Trisha Shetty (Editor)

Federal Bureau of Investigation portrayal in media

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Abbreviation  FBI
Federal Bureau of Investigation portrayal in media
Common name  Federal Bureau of Investigation
Motto  Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity
Formed  July 26, 1908; 108 years ago (1908-07-26)
Employees  35,104 (October 31, 2014)
Annual budget  US$8.3 billion (FY 2014)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been a staple of American popular culture since its christening in 1935. That year also marked the beginning of the popular "G-Man" phenomenon that helped establish the Bureau's image, beginning with the aptly titled James Cagney movie, G Men. Although the detective novel and other police-related entertainment had long enthralled audiences, the FBI itself can take some of the credit for its media prominence. J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau's "patriarch", took an active interest to ensure that it was not only well represented in the media, but also that the FBI was depicted in a heroic, positive light and that the message, "crime doesn't pay", was blatantly conveyed to audiences. The context, naturally, has changed profoundly since the 1930s "war on crime", and especially so since Hoover's death in 1972.


The FBI's role

Any author, motion picture producer, or television script writer may consult with the FBI Office of Public Affairs about closed cases or their operations, services, or history. However, there is no requirement for the FBI to cooperate, and it does not edit or approve/disapprove fictional works. The Office of Public Affairs may, on a project by project basis, provide assistance to help ensure accuracy. Some filmmakers offer reasonably accurate presentations of the FBI's responsibilities, investigations, and procedures in their story lines, while others present their own interpretations or introduce fictional events, persons, or places for dramatic effect.

There have been many fiction and non-fiction portrayals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from which the following is only a small sample.


  • In 1936, British crime writer Peter Cheyney introduced G Man Lemmy Caution in his novel, This Man Is Dangerous. Another novel featuring Caution is Can Ladies Kill? (1938).
  • In 1956 the first pulp fiction novel about Jerry Cotton was published in Germany. Since then more than 2500 novels have been published and reached altogether a circulation of more than 850 million. The popular FBI agent was also the hero of nine German feature films, most of them starring the American actor George Nader.
  • In many of Tom Clancy's books the FBI plays a major role.
  • In 1986, Margaret Truman (daughter of former President Truman) wrote a novel titled Murder at the FBI, dealing with the murder of two FBI agents.
  • Many characters in Thomas Harris' novels are Special Agents of the FBI, including protagonists Will Graham and Clarice Starling. Some of the serial killers in the novels, like Francis Dolarhyde and Jame Gumb, were loosely based on real serial killers pursued by the FBI, such as Ted Bundy.
  • In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Pendergast novels, the featured character Aloysius Pendergast is a Special Agent of the FBI.
  • Gosho Aoyama's Detective Conan manga and anime has FBI agents involved in solving cases.
  • Michael Connelly's The Poet features the FBI's Behavior Sciences Unit hunting for the titular serial killer, with a focus on Special Agent Rachel Walling. Blood Work also features retired FBI profiler Terry McCaleb. Several other novels feature FBI agents and their interactions with main character LAPD detective Harry Bosch, often getting in his way, sometimes more justified than others.
  • In the Alex Cross novels, the title character was in the FBI for six of the 20 novels.
  • Movies

  • Warner Brothers' G Men (1935) was a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate crime movies by transforming the "gangster movie", wherein criminal protagonists were shown as leading exciting, affluent lives and living above the law, into stories where the heroic G-Man, or FBI agent, triumphs against the nefarious criminal underworld. The title of the movie is from a term allegedly coined by Machine Gun Kelly and appropriated by J. Edgar Hoover as a name for his federal agents that would strike fear in the hearts of criminals. According to the FBI's own history, Machine Gun Kelly "was caught without a machine gun in his hands and cringed before the federal agents and pleaded, 'Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!'" James Cagney was recruited for the lead role as the well educated and incorruptible Brick Davis. G Men was essentially intended as a corrective to the film that catapulted Cagney to fame, The Public Enemy (1931). Just as he adopted G-Man as a badge of honor for his men, J. Edgar Hoover also attempted to re-invent the "Public Enemy" label by referring to the most notorious criminals as "public rat number one".
  • The G-Men concept was extended in the 1940s to include the Junior G-Men film serials. The Dead End Kids, a group of wisecracking New York City street toughs who appeared in numerous films, were transformed into amateur detectives, helping the FBI solve cases.
  • Walk East on Beacon! (1952), produced by Columbia Pictures and starring George Murphy, portrays the activities of the Bureau in their hunt for Communist spies in Boston. Released during the height of 1950s anti-Communist hysteria in the United States, the film's pedantic narrative, its presentation in the style of a documentary, and its basis in a story written by J. Edgar Hoover himself and published in Reader's Digest, indicates it is blatant propaganda.
  • Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street (1953) aroused the ire of J. Edgar Hoover, who met with Fuller and Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox to express his disapproval of many aspects of the film. Zanuck refused to make the changes Hoover demanded, and consequently, the advertising for the film had to remove all references to the F.B.I.
  • The FBI Story (1959), produced by Warner Bros. and director Mervyn LeRoy, relates the history of the FBI from the point of view of a fictitious character, Chip Hardesty (played by James Stewart). FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover served as consultant on this film, which forced director LeRoy to reshoot several scenes that did not meet with the FBI's approval.
  • Producer Robert Evans claimed that during production of The President's Analyst (1967), he was visited by FBI Special Agents who told him that due to its unflattering depiction of the FBI, the Bureau wanted the film altered or canceled. However, Evans refused either to stop or to make changes to The President's Analyst. Only when pressure came from his studio did he change the FBI to the FBR and CIA to CEA by redubbing the voice track. Evans believed his telephone was monitored by the Bureau from then on.
  • FEDS (1988), starring Rebecca De Mornay alongside Mary Gross, although a comedy, provides insight into how women train at the FBI Academy. This movie had a limited release and could only be found on VHS as of August 2009.
  • Mississippi Burning (1988) is a fictionalized account of the investigation into an actual civil rights murder case, the murders of three civil rights workers in the state of Mississippi in 1964.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991), starring Jodie Foster as FBI Trainee Clarice Starling, in pursuit of the transsexual serial killer Buffalo Bill and the cannibalistic serial killer Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins), is a movie sequel to Manhunter (1986), the first film adaptation of the 1981 Red Dragon. The 1991 film received five Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Hopkins, and Best Actress for Jodie Foster, and spawned another sequel, Hannibal (2001), and a remake of Red Dragon (2002) starring Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel.
  • Point Break (1991) is based on the true story of undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah, who is sanctioned by the FBI to learn surfing in order to infiltrate a gang of thieves.
  • Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), a prequel/sequel to the television series Twin Peaks, includes the character Special Agent Dale Cooper as well as several other FBI agents, but to a more limited degree than in the television series.
  • Michael Apted directed Incident at Oglala (1992), a documentary about the deaths of FBI agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the summer of 1975, in conjunction with the movie Thunderheart (1992).
  • Panther (1995) portrays the FBI in a negative fashion as a crooked and racist organization that interacted with the Mafia to subdue the Black Panther Party.
  • Donnie Brasco (1997) is based on the true story of undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone's infiltrating the mafia.
  • Face/Off (1997) stars John Travolta as FBI special agent Sean Archer, who must undergo a surgery that gives him the face of ruthless terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) in order to stop a bomb planted by Castor from leveling Los Angeles. However, things go wrong when Castor wakes up from his coma and steals Archer's face, then begins to implant himself in Archer's family and job.
  • The Siege (1998), starring Denzel Washington, Tony Shalhoub, Annette Bening and Bruce Willis, is based on the FBI's modern efforts to crack down on terrorism and gives a hypothetical idea of what would happen if there were a series of consecutive terrorist attacks in New York City. The ideas in the plot would ultimately come true with the 9/11 attacks.
  • The X-Files: Fight The Future (1998) follows agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.
  • Red Dragon (film) (2002), a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), stars Edward Norton as FBI profiler, agent Will Graham, and Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
  • The films Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), and Saw VI (2009) featured three agents (Peter Strahm, Lindsey Perez, and Dan Erickson), all of them falling victim to the Jigsaw Killer.
  • The action film Transformers (2007) includes the FBI conducting a SWAT-style raid, arresting and then interrogating two of the human protagonists.
  • Untraceable (2008) stars Diane Lane as an FBI Cyber Crimes agent who is after a serial killer who hooks his victims up to machines set up to where the speed in which his victims die, corresponds to the number of views the live internet stream of the victims receives.
  • The Indian movie New York (2009) depicts an innocent student who is detained arbitrarily by the FBI and is severely tortured for nine months.
  • Public Enemies (2009) is a partially fictionalized account of the BOI's pursuit of John Dillinger, starring Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale as Melvin Purvis.
  • In Time (2011) portrays a futuristic version of the FBI, whose mission is to hunt down a poor young laborer, Will Silas, whom they believe murdered an extremely wealthy elderly businessman, Henry Hamilton. In this film, the FBI are known as the Timekeepers instead of Agents.
  • American Hustle (2013) portrays a fictionalized version of the ABSCAM operation, with special agents portrayed by Bradley Cooper and Louis C.K..
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) is based on the criminal stock broker, Jordan Belfort, and his arrest by the FBI.
  • Radio

  • One early portrayal of the G-Men image was a 1935 radio program produced in collaboration with J. Edgar Hoover titled G-Men. Hoover wished to depict the FBI's successes as the product of teamwork rather than the heroics of individual agents. His concept, however, did not translate well into mass entertainment. The show was soon re-conceptualized and renamed Gang Busters, and was quite successful, with a 21-year run and spin-offs as a movie serial in the 1940s, a big little book, a DC Comics comic book, and a television series in the 1950s.
  • Two other popular radio shows based on the activities of the Bureau were:

  • The FBI in Peace and War and
  • This is Your FBI, a Bureau-approved series.
  • Radio station WGY (Schenectady, NY) ran a locally-written and locally produced program named The FBI in Action, which ran from 1945 to 1955. The program had the support of J. Edgar Hoover. According to Martha Brooks (née Irma Lemke Forman), a WGY employee from 1931 to 1971, no attempt was made to network the program outside of the New York's Capital District Area because the sponsors did not wish to pay the actors' salaries for network programs, which were higher than the actor's salaries for local programs.
  • Television

  • In 1965, Warner Bros. Television produced a long-running television series called The F.B.I., based in part on concepts from their 1959 film The FBI Story. The series, which ran until 1974, was taken from actual FBI cases, told through the eyes of fictitious agent Louis Erskine (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). Epilogues to most episodes included Zimbalist stepping out of character to warn viewers of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives", years before the premiere of Fox's America's Most Wanted. After the show was cancelled, WB TV continued to produce TV movies based on the FBI. Recent disclosures of memos by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the real FBI had casting control over the show. Both Bette Davis and Robert Blake were banned from appearing, citing "conflicting political" differences on crime in general. In 1981, the show was completely revived with entirely new cast and production crew as Today's F.B.I., with Mike Connors, but it lasted only one season. A remake of the original series, also called The F.B.I., was planned by Imagine Entertainment for airing on the Fox network for the Fall of 2008, but as of August 2009, it had not yet been produced.
  • The CBS television series Wiseguy (1987-1990) featured agent Vinnie Terranova as an undercover operative infiltrating the mafia and other criminal organizations for a fictional "Organized Crime Bureau" of the FBI in a series of story arcs. The series focused on the mechanics of being undercover and the psychological impact of undercover work on the agent.
  • From February 3, 1989 to April 14, 1989 the television series Unsub featured an elite FBI forensic team that investigates serial murderers and other violent crimes.
  • Several television shows have cast a more unconventional portrayal of the FBI as an agency that specializes in unconventional and paranormal crimes and investigative techniques.
  • From 1990 to 1991, the television series Twin Peaks featured the fictitious FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, beginning with the investigation of the murder of small-town homecoming queen Laura Palmer, and included repeated references to the FBI. This show has numerous paranormal events and Agent Cooper often uses dreams to investigate crimes.
  • Another show that cast a paranormal theme on the FBI was The X-Files. From 1993 to 2002, the popular television series The X-Files, which concerned investigations into paranormal phenomena by five fictional characters known as Special Agents Dana Scully, Fox Mulder (whose actor, David Duchovny, coincidentally played a government agent in Twin Peaks), John Doggett, Monica Reyes, and Assistant Director Walter Skinner. This also spawned two feature films; The X-Files: Fight The Future in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want to Believe in 2008. The Fox TV network has announced a new six-part X-Files mini-series which started in January, 2016.
  • In September 2008, Fox premiered Fringe, created by Lost producer J. J. Abrams. The series is similar to The X-Files, as Special Agent Olivia Dunham, along with Peter Bishop and his father Dr. Walter Bishop, investigate paranormal phenomena, similar to that of The X Files.
  • 1998 to 2005, The FBI Files was hosted by Jim Kallstrom, a former head of FBI's New York Office. It is currently aired on Escape TV.
  • As described in "FBI on The Sopranos", a major plotline on the fictional HBO drama, The Sopranos, has been the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) ongoing pursuit of the Dimeo (New Jersey) and Lupertazzi (Brooklyn) crime families. The Bureau's investigations have met with varying degrees of success.
  • Beginning in 2001, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agency in the TV drama 24 works with, and is patterned closely after, the FBI Counterterrorism Division.
  • A canceled show, Standoff, had premiered about negotiators in the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). *As of August 2009, America's Most Wanted was still showing profiles of people on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
  • Beginning in 2003, Lifetime Network showed its three-year television show Missing. The show began as 1-800 Missing but starting Season 2, the "1-800" was taken off.
  • In 2005, Fox aired Bones, a forensics and police procedural drama that pairs an FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth with forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan. Each episode focuses on an FBI case file, depicting both the forensic analysis of human remains at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute and the investigative role of the FBI agency. In the show, the FBI defers to Dr. Brennan and the scientists of the Medico-Legal lab at the Jeffersonian when the corpse is too decomposed, burned or damaged to identify using standard identification procedures.
  • In 2002, Pax TV aired Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, based on the real life of and about the world's first deaf FBI agent of the show's title. The show ran until 2005, producing 57 episodes.
  • Without a Trace (launched in 2002 on CBS) follows a fictional FBI missing persons unit in New York City.
  • Numb3rs (launched in 2005) follows FBI agents who collaborate with a mathematics professor, who is the brother of the Lead Special Agent in Los Angeles
  • Criminal Minds (launched in 2005 on CBS) follows agents of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU).
  • Smith (2006 on CBS) is a short-lived drama wherein FBI agents pursue a group of professional thieves.
  • NCIS and its spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles deal primarily with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service often feature FBI collaboration and/or good-natured jurisdictional arguments.
  • The 2007 Spike TV series The Kill Point featured the FBI in early episodes, one agent being fatally wounded in a shootout with the antagonists and another briefly taking over the role of primary negotiator in the ensuing hostage situation.
  • The FBI is prominent in the seventh season of 24.
  • The 2009 A&E Original Series The Beast (13 episodes, January - April, 2009) was about two FBI agents, a new rookie and a veteran officer, starring Patrick Swayze and Travis Fimmel.
  • In 2009, the USA Network launched a new show called White Collar, which features con-artist Neal Caffrey working with a FBI white-collar crime unit as a consultant, led by his old nemesis, Peter Burke.
  • In 2013, Fox aired The Following, which features retired FBI agent Ryan Hardy return to duty to help find and combat a cult of killers led by his nemesis Joe Carrol.
  • In the Showtime series Ray Donovan, the FBI plays a major role in investigating Ray and his associates. This is particularly evident in season 2.
  • In the later half the sixth season of CBS's The Mentalist and the seventh season, the program's lead characters became members of the FBI. Prior to this, the characters had worked for a fictionalized version of the California Bureau of Investigation and had at times come into conflict with the FBI.
  • Limitless, a CBS television drama series based on the 2011 film of the same name, features a young struggling musician who is introduced to a mysteries drug which gives him access to full potential of his brain. With his enhanced abilities he is helping FBI to track down criminals and solve hard cases.
  • The Blacklist, a crime thriller premiered on NBC features an FBI unit working with a high-profile criminal, who voluntarily surrenders to the FBI after eluding capture for decades.
  • The ABC television series Quantico (2015 – present) follows a group of FBI recruits at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia.
  • In the CW's television series Supernatural (2005–present), the two main characters Sam and Dean Winchesters frequently pose as FBI agents in their hunting trips.
  • Video games

  • In the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth the protagonist goes on to assist former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as well as other members of the FBI in destroying the Cult of Cthulhu in a major plot point of the game.
  • In the game Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the FBI is a playable faction in multiplayer, opposing the Mercs on certain maps. All members wear masks and tactical gear and have access to the same arsenal as other military factions in the game. They are also mentioned in the singleplayer campaign.
  • In the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the FBI is one of the counter-terrorist factions in the game.
  • In the video game Deadly Premonition, the main protagonist is an eccentric FBI profiler named Francis York Morgan.
  • The game Destroy All Humans! features parodies of 1950s era FBI members, known as Majestics, acting in a similar role to the Grand Theft Auto, appearing if the player causes too much mayhem. They wield the same technology as the alien protagonist, Crypto.
  • The character G-Man from the Half-Life series is so named for his resemblance to a stereotypical member of the FBI (suit, tie and brief case) as well as his strange demeanor and conspiratorial nature.
  • In the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise, the FBI is portrayed in-game and drive black SUVs or town cars, wearing black ties, white shirts, and blue jackets with the letters "FBI" on the back. In gameplay, they appear during certain missions and when the player has reached a five-star wanted level, appearing before the United States Army hunt the player. In Grand Theft Auto IV, and in Grand Theft Auto V, they are instead called FIB, nodding towards the corruption of the in-game agency.
  • In the video game Heavy Rain one of the four main characters is Norman Jayden (played by Leon Ockenden), an FBI profiler who uses ARI (Added Reality Interface).
  • In the video game Hitman: Blood Money, some of the NPC's are FBI agents, wearing a black suit and tie, sunglasses, and a Bluetooth headset.
  • The video game Red Dead Redemption, set in 1911, features the BOI, the early FBI. In game, Bureau agents commit the "justified" murders of outlaws in order to "tame" the Wild West.
  • In the series of Saints Row, after getting 5 out of 5 "stars", the FBI come with a black SUV with sirens and lights. When they come out of the SUV, they are men with all-black suits with assault rifles and combat pistols.
  • In the video game Godfather the protagonist bribes FBI agents to turn the heat on other mafia families.
  • References

    Federal Bureau of Investigation portrayal in media Wikipedia

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