Generally favorable reviews - based on 26 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 22 out of 26
  2. Negative: 2 out of 26
  1. 100
    Sarandon delivers one of her very best performances; her shock at encountering the wrath of the victim's family is registered beautifully. And Sean Penn, who for too long has suffered with the label of being a "bad boy," gives an Oscar-caliber performance.[12 January 1996, Friday, p.B]
  2. 100
    It's ironic that a film with this title should be among the most vital, alive, and challenging cinema experiences of the year.
  3. 100
    This film ennobles filmmaking.
  4. Acting rarely gets better than this.
  5. Reviewed by: Mike Clark
    Happily, there's nothing to misconstrue about the film: It's fabulous.
  6. A bold, searching, wrenching experience. It may be the most complexly impassioned message movie Hollywood has ever made.
  7. Reviewed by: Gary Kamiya
    Possesses that rarest of qualities: moral humility.
  8. Reviewed by: Jimmy Fowler
    Dead Man Walking drops a massive, writhing knot of sorrow in your lap and then doesn't tell you what to do with it. If that doesn't sound like entertainment to you, you're right. It does something far more profound: It finds the tragic universal core of a contentious issue.
  9. Reviewed by: John Hartl
    Sean Penn gives the most riveting, selfless performance of his career.
  10. Reviewed by: Jonathan Richards
    A complex, myriad-faceted work of art.
  11. Reviewed by: Sean Means
    Their (Sarandon, Penn) performances and Robbins' drive to ask questions without offering easy answers make Dead Man Walking a thought-provoking drama not to be missed or dismissed.
  12. Reviewed by: Richard Schickel
    It is a measure of its complexity--and of the forces Penn and Sarandon have held in reserve during their hypnotic struggle for his soul--that its final moments leave us awash in emotion.
  13. Reviewed by: Emanuel Levy
    An intimate chamber piece for two, superbly acted by Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, this is a mature, well-crafted movie.
  14. An extremely affecting experience, down to the last agonizing moment.
  15. Reviewed by: Hal Hinson
    What this intelligent, balanced, devastating movie puts before us is nothing less than a contest between good and evil.
  16. Reviewed by: Alison Macor
    Robbins' direction and script are nearly flawlessly rich. There are no easy answers on death row, and Dead Man Walking makes this painfully, powerfully clear.
  17. Reviewed by: Anne Harris
    This isn't a crowd-pleaser in terms of subject matter -- you've got a convict and a nun, with no love scenes -- but Robbins keeps it interesting.
  18. Unusual in both its subject matter and its approach, this film guides us on a pair of intertwined paths American movies rarely venture down.
  19. Reviewed by: David Ansen
    No simple diatribe against capital punishment, it's a strong film, made stronger by two terrific performances.
  20. The movie is often preachy and self-conscious, especially in long dialogue scenes, where Robbins's inexpert scriptwriting makes people talk at instead of with each other. Yet the picture's solid assets enable it to soar above such problems, both intellectually and emotionally. [29 December 1995, Film, p.13]
  21. Reviewed by: Frank Lovece
    Sarandon is terrific and Penn is in top form, but the film is an achingly earnest message movie with a curiously muddled message.
  22. Has its awkward and square moments directorially, but it's also uncommonly honest and serious.
  23. Reviewed by: Tom Keogh
    Overpraised, intellectually soft, narratively unfocused, and thematically ambivalent.
  24. The picture is cloudy in intent. That cloudiness is deepened by Susan Sarandon's performance as Sister Helen. If she were giving the role what it seems to demand, a glow of true religious light, the film would have some organic cohesion, a strong spiritual cord running through it. But Sarandon does little more than present her face. [Feb. 5, 1996]
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 50 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 13 out of 16
  2. Negative: 2 out of 16
  1. Aug 11, 2014
    Dead Man Walking has great performances, relevant messages about life and controversial topics like the death penalty, and a fine story. However, the movie can be overly sentimental at times, plus it could've been cut a good 10 minutes. Nonetheless, it's worth a watch. Full Review »
  2. Apr 23, 2013
    Challenging, affecting, and uncommonly well-performed, "Dead Man Walking" earnestly displays a worthwhile and incisive loyalty to its powerful source material. Full Review »
  3. May 30, 2012
    Its was not an easy watch. Sean Penn's character almost never moves from the cell and talks to the nun from through bars. Structuring the film like this leads to a very boring script where nothing happens, it is predictable from start to finish. I would recommend this movie to someone who wants to consider the pro and cons of the death sentence, but it is definitely not an entertaining movie. Full Review »