Malcolm X (1992)

TOMATOMETER

AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Anchored by a powerful performance from Denzel Washington, Spike Lee's biopic of the legendary civil rights leader brings his autobiography to life with an epic sweep and a nuanced message.


Movie Info

Writer-director Spike Lee's epic portrayal of the life and times of the slain civil rights leader Malcolm X begins with the cross-cut imagery of the police beating of black motorist Rodney King juxtaposed with an American flag burning into the shape of the letter X. When the film's narrative begins moments later, it jumps back to World War II-era Boston, where Malcolm Little (Denzel Washington) is making his living as a hustler. The son of a Baptist preacher who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan, … More

Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Spike Lee, Arnold Perl
In Theaters:
On DVD: Jan 18, 2000
Runtime:
Warner Bros.

Cast


as Dr. Betty Shabazz

as Elijah Muhammad

as Sophia

as Shorty

as Louise Little

as Earl Little

as Brother Earl

as Sidney

as Cadillac

as Toomer

as Ben Thomas

as William X

as Wilbur Kinley

as Thomas Hayer

as Elijah Muhammad's FO...

as Leon Davis

as TV Host

as Dr. Payson

as Eva Marie

as Sister Robin

as Mr. Cooper

as Wilfred-Age 8

as Simmons

as Woman Outside Audubo...

as Mr. Ostrowski

as Mrs. Swerlin

as Lionel Hampton

as Sister Evelyn Willia...

as Sister Lucille Rosar...

as Brother Gene

as Mr. Holway

as Conductor

as Brother Johnson

as Roderick

as Sophia's Husband

as Malcolm (age 5)

as young Malcolm

as Hilda (age 3)

as Hilda (age 8)

as Philbert (age 1)

as Philbert (age 6)

as Reginald (age 2)

as Elijah Muhammad's Gr...

as Elijah Muhammad's Gr...

as Yvonne (age 6 Months...

as Yvonne (age 6 Months...

as Yvonne (age 1)

as Quibillah (age 3)

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Ilyasah (age 2-3)

as Ilyasah (age 2-3)

as Ilyasah (age 2-3)

as Wilfred (age 4)

as Son of Elijah Muhamm...

as The `John'

as Mrs. Johnson

as Maid at Open Air Mar...

as White Woman in Marke...

as CIA Agent

as CIA Agent

as Hotel Clerk

as School Teacher

as Hospital Spokesperso...

as Roderick

as Cashier Person

as Numbers Woman

as Joe Louis Announcer

as Radio Announcer

as Soweto Teacher

as Sophia's Friend

as Barber's Customer

as Photographer

as Hustler at Grand Cen...

as Movie Goer

as Prison Barber

as Prison Guard

as Guard Baines

as Guard Cone

as Guard Wilkins

as 2nd Man

as Elderly Woman

as Shoeshine Boy

as Follower at Temple N...

as Follower at Temple N...

as Follower at Temple N...

as Follower at Temple N...

as Follower at Temple N...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Student in Harlem Cl...

as Customer

as Customer

as Customer

as Prisoner

as Prisoner

as Prisoner

as Prisoner

as Prisoner

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as TV Reporter

as JFK Reporter

as JFK Reporter

as JFK Reporter

as JFK Reporter

as Reporter at Fire Bom...

as Reporter at Fire Bom...

as Pullman Porter

as Pullman Porter

as Pullman Porter

as Fountain Waiter

as Crowd Member

as Crowd Member

as Young Hooker

as FBI Agent

as FBI Agent

as Cop at Audobon

as Mounted Police

as Mounted Police

as Mounted Police

as Mounted Police

as Boston Cop

as Cop at Harlem Statio...

as Cop at Harlem Statio...

as Cop at Harlem Statio...

as Desk Sergeant

as Lieutenant

as Black Legion Leader

as Black Legion Member

as Black Legion Member

as Black Legion Member

as KKK Member

as KKK Member

as KKK Member

as KKK Member

as KKK Member

as DJ at the Harlem `Y'...

as DJ at the Harlem `Y'...

as Fruit of Islam

as Fruit of Islam

as Fruit of Islam

as Fruit of Islam

as Malcolm's FOI

as Malcolm's FOI

as Malcolm's FOI

as Malcolm's FOI

as Malcolm's FOI

as Malcolm's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as Elijah Muhamad's FOI

as MC/Roseland

as Trumpet Player

as Trumpet Player

as Trumpet Player

as Trumpet Player

as Trombone Player

as Trombone Player

as Trombone Player

as Alto Saxophone Playe...

as Alto Saxophone Playe...

as Tenor Saxophone Play...

as Tenor Saxophone Play...

as Baritone Saxophone P...

as Piano Player

as Bass Player

as Music Assistant

as Billie Holiday

as Trumpet Plyer

as Piano Player

as Bass Player

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Roseland Dancer

as Shorty's Dance Partn...

as Skeleton Crew Dancer

as Skeleton Crew Dancer

as Skeleton Crew Dancer

as Skeleton Crew Dancer

as Skeleton Crew Dancer

as John F. Kennedy

as Jackie Kennedy

as Governor Connally

as Nellie Connally

as Bill Newman

as Limo Driver

as Secret Service Man

as 1st Speaker

as 2nd Speaker

as Chaplain Gill

as Miss Dunne

as Captain Green

as Eulogy Performer

as Elijah Muhammad's FO...

as Phone Voice

as TV Reporter

as Teenage Whore

as White Woman in Marke...

as Barber's Customer

as Roderick

as Brother Johnson

as Boston Cop
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for Malcolm X

All Critics (55) | Top Critics (11)

Spike Lee has made a disappointingly conventional and sluggish film in Malcolm X.

Full Review… | January 6, 2010
Variety
Top Critic

Benefits from a lively lead performance by the miscast Denzel Washington but doesn't come within light years of the book, one of the greatest American autobiographies.

Full Review… | January 6, 2010
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Lee and company have performed a powerful service: they have brought Malcolm X very much to life again, both as man and myth.

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Newsweek
Top Critic

Lee sketches Malcolm's life colorfully, if by the numbers. But he falls victim to the danger of movie biography: he elevates Malcolm's importance until the vital historical context is obscured.

Full Review… | September 23, 2008
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

It plays surprisingly safe as a solidly crafted trawl through the didactic/hagiographic conventions of the mainstream biopic.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

An ambitious, tough, seriously considered biographical film that, with honor, eludes easy characterization.

May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Malcolm X

Now that is how you make a biopic. Spike Lee's monument to one of the most controversial figures in American history is bold, comprehensive, & unflinching.
Lee uses X's autobiography, penned by Alex Haley, as the source material. While this renders the film an easy target for critics who want a more objective look at this historical figure, I believe Lee, walking in step with the subject of the film, smartly becomes the provocateur.
Malcolm X was not an easy figure to wrap your head around. With seemingly equal capacity for both love and vitriol, a film that tried to focus on one facet of his personality, while consequently ignoring the many other ones that made this man so enigmatic, would feel dishonest. Lets face it, this film was bound to rustle some feathers, and I think it was a smart move to let the man speak for himself.
And how could you review the film without mentioning the great Denzel? How he manages to pull off such a complex character with such ease is absolutely stunning. That he lost the Oscar to Pacino is still one of the most egregious crimes the academy has ever committed.
While Lee's career may be wading in troubled water as of now, Malcolm X gives me hope that he will soon rebound.

axadntpron
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

I was expecting an interesting biographical tale, but the genuine presentation crushed the possibility of fulfilment of any such expectation. More often than not, it's unnecesarrily loud & slow. It consists more caricatures than characters. The screenplay is ridiculously painful & plain boring, excluding even the benefit of being unintentionally funny. Denzel's performance helps the least. In fact, it's considerably pathetic and fails to come to rescue to provide any relief whatsoever in this journey of catastrophes. I can't find this Spike Lee disaster any recommendable. If you haven't been a victim to it as yet, better spare yourself the miseries of this miserable Malcolm X.

imrealgod
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

½

Malcolm X is a lot of things: controversial, bold, procedural, and informative. From the audacious opening shot that reimagines and redefines the classic Patton image of the American flag, to the belabored attempt in the end to tie everything together with school childen, this film is defiant and unafraid to stand for its message. It's a spiritually enriching testament to the human capacity for change -- and surely Spike Lee's most universally appealing film. An engrossing mosaic of history, myth and sheer conjecture, this ambitious epic manages to sustain itself for 3 hours 21 minutes, and also overcomes an early frivolity of tone and Lee's intrusiveness to achieve a stature befitting its subject.

Lee, whose enormous affection for his hero suffuses his work, nevertheless resists the temptation to sanitize Malcolm as Richard Attenborough did Gandhi. The civil rights leader, as eloquently portrayed by Denzel Washington, emerges as an immensely likable human being -- a onetime black separatist who overcame his own prejudices. Still, this biopic will ruffle a few white feathers -- and probably a few black ones too; that's a given -- but Malcolm X addresses itself to all Americans, reminding us none too gently with its opening footage of the Rodney King beating that the work is never done.

Though the film covers 40 of the most turbulent years American society, it seems oddly isolated from its time and place, almost as if the characters were trapped in a snow globe. This segregation may be purposeful, even astute, on Lee's part, but it denies Malcolm his historical underpinnings. And there's a theatricality to the crowd and street scenes that give the film the look of a Broadway play.

Lee brings all manner of styles and moods to the film's four chapters -- Malcolm's troubled youth, his conversion to Islam, his ministry and his pilgrimage to Mecca. It's Washington's formidable task to pull all of them all together, to reconcile the disparate Malcolms, which he does with uncanny ease. To make sense of the internal struggle, it's essential to know the tragedies of Malcolm's childhood, as recounted here in the Lee screenplay based on Alex Haley's "The Autobiography of Malcolm X."

The result is utterly engrossing. Denzel, in what may be the finest performance of his career (this is the film to show people who doubt his versatility), imbues Malcolm X with fire, bravado, intellect, insecurity, pride, and love (both misplaced and direct) in equal measure. Lee once said that, in film school, making a film adaptation of Malcom X's life was a dream project. The pure, unfettered passion goes into every frame, and the result is one of the most fascinating and nuanced biopics ever made. A complex film about a complex man.

JonathanHutchings
Jonathan Hutchings

Super Reviewer

Malcolm X Quotes

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– Submitted by Alex K (2 years ago)
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– Submitted by Jesse K (2 years ago)

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