Six decades after John F. Kennedy’s killing, America is still trying to make sense of the who and why of it all. And pop culture continues to examine and reexamine the tragic event, whether it comes in the form of Oliver Stone’s JFK, a time-traveling 1992 episode of Quantum Leap written by an ex-Marine who met Oswald (and thinks he did it alone) or Rob Reiner and Soledad O’Brien’s new 10-part podcast Who Killed JFK? If you find yourself wanting to dive deeper, here is a list of big- and small-screen takes on the subject worth your time.
JFK: One Day in America (2023)
This new Nat Geo docuseries is distinguished by its exhaustive ambition and its surfacing of singular voices that haven’t been heard a million times before, like Peggy Simpson, the sole female AP reporter in Texas in 1963 and an eyewitness to Oswald’s shooting who’s never appeared on camera. Made in collaboration with The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, JFK: One Day in America is an essential reminder of the chaos and grief of that indelible day.
Watch it: on National Geographic
In the granddaddy of all JFK conspiracy theory films, director Oliver Stone occasionally plays fast and loose with the facts. But there’s no ignoring the collective power of the dizzying discrepancies he puts on trial in the film, the righteous fire of Kevin Costner’s portrayal of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison or the sheer bravura force of Stone’s direction. JFK remains the place to begin and end any viewer’s journey through the conspiratorial looking glass and may even make you look at everything with a newfound skepticism.
Watch it: on Prime Video
Executive Action (1973)
This searing historical drama starring Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan felt like an exposed nerve. Cowritten by Dalton Trumbo, the film assembles all of the dark forces that have their reasons to want the liberal 35th president out of the picture — rogue members of the intelligence community, right-wing politicians and good ol’ boy Texas oil tycoons. With its use of newsreel footage of JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby, director David Miller’s film packs a visceral urgency.
Watch it: on Prime Video
JFK Assassination: The Definitive Guide (2013)
This History Channel special is worth checking out just for the sheer lunacy of some of the theories. The show casts the widest possible net for potential motives, from the plausible (the Kennedys’ crackdown on the mafia) to the preposterous (the naive commander in chief asking too many questions about UFOs). The hook here is that the film actually asks Americans which theory they buy.
Watch it: on Vudu