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Amadeus (1984)

tomatometer

95

Average Rating: 8.6/10
Reviews Counted: 79
Fresh: 75 | Rotten: 4

A lavish, entertaining, powerful film about the life and influence, both positive and negative, of one of Western culture's great artists.

94

Average Rating: 8.3/10
Critic Reviews: 18
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 1

A lavish, entertaining, powerful film about the life and influence, both positive and negative, of one of Western culture's great artists.

audience

95

liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 176,599

My Rating

Movie Info

For this film adaptation of Peter Shaffer's Broadway hit, director Milos Forman returned to the city of Prague that he'd left behind during the Czech political crises of 1968, bringing along his usual cinematographer and fellow Czech expatriate, Miroslav Ondrícek. Amadeus is an expansion of a Viennese "urban legend" concerning the death of 18th century musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. From the vantage point of an insane asylum, aging royal composer Salieri (F. Murray Abraham) recalls the

R,

Drama, Musical & Performing Arts, Comedy

Peter Shaffer

Dec 16, 1997

$86.8k

Warner Bros. Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (79) | Top Critics (18) | Fresh (75) | Rotten (4) | DVD (29)

The performance of Abraham, who won the Best Actor Oscar for it, is monumental, and so is Forman's direction.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: New York Daily News
New York Daily News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The subject of artistic creation is typically handled badly in the movies.... [Amadeus] treats the subject of creativity in a fresh way.

February 20, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
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A grand movie entertainment.

February 19, 2013 Full Review Source: TIME Magazine
TIME Magazine
Top Critic IconTop Critic

On a production level and as an evocation of a time and place, Amadeus is loaded with pleasures.

February 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Variety
Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Peter Shaffer's shrewdly orchestrated cultural evening gets a steady, dignified, moderately dull treatment from Milos Forman.

December 17, 2006 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader | Comments (22)
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The entire cast speaks in horribly intrusive American accents, but Forman makes some perceptive connections between Mozart's life and work.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Except for the Mozart music and Tharp movements around the edges, Amadeus plays like a monument to mediocrity.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

Amadeus is simply one of the finest biographical dramas ever made.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

Forman's tormented, iconoclastic subjects are often pitted against iconic or impersonal antagonists, but Amadeus' conflict remains rivetingly intimate, in spite of its sumptuous, larger-than-life settings.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: AV Club
AV Club

A rowdy, funny, suspenseful, and sometimes very moving visit with two fascinating personalities: one an uncouth prodigy, the other an earnest second-rater who never quite understands why somebody else should get all the glory.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

With Mozart's magical music swirling around them, Hulce and Abraham share a dual triumph in a film that stands as a provocative and prodigious achievement.

February 4, 2014 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

Milos Forman's opulent drama is sheer quality.

February 19, 2013 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

... brought a new popular interest in the music of Mozart and turned the classical composer into a pop-culture figure...

March 25, 2011 Full Review Source: Turner Classic Movies Online
Turner Classic Movies Online

Great movie, but not quite true to history.

December 14, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

A witty and highly imaginative historical fiction, well adapted by screenwriter Peter Shaffer from his own hit play. [Blu-ray]

February 22, 2009 Full Review Source: Groucho Reviews
Groucho Reviews

...if the director, the producer, and the writer approved of the added scenes, I'm not going to complain. One way or the other, Amadeus remains a great film.

February 10, 2009 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

Milos Forman's well-crafted adaptation of Peter Shaffer's superior play turns out to be a very entertaining film, although it lacks the inventiveness of the original production.

February 19, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

When Amadeus deals with the music -- and with the theme of greater and lesser talents in conflict -- it frequently justifies its reputation.

September 12, 2007 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

[A] grandiose masterpiece.

February 5, 2007 Full Review Source: Guardian [UK]
Guardian [UK]

Such a wonderful mix of sight and sound, of humor and drama, of love and hate, of ugliness and beauty.

January 13, 2007 Full Review Source: TheMovieReport.com
TheMovieReport.com

Two amazing performances cap a stellar work of musical imagination and creative artistry.

December 27, 2006 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

Audience Reviews for Amadeus

When I reviewed A Royal Affair last year, I spoke about the two big challenges that any period or costume drama has to overcome. One is the reputation of the genre as one obsessed with surface rather than substance, and clothing rather then character development. The other is the issue of pacing, needing to capture an historical period with its slower technology and pace of life whilst also needed to tell a story at an endurable pace for modern audiences.

While Nikolaj Arcel's film ultimately came through both tests with flying colours, Amadeus is only a partial success. It's an overly long film of two halves, which begins as silly and as frothy as one can get, and ends as something of a weighty, murky drama containing compelling ideas. It is as sumptuous as it is silly, and irritating as it is intriguing, but it does ultimately come through with the goods before it has completely overstayed its welcome.

Before we get to the meat and drink of Amadeus, it's worth taking a moment to address the issue of historical accuracy. It's something which can be boring to talk about, and which is often dragged up to discredit a film as it tries to garner awards. We can all think of examples of films which blatantly and consciously distort the truth, such as U-571, which credits the Americans, not the British, with cracking the Enigma code. But while capturing period detail should be praised on a technical level, historical accuracy is not a sign or guarantee of a good story. Film is a narrative medium, and with subjective allowances for taste and respect for an audience's intelligence, telling a good story is more important than getting the facts right.

In the case of Amadeus, we are confronted with a story which is at best a long-discredited theory and at worst an utter fabrication. There is little or no evidence to suggest that Antonio Salieri was responsible for the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the fact that he taught one of Mozart's sons would suggest that they were actually on friendly, or at least respectful, terms. But neither the film nor Peter Shaffer's play have historical accuracy as their prime motive. Both are more interested in telling a story about how rivalry manifests itself, and the relationship genius has with a world either not ready for it or unwilling to accommodate it.

The question that follows is whether Mozart's life is the right vehicle for this kind of story, whose ruthless, scheming character might be more suited to a political thriller. When The Iron Lady was released, the director Phyllida Lloyd said she had wanted to make a film about dealing with age - the obvious criticism being that she could have told that story without making a biopic of Margaret Thatcher. In this case, however, Mozart is the ideal topic or vessel for this kind of story. His reputation and character fit closely with our cultural notions of what genius is, allowing Shaffer and director Milo Forman to get on with the storytelling.

While the story itself is not problematic (at least not as a piece of entertainment), the storytelling in Amadeus is perhaps its biggest problem. The opening scenes look absolutely gorgeous: Miroslav Ond?í?ek, who worked with Lindsay Anderson on If...., pulls the audience in with a series of elegant, painterly images. But once the credits end and the action moves indoors, everything becomes very stagey. The framing device of the elderly Salieri, relating his story to a priest in the asylum, is not successful, and the film works better the less it is employed.

For most of its first hour, in either of its cuts, Amadeus is essentially a silly, frothy, overblown costume drama. It is far more interested in the costumes, the huge wigs and the pompous characters that wear them than it is in the creation of the music or the personalities behind it. The film employs broad comedy, usually in the form of fart jokes, and its recreation of opera is completely ridiculous. It doesn't have the grace or the understatement of Barry Lyndon, and makes you appreciate the comparative meatiness of The Madness of King George.

Matters aren't helped in this regard by the annoying nature of the central character. Tom Hulce, a graduate of Animal House, is a good actor who clearly threw himself into the part: having never played piano before, he practised for more than four hours a day upon landing the role. But while his skills are not in doubt, his Mozart is one of the most annoying and excruciating characters outside of an Adam Sandler comedy. Just as we aren't supposed to hate Salieri, so we are not expected to entirely like Mozart. But all his juvenile qualities are overplayed and repeated ad nauseum: it's not so much "too many notes" as too many laughs.

As a result of both the framing device and the juvenile tone, we spend the first hour distant from our main characters. We are distant from Mozart because he's an irritating little twit, and we are distant from Salieri because his narration keeps interrupting the action. As a result the jealousy and scheming on the latter's part feels like a deliberate plot device rather than a natural result of their relationship. The words are still pleasant on the ear, but you are left wishing that Shaffer could write more like his namesake Anthony Shaffer, creator of Sleuth.

About halfway in, specifically the section concerning Don Giovanni, Amadeus begins to pick itself up and grab its core themes by the scruff of the neck. The death of Mozart's father, and the composer's accompanying decline into illness, give the film not only a darker tone but a depth that it didn't have before. The serious reaction to a tragic event gives the film more credibility: by taking the matter seriously, it allows us to take the characters more seriously and for Salieri's subsequent actions to carry more weight.

The film merits a comparison in this regard with Rush, Ron Howard's thrilling drama about the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Both stories concern a rivalry between two talented men, but this rivalry is initially presented in a broad, overly playful way; the film is still entertaining, but we are conscious of how little is going on between its ears. Then something dark or unfortunate happens to one of the men which gives the drama a stake and the rivalry a meaning. Going dark is by no means a guarantee of a good story, but in both cases it is just what the films needed.

The main theme which this dark turn enables to unfold is the conflict between genius and mediocrity, and how graceless the two can be. Mozart's genius is confronted by mediocrity on all sides - from Salieri, whose position as court composer is threatened; from the Prince, who has very limited taste; and from his courtiers who don't want their power to be undermined. Neither Mozart nor Salieri conduct themselves well, with Mozart foregoing all decorum to defend his compositions, and Salieri working behind the scenes to bring about his downfall. Mozart's lack of social grace is mirrored by Salieri's lack of morals.

The role of parents in Amadeus is a key one. Salieri's father discourages his son's ambitions, and his death serves as a (misplaced) vindication for Salieri, of both his Catholic faith and his musical ability. Mozart, by contrast, is spoiled rotten by his father, who recognises his abilities but struggles to contain them beyond presenting Mozart as a performing monkey. When his father was alive but out of the picture, Mozart is free to make a name for himself in a carefree manner - but with him dead, this carefree nature gives way to a desire for atonement, which leads him to work obsessively on the unfinished Requiem.

The film is also interested in Catholicism, specifically the role God has in meting out talent and answering prayer. Salieri's prayers go unrewarded since he is asking God for the wrong things in the wrong way, seeking to curse rather than love his enemies. At the end of the film, he comments that "God killed Mozart" rather than let him share in any part of his talent, including the transcription of the Requiem. While the film's theological understanding of gifts is not entirely sound, it is an interesting lens through which to view and depict jealousy.

Much of the success of Amadeus lies in its music. Even in its weaker first half the music is wonderfully produced, conveying to us how great Mozart was instead of having people simply state his greatness, as in Gandhi. More importantly, Forman does succeed in making the creative process of writing and composing both cinematic and exciting. In one really special moment, Salieri flips through Mozart's portfolio, and hears the music on the page perfectly formed in his head. It's a wonderful moment which F. Murray Abraham superbly executes, keeping his character on a tightrope between envy and euphoria.

Amadeus is a film of two distinct halves, with the virtues of its substantial second eventually winning out over the frothy excesses of its first. Once you get past the costumes, the wigs and the irritating laughter, it does become an interesting, memorable cinematic venture with a brace of pretty good performances. It doesn't quite deserve the reputation that won it the Best Picture Oscar, but among even that select group of films, you could do a hell of a lot worse.
November 15, 2013
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

By bouts hilariously witty, nerve-wrackingly tense and profoundly moving, all the while beautifully shot and thoughtfully put together. An astounding achievement. Full review later.
December 31, 2012
TomBowler
Thomas Bowler

Super Reviewer

Fantastic! Every second is a delight of visuals, brilliant production value, exalting character and of course, the wonders of great music, a whole new way to experience the music. People should do more movies like this. The story is well and crafty, it has great evocative power. I haven't seen a movie quite a well as this one.
June 25, 2012
Adriel Lim

Super Reviewer

Amadeus is one of the most entertaining biographies put on screen, and possibly the best one about a musician ever. It is also the most effective transplanting of a stage play to screen (in the pantheon with Grease or Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

It's about Mozart (Tom Hulce), but he's actually a very substantial supporting player to murderously jealous forgotten composer Antonio Salieri -the actual lead role (deserving best Actor Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham), Eclectic director Milos Forman deftly handles the intimate and emotional scenes as well as the big sweeping, sumptuous epic Viennese scenes.

The supporting performances are all wonderful, memorable and indelible, and I've seen this movie many times. Many viewers have complained about the American accents, especially those of Mozart, his spunky wife Costanze (the underrated Elizabeth Berridge, who acts her heart and soul in this role, flat American accent aside), Emperor Franz Josef (the stellar character actor Jeffery Jones), Mozart's grumpy controlling dad Leopold (Ray Dotrice) and Abraham himself. I say poppycock (I never actually say poppycock), why should original German speaking characters only speak with British accents? Perhaps more of an issue is that there is a weird mix of American and British accents among Viennese people.

The art direction and wardrobe is both lush and believably grungy, and Vienna, (Prague on location) feels like a real place where people live, both nobles and peasants. From a production point of view, this is as good as it gets.

I recommend the director's cut, there are huge story holes in the original studio version. Numerous story points are vague and unexplained in the official release, especially the coercive sexual relationship between Salieri and Costanze, which is only vaguely hinted at in the shorter version. Both versions are long, and the director's cut is longer, but you've got more than three hours to burn, right? The director's cut also has even more of Wolfgang's music, which is the only soundtrack, and the cues are expertly chosen and conducted by Sir Neville Marriner.

On the down side, the film is not historically accurate at all, and it's unlikely that Salieri 'killed' Mozart out of envy, though apparently he boasted of it in his confused senile final days. Playwright Peter Shaffer had some burning point to make about art, jealousy and desire, and the randomness of god in choosing his 'servant' but these points are more the driving force behind the play than the movie. It feels like he's setting up a 'straw man' in Salieri to make his thesis. To me, the theme is not that important. The character study in the movie is richer and stronger than the play. Some of the scheming of Salieri doesn't really make much sense, and Mozart seems too smart to be such a sap in reacting to the scheming. It's also really long. That aside, pop it in your Blu Ray player and crank up the symphonic delights on your surround sound.
February 23, 2012
Josh Morris

Super Reviewer

    1. Antonio Salieri: I will speak for you, father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am the patron's saint.
    – Submitted by Lane S (6 months ago)
    1. Antonio Salieri: That was Mozart. That! That giggling dirty-minded creature I had just seen, crawling on the floor!
    – Submitted by Adam O (6 months ago)
    1. Antonio Salieri: So rose the dreadful ghost from his next and blackest opera. There, on the stage, stood the figure of a dead commander. And I knew, only I understood that the horrifying apparition was Leopold raised from the dead! Wolfgang had summoned up his own father to accuse his son before all the world!
    – Submitted by Adam O (6 months ago)
    1. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sire, only opera can do this. In a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it's just noise, no one can understand a word. But with opera, with music... with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it's not noise, it's a perfect harmony!
    – Submitted by Adam O (6 months ago)
    1. Antonio Salieri: He was my idol. Mozart, I can't think of a time when I didn't know his name.
    – Submitted by Adam O (6 months ago)
    1. Antonio Salieri: I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theater, conferring on all who sat there, perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man to all the world, unstoppable, making my defeat more bitter with every passing bar.
    – Submitted by Adam O (6 months ago)
View all quotes (23)

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Foreign Titles

  • Amadeus - Director's Cut (DE)
  • Amadeus, The Director's Cut (UK)
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