Fargo (1996)

Movie


Fargo (1996)

Jerry works in his father-in-law's car dealership and has gotten himself in financial problems. He tries various schemes to come up with money needed for a reason that is never really explained. It has to be assumed that his huge embezzlement of money from the dealership is about to be discovered by father-in-law. When all else falls through, plans he set in motion earlier for two men to kidnap his wife for ransom to be paid by her wealthy father (who doesn't seem to have the time of day for son-in-law). From the moment of the kidnapping, things go wrong and what was supposed to be a non-violent affair turns bloody with more blood added by the minute. Jerry is upset at the bloodshed, which turns loose a pregnant sheriff from Brainerd, MN who is tenacious in attempting to solve the three murders in her jurisdiction.
USA
UK
IMDb   8.1 /10
Metacritic   85 %
TheMovieDb    7.9 /10
RottenTomatoes  94 %
FilmAffinity   7.8 /10
Creators
Director Joel Coen
Director Ethan Coen
Writer Ethan Coen
Writer Joel Coen
Information
Release Date1996-04-05
Runtime1h 38mins
GenreCrime, Drama, Thriller
Content RatingR (R)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #176 | Won 2 Oscars. Another 81 wins & 58 nominations.
CompanyPolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Working Title Films
CountryUSA, UK
LanguageEnglish
Jerry Lundegaard
Carl Showalter
Gaear Grimsrud
Jean Lundegaard
Wade Gustafson
Scotty Lundegaard
Irate Customer
Irate Customer's Wife
Shep Proudfoot (as Steven Reevis)
Reilly Diefenbach (voice)
Morning Show Host
Morning Show Hostess

Fargo (1996 film)

Fargo is a 1996 black comedy crime film written, produced and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. Frances McDormand stars as Marge Gunderson, a pregnant Minnesota police chief investigating roadside homicides that take place after a desperate car salesman (William H. Macy) hires two criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife in order to extort a hefty ransom from her wealthy father (Harve Presnell). The film was an American-British co-production.

Filmed in the United States during the end of 1995, Fargo premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where Joel Coen won the festival's Prix de la mise en scène (Best Director Award) and the film was nominated for the Palme d'Or. The film was both a commercial and critical success, earning particular acclaim for the Coens' direction and script and the performances of McDormand, Macy, and Buscemi. Fargo received seven Oscar nominations at the 69th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, winning two: Best Actress for McDormand and Best Original Screenplay for the Coens.

The film was selected in 2006 for preservation in the National Film Registry of the United States by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant"—one of only seven films designated in its first year of eligibility. In 1998, the American Film Institute named it one of the 100 greatest American films in history but it was subsequently de-listed in 2007. A Coen-produced FX television series of the same name, inspired by the film and taking place in the same fictional universe, premiered in 2014 and received critical acclaim.


Plot

In 1987, Jerry Lundegaard, the "executive sales manager" of an Oldsmobile dealership owned by his father-in-law, Wade Gustafson, in Minneapolis, has been engaged in financial improprieties and desperate for money to cover them up. On the advice of dealership mechanic and ex-con parolee Shep Proudfoot, Jerry travels to Fargo, North Dakota and hires Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud to kidnap his wife, Jean. He promises them a new Cutlass Ciera and $80,000 of the ransom.

Jerry pitches Wade a lucrative real estate deal and believes Wade has agreed to lend him $750,000 to finance it, so he attempts to call off the kidnapping. Wade and his accountant Stan Grossman inform Jerry that Wade intends to make the deal himself and pay Jerry only a modest finder's fee.

Carl and Gaear kidnap Jean and transport her to a remote cabin in Moose Lake. A state trooper stops them near Brainerd for driving without displaying temporary registration tags. The trooper rejects Carl's clumsy $50 bribe attempt and hears Jean whimpering in the back seat. Gaear suddenly shoots him, then chases down and kills two passers-by who drove by and witnessed Carl moving the dead trooper's bloody body.

The following morning, Brainerd police chief Marge Gunderson, who is seven months pregnant, correctly surmises that the dead trooper was ticketing a car with dealer plates. She later learns that two men driving a dealership vehicle checked into the nearby Blue Ox Motel with two call girls and placed a call to Proudfoot. After questioning the call girls, Marge visits Wade's dealership, where the taciturn Proudfoot feigns ignorance after she points out that his association with criminals would violate his parole and send him back to jail. Jerry insists to Marge no cars are missing from his inventory. While in Minneapolis, Marge reconnects with Mike Yanagita, a high school classmate, who awkwardly tries to romance Marge before breaking down and saying his wife has died.

Jerry tells Wade the kidnappers have demanded $1,000,000 and will deal only through him. In light of the three murders, Carl demands Jerry hand over all of the $80,000 he believes is the entire ransom.

Carl is with another call girl in a Minneapolis hotel room when Proudfoot enters and brutally attacks Carl, who then orders Jerry to deliver the ransom immediately. Wade, who has no faith in Jerry, insists on bringing it himself. Wade meets Carl at a parking garage and insists he will not hand over the money without seeing his daughter. Enraged, Carl pulls a gun and shoots Wade. Wade, also armed, fires back, wounding Carl in the jaw. Carl kills Wade and a garage attendant then drives away with the briefcase containing the ransom.

On the way to Moose Lake, Carl, bleeding and in pain, discovers the briefcase contains $1 million. He removes $80,000 to split with Gaear, then buries the rest in the snow alongside the highway. At the cabin, Carl finds that Gaear killed Jean because she would not be quiet. Carl is furious and says they should split up and leave immediately, and they argue over who will keep the Ciera. Carl uses his untreated injury as justification, shouts insults at Gaear, and attempts to take the vehicle. Gaear kills Carl with an axe.

Marge learns from a friend that Yanagita lied; he has no wife, and is mentally ill. Reflecting on this, Marge returns to Wade's dealership. Jerry nervously insists no cars are missing and promises to double-check his inventory, then flees the interview. Marge sees Jerry driving off the lot and calls the state police.

Marge drives to Moose Lake after a local bartender reports having heard a "funny-looking guy" brag about killing someone. She drives by the cabin and sees Carl and Gaear's car. As she investigates, she discovers Gaear feeding Carl's dismembered body into a wood chipper. Gaear attempts to flee, but Marge shoots him in the leg and arrests him. Shortly afterwards, North Dakota police arrest Jerry at a motel outside Bismarck.

Marge's husband Norm tells her the Postal Service has selected his painting of a mallard for a three cent postage stamp and complains that his friend's painting won the competition for a twenty-nine cent stamp. Marge reminds him that many people use smaller denomination stamps whenever prices increase and they need to make up the difference. Norm is reassured, and the couple happily anticipates the birth of their child.


Cast

  • Frances McDormand as Marge Gunderson
  • William H. Macy as Jerry Lundegaard
  • Steve Buscemi as Carl Showalter
  • Peter Stormare as Gaear Grimsrud
  • Harve Presnell as Wade Gustafson
  • Kristin Rudrüd as Jean Lundegaard
  • Tony Denman as Scotty Lundegaard
  • Steve Reevis as Shep Proudfoot
  • Larry Brandenburg as Stan Grossman
  • John Carroll Lynch as Norm Gunderson
  • Steve Park as Mike Yanagita
  • Larissa Kokernot and Melissa Peterman as the first two call girls
  • Bain Boehlke as Mr. Mohra
  • Warren Keith as Reilly Diefenbach
  • José Feliciano as himself
  • Gary Houston as Irate Customer
  • Sally Wingert as Irate Customer's Wife
  • Bruce Campbell (uncredited) as Actor on TV

Production

Casting

The Coens initially considered William H. Macy for a smaller role, but they were so impressed by his reading that they asked him to come back in and read for the role of Jerry. According to Macy, he was very persistent in getting the role, saying: "I found out that they were auditioning in New York still, so I got my jolly, jolly Lutheran ass on an airplane and walked in and said, 'I want to read again because I'm scared you're going to screw this up and hire someone else.' I actually said that. You know, you can't play that card too often as an actor. Sometimes it just blows up in your face, but I said, 'Guys, this is my role. I want this.'" Ethan Coen later remarked, "I don't think either of us realised what a tough acting challenge we were handing Bill Macy with this part. Jerry's a fascinating mix of the completely ingenuous and the utterly deceitful. Yet he's also guileless; even though he set these horrible events in motion, he's surprised when they go wrong."

The parts of Marge Gunderson, Carl Showalter and Gaear Grimsrud were written with their respective actors in mind. Swedish actor Peter Stormare, who played the role of Gaear, was supposed to play the part of Eddie Dane in the Coens' earlier film Miller's Crossing, but was unable to commit due to commitments to a stage production of Hamlet. When he was not filming, he visited neighboring places with Swedish sounding names.

At first, Frances McDormand was excited about working with the Coens, but was rather surprised when she found out that they wrote Marge for her. She learned how to use and fire a gun, spent days talking with a pregnant police officer and developed a backstory for her character along with John Carroll Lynch. After seeing the movie, McDormand noted that much of Marge was modeled on her sister Dorothy who is a Disciples of Christ minister and chaplain.

Filming

Fargo was filmed during the winter of 1995, mainly in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and around Pembina County, North Dakota. Due to unusually low snowfall totals in central and southern Minnesota that winter, scenes requiring snow-covered landscapes had to be shot in northern Minnesota and northeastern North Dakota, though not in or near the actual towns of Fargo and Brainerd.

Jerry's initial meeting with Carl and Gaear was shot at a pool hall and bar called The King of Clubs in the northeast section of Minneapolis. It was demolished in 2003, along with most other buildings on that block of Central Avenue, and replaced by low-income housing. Gustafson's auto dealership was actually Wally McCarthy Oldsmobile in Richfield, a southern suburb of Minneapolis. The site is now occupied by Best Buy's national corporate headquarters. The 24-foot Paul Bunyan statue was built for the film (and subsequently dismantled) along 101st Street NE (near the corner of 143rd Avenue NE) west of Bathgate, North Dakota. The Blue Ox motel/truckstop was Stockmen's Truck Stop in South St. Paul, which is still in business. Ember's, the restaurant where Jerry discusses the ransom drop with Gustafson, was located in St. Louis Park, the Coens' hometown; the building now houses a medical outpatient treatment center.

The Lakeside Club, where Marge interviewed the two call girls, was a family restaurant—now closed—in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. The kidnappers' Moose Lake hideout actually stood on the shore of Square Lake, near May, Minnesota. The cabin was relocated to Barnes, Wisconsin in 2002. The Edina police station where the interior police headquarters scenes were filmed is still in operation, but has been completely rebuilt. The Carlton Celebrity Room was an actual venue in Bloomington, Minnesota, and José Feliciano did once appear there, but it had been closed for almost ten years when filming began. The Feliciano scene was shot at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre in Chanhassen, near Minneapolis. The ransom drop was filmed in two adjacent parking garages on South 8th Street in downtown Minneapolis. Scenes in the Lundegaards' kitchen were shot in a private home on Pillsbury Avenue in Minneapolis, and the house where Mr. Mohra described the "funny looking little guy" to police is in Hallock, in northwest Minnesota. The motel “outside of Bismarck”, where the police finally catch up with Jerry, is the Hitching Post Motel in Forest Lake, north of Minneapolis.

While none of Fargo was actually filmed in Fargo, the Fargo-Moorhead Convention & Visitors Bureau exhibits original script copies and several props used in the film, including the wood chipper prop. After the movie's release, by some accounts, Brainerd was invaded by shovel-toting moviegoers searching for the buried ransom cash, inspired by the spurious "based-on-a-true-story" announcement in the opening credits. In 2001, a Japanese woman named Takako Konishi was found frozen to death near Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. A rumor emerged that she had been searching for the buried money, but her death was actually ruled a suicide.

Music

As with all the Coen brothers' films, except O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Inside Llewyn Davis, the score to Fargo is by Carter Burwell. The main musical motif is based on a Norwegian folk song, "The Lost Sheep" (Norwegian: Den bortkomne sauen).

Other songs featured in the film include: "Big City" by Merle Haggard, heard in the King of Clubs while Jerry meets with Carl and Gaear; "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Boy George, which plays in the garage as Shep works, and "Let's Find Each Other Tonight", a live nightclub performance by José Feliciano that is viewed by Carl and a female escort. In the diner, when Jerry is urging Wade not to get police involved in his wife's kidnapping, Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good" can be heard faintly in the background. An instrumental version of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" plays during the scene where Marge and Norm are eating at a buffet. The restaurant scene with Mike Yanagita is accompanied by a piano arrangement of "Sometimes in Winter" by Blood, Sweat & Tears. All the songs heard in the film are featured only as background music, usually on a radio, and do not appear on the soundtrack album.

The soundtrack was released in 1996 on TVT Records, combined with selections from the score to Barton Fink.

Track listing
No.TitleLength
1."Fargo, North Dakota"2:47
2."Moose Lake"0:41
3."A Lot of Woe"0:49
4."Forced Entry"1:23
5."The Ozone"0:57
6."The Trooper's End"1:06
7."Chewing on It"0:51
8."Rubbernecking"2:04
9."Dance of the Sierra"1:23
10."The Mallard"0:58
11."Delivery"4:46
12."Bismarck, North Dakota"1:02
13."Paul Bunyan"0:35
14."The Eager Beaver"3:10
15."Brainerd Minnesota"2:40
16."Safe Keeping"1:41
Total length:43:15

Claims of factual basis

The film opens with the following text:

This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.

However, the closing credits bear the standard fictitious persons disclaimer used by works of fiction. Regarding this apparent discrepancy, the Coen brothers claimed that they based their script on an actual criminal event, but wrote a fictional story around it. "We weren't interested in that kind of fidelity," said Joel Coen. "The basic events are the same as in the real case, but the characterizations are fully imagined ... If an audience believes that something's based on a real event, it gives you permission to do things they might otherwise not accept."

The brothers have modified their explanation more than once. In 1996, Joel Coen told a reporter that—contrary to the opening graphic—the actual murders were not committed in Minnesota. Many Minnesotans speculated that the story was inspired by T. Eugene Thompson, a St. Paul attorney who was convicted of hiring a man to murder his wife in 1963, near the Coens' hometown of St. Louis Park; but the Coens claimed that they had never heard of Thompson. After Thompson's death in 2015, Joel Coen changed the explanation again: " completely made up. Or, as we like to say, the only thing true about it is that it's a story."

The film's special edition DVD contains yet another account, that the film was inspired by the 1986 murder of Helle Crafts from Connecticut at the hands of her husband, Richard, who disposed of her body through a wood chipper.

There is a long history of authors placing factual disclaimers at the beginning of fictional works; one of the earliest of these is the gothic novel The Castle of Otranto written by Horace Walpole in 1764.

Accent

The film's illustrations of "Minnesota nice" and distinctive regional accents and expressions made a lasting impression on audiences; years later, locals reported continuing to field tourist requests to say "Yah, you betcha", and other tag lines from the movie. Dialect coach Liz Himelstein said that "the accent was another character". She coached the cast using audiotapes and field trips. Another dialect coach, Larissa Kokernot (who also played one of the prostitutes), noted that the "small-town, Minnesota accent is close to the sound of the Nords and the Swedes", which is "where the musicality comes from". She taught McDormand "Minnesota nice" and the characteristic head-nodding to show agreement. The strong accent spoken by Macy's and McDormand's characters, which was exaggerated for effect, is less common in the Twin Cities, where over 60% of the state's population lives. The Minneapolis and St. Paul dialect is characterized by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which is also found in other places in the Northern United States as far east as Rochester, New York.


Release

Fargo premiered at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the competition's highest honor, the Palme d'Or. Joel Coen won the top directorial award, the Prix de la mise en scène. Subsequent notable screenings included the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, and the Naples Film Festival. In 2006, the sixth annual Fargo Film Festival marked Fargo's tenth anniversary by projecting the movie on a gigantic screen mounted on the north side of Fargo's then tallest building, the Radisson Hotel.

Released theatrically in the United States on March 8, 1996, Fargo launched in 36 theaters, and grossed $1,024,137 in its first week. In the film's third week, Fargo was released in 412 theaters, and accumulated a total box office gross of $5,998,890. On March 27, 1997, Fargo had its last viewing in theaters in the United States, closing the domestic gross of the film at $24,281,860. Internationally, Fargo was released in the United Kingdom on May 31, 1996, in Canada on April 5, 1996, and in Australia on June 6, 1996, bringing the film's international gross to an estimated 36 million. All together, Fargo grossed a total of $60,611,975 at the box office.


Reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Fargo holds an approval rating of 94% based on 102 reviews, with an average rating of 8.72/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Violent, quirky, and darkly funny, Fargo delivers an original crime story and a wonderful performance by McDormand." At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.

Arnold Wayne Jones, writing for the Dallas Observer, called the film an "illuminating amalgam of emotion and thought", praising the directing and writing from the Coen brothers. From Entertainment Weekly, Lisa Schwarzbaum lauded the performance from Frances McDormand and stated that the film was "dizzily rich, witty, and satisfying." In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane singled out McDormand for praise: "Her character—seven months pregnant, polite to a fault, smart yet slow—is only a breath away from caricature, yet McDormand unearths a surprising decency there, and in the process she pretty well rescues the film." USA Today journalist Mike Clark also praised the performance of McDormand:

"McDormand's uproariously sly-spry performance connects with Roger Deakins' bleakly beautiful photography to create one of the Coens' most consistently successful outings, albeit one that plays it even closer to the vest than usual. For a current movie that simply effervesces with the macabre, check out The Young Poisoner's Handbook. For a nifty bit of nastiness from two of our most dependably provocative filmmakers, Fargo will fill the bill."

On the other side of the spectrum, Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss criticized Fargo for its use of Minnesota nice, the accent used in the film. In his review, Corliss stated that "After some superb mannerist films, the Coens are back in the deadpan realist territory of Blood Simple, but without the cinematic elan." (Conversely, Janet Maslin, in the New York Times, deemed Fargo "much more stylish and entertaining" than Blood Simple). James Berardinelli, writing for his own website, ReelThoughts, gave the film three stars out of five, stating that it was "easy to admire what the Coens are trying to do in Fargo, but more difficult to actually like the film."

John Simon of The National Review wrote "The Coen brothers' Fargo is their best film so far, which isn't saying very much". Simon elaborated further that "Fargo could have been a nice little film noir if they hadn't compounded it with black comedy, absurdism, and folksy farce: Scandinavian-American midwesterners up, or down, to their hickish shenanigans. Some of this surprisingly, works, some of it ranges from the unpalatable to the indigestible".

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both ranked Fargo as the best film of 1996, with Ebert later ranking it fourth on his list of the best films of the 1990s. Fargo was added to the National Film Registry by the National Film Preservation Board on December 27, 2006. In 2010, the Independent Film & Television Alliance selected the film as one of its "30 Most Significant Independent Films" of the last 30 years. The Writers Guild of America ranked the film's screenplay the 32nd greatest ever.

Accolades

Award⁣Date of ceremony⁣Category⁣Recipients⁣Result⁣Ref.
Academy AwardsMarch 24, 1997Best PictureEthan CoenNominated⁣
Best DirectorJoel Coen⁣Nominated
Best ActressFrances McDormandWon⁣
Best Supporting ActorWilliam H. MacyNominated⁣
Best Original ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenWon⁣
Best CinematographyRoger DeakinsNominated⁣
Best Film EditingRoderick JaynesNominated⁣
American Film Institute1998AFI's 100 Years...100 MoviesFargo
#84
June 13, 2000AFI's 100 Years...100 LaughsFargo
#93
June 2003AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & VillainsMarge Gunderson
#33 Hero
American Society of Cinematographers1996Outstanding Achievement in CinematographyRoger DeakinsNominated
BAFTA Film AwardsApril 29, 1997Best DirectionJoel CoenWon
Best FilmFargoNominated
Best Actress in a Leading RoleFrances McDormandNominated
Best Original ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenNominated
Best CinematographyRoger DeakinsNominated
Best EditingRoderick JaynesNominated
Belgian Film Critics Association1997Grand PrixFargoNominated
Cannes Film FestivalMay 1996Best DirectorJoel CoenWon
Palme d'OrFargoNominated
Golden Globe AwardsJanuary 19, 1997Best Motion Picture – Musical or ComedyFargoNominated
Best DirectorJoel CoenNominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or MusicalFrances McDormandNominated
Best ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenNominated
Golden Satellite AwardsJanuary 15, 1997Best FilmFargoWon
Best DirectorJoel CoenWon
Best Actress – DramaFrances McDormandWon
Best Actor - DramaWilliam H. MacyNominated
Best Supporting Actor – DramaSteve BuscemiNominated
Best EditingRoderick JaynesNominated
Best Original ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenNominated
Independent Spirit AwardsMarch 22, 1997Best FilmFargoWon
Best DirectorJoel CoenWon
Best Male LeadWilliam H. MacyWon
Best Female LeadFrances McDormandWon
Best ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenWon
Best CinematographyRoger DeakinsWon
National Board of Review1996Best DirectorJoel CoenWon
Best ActressFrances McDormandWon
National Film Preservation BoardDecember 27, 2006National Film RegistryFargoAdded
New York Film Critics CircleJanuary 5, 1997Best FilmFargoWon
Best ActressFrances McDormandNominated
Saturn AwardsJuly 23, 1997Best Action or Adventure FilmFargoWon
Best ActressFrances McDormandNominated
Best DirectorJoel CoenNominated
Screen Actors Guild AwardsFebruary 22, 1997Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading RoleFrances McDormandWon
Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting RoleWilliam H. MacyNominated
Writers Guild of America AwardsMarch 16, 1997Best Original ScreenplayJoel and Ethan CoenWon
London Film Critics Circle2 March 1997Film of the YearFargoWon
Director of the YearJoel CoenWon
Screenwriter of the YearJoel and Ethan CoenWon
Actress of the YearFrances McDormandWon
Bodil Awards1997Best American FilmJoel CoenWon

Home media

Fargo has been released in several formats: VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray, and iTunes download. The first home video release of the film was on November 19, 1996, on a pan and scan cassette. A collector's edition widescreen VHS was also released and included a snow globe that depicted the woodchipper scene which, when shaken, stirred up both snow and "blood". PolyGram Filmed Entertainment released Fargo on DVD on July 8, 1997. In 1999, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who acquired the rights to the film through their purchase of Polygram's pre-March 31, 1996 library, released the film on VHS as part of its "Contemporary Classics" series. A "Special Edition" DVD was released on September 30, 2003, by MGM Home Entertainment, which featured minor changes to the film, particularly with its subtitles. The opening titles stating "This is a true story" have been changed in this edition from the actual titles on the film print to digitally inserted titles. Also, the subtitle preceding Lundegaard's arrest "Outside of Bismarck, North Dakota" has been inserted digitally and moved from the bottom of the screen to the top. The special edition of Fargo was repackaged in several Coen brothers box sets and also as a double feature DVD with other MGM releases. A Blu-ray version was released on May 12, 2009 and later in a DVD combo pack in 2010. On April 1, 2014, in commemoration for the 90th anniversary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the film was remastered in 4K and reissued again on Blu-ray. On May 3, 2017, Shout! Factory announced a 20th anniversary collector's Steelbook edition on Blu-ray, limited to 10,000 copies. The Steelbook was released on August 8, 2017.


Television series

In 1997, a pilot was filmed for an intended television series based on the film. Set in Brainerd shortly after the events of the film, it starred Edie Falco as Marge Gunderson and Bruce Bohne reprising his role as Officer Lou. It was directed by Kathy Bates and featured no involvement from the Coen brothers. The episode aired in 2003 during Trio's Brilliant But Cancelled series of failed TV shows.

A follow-up TV series inspired by the film, with the Coens as executive producers, debuted on FX in April 2014. The first season received acclaim from both critics and audiences. Existing in the same fictional continuity as the film, each season features a different story, cast, and decade-setting. The episode "Eating the Blame" reintroduced the buried ransom money for a minor three-episode subplot. Three further seasons have been made thus far; the fourth was released on September 27, 2020.