IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT is ranked #75 on AFI’s 10th anniversary list of the 100 greatest movies of all time and #21 on AFI’s list of the most inspiring movies ever. Sidney Poitier’s “Virgil Tibbs” is the 19th most heroic character on AFI’s list of 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains, while “They call me Mr. Tibbs!” appears at #16 on AFI’s list of the best film quotes. Poitier was also the recipient of the 20th AFI Life Achievement Award.
AFI Movie Club Tribute to Sidney Poitier: IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
DID YOU KNOW? The film is based on a John Ball novel about a Black detective on the police force in Pasadena, CA. Director Norman Jewison and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant would later change Tibbs’ hometown to Philadelphia.
DID YOU KNOW? IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was primarily filmed in Sparta, IL—not the South at all. Sidney Poitier refused to film below the Mason-Dixon Line because of an earlier incident in which he and Harry Belafonte had a run-in with the Ku Klux Klan.
DID YOU KNOW? George C. Scott was considered for the role of the racist police chief Gillespie, which ultimately went to Rod Steiger. Ironically, Scott would go on to guest star on the television series adaptation of the film years later.
DID YOU KNOW? IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT marked cinematographer Haskell Wexler’s first film shot in color. It was also one of the first Hollywood films in which a cameraman lit a color movie with proper consideration for all of the actors’ complexions.
DID YOU KNOW? Star Sidney Poitier made this film the same year he shot TO SIR, WITH LOVE and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER.
DID YOU KNOW? Director Norman Jewison met Robert F. Kennedy in Idaho where they discussed the social significance of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Later on, Jewison would win the New York Film Critics Circle Award, which was presented by none other than Kennedy himself.
DID YOU KNOW? Sidney Poitier reprised the role of Virgil Tibbs for subsequent films – THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS and THE ORGANIZATION.
DID YOU KNOW? Colbert’s widow in the film is played by Lee Grant who was in the first class of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women.
DID YOU KNOW? IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won five Academy Awards®: Best Actor (Rod Steiger), Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.
DID YOU KNOW? The 1967 Academy Awards® was postponed due to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT ultimately would win Best Picture, beating out stiff competition including BONNIE AND CLYDE, THE GRADUATE and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER.
Learn more at the AFI Catalog.
The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions
- What was the political climate like when IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was released?
- What was the social significance of movies like IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER coming out in the same year?
- How was the film a milestone in the history of black representation in Hollywood?
- What’s your favorite Sidney Poitier film? And how has he influenced other up-and-coming actors of color?
- How has director Norman Jewison tackled important social issues onscreen throughout his career?
- Can you draw a through line between 1960s social thrillers and the ones of today like GET OUT and US? How important is it for modern-day filmmakers to keep telling political stories?
- Does the film still resonate today?
- How would you rate IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT?
LEARN MORE ABOUT AFI MOVIE CLUB
AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. See all of the titles programmed for AFI Movie Club here. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience. Learn more in our FAQ section.
Don’t miss out on the latest AFI Movie Club news. Sign up for our newsletter.