closes in on her eyes.Faye Dunaway as Laura Mars
Tommy Lee Jones as Lieutenant John Neville
Brad Dourif as Tommy Ludlow
Rene Auberjonois as Donald Phelps
Raúl Juliá as Michael Reisler
Frank Adonis as Sal Volpe
Lisa Taylor as Michelle
Darlanne Fluegel as Lulu
Rose Gregorio as Elaine Cassel
Bill Boggs as Himself
Steve Marachuk as Robert
Meg Mundy as Doris Spenser
Marilyn Meyers as Sheila Weissman
The film's source story was written by John Carpenter, as was the earliest version of the screenplay. Producer Jack H. Harris had worked with Carpenter on the latter's feature-film directorial debut, Dark Star, and it was Harris who optioned Carpenter's eleven-page treatment, then titled simply Eyes. Harris planned to make the film independently of the major studios with privately raised finance and Roberta Collins in the lead. But Harris's friend Jon Peters read the treatment, and upon reading it, he became enthusiastic about its potential as a vehicle for Peters's then-girlfriend Barbra Streisand. Peters got interest from Peter Guber at Columbia and they agreed to finance the project's development. Streisand pulled out of the film, but Columbia were sufficiently enthusiastic about the script to move forward with another actress and Faye Dunaway was cast. However, as a condition of this, the studio insisted on the script being rewritten; David Zelag Goodman shouldered that burden.
Production began on October 17, 1977. The film was shot entirely in New York and New Jersey. A memorable sequence where the Laura Mars character photographs a group of models against a backdrop of two burning cars was filmed over four days at New York's Columbus Circle. The $7 million production wrapped on January 9, 1978, after 56 days of filming. It was reported that Peters and Dunaway had a tense relationship while making the film.
The movie received a broadly positive review in The New York Times, in which Janet Maslin called the ending of the film "dumb," but otherwise liked it. She wrote of it: "It's the cleverness of Eyes of Laura Mars that counts, cleverness that manifests itself in superlative casting, drily controlled direction from Irvin Kershner, and spectacular settings that turn New York into the kind of eerie, lavish dreamland that could exist only in the idle noodlings of the very, very hip."
Roger Ebert was less enthusiastic, and pointed out what he called the film's clichéd "woman in trouble" plot.
As of May 2010, the film had only a 47% rotten rating on the Rotten Tomatoes movie review website.
On its release, the film received mixed critical reviews, but it was a box office hit, earning $20 million from a $7 million budget.
George Lucas hired director Kershner for The Empire Strikes Back because he was very impressed after seeing an early rough cut of the film.
Eyes of Laura Mars (Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) was released by Columbia Records (PS 35487) in July 1978. It was produced by Gary Klein with executive producers Jon Peters and Charles Koppelman.
Mark Iskowitz of The Barbra Streisand Music Guide wrote: "The side one 'Prisoner' track is actually identical to the single and Greatest Hits Volume 2 version. The side two reprise version does contain instrumentation from the film score at the beginning and during the first sections of the song, which is featured in its entirety. Track 3 opens with Barbra singing the first four lines from 'Prisoner' with a sparse, spooky film score backing."
The Eyes of Laura Mars LP is out of print; it was never released on CD.In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Lois Battles Jamie", a flashback scene shows that Francis broke Hal's Laserdisc copy of the film.
Tori Amos refers to Laura Mars in her song "Gold Dust", off the 2002-album "Scarlet's Walk".
A parody of the film titled Eyes of Lurid Mess was published in Mad Magazine. It was illustrated by Angelo Torres and written by Larry Siegel in regular issue #206, April 1979.
The video for "Black White & Blue" by Ladyhawke makes several visual references to the film.
In the television series Billions episode "Where the Fuck is Donnie?", Bobby Axelrod is being described as having Laura Mars eyes.