The film was co-produced by Columbia Pictures and Castle Rock Entertainment, with Columbia handling distribution. Eastwood and Petersen also originally offered the role of Leary to Robert De Niro, who turned it down due to scheduling conflicts with A Bronx Tale. After In the Line of Fire, Eastwood directed every film he starred in, until 2012's Trouble with the Curve.
Secret Service Agents Frank Horrigan and Al D'Andrea meet with members of a counterfeiting group at a marina. The group's leader, Mendoza, tells Frank that he has identified D'Andrea as an undercover agent, and forces him to prove his loyalty by putting a gun to D'Andrea's head and pulling the trigger. Frank shoots Mendoza's men, identifies himself as an agent, and arrests the counterfeiter.
Horrigan investigates a complaint from a landlady about an apartment's absent tenant. He finds a collage of photographs and newspaper articles on famous assassinations, a model-building magazine, and a Time cover with the President's head circled. When Frank and his partner return with a search warrant, only one photograph remains, which shows a much younger Frank standing behind John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. Horrigan is the only remaining active agent who was guarding the President that day, and he is wracked with guilt over his failure to react quickly enough to the first shot, shielding Kennedy from the subsequent fatal bullet, which could have saved the President's life. This guilt drove Horrigan to drink excessively; eventually his family left him.
Horrigan receives a phone call from the tenant, who calls himself "Booth". He tells Horrigan that, like John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, he plans to kill the President, who is running for reelection and is making many public appearances around the country. Horrigan, despite his age, asks to return to the Presidential Protective Detail, where he begins a relationship with fellow agent Lilly Raines.
Booth continues to call Horrigan as part of his "game," even though he knows that his calls are being traced. He mocks the agent's failure to protect Kennedy but calls him a "friend". Booth escapes Horrigan and D'Andrea after one such call from Lafayette Park, but unknowingly leaves fingerprints in the process. The FBI matches the prints, but because the person's identity is classified, they cannot disclose it to the Secret Service. The FBI does notify the CIA.
At a campaign event in Chicago, Booth pops a decorative balloon. Horrigan, who has the flu, mistakes the pop for a gunshot. Because of this error, he is removed from the protective detail, but he is left in charge of the Booth case. Horrigan and D'Andrea learn from the CIA that Booth is Mitch Leary, a former assassin who has suffered a mental breakdown and is now a "predator". Leary, who has already killed several people as he prepares for the assassination, uses his model-making skills to build a zip gun out of composite material to evade metal detectors and hides the bullets and springs in a keyring.
D'Andrea confides to Frank that he is going to retire immediately because of nightmares about the Mendoza incident, but Horrigan is able to dissuade him from doing so. After Leary taunts Frank about the President facing danger in California, the two agents chase him across Washington rooftops, and Leary shoots and kills D'Andrea. Frank asks Raines to reassign him to the protective detail when the President visits Los Angeles, but a television crew films him mistaking a bellboy at the hotel for a security threat, and he must again leave the detail.
Frank connects Leary to a bank employee's murder and learns that Leary, who has made a large campaign contribution, is among the guests at a campaign dinner at the hotel. He sees the President approach Leary and jumps into the path of the assassin's bullet, saving the President's life. As the Secret Service quickly removes the President, Leary uses Horrigan – who is wearing a bulletproof vest – as a hostage to escape to the hotel's external elevator. The agent uses his earpiece to tell Raines and sharpshooters where to aim; although they miss Leary, Frank defeats him. The would-be-assassin chooses to fall to his death from the elevator.
Frank, now a hero, retires, as his fame makes it impossible for him to do his job. He and Raines find a farewell message from Leary on Frank's answering machine. Frank and Raines leave the house and visit the Lincoln Memorial.Clint Eastwood as Frank Horrigan
John Malkovich as Mitch Leary
Rene Russo as Lilly Raines
Dylan McDermott as Al D'Andrea
Gary Cole as Bill Watts
Fred Thompson as Harry Sargent
John Mahoney as Secret Service Director Sam Campagna
Gregory Alan Williams as Matt Wilder
Jim Curley as the President
Sally Hughes as the First Lady
Tobin Bell as Mendoza
Clyde Kusatsu as Agent Jack Okura
Steve Hytner as Agent Tony Carducci
Patrika Darbo as Pam Magnus
John Heard as Prof. Riger
Joshua Malina as Agent Chavez
Producer Jeff Apple began developing In the Line of Fire in the mid-1980s. He had planned on making a movie about a Secret Service Agent on detail during the Kennedy assassination since his boyhood. Apple was inspired and intrigued by a vivid early childhood memory of meeting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson in person, surrounded by Secret Service Agents with earpieces in dark suits and sunglasses. The concept later struck Apple as an adolescent watching televised replays of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In 1991, writer Jeff Maguire came aboard and completed the script that would become the movie.
Filming began in late 1992 in Washington, D.C. Scenes in the White House were filmed on an existing set, while an Air Force One interior set had to be built at a cost of $250,000.
A subplot of the film is the President's re-election campaign. For the scenes of campaign rallies, the filmmakers used digitally altered footage from the campaign events of President George H.W. Bush and then-Governor Bill Clinton.
The movie also inserted digitized images from 1960s Clint Eastwood movies into the Kennedy assassination scenes. As Jeff Apple described it to the Los Angeles Times, Clint "gets the world's first digital haircut".
In the Line of Fire was released in United States theaters in July 1993. The film received mostly positive reviews, receiving a 95% "Certified Fresh" positive rating by top film critics based on 64 reviews with an average rating of 7.8 out of 10 and a 79% positive audience rating based on 53,265 reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four, writing: "Most thrillers these days are about stunts and action. In the Line of Fire has a mind."
The film was a considerable financial success as well, earning $176,997,168 worldwide (over $102 million in North America and $74 million in other territories), while its budget was about $40 million.1994 Academy Award Nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Malkovich)
1994 Academy Award Nomination for Best Film Editing (Anne V. Coates)
1994 Academy Award Nomination for Best Writing, Screenplay (Jeff Maguire)
1994 ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films (Ennio Morricone) Won
1994 BAFTA Film Award Nomination for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Malkovich)
1994 BAFTA Film Award Nomination for Best Editing (Anne V. Coates)
1994 BAFTA Film Award Nomination for Best Screenplay (Jeff Maguire)
1994 Chicago Film Critics Association Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor (John Malkovich)
1994 Golden Globe Award Nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (John Malkovich)
1994 MTV Movie Award Nomination for Best Villain (John Malkovich)
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains (2003):
Mitch Leary – Nominated Villain
In September 2015, it was announced that the film will be adapted into a television series.