Great Balls of Fire (1989) - Rotten Tomatoes

Great Balls of Fire (1989)




Critic Consensus: Great Balls of Fire romanticizes the more disturbing elements of Jerry Lee Lewis' controversial life story, but Dennis Quaid's crackerjack performance and a soundtrack stuffed with classic songs gives this flawed biopic some smolder.

Movie Info

Until its last ten minutes or so, this filmed biography of controversial recording star Jerry Lee Lewis plays like a live-action cartoon. As played by Dennis Quaid, "the killer" is a very mixed-up individual: a saintly sinner, a world-wise naïf, a skilled performer with zero sense of discipline, a loving husband who uses his wife for a punching bag. The story takes place during the years 1956 through 1958, as Lewis rises to the top of the charts with such hits as "Crazy Arms," "A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," and the title tune. Along the way, he falls in love with his second cousin, Myra (Winona Ryder), eventually marrying the girl. When it is revealed that Myra is only 13 years old, Lewis is condemned as a molester and pervert by the public (his disastrous tour of England during this crisis is depicted in hilarious Tex Avery fashion). After establishing a brisk, satirical tone through most of the proceedings, the film plummets into heavy dramatics in its final portions, jarring disastrously with all that has gone before. Otherwise, Quaid is terrific as Lewis (expertly lip-synching to the original records,) and Ryder is equally good as the long-suffering Myra. Featured in the cast are Alec Baldwin as Jerry's cousin Jimmy Swaggart (the same!), Michael St. Gerard as Lewis' great rival Elvis, and Steve Allen as himself.


Dennis Quaid
as Jerry Lee Lewis
John Doe
as J.W. Brown
Alec Baldwin
as Jimmy Swaggart
Steve Allen
as Himself
Mojo Nixon
as James Van Eaton
Jimmie Vaughn
as Roland James
Jimmie Vaughan
as Roland James
David Ferguson
as Jack Clement
Robert Lesser
as Alan Freed
Paula Person
as Marilyn
Valerie Wellington
as Big Maybelle
Booker T. Laury
as Piano Slim
Carol Russell
as Mamie Lewis
Crystal Robbins
as Frankie Jean
Tav Falco
as New Bassist
Ryan Rushton
as Young Jimmy
Bert Dedman
as Young Jerry
Bruce Stuart
as Bank Teller
W.W. Painter
as Onlooker
Jody Lynne
as Party Doll
Joseph Woodward Jr.
as Wedding Preacher
Linn Sitler
as Realty Agent
David A. Penhale
as Reporter #1
Sara Van Horn
as Minnie Belle
John Mulrooney
as Talk Show Host
Priscilla Harris
as Honky-Tonk Angel
Steven O'Donnell
as Heckler #2
John Tordoff
as Cockney Porter
Keith Henry McDaniel
as Haney's Big House Dancer
Rufus Thomas
as Haney's Big House Dancer
Peter Cook
as English Reporter #1
Kim Smith
as English Reporter #2
David Sibley
as English Reporter #3
Susan Lonergan
as Rebel Room Dancer
Bonnie Beutler
as Rebel Room Dancer
Chris Solari
as Rebel Room Dancer
Snowy Winters
as Rebel Room Dancer
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Critic Reviews for Great Balls of Fire

All Critics (25) | Top Critics (3)

Ryder and Quaid seem to be in two different movies, but Baldwin is brilliant.

June 26, 2003 | Rating: 3/5
Top Critic

Great Balls of Fire gives us a Jerry Lee Lewis who has been sanitized, popularized and lobotomized. Even then, the story ends in 1959 - before most of the events for which "The Killer" became notorious.

January 1, 2000 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

This film is bad. Boringly bad.

January 20, 2022 | Full Review…

Fire is a fascinating, often terribly compelling failure. Much like Lewis's life, I suppose.

August 26, 2009 | Rating: C | Full Review…

Underrated Dennis Quad performance as rocker Jerry Lee Lewis.

March 19, 2009 | Rating: 4/5

Quaid is surprisingly good and has plenty of fun in this musical biopic.

November 15, 2005 | Rating: 4/5

Audience Reviews for Great Balls of Fire

I loved this biography movie, and I don't usually like biopics that much. The actors are fantastic, and it's full of all the great songs from Lewis. I highly recommend this movie to both fans of the actors and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Aj V
Aj V

Super Reviewer

Ok movie.

Tim Salmons
Tim Salmons

Super Reviewer

OK, but unlike biopics where the actor "tranforms" into the character (Coal Miner's Daughter, Ray), Dennis Quaid didn't BEGIN to convince me that he the "Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis. Yeah, he had the moves and the energy, but the passion for the music was fake. Quaid didn't 'feel" it like Jerry Lee. Oh and his central Lousiana accent sucked balls. And Quaid is from right down the road in Texas. He should know better.

Cindy I
Cindy I

Super Reviewer

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