The Elephant Man (1980) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Elephant Man1980

The Elephant Man (1980)



Critic Consensus: David Lynch's relatively straight second feature finds an admirable synthesis of compassion and restraint in treating its subject, and features outstanding performances by John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins.

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Movie Info

John Hurt stars as John Merrick, the hideously deformed 19th century Londoner known as "The Elephant Man". Treated as a sideshow freak, Merrick is assumed to be retarded as well as misshapen because of his inability to speak coherently. In fact, he is highly intelligent and sensitive, a fact made public when one Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) rescues Merrick from a carnival and brings him to a hospital for analysis. Alas, even after being recognized as a man of advanced intellect, Merrick is still treated like a freak; no matter his station in life, he will forever be a prisoner of his own malformed body. Unable to secure rights for the famous stage play The Elephant Man, producer Mel Brooks based his film on the memoirs of Frederick Treves and a much later account of Merrick's life by Ashley Montagu. The film is lensed in black and white by British master cinematographer Freddie Francis. Though nominated for eight Academy Awards, the film was ultimately shut out in every category.

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John Hurt
as John Merrick
Anthony Hopkins
as Dr. Frederick Treves
Anne Bancroft
as Mrs. Kendal
Wendy Hiller
as Mothershead
Michael Elphick
as Night Porter
Hannah Gordon
as Mrs. Treves
Helen Ryan
as Princess Alex
Dexter Fletcher
as Bytes' Boy
Phoebe Nicholls
as Merrick's Mother
Pat Gorman
as Fairground Bobby
Orla Pederson
as Skeleton Man
Patsy Smart
as Distraught Woman
Lisa & Teri Scobie
as Siamese Twins
as Fire Eater
Robert Bush
as Messenger
Roy Evans
as Cabbie
Alfie Curtis
as Milkman
Bernadette Milnes
as Fighting Woman
Brenda Kemper
as Fighting Woman
Hugh Manning
as Broadneck
Dennis Burgess
as 1st Committeeman
Fanny Carby
as Mrs. Kendal's Dresser
Kathleen Byron
as Lady Waddington
Gerald Case
as Lord Waddington
David Ryall
as Man with Whores
Kenny Baker
as Plumed Dwarf
Eiji Kusuhara
as Japanese Bleeder
Robert Day
as Little John
Patricia Hodge
as Screaming Woman
John Rapley
as King in Panto
Hugh Spight
as Puss in Panto
Teresa Codling
as Princess in Panto
Marion Betzold
as Principal Boy
Victor Kravchenko
as Lion/Coachman
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Critic Reviews for The Elephant Man

All Critics (54) | Top Critics (13)

It is an absorbing and satisfying drama, and Hurt's Merrick is very powerful.

March 12, 2020 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Many Lynchian tropes are here, from a sense of foreboding to a fascination with the grotesque, in terms of Merrick and outsiders' reactions to him.

June 14, 2019 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Top Critic

From deep beneath layers of latex makeup, Hurt inhabits a highly specific physical and behavioral characterization, while also conveying the essential, universal loneliness of the human soul.

April 15, 2019 | Full Review…

This is a tale of redemption and transcendence, of the hunchback of London Hospital, of the noble phantom who wanted to go to the opera, of Beauty and the Beast.

April 22, 2014 | Full Review…

Lynch's powerful depiction of Merrick (played by John Hurt) moves a viewer from revulsion and fear to empathy and tenderness. That's the very movement of the story itself.

April 22, 2014 | Full Review…

The picture itself is a strange trade-off between Lynch's personal themes -- the night world of obscure, disturbing sexual obsessions -- and the requirements of a middlebrow message movie.

April 30, 2008 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Elephant Man


Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

Take away all the famous names in this work and you'd still be left with the story of a very human soul tormentingly imprisoned in a lump of his own hideous flesh. The big names then do the story well: Lynch controls his usual antics to deliver understatement (a shock in itself), Hopkins as the well meaning doctor who actually uses the animal just like everyone until he realizes his mistake, Bancroft is no embarassment, Gielgud and Hiller are the rocks the story rests on ... but Hurt, as the man himself, is exemplary. Well, Hurt and the makeup guy. Look for the tea scene.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

David Lynch's The Elephant Man is a surreal masterwork about the life of John Merrick who was a several deformed man. Beautifully shot in glorious Black & White, David Lynch captures a certain atmosphere with this picture, one that acts as part of the story to elevate the dramatic tone of the experience. Anthony Hopkins is phenomenal as Frederick Treves a sympathetic doctor who tries to help Merrick. This is a superb film that showcases the kindness of the human nature. This is a terrific drama that will certainly please cinema buffs. The acting of John Hurt is spectacular as John Merrick and considering how difficult his performances must have been, he definitely did deserve an Oscar of some kind. Unfortunately this stunning picture would only be nominated and come out empty handed. Everything about this film is beautiful, the cinematography immaculate, and the choice to shoot this in Black & White brings out the subtle qualities of this true story. David Lynch, who previously directed the surrealistic psychological horror film Eraserhead, crafts something unique with The Elephant Man, and he goes deep into the cruelty of humanity and also brings out the best in human nature as well. This is not a film for everyone, but if you're looking for a compelling real life drama, then give this one a shot. With Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt's performances alone, The Elephant Man stands as one of the best films of 1980's. This is filmmaking at its best and David Lynch has made his masterpiece with this one. With a strong cast and terrific storytelling, this is a marvelous film that is moving, poignant and simply unforgettable.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer

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