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Altered States (1980)


Average Rating: 6.8/10
Reviews Counted: 42
Fresh: 36
Rotten: 6

Critics Consensus: Extraordinarily daring for a Hollywood film, Altered States attacks the viewer with its inventive, aggressive mix of muddled sound effects and visual pyrotechnics.

Average Rating: 7.9/10
Reviews Counted: 6
Fresh: 6
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Extraordinarily daring for a Hollywood film, Altered States attacks the viewer with its inventive, aggressive mix of muddled sound effects and visual pyrotechnics.


Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 18,568



Movie Info

In this 1980 sci-fi horror film, William Hurt plays Eddie Jessup, a scientist obsessed with discovering mankind's true role in the universe. To this end, he submits himself to a series of mind-expanding experiments. By enclosing himself in a sensory-deprivation chamber and taking hallucinogenic drugs, Jessup hopes to explore different levels of human consciousness, but instead is devolved into an apelike monster. Director Ken Russell helmed Altered States from a script by Paddy Chayefsky, who … More

R (nudity, sex, violence, language)
Drama , Horror , Mystery & Suspense , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
Paddy Chayefsky
In Theaters:
Jun 1, 2004
Warner Home Video


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Critic Reviews for Altered States

All Critics (42) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (36) | Rotten (6) | DVD (11)

It opens at fever pitch and then starts soaring -- into genetic fantasy, into a precognitive dream of delirium and delight.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Direction by Ken Russell has energy to spare, with appropriate match-up of his baroque visual style to special effects intensive material.

Full Review… | June 6, 2007
Top Critic

There isn't a lucid moment in it (and much of the dialogue is rendered unintelligible by Russell's subversive direction), but it has dash, style, and good looks, as well as the funniest curtain line since Some Like It Hot.

Full Review… | June 6, 2007
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

[Director] Russell's noisily grandiose swipe at psychedelia embellishes what is no more than the cosily familiar story of the obsessive Scientist Who Goes Too Far and Unwittingly Unleashes, etc.

Full Review… | June 24, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

I was overwhelmed, I was caught up in its headlong energy.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Dependably -- even exhilaratingly -- bizarre. Its strangeness, which borders cheerfully on the ridiculous, is its most enjoyable feature.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

It's got Russell's trademark eccentricity (read: slight bonkers-ness) all over it, which you may take as a warning or a recommendation.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014
Empire Magazine

Russell's razzle-dazzle hallucinogenic style certainly hits bullseye.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014
Radio Times

Like much of Russell's work, Altered States is ostentatious and pretentious yet genuinely engaged with ideas and style.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014

No character -- including William Hurt in the central role -- is even vaguely likable, and the mawkish ending is a laugh. In the Russell tradition, there are brilliant flashes on an overwrought trip to nowhere.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014
People Magazine

It's by turns pseudo-analytical head-twister and skull-pounding monster romp, including glorious whip-crack dialogue.

Full Review… | August 16, 2014
Total Film

Dynamite stylistic flourishes approximate the experience of taking mescaline with the Mad Hatter.

Full Review… | May 29, 2013

The film's too aggressively enjoyable to be completely dismissed, though the ending is risible -- I preferred it when this finale was later reconfigured and reused in a-ha's music video for "Take On Me."

Full Review… | August 8, 2012
Creative Loafing

Think of it as an extravagant and exhilarating, if over-the-top, piece of filmmaking that's silly, to be sure, but engrossing at the same time.

Full Review… | July 15, 2012
Movie Metropolis

As the proceedings briskly fly, the silliness of the entire endeavor becomes more readily apparent.

Full Review… | July 23, 2010
Lessons of Darkness

Visually dazzling loopy drug film.

Full Review… | July 7, 2010
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

[Director Russell] fails to bring any clarity to the silly affair.

Full Review… | June 6, 2007
TV Guide's Movie Guide

William Hurt at his weirdest

January 25, 2006
Atlantic City Weekly

Though deviating from Paddy Chayefsky's script (and novel), the reliably flamboyant Ken Russell made a spooky but engaging psycho-horror film about experimentation with human consciousness that deservedly received Oscar nods for sound and music.

Full Review… | July 2, 2005


March 18, 2005
Lawrence Journal-World

Very intense, very inner self, very self absorbed.

October 25, 2004
Kansas City Kansan

Audience Reviews for Altered States



Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

The 80s produced a lot of cheesy films. This was one of them. Well, the first half's pretty entertaining. Then, suddenly, "No one takes me seriously!" *turns into ape* Then, everything devolves into sheer stupidity and melodrama. But again, the hallucinations, dialogue, and everything in the beginning are entertaining up until that point. Then, I wonder if I'm watching the precursor to The Lawnmower Man.

Daniel J DeMersseman

Super Reviewer

I was a little overwhelmed with all the scientific mumbo-jumbo at first but once I got an idea of what was going on I found this to be a very interesting and surprisingly creepy experience. It's quite Cronenberg-esque and reminded me of "The Fly" in some ways. Great performance too by William Hurt in his debut and Dick Smith worked his grotesque magic with the special make-up effects. Give this one a watch!

Lee ?

Super Reviewer

They might as well have called this "The Trip 2", like The Trip, this movie's character goes on a strange journey after doing weird experiments on himself. It's really hard to watch, and I couldn't hardly stand it. I don't recommend seeing this movie.

AJ Verser

Super Reviewer

Altered States Quotes

Arthur Rosenberg:
What we saw tonight was a physical phenomenon, an inexplicable physical phenomenon!
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)
Mason Parrish:
It looks to me like the architecture is slightly abnormal.
Dr. Wissenschaft:
Somewhat? This guy's a fucking gorilla!
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)
Mason Parrish:
You're supposed to be reputable scientists! Not two dorm kids freaking on Mexican mushrooms!
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)
Emily Jessup:
He doesn't love me. He never loved me. I was never real to him. Nothing in the human experience is real to him.
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)
Eddie Jessup:
I haven't told anyone this in ten years. I'm telling you now because I think you have a right to know what kind of a nut you might be getting mixed up with here.
Emily Jessup:
Arthur was right. You are a fascinating bastard.
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)
Eddie Jessup:
Emily's quite content to go on with this life. She insists she's in love with me - whatever that is. What she means is she prefers the senseless pain we inflict on each other to the pain we would otherwise inflict on ourselves. But I'm not afraid of that solitary pain. In fact, if I don't strip myself of all this clatter and clutter and ridiculous ritual, I shall go out of my fucking mind. Does that answer your question, Arthur?
Arthur Rosenberg:
What question was that?
Eddie Jessup:
You asked me why I was getting divorced.
Arthur Rosenberg:
Oh, listen, it's your life. I'm sorry I even asked.
– Submitted by Victor M (14 months ago)

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