Empire of the Sun (1987) - Rotten Tomatoes

Empire of the Sun1987

Empire of the Sun (1987)



Critic Consensus: One of Steven Spielberg's most ambitious efforts of the 1980s, Empire of the Sun remains an underrated gem in the director's distinguished filmography.

Empire of the Sun Photos

Movie Info

Based on J.G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun stars Christian Bale as a spoiled young British boy, living with his wealthy family in pre-World War II Shanghai. During the Japanese invasion, Bale is separated from his parents. With the help of soldier-of-fortune John Malkovich, Bale learns to survive without a retinue of servants at his beck and call. By the time Malkovich and Bale are tossed into a Japanese prison camp, the boy has picked up enough street-smarts and developed enough intestinal fortitude to regard his imprisonment as an exciting adventure. The story ends during the 1945 liberation: on the verge of manhood, the 13-year-old Bale will never again be the pampered, privileged brat whom we met in the early scenes. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Watch it now


Christian Bale
as Jim "Jamie" Graham
Miranda Richardson
as Mrs. Victor
Nigel Havers
as Rawlins
Masatô Ibu
as Sgt. Nagata
Emily Richard
as Jim's Mother
Rupert Frazer
as Jim's Father
Peter Gale
as Mr. Victor
Takatoro Kataoka
as Kamikaze Boy Pilot
Robert Stephens
as Mr. Lockwood
Guts Ishimatsu
as Sgt. Uchida
Emma Piper
as Amy Matthews
James Walker
as Mr. Radik
Jack Dearlove
as Singing Prisoner
Anna Turner
as Mrs. Gilmour
Jo Ann Castle
as Mrs. Phillips
Yvonne Gilan
as Mrs. Lockwood
Ralph Michael
as Mr. Partridge
Sybil Maas
as Mrs. Hug
Eric Flynn
as British Prisoner
James Greene
as British Prisoner
Harrison Simon
as British Prisoner
Barrie Houghton (II)
as British Prisoner
Paula Hamilton
as British Prisoner
Thea Ranft
as British Prisoner
Tony Boncza
as British Prisoner
Nigel Leach
as British Prisoner
Sheridan Forbes
as British Prisoner
Peter Copley
as British Prisoner
Barbara Bolton
as British Prisoner
Francesca Longrigg
as British Prisoner
Samantha Warden
as British Prisoner
Kieron Jecchinis
as American Prisoner
Michael Crossman
as American Prisoner
Gary Parker
as American Prisoner
Ray Charleson
as American Prisoner
Burt Kwouk
as Mr. Chen
Tom Danaher
as Col. Marshall
Kong Guo-Jun
as Chinese Youth
Keiron Jecchinis
as American Prisoner
Takao Yamada
as Japanese Truck Driver
Hiro Arai
as Japanese Sergeant/Airfield
Paul McGann
as Lt. Price
Marc de Jonge
as Frenchman
Edith Platten
as Paul's Sister
Shirley Chantrell
as Chinese Cook At Detention Center
Sylvia Marriott
as Mrs. Partridge
Frank Duncan
as Mrs. Hug's Father
Ronald Eng
as Mr. Chen's Aide
Za Chuan Ce
as Shopkeeper
Shi Rui Qing
as Shopkeeper
Lu Ye
as Merchant
Guo Xue Liang
as Merchant
Ge Yan Zhao
as Merchant
J.G. Ballard
as Guest at Costume Party
View All

News & Interviews for Empire of the Sun

Critic Reviews for Empire of the Sun

All Critics (56) | Top Critics (19)

What is most remarkable about Empire of the Sun then, is the almost seamless fashion in which a faithful adaptation... has nevertheless contrived to become a proto-Spielbergian affirmation of faith and optimism in the universe.

January 28, 2020 | Full Review…

Empire of the Sun is a great, overwrought movie that leaves one wordless and worn out.

December 31, 2019 | Full Review…

John Williams' resonant and triumphant score superbly augments this simple and complex narrative

December 17, 2018 | Full Review…

The pseudomystical vagueness that seems to be Spielberg's stock-in-trade stifles most of the particularity of the source.

October 26, 2016 | Full Review…

The film's grave problem is a lack of central heating: We don't have a single character to warm up to.

October 26, 2016 | Full Review…

This is derivative melodrama with Spielberg hedging his bets by ripping off his previous adventure films to lighten a story that cries out not to be turned into a comic book.

October 26, 2016 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Empire of the Sun

Perhaps the best Spielberg film ever, this war drama has a large cast but focuses on mainly one character, a boy out of his familiars. Malkevich plays an American, capitalism uncaged, for whom the war is primarily an opportunity for gain. Richardson is a British socialite, forced against her will to look at real life and none too happy about it. And Bale, the star, is a Brit of privilege too, but barely manages to make do. This piece had two things against it as I went in, Spielberg and Bale, but both rise above their comfort zones to deliver an exceptional story.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

Good story.

Christian C
Christian C

Super Reviewer


Empire of the Sun is anything if not an admirable effort. It's Spielberg's first serious take on war and what it can do to those it affects, so not really anything historic or even remotely about the war itself. The war is the background to the story, but the story is a bit uneven. I felt like the film was much longer than it needed to be to tell the story it was trying to tell... if its goal isn't what I think it is. My personal take on the ending of this film, one that I don't see many sharing, is that at the end, Christian Bale's character is so traumitized by the experience of being through a war on his own that he can't even recognize his own parents when they eventually find him again. He's not the same person, and he'll be changed forever. That's my take. Most people's take is that he's a boy who's learned to grow up the hard way. If the former is the case then the length is fine. If it's the latter, then it could have been shorter. Dragging it out with useless side characters and circumstances wouldn't do it justice if that is the case. Either way, as I said, it's an admirable effort, but one that doesn't seem to be achieving a clear goal in the storytelling.

Tim Salmons
Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

Empire of the Sun Quotes

News & Features