15 Famous Missing Persons on Film

Lots of folks go missing in the movies, and some of the most memorable are right here in this list.

Photo: Summit Entertainment

In a role that’s sure to further squander her talent, big-eyed blonde Amanda Seyfried returns this weekend in Gone, a paranoid thriller that sees her character go rogue when the police won’t help her find her missing sister. Lots of folks go missing in the movies—kids, Dames, drugged fiancés, imaginary inmates—and some of the most memorable are right here in this list. So while Seyfried hopefully kicks off another search (for a new agent), click on through to see which cinematic abductees are here—and, if you feel so inclined, tell us which ones are, you know, missing.


Brawley Nolte in Ransom (1996)

Angelina Jolie’s snatched son in Changeling nearly made this list, but ultimately, there was only room for one film with an overplayed, trailer-ready, parental top-blowing plea, and Mel Gibson’s “Give me back my son!” trumps Jolie’s “I want MY son back!” any day of the week. Brawley Nolte, the blonde boy on the screen behind Mad Mel, is indeed the son of Nick (lookie here). Fitting that after this Ron Howard thriller, he more or less went missing too.

The Searchers

Natalie Wood in The Searchers (1956)

In the immortal John Ford western, Debbie Edwards is abducted as a child by Comanches, only to grow up to become the beautiful Natalie Wood. By the time her determined uncle, John Wayne, shows up, Debbie’s waist-deep in Stockholm Syndrome, prompting Wayne to threaten to kill her in a racist rage. Perhaps he’d have gotten a better reception had he shown up rocking this.


Toby Froud in Labyrinth (1986)

Otherwise known as “The Babe with the Power,” young Toby Froud greatly inconvenienced his bitchy sister (Jennifer Connelly) when he was abducted by goblins and forced to hang out with a bewigged and bulging David Bowie. A little known fact: Froud is actually the son of Brian Froud, a fantasy illustrator whose work inspired this film, The Dark Crystal, and P.J. Hogan’s Peter Pan.

The Lady Vanishes

May Whitty in The Lady Vanishes (1938)

Before there was the Cybil Shephard remake, there was Alred Hitchcock’s British original, which cast Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy, a governess with penchants for folk music and disappearing acts. A mere flower pot to the head can’t convince Margaret Lockwood of her fellow train passengers’ claims that she dreamed up Whitty’s missing character, and with the help of Michael Redgrave, it’s discovered that spy games and MacGuffins are afoot, and that the abductee has greater reasons for digging those tunes.


Marlene Lawston in Flightplan (2005)

No one can sport a tight ponytail like Jodie Foster, except maybe her onscreen daughter in this high-strung, high-altitude manipulation vehicle, wherein young Marlene Lawston—you guessed it—disappears. Was it Peter Sarsgaard who took her? Sean Bean? Is it all just in mommy’s head? Foster is tasked to unload your usual hysterics, rivaling Gibson and Jolie with her lioness cry, “Where’s Julia?!!”


Kathleen Quinlan in Breakdown (1997)

In this remarkably tight and underrated ’90s thriller, Kurt Russell foolishly allows wife Kathleen Quinlan to hop into an 18-wheeler with J.T. Walsh, sending her off for help while he waits in the desert with their broken-down car. When wifey doesn’t return, Russell sets out on the hunt, stumbling across a ring a of trucker corruption that’d spook even the ballsiest hitchhiker.


John Shea in Missing (1982)

Based on the true tale of Charles Horman (Shea), an American journalist who disappeared after 1973’s Chilean coup, Missing arrived in 1982 amid a sea of controversy, leading to a lawsuit against director Costa Gavras, a Chilean ban on the film, a disclaimer from the U.S. Department of State denying government involvement with Shea’s death, and another lawsuit against source-material author Thomas Hauser. It did, however, pick up the Palme d’Or and a handful of Oscar noms, and Shea went on to star in…Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.

Alpha Dog

Anton Yelchin in Alpha Dog (2006)

Another Amanda Seyfried joint, Nick Cassavetes’s Alpha Dog recreates the infamous California murder of 15-year-old Nicholas Markowitz, played here under a different name by Anton Yelchin (Seyfried stars as his squeeze). Bruce Willis’s bad hairpiece, Olivia Wilde’s legs, and Justin Timberlake’s tattoo-covered torso got all the attention, but Yelchin’s kidnapped and murdered teen is the one at the center of it all.

The Vanishing

Sandra Bullock in The Vanishing (1993)

Remade from a 1988 Dutch thriller, The Vanishing stars Kiefer Sutherland and Sandra Bullock, the latter of whom pulls the old Keyser Söze and goes poof while Sutherland is getting gas. What became of her? Only Jeff Bridges knows, and after three years he taunts Sutherland to relive Bullock’s ordeal in order to know what happened. Bullock never resurfaces. Her Oscar, alas, remains safe and sound.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

Christopher Olsen in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

Another remake, but by the same master who helmed the original, 1956’s The Man Who Knew Too Much pairs Hitchcock regular Jimmy Stewart with a famously “Que Sera, Sera”-singing Doris Day. The two play a couple whose son (Christopher Olsen) gets snatched during a Moroccan vacation, the victim of a shady plot concerning French Intelligence, Scotland Yard, and a targeted Prime Minister. Hitchcock swears the remake tops his 1934 version, but the first boasted creep extraordinaire Peter Lorre.

Shutter Island

Patricia Clarkson in Shutter Island (2010)

So, perhaps Patricia Clarkson’s cave-bound escapee was only a figment of Leo DiCaprio’s imagination. But what a figment! As Dr. Rachel Solando, the missing mental patient DiCaprio’s detective is tasked to find (before becoming quite lost himself), Clarkson endows Scorsese’s Hitchcockian throwback with its single best scene, feeding you the most delectably articulate conspiracy theory since Donald Sutherland’s tireless monologue in JFK.

The Missing

Evan Rachel Wood in The Missing (2003)

In Ron Howard’s contemptible western, a still-emerging Evan Rachel Wood gets kidnapped by a bunch of nasty Injuns out for settlers’ blood in New Mexico, forcing mom Cate Blanchett and grandpa Tommy Lee Jones to team up and track down the girl before she’s sold off at the Mexican border. Wood does just fine playing to her miserable-youth strengths, but you know your movie’s in trouble when even Blanchett trips over her accent and looks bored in the process.

Desperate Search

Lee Aaker and Linda Lowell in Desperate Search (1952)

Turmoil abounds in the air and down below when the father (Howard Keel), mother (Patricia Medina), and step mother (Jane Greer) of two lost children (Lee Aaker and Linda Lowell) go searching for their wee ones in the wake of a fiery plane crash, which left the kids to fend for themselves in the wilderness where mountain lions roam. Things aren’t much better in the awkward search plane, where relationship drama and power trips threaten to compromise the rescue.

The Hangover

Justin Bartha in The Hangover (2009)

Justin Bartha may not get much play in Todd Phillips’s obscenely overpraised frat boy favorite, but he is the man whose disappearance prompts the morning-after mayhem for Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and Zack Galifianakis. Playing a stranded fiance whose Vegas substance-fest postpones the “I do”s, Bartha winds up the luckiest of his crew, spared, among other things, the sight of Ken Jeong’s Vienna sausage.


Maggie Grace in Taken (2008)

Joining that sacred line of films about young girls sold as sex slaves, and netting a whole lot of rabid fans in the process, Pierre Morel’s Taken stars Liam Neeson as a retired C.I.A. superstar whose daughter (Maggie Grace) stands to be put on the dreaded market when she’s kidnapped in Paris. On the phone when the deed is done, Neeson’s trained-to-kill dad goes after his little girl, subsequently kicking a whole lot of ass. And thus, the new Neeson, a rare near-60 action star, was born.

R. Kurt Osenlund

R. Kurt Osenlund is a creative director and account supervisor at Mark Allen & Co. He is the former editor of Out magazine.

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