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Empire of the Sun Review

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 3.0

    out of 100

    Mixed or average reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 50

    out of 100

    USA Today Mike Clark

    A faithful, technically brilliant, but also dramatically malnourished film of J.G. Ballard's popular World War II novel. [08 Dec 1987]

  • 50

    out of 100

    Chicago Tribune Dave Kehr

    The film is sober, serious-minded and paced like a funeral march. [11 Dec 1987]

  • 63

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    Empire of the Sun adds up to a promising idea, a carefully observed production and some interesting performances.

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  • 75

    out of 100

    ReelViews James Berardinelli

    Empire of the Sun remains a solidly engaging story of heroism in the face of adversity, as filtered through the eyes of a boy obsessed with planes and flight.

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  • 80

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Julie Salamon

    With an edgy, intelligent script by playwright Tom Stoppard, Mr. Spielberg has made an extraordinary film out of Mr. Ballard's extraordinary war experience. [09 Dec 1987]

  • See all Empire of the Sun reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Iffy for 13+

Beautiful but grim WWII saga through a boy's eyes.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this war movie is grim, emotional, and violent. Expect scenes of bombing, shooting, clubbing, looting, stealing, dead bodies, and starving prisoners of war reduced to eating insects. But the film also contains some uplifting messages about helping others and the triumph of humanity over suffering. Some WWII-era racial insults.

  • Families can talk about the young protagonist's perception of war before and after it touches him directly. What are your perceptions of current war and political strife?
  • What messages does the movie express about materialism?

The good stuff
  • message true2

    Messages: The movie attempts to convey the idea that humanity can rise above desperate conditions, that selflessness is its own reward, and that wealth and privilege can blind people to others' suffering.

  • rolemodels true3

    Role models: Born into wealth, Jim is a spoiled and ungrateful young boy. But, once the catastrophe of war rids him of all luxuries, he evolves into an independent young man. He exudes compassion and generosity, placing others' needs before his own (unlike the majority of the other POWs who portray "every man for himself" attitudes). Although he is starving and abused, he shares his food rations with women and the elderly and keeps an open mind that all Japanese are not enemies. 

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: Lots of war violence: bombing, shooting, and clubbing. People killing people. Civilians flee tanks and bombs, and starving survivors fight for food. 

  • sex false2

    Sex: A married couple passionately kiss each other in bed while adolescent Jim curiously watches.

  • language false2

    Language: Dated derogatory names are used such as "jap," "chink" and "ol' boy."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not an issue

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Many characters smoke tobacco in an accurate reflection of the era. Some adults drink casually.