Metascore
66

Generally favorable reviews - based on 47 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 30 out of 47
  2. Negative: 0 out of 47
  1. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Aug 14, 2013
    80
    Make no mistake, Daniels is gunning for awards here; the movie has that sheen, that Big Important Feel. But the performances keep it grounded. Let someone else decide winners and losers. Just enjoy “The Butler” for the sometimes-moving experience it is.
  2. Reviewed by: Marjorie Baumgarten
    Aug 14, 2013
    67
    A host of A-list stars have been enlisted to play small roles in a bid for viewer engagement. See Mariah Carey in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-her role as Cecil Gaines’ maltreated mother.
  3. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Aug 15, 2013
    88
    The Butler is a remarkable, even exhilarating movie not for its inherent Gump-itude but for the social portrait that gimmick allows.
  4. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Aug 15, 2013
    83
    Whitaker’s performance reveals a man who unobtrusively changes white people around him – perhaps without trying or even knowing it – through his demeanor and ability.
  5. Reviewed by: Richard Roeper
    Aug 15, 2013
    88
    This is an important film presented as mainstream entertainment. It’s a great American story.
  6. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Aug 15, 2013
    63
    The Butler tells a lot of different stories, some more effectively than others.
  7. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Aug 16, 2013
    67
    Ungainly and overly ambitious, The Butler tries to encompass too much history within too narrow a framework.
  8. Reviewed by: Simon Braund
    Nov 11, 2013
    60
    Manipulative and preachy, The Butler is redeemed by a sensitive performance from Forest Whitaker and the undeniable power of the events it depicts.
  9. Reviewed by: Chris Nashawaty
    Aug 7, 2013
    83
    As Cecil, Whitaker is mesmerizing. The actor seems to shrink into his imposing frame, summoning a performance of quiet, bottled-up force.
  10. Reviewed by: Laremy Legel
    Aug 13, 2013
    64
    Full of truth that's ultimately diluted by a lack of focus.
  11. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Aug 8, 2013
    75
    The Butler carries an authenticity that sustains it through its cloying stretches.
  12. Reviewed by: Kenneth Turan
    Aug 15, 2013
    60
    Daniels' pulp instincts do lead to vivid sequences...but this is one significant film where less would have been a whole lot more.
  13. 63
    The patchwork story and pacing robs The Butler of the wit and heart that might have made it a companion piece to the far simpler and more powerful “The Help.” Daniels settles for a soapy, preachy American history version of “Downton Abbey.”
  14. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Aug 15, 2013
    63
    Lee Daniels’ The Butler is creaky and sentimental and schmaltzy. The movie lacks any of the unhinged qualities of Daniels’ previous films (The Paperboy, Precious, Shadowboxer).
  15. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Aug 16, 2013
    60
    Making it even more intriguing is the fact that the whole thing is, extraordinarily, inspired by a true story.
  16. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Aug 15, 2013
    80
    A singularly full-hearted and moving film.
  17. 70
    Crudely ­powerful. You can object to the thuggish direction and the script that’s a series of signposts, but not the central idea, which is genuinely illuminating.
  18. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Aug 14, 2013
    63
    Although director Lee Daniels dials things down a bit here, subtlety is not what he does. That strategy worked for “Precious’’ but turned his more recent “The Paperboy’’ into a feature-length howler.
  19. Reviewed by: Mark Jenkins
    Aug 16, 2013
    55
    Many of the White House scenes are jarringly motley, as Whitaker maintains Gaines' dignity against a series of performances that range from bland (James Marsden's JFK) to cartoonish (Liev Schreiber's LBJ). It comes as a relief when Daniels reduces Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford to TV clips — though that strategy makes the film even more of a stylistic jumble.
  20. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Aug 15, 2013
    75
    For all its faults - and there are many, from shameless compression of events to milk the drama for all it's worth, to the gimmicky miscasting of several commanders-in-chief (Robin Williams as Eisenhower is especially egregious) - The Butler is an inspiring and important summation of the black struggle.
  21. Reviewed by: Marc Mohan
    Aug 19, 2013
    58
    By trying to inflate one remarkable life story into the chronicle of a generation, Daniels fills what could have been an inspirational, personal saga with a lot of hot air.
  22. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Aug 19, 2013
    75
    With The Butler, director Lee Daniels has managed to "Gump" the Civil Rights movement. That's not necessarily a bad thing but there are times when so many famous cameos threaten to become a distraction, especially since they're only tangentially germane to the main story.
  23. Reviewed by: Steven Boone
    Aug 16, 2013
    75
    Daniels delights in his actors, all of whom accept the challenge of bringing something true and vibrant to their various sketchily written characters with the enthusiasm of celebrity competition-show contestants.
  24. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Aug 15, 2013
    63
    It's watching Cecil open his eyes, in Whitaker's reflective, powerfully understated performance, that fills this flawed film with potency and purpose. Striving really does bring its own glory.
  25. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Aug 14, 2013
    60
    Lee Daniels’ The Butler is big, brave, crude and contradictory, very bad in places and very good in others, and every American should see it.
  26. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Aug 15, 2013
    50
    A nice idea for a movie, but has a mostly silly script and some of the craziest and most laughable casting imaginable. But the movie's main challenge is a simple one: It is very difficult, next to impossible, to build a movie around an inert, inactive character.
  27. Reviewed by: Chris Cabin
    Aug 11, 2013
    88
    With the film, Lee Daniels quietly pushes his talent for hashing out visceral, violent emotions into unexpected dramatic terrain.
  28. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Aug 15, 2013
    70
    The director’s sometimes absurd bravado — along with Forest Whitaker’s grave, wise performance in the title role — is what gives this outsized and sometimes lumbering film its irrefutable emotional power.
  29. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Aug 15, 2013
    75
    With Whitaker, Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong pulling the strings, The Butler can take a bow.
  30. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Aug 15, 2013
    75
    It's rare to wish a movie were an hour or two longer, when it already feels an hour longer than it is.
  31. Reviewed by: Ben Kenigsberg
    Aug 14, 2013
    67
    As history, The Butler’s parade of famous moments and figures is superficial to the point of trivialization, reducing years of turmoil to glib sound bites. But in its square, melodramatic way, the movie has a serious point to make.
  32. Reviewed by: Nathan Rabin
    Aug 14, 2013
    40
    Instead of committing wholeheartedly to telling the story of a single family, Daniels gets distracted trying to tell the story of our nation’s complicated racial history.
  33. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Aug 15, 2013
    63
    The Butler may be a sanctimonious cartoon, but it points to events in the civil rights struggle that were as grotesque and extraordinary as any fiction can invent.
  34. Reviewed by: Katy Rich
    Aug 9, 2013
    40
    A great film about the American civil rights movement is way overdue. The Butler, overwhelmed by flash and good intentions, doesn't even come close.
  35. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Aug 9, 2013
    60
    Inspiring if not inspired, Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sort of Readers' Digest overview of the 20th century American civil rights movement centered on an ordinary individual with an extraordinary perspective.
  36. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Aug 15, 2013
    100
    A brilliantly truthful film on a subject that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial.
  37. Reviewed by: David Denby
    Aug 19, 2013
    60
    The Butler is a lightweight, didactic movie, a kind of well-produced high-school entertainment.
  38. Reviewed by: Kimber Myers
    Aug 9, 2013
    58
    Lee Daniels’ The Butler could be an important film that comes at a time where race is still a challenging topic for America, but it succeeds less as a film than as a history lesson.
  39. Reviewed by: Jenny McCartney
    Nov 20, 2013
    80
    The Butler might bite off more history than it can chew, but it packs a sustained emotional punch, more than a pinch of wit, and a superb performance from Whitaker as a man burning with passion beneath his immaculate, repressed exterior.
  40. Reviewed by: Trevor Johnston
    Nov 12, 2013
    60
    The result isn’t as powerful as it should be. But it’s still cheering to see a film whose moral journey has little to do with the usual Hollywood chestnut of white middle-class consciousness-raising.
  41. Reviewed by: Keith Uhlich
    Aug 9, 2013
    60
    Viewers familiar with Daniels’s idiosyncratically vulgar work might be disappointed that there’s little here that compares to Nicole Kidman loosing a yellow stream on Zac Efron’s jellyfish stings in "The Paperboy" (2012).
  42. Reviewed by: Tony Horkins
    Nov 7, 2013
    60
    It may skip so quickly through historic events that it can feel rushed and flimsy, but excellent performances elevate it to serious Oscar contender.
  43. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Aug 15, 2013
    75
    Authentic emotion competes with manufactured sentiment for the heart of Lee Daniels' The Butler.
  44. Reviewed by: Scott Foundas
    Aug 8, 2013
    70
    There’s no denying, though, that Daniels knows how to push an audience’s buttons, and as crudely obvious as The Butler can be...it’s also genuinely rousing. By the end, it’s hard not to feel moved, if also more than a bit manhandled.
  45. Reviewed by: Stephanie Zacharek
    Aug 13, 2013
    80
    Daniels is that rare contemporary filmmaker who's not afraid of melodrama. The Butler is so old-school it feels modern: Stylistically, it could have been made 30 years ago, but its time is now.
  46. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Aug 15, 2013
    60
    The butler, Cecil Gaines, is a fictional creation, an African-American Forrest Gump who bears special witness to the civil-rights movement while serving on the White House staff under seven presidents. The contrivance is stretched to its breaking point over a running time of 132 minutes; some of the episodes cross a different line from almost plausible to downright silly. That's not the whole story, though.
  47. Reviewed by: John Anderson
    Aug 15, 2013
    50
    Even as Cecil lives his life slightly adjacent to history, building a heroic film around him requires herculean effort.
User Score
6.7

Generally favorable reviews- based on 150 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 36 out of 50
  2. Negative: 4 out of 50
  1. Tac
    Aug 18, 2013
    1
    Predictable message movie. Save your money and watch it at home so you can fast forward through the boring parts. Oprah is better as a talk show host.
    Wierd casting choices aside from Forrest Whitaker who was good.
    Full Review »
  2. Aug 22, 2013
    1
    Aside from casting Jane Fonda as Mrs. Reagan, this movie failed to show the greater struggle over adversity. Perhaps, this is because it was a quick-moving period piece. Oftentimes, the misplaced humor downplayed the next scene which may have been tragic and/or historic. Scenes where occasionally confusing due to a jump in time and reference point.. The storyline contributed to the movie's disappointment; that is-it wasn't a story about an employee in the White House, but the story of that employee's personal life. This movie reminded me of a Hallmark special. Full Review »
  3. Aug 16, 2013
    4
    It has been a long time since Hollywood had made a family saga spanning 90 years but it hasn’t been that long since ‘based on a true story’ has been distorted and changed and Lee Daniels’ The Butler’ does both. The screenplay is by Danny Strong telling 3 different stories that sometimes gels and other times remain separate and apart. The first story is about Eugene Allen, here named Cecil Gaines, and played by Forest Whitaker, who was the butler at the White House during 8 administrations, with stunt casting of presidents and first ladies. The second story is of his marriage to Gloria Gaines, played by Oprah Winfrey, and his two sons Louis and Charlie, played by various actors at different ages (in real life they only had one son), while the third story is the history of Black America, Black Americans and the fight for their civil rights ending in 2008 with Obama, the president elect.

    There are major roles played by Cuba Gooding, jr., Terrence Howard, James Holloway, Yaya Alafia, Elijah Kelly, David Oyelowo, Lenny Kravitz, Colman Domingo and Clarence Williams 3rd all doing better than good jobs.

    Most adults will be familiar with all the civil rights pictures, some recreated, some shown in their original TV stories, such as sit-ins, Freedom Riders, the Black Panther Party, Blacks being hit with water hoses and Black people being put in jail while it might be a good, and new, lesson to those under 35.

    The stunt casting has Robin Williams as President Eisenhower, Liev Schreiber as President Johnson, James Marsden playing John Kennedy, Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as President and Mrs. Reagan, John Cusack as Nixon, Minka Kelly as Jackie Kennedy and Nelson Ellis. There are appearances by Mariah Carey, Vanessa Redgrave, David Banner and Alex Pettyfer.

    Forest Whitaker holds the picture together, while Winfrey as his wife gives him solid support. The director, Lee Daniels, loses control of the 3 separate stories, not melding them as well as he should, but does go for the tear ducts and manipulates the audiences feelings. The production values covering the decades of costumes, make-up, hair designs and set designs are first rate from beginning to end.

    The bottom line is that you who lived through the events won’t be able to avoid the feelings but you will feel tricked by the corny screenplay.
    Full Review »