Metascore
97

Universal acclaim - based on 48 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 47 out of 48
  2. Negative: 0 out of 48
  1. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 7, 2013
    100
    There has never been a movie like 12 Years a Slave, which is Hollywood's shame. Miss it, and that mistake is yours.
  2. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    The acting is outstanding, the direction assured if straightforward. 12 Years a Slave is a history lesson of the best type. It’s brilliant. But, more crucially, it’s important. It’s brutal truth that demands to be seen.
  3. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    12 Years a Slave has some of the awkwardness and inauthenticity of a foreign-made film about the United States. The dialogue of the Washington, D.C., slave traders sounds as if it were written for "Lord of the Rings." White plantation workers speak in standard redneck cliches. And yet the ways in which this film is true are much more important than the ways it's false.
  4. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    Most nations, ours included, still tolerate some form of slavery or indentured servitude. And 12 Years shows the cruelty of denying not only someone’s freedom but his identity. Take away the essence of a human being – whether he’s in fetters or not – and you destroy him.
  5. Reviewed by: Calvin Wilson
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    Ultimately hopeful, but uncompromising in its commitment to exposing a tragic chapter in history.
  6. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    One of the best things about 12 Years a Slave is that McQueen renders all the characters with the same depth and complexity as his protagonist.
  7. Reviewed by: Steve Davis
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    Brutal yet elegant, 12 Years a Slave is a beautifully rendered punch to the gut about the most shameful chapter in American history.
  8. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    There's something Shakespearean about it. From the case of mistaken identity (though willfully mistaken) to the formal, old-fashioned language to the tragic tone in which it is all swaddled, this is Shakespeare by way of the Deep South.
  9. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Oct 24, 2013
    100
    It speaks to the courage and resilience of one man, the savagery of many, and the potential, for both good and for ill, in us all.
  10. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Oct 24, 2013
    100
    12 Years a Slave is to the “peculiar institution” what “Schindler’s List” was to the Holocaust: a work that, finally, asks a mainstream audience to confront the worst of what humanity can do to itself. If there’s no Oskar Schindler here, that’s partly the point.
  11. Reviewed by: Tom Huddleston
    Oct 20, 2013
    100
    What 12 Years a Slave is really interested in is creating an honest, believable experience: in culture and context, place and people, soil and skin. The result can, at times, be alienating.
  12. Reviewed by: Bob Mondello
    Oct 18, 2013
    100
    It is Ejiofor — bewildered, sorely tested, morally towering — whose staggered dignity anchors the film.
  13. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Far from the push-button catharsis offered by most Hollywood redemption tales, the work is sober and deliberate, a mix of visceral intensity and artful design.
  14. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    12 Years a Slave offers no false Hollywood catharsis along with its muted happy ending, because we’re not free from the curse of slavery yet. Looking at it, as it really was, is a start.
  15. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Well-meaning films like “Lincoln’’ and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler’’ merely scratch the surface compared to the deep and painful truths laid bare by 12 Years a Slave. It’s about time, Scarlett O’Hara.
  16. Reviewed by: Ann Hornaday
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Intense, unflinching, bold in its simplicity and radical in its use of image, sound and staging, 12 Years a Slave in many ways is the defining epic so many have longed for to examine — if not cauterize — America’s primal wound.
  17. Reviewed by: Richard Roeper
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Unflinchingly directed by Steve McQueen, led by Ejiofor’s magnificent work, 12 Years a Slave is what we talk about when we talk about greatness in film.
  18. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    This is impressive filmmaking, but it is not easy to take in.
  19. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    McQueen has made a film comparable to “Schindler’s List” — art that may be hard to watch, but which is an essential look at man’s inhumanity to man. It is wrenching, but 12 Years a Slave earns its tears in a way few films ever do.
  20. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    The harrowing 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing period drama for the ages.
  21. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of 12 Years a Slave.
  22. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    While this is very much a McQueen picture, with visual flourishes and motifs unmistakably his, the historical urgency and staggering injustice of the events keep McQueen and company utterly honest in their approach and in their collective act of imagining Solomon Northup's odyssey to hell and back.
  23. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Proving himself a world-class director, McQueen basically makes slaves of us all. It hurts to watch it. You won't be able to tuck this powder keg in the corner of your mind and forget it. What we have here is a blistering, brilliant, straight-up classic.
  24. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    The genius of 12 Years a Slave is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.
  25. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Oct 16, 2013
    100
    It's Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds 12 Years a Slave together.
  26. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Oct 15, 2013
    100
    If the best films hold you in a captive vise, entertain you, keep you spellbound and teach you something at the same time, then 12 Years a Slave is outstanding — brave, courageous and unforgettable.
  27. Reviewed by: David Fear
    Oct 15, 2013
    100
    Though McQueen continues to work his themes of suffering and spiritual transcendence, this unflinching, unforgiving drama is not about a slave, but about slavery itself.
  28. 100
    McQueen and his stellar cast take us on a difficult journey, an odyssey that will make you want to avert your eyes. It is to their great credit that we don’t.
  29. Reviewed by: David Denby
    Oct 14, 2013
    100
    12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery.
  30. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Sep 14, 2013
    100
    A document that is raw, eloquent, horrifying and essential.
  31. Reviewed by: Tim Robey
    Sep 14, 2013
    100
    Elicits from McQueen a directing job that's compellingly humble but also majestic, because his radical showmanship is turned to such precise, human purposes.
  32. Reviewed by: Paul MacInnes
    Sep 14, 2013
    100
    Stark, visceral and unrelenting, 12 Years a Slave is not just a great film but a necessary one.
  33. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    Sep 2, 2013
    100
    Though the film brims with memorable characters, the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor, who upholds the character’s dignity throughout.
  34. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Sep 2, 2013
    100
    More than a powerful elegy, 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics: McQueen turns a topic rendered distant by history into an experience that, short of living through the terrible era it depicts, makes you feel as if you've been there.
  35. Reviewed by: A.A. Dowd
    Oct 16, 2013
    91
    If there was any doubt that this is a horror movie, Hans Zimmer’s score pounds and roars with dread — the appropriate soundtrack for the madness of history.
  36. Reviewed by: Chris Willman
    Sep 2, 2013
    91
    This revolving door of graphically rendered brutalities might feel like its own punishment if not for an array of astonishing performances that’s practically a one-stop Oscar-nomination shopping spree.
  37. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Oct 17, 2013
    90
    It’s the unhappiest happy ending I’ve ever seen, a moment that makes you weep not just for this one man who found his way back to freedom, but for all those men and women who never knew it in the first place.
  38. Reviewed by: Scott Tobias
    Oct 15, 2013
    90
    [McQueen's] film is a tough, soul-sickening, uncompromising work of art that makes certain that when viewers talk about the evils of slavery, they know its full dimension.
  39. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Sep 2, 2013
    90
    Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish.
  40. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Oct 24, 2013
    88
    12 Years a Slave is by no means light entertainment but it provides a more worthwhile cinematic experience than about 90% of what's out there and the impressions it leaves aren't easily dismissed or dispelled.
  41. Reviewed by: Susan Wloszczyna
    Oct 18, 2013
    88
    A somber, meditative, almost poetic film that delivers the horrors of bondage stripped down and head-on.
  42. Reviewed by: William Goss
    Sep 2, 2013
    86
    Ejiofor’s tightly clenched conviction perfectly embodies hope and righteousness against all odds. He gives the best performance of his career to date, and what’s more, he gives “Slave” its bruised, beating heart with every scene.
User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 723 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 25 out of 175
  1. Oct 18, 2013
    10
    Chiwetel Ejiofor is so impressive in this incredibly intense, visceral film. (When it ended, nobody in my theater moved for a period of time, and there was no round of applause mostly, it seemed, because of the shock of it all. Clapping didn’t seem like the right thing to do.) The fact that we experience the story from the perspective of a kidnapped free man makes the film instantly relatable. I was so happy to have watched all of Tom Fontana’s excellent “Copper” which features an African American civil war veteran doctor living in New York, and all of his family’s struggles in Five Points. Solomon, a New Yorker kidnapped from Washington DC, could be any of us. The Southern landscape as it likely existed in those days provides such a beautiful-yet- eerie backdrop to this movie. What I particularly appreciate the fact that all the shots are confined you never see very far into the distance. There’s never any perspective on things. When the boat transporting the kidnapped south moves, you see the paddlewheels. On the plantations, you see the three or four acres where the slaves live. You never get any aerial shots, which is so effective in giving you a disoriented, lost feel. Even if Solomon wants to escape, he has no idea where the hell he is, and neither do we. The acting in general is uniformly excellent. Fassbender? Wow. Not since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List has an actor put out so completely for the detestable guy role and to such great effect. Full Review »
  2. Oct 23, 2013
    2
    Well, here comes the biggest Oscar-fisher of the year. A totally unnecessary film with every star they could have possibly packed in there for exactly that purpose does nothing special with its characters or its plot (pun unintended). It's kind of entertaining, sure, but not in a way that makes you want to watch it again. It's just kind of there and a tad formulaic. It even feels a bit exploitative (it's a film about life in slavery with an astonishing number of recognizable names in it, but no one who really *fits* into the role. "Dirty Pretty Things" portrayed a few similar themes *FAR* better, and the protagonist was even likable. Can we ever get a slavery-victim role that portrays a realistic human, and not just stereotypes of what we were taught in elementary school?) in its portrayal of the time period, and takes the "drama" genre to the breaking point. Full Review »
  3. Nov 3, 2013
    2
    Beyond the intriguing premise (a man is kidnapped into slavery) this movie goes nowhere. Brutal, repetitive, and pointless. What is the subtext? What is the message? Slavery was bad? No character development, no plot development. Just one graphic depiction of cruelty after another. Brad Pitt's accent is ridiculous.

    Compare this movie to Schindler's List or even Roots and it pales in comparison.

    Skip "Twelve Years A Slave" and save yourself an extremely unpleasant 2 hours.
    Full Review »