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Lee Daniels' The Butler Review Critics


Dave White Profile

Not a sequel to The Help. At all. Read full review

Other Critics provided by

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

  • 4.0

    out of 100

    Generally favorable reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 60

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    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.

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  • 60

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy

    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.

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  • 63

    out of 100

    Chicago Tribune Michael Phillips

    The Butler tells a lot of different stories, some more effectively than others.

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  • 70

    out of 100

    Variety Scott Foundas

    There’s no denying, though, that Daniels knows how to push an audience’s buttons, and as crudely obvious as The Butler can’s also genuinely rousing. By the end, it’s hard not to feel moved, if also more than a bit manhandled.

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  • 75

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    Authentic emotion competes with manufactured sentiment for the heart of Lee Daniels' The Butler.

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  • 80

    out of 100

    Village Voice Stephanie Zacharek

    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.

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  • 83

    out of 100

    Entertainment Weekly

    As Cecil, Whitaker is mesmerizing. The actor seems to shrink into his imposing frame, summoning a performance of quiet, bottled-up force.

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  • 88

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Richard Roeper

    This is an important film presented as mainstream entertainment. It’s a great American story.

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  • See all Lee Daniels' The Butler reviews at

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 13+

Well-acted civil rights tale is moving but too formulaic.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sweeping look at the history of African-American life in the United States, as witnessed by a black butler (Forest Whitaker) who spent three decades working in the White House. Since the movie chronicles the history of the civil rights movement, there are many scenes that portray hate crimes -- like two lynched men hanging from a tree and a black sharecropper being shot for saying one word to his white boss. White Southerners are also shown raping, killing, shooting, burning, intimidating, and otherwise terrorizing black protesters. Adults smoke cigarettes and drink; one character is an alcoholic who has a drink in most of her scenes. There's also some language (one "f--k," plus "s--t" and many racial epithets) and kissing, as well as the suggestion of an affair. Audiences will get an overview of how various presidents felt about race relations, as well as the methods and ideologies of the civil rights movement.

  • Families can talk about American history and how it's witnessed by Cecil and his family. Even though Lee Daniels' The Butler is dedicated to those who worked in the civil rights movement, the protagonist is an apolitical butler. Why is his eyewitness account to history so compelling?
  • What would you say the movie's main message is about the civil rights movement? Which character are viewers meant to identify with the most?
  • What did you learn about the civil rights movement, the history of segregation, or the way that various presidents dealt with race relations? Do you think the movie is entirely accurate? Why might filmmakers take liberty with the facts?

The good stuff
  • message true1

    Messages: Cecil and Louis both show how necessary it is to stand up to injustice, even if it's risky or dangerous. The movie chronicles how each president dealt with issues of race and equal rights and stresses that there's dignity in a job well done.

  • rolemodels true1

    Role models: Cecil and his son, Louis, exemplify two archetypal figures in African-American history: the hardworking black domestic (as Martin Luther King Jr. calls Cecil in the movie) and the civil rights activist who defies inequality with non-violent protest. MLK gives a heartfelt tribute to the importance of African-American service workers. President Kennedy tells Cecil that he never knew how hard African Americans had it until he saw televised scenes of Southern terrorism.

What to watch for
  • violence false2

    Violence: Many race-based hate crimes, including scenes that show two lynched black men hanging from a tree; a black sharecropper who's shot point blank for saying one word to his white boss; several scenes of white Southerners (including civilians, police officers, and the Ku Klux Klan) beating up, setting fire to, and otherwise terrorizing black civil rights activists; and the notorious D.C. riots of 1968. A cotton worker is raped (off camera). Jackie Kennedy is shown with blood covering her suit after her husband's assassination. Civil rights workers are shot at, burned out of their freedom ride bus, arrested, and ridiculed.

  • sex false2

    Sex: Married couples kiss and embrace on several occasions -- sometimes in bed. It's suggested that Gloria is having an affair with Howard, who kisses her. Louis is in love with Carol, but they're never shown doing more than kissing briefly. President Carter tells an off-color joke.

  • language false2

    Language: Occasional strong language includes "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," "ass," "damn," "hell," "son of a bitch," "goddamn," "oh my God," and many uses of racial epithets like the "N" word, "coon," and more. One use of "f--k."

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not too many brands are shown, except for Budweiser beer and a Lincoln Continental.

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Adults drink a lot (particularly Gloria, who's an alcoholic) and smoke cigarettes (accurate for many of the time periods the movie passes through).