Generally favorable reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 32 out of 34
  2. Negative: 0 out of 34

Critic Reviews

  1. Reviewed by: Brooke Hauser
    While it may be excruciating to watch a speller miss a word by a letter, it's just as exciting to watch another kid jump the hurdle.
  2. Resembles a Christopher Guest movie in that it follows obsessed, socially awkward folks on a seminal journey in their lives.
  3. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    At its most unsettling level, Spellbound asks us to consider what words are for and what childhood should be. It's as profound as anything you'll see this year, and, yes, it should have won the Oscar.
  4. Thrilling little epic set in the bewildering arena of the English language.
  5. 91
    The end result is the best documentary you'll see this year, as thrilling a competition as any Super Bowl and as suspenseful a story as any Hitchcock film.
  6. Not only is it an enormously entertaining study of a curiously American institution, it also manages to be a nail-biting competition film, an engrossing group character study and a wonderfully graceful comedy of manners.
  7. Enough drama, humor and unfiltered nail-biting suspense to put all the thrill-mongering screenwriters in Hollywood to shame.
  8. 90
    Just might be the most action-packed suspense thriller of the summer.
  9. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    The movie becomes a nail-biter, the audience hanging on every letter. Who could have anticipated that a spelling competition would yield such a heartbreaking thriller?
  10. At a time when so many in this country are at odds about what represents America at its best, it's refreshing and then some to see a film that everyone can agree is an example of exactly that.
  11. 89
    As good, old-fashioned dorkfests go, it doesn't get much better than the National Spelling Bee, with its arcane words, bespectacled competitors, and stinging little bell.
  12. 88
    Boasts all of the drama and suspense of any reality TV show, but it actually stars smart people. And they're kids.
  13. I love this movie, and I love the pride, spirit and sportsmanship of the kids who represent the best of American pluck and luck.
  14. The terrific Spellbound really isn't about the ability to tear words apart letter by letter. It's about nerve-wracking competitiveness.
  15. 88
    By the time they're onstage, your pulse is pounding right along with theirs. Spell this movie: g-r-e-a-t.
  16. Wall Street Journal
    Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    More to the point of this marvelous film, who knew there were kids as heroic, in their various ways, as these valiant super-spellers?
  17. 80
    For the committed word nerd, spelling has its intrinsic pleasures, but in Spellbound it's another example of the peculiarly American mania for turning everything -- even play --into work.
  18. 80
    Blitz captures the intensity of the bee itself, showing how it frazzles the nerves of even the most well-prepared spellers as, one by one, their colleagues and competitors drop away.
  19. 80
    Blitz shows us these kids in all their quirkiness and dorkiness, letting them do much of the talking as he records them and their families at home.
  20. Could hardly be more suspenseful if it were scripted.
  21. Consider it an athletic contest of the mind--ESPN does, as the sports network regularly televises the finals.
  22. Loses its momentum just when you'd expect the suspense to mount -- at the competition itself.
  23. 75
    One of the many pleasures in Spellbound is watching the reactions of these young brainiacs, all under the age of 14, as they first hear the word they are being asked to spell (''Is that even a word?'' seems to be a common thought passing through their heads.)
  24. 75
    As we watch them drilling with flashcards and worksheets, we hope they will win, but we're not sure what good it will do them.
  25. An enthralling, suspenseful documentary about spelling bees.
  26. Reviewed by: Ed Park
    In their randomness, the bee words take on an oracular quality--shades of kabbalistic gematria, or the "Sortes Vergilanae," the supernatural attributed to symbols on paper.
  27. 70
    Draws an unspoken parallel with, of all things, beauty pageants, complete with unnaturally driven kids and nervously supportive parents desperately trying not to appear too pushy.
  28. 70
    Can't help but be deeply engrossing, as it taps into a highly charged atmosphere that one parent dubs "a different form of child abuse."
  29. This could be a documentary about reading the body language of childhood.
  30. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Casts a potent spell.
  31. 63
    Despite rave reviews, film festival awards, and an Oscar nomination, Spellbound comes across as little more than a marginally compelling documentary -– the kind of movie that would be at home on PBS.
  32. Reviewed by: Ronnie Scheib
    Docu dispassionately examines this strange phenomenon of anachronistic Americana, created as a newspaper promotion in 1925.
  33. 50
    Many of the kids seem to be social outcasts of one kind or another, but Spellbound, which will show on cable later this year, doesn't dig deep enough to disturb the movie's relentless feel-good tone.

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 26 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 16
  2. Negative: 0 out of 16
  1. Jan 22, 2012
    This movie completely changed my outlook on life. I was 7 when I first saw it in theaters, and I was completely blown away. I was veryThis movie completely changed my outlook on life. I was 7 when I first saw it in theaters, and I was completely blown away. I was very impressionable, as so many 7 year olds are, and for the first month or so after I watched it, I had it decided that I too, was going to be a spelling bee kid. Obviously I didn't really stick with my plans of being a nationally ranked speller, but, a year ago, when I watched the movie again, I realized the impact this film had on me had just about nothing to do with spelling. Spellbound provides revealing insight on being the best, regardless of what hobby, sport, or subject you're trying to excel at. Surprisingly compelling, Spellbound ranks near the top of my list as far as documentaries go. Full Review »
  2. ChristopherJ.
    Mar 20, 2007
    A documentary that exposes the lifestyles of the nerdy and almost-famous spelling bee contest. The kids are fascinating and the parents are A documentary that exposes the lifestyles of the nerdy and almost-famous spelling bee contest. The kids are fascinating and the parents are what you'd expect them to be: strange. Full Review »