Generally favorable reviews - based on 28 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 21 out of 28
  2. Negative: 2 out of 28
Watch On
  1. Reviewed by: Ali Catterall
    Mar 19, 2014
    Philosophically complex, spiritual but anti-religious, harrowing yet hopeful.
  2. True art is a journey to somewhere you've never been, and there has never been a movie quite like Breaking the Waves.
  3. One of the most haunting and vital movies of the year.
  4. 100
    Not many movies like this get made, because not many filmmakers are so bold, angry and defiant.
  5. Reviewed by: Dave Kehr
    One of the most emotionally devastating movies of the decade.
  6. 100
    Not only one of the best films of the year, it's one of the best films of the decade.
  7. A movie about the passions of simple people, and it's done with such extraordinary empathy and commitment that it all but pulls you under. [29 November 1996, Friday, p.A]
  8. Reviewed by: Scott Tobias
    Apr 14, 2014
    The simplified, handheld camerawork and the idea of “cutting for emotion” rather than continuity gets the most out of his actors, who are free to clash and improvise within a scene without worrying about hitting their marks.
  9. 90
    "Waves" is a spellbinder.
  10. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    There are few movies around that take such huge risks: this is high-wire filmmaking, without a net of irony.
  11. A narrative path leading from the sincere to the ludicrous, and culminating in a final image of flabbergasting transcendance, gives Breaking the Waves its surprising power.
  12. 90
    What Von Trier arrives at is a complex, contemporary, and deeply moving exploration of faith.
  13. Reviewed by: David Stratton
    Watson is a major find as Bess. Graced with delicate, expressive features, she gives an extraordinary performance.
  14. With this artlessly profound and affecting story of love, von Trier emerges as one of those blessed filmmakers who've managed to blend their early stylistic flamboyance with enough human empathy to make their work both visually and emotionally compelling.
  15. 88
    If not for a somewhat forced catharsis during the epilogue (the weakest segment of the movie), Breaking the Waves would have been more wrenching than it is.
  16. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    In its pagan fervor, this is an almost religious experience.
  17. 80
    This is a dark, often funny walk through Ingmar Bergman turf.
  18. Reviewed by: John Hartl
    This long, sometimes hard-to-watch movie is a challenge, but it has authority and raw power.
  19. Reviewed by: Staff(not credited)
    A trying, contrary mix of religion and carnality that teeters on the verge of preposterous self-indulgence.
  20. You won't come out of it indifferent, and even if it winds up enraging you (I could have done without most of the ending myself), it nonetheless commands attention.
  21. Reviewed by: Tom Keogh
    Whether or not Breaking the Waves succeeds as a profound work is something that's hard to say after one viewing, but it is certainly a wholly original piece of work.
  22. Reviewed by: Angie Errigo
    Mar 19, 2014
    As frustrating as it is rewarding.
  23. Reviewed by: Sarah Kerr
    Audiences are likely to embrace Breaking the Waves as something rare and fierce and innovative, a passport into the depths of passion, but some people will reconsider when they get home.
  24. Shallow where it would be meaningful, demanding leaps of faith it has not earned, this film's marriage of arresting technique to empty thinking is not unique, only frustrating.
  25. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    The longer the movie drones on, the queasier it gets. [6 June 1997, Life, p.3D]
  26. Reviewed by: Keith Simanton
    It was a bleak allegory -- a desperate, sullen, and moderately sick tale.
  27. For this mortal, the film converts piety into pathology and then converts it back again at the end with a Song of Bernadette conclusion. I don't know what the title means. I do know that this ridiculous film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.[ Dec. 9, 1996]
  28. Although it contains many visually compelling passages and some provocative moments, the movie is strangely banal and simplistic.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 45 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 11 out of 14
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 14
  3. Negative: 3 out of 14
  1. LauraG
    Sep 22, 2008
    You just can't close your mouth once the movie has finished.
  2. JayH
    Aug 30, 2009
    Emotionally, the film is devastating, and it is certainly not a cheery movie. The performances are rich and deep, Emily Watson is amazing. I Emotionally, the film is devastating, and it is certainly not a cheery movie. The performances are rich and deep, Emily Watson is amazing. I was a bit disappointed in the ending however, but it is a very well crafted film. Full Review »
  3. antoñete
    Dec 29, 2006
    Unforgettable masterpiece with a masterclass perfomance by Emily Watson as Bess McNeill.