The Library of Congress has declared "Killer of Sheep" as a national treasure and one of the first fifty on the National Film Registry. The National Society of Film Critics selected it as one of the "100 Essential Films" of all time. However, since the film was made without the proper legal permits and rights acquisition (due to the expense of the music rights) the film was never shown theatrically or made available on video. It had only been seen on poor quality 16mm prints at a scant few museums and film festivals. Thirty years after it's premiere the new 35mm print of Killer of Sheep was brilliantly restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive. In addition, all rights were secured for the music, allowing the film to be shown on the film festival circuit, theaters, and nationally broadcast by Turner Classic Movies. The film is also available on DVD.
Charles Burnett made this film when he was still at UCLA and for a budget of $5000.
Burnett encountered actor Henry G. Sanders in the elevator of the building where he worked. He immediately asked him to do a screen test for the film, because he found he had an unusual face.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Musician/Actor Yasiin Bey took the album artwork of his 2009 album 'The Ecstatic' from a frame in this film.