American History X (1998) - Rotten Tomatoes

American History X (1998)



Critic Consensus: A compelling and provocative story led by an excellent performance by Edward Norton.

American History X Trailers & Photos

Movie Info

Tony Kaye made his feature directorial debut with this dramatic exploration into the roots of race hatred in America. In a shocking opening scene, teen Danny Vinyard (Edward Furlong) races to tell his older brother, neo-Nazi Derek (Edward Norton), about the young blacks breaking into his car in front of the house, whereupon Derek gets his gun and with no forethought shoots the youths in their tracks. Tried and convicted, Derek is sent away for three years in prison, where he acquires a different outlook as he contrasts white-power prisoners with black Lamont (Guy Torry), his prison laundry co-worker and eventual pal. Meanwhile, Danny, with a shaved head and a rebellious attitude, seems destined to follow in his big brother's footsteps. After Danny writes a favorable review of Hitler's Mein Kampf, black high-school principal Sweeney (Avery Brooks) puts Danny in his private "American History X" course and assigns him to do a paper about his older brother, who was a former student of Sweeney's. This serves to introduce flashbacks, with the film backtracking to illustrate Danny's account of Derek's life prior to the night of the shooting. Monochrome sequences of Derek leading a Venice, California gang are intercut with color footage of the mature Derek ending his past neo-Nazi associations and attempting to detour Danny away from the group led by white supremacist, Cameron (Stacy Keach), who once influenced Derek. Director Tony Kaye, with a background in TV commercials and music videos, filmed in L.A. beach communities. Rated R "for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity." ~ Bhob Stewart, Rovimore
Rating: R (for graphic brutal violence including rape, pervasive language, strong sexuality and nudity)
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: David McKenna
In Theaters:
On DVD: Apr 6, 1999
New Line Cinema - Official Site


Edward Norton
as Derek Vinyard
Avery Brooks
as Sweeney
Edward Furlong
as Danny Vinyard
Stacy Keach
as Cameron
Beverly D'Angelo
as Doris Vinyard
Joe Cortese
as Rasmussen
Guy Torry
as Lamont
Jason Bose Smith
as Little Henry
Alex Sol
as Mitch McCormick
Paul Le Mat
as McMahon
Sam Vlahos
as Dr. Aguilar
Anne Lambton
as Cassandra
Steve Wolford
as Reporter
Richard Noyce
as Desk Sergeant
Danso Gordon
as Buddy No. 1
Alexis Rose Coen
as Young Ally
Kiant Elam
as Lawrence's Partner
Paul Hopkins
as Student
Keith Odett
as Random Skinhead
Paul Short
as Stocky Buddy
Nigel Miguel
as Basketball Player
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for American History X

Critic Reviews for American History X

All Critics (86) | Top Critics (24)

Norton is an amazing actor, a hot-dog whose delight in transformation is infectious.

Full Review… | August 19, 2011
Top Critic

Two things hold the interest: Norton's astounding performance, and a feeling for the male reality of reactionary working class environments.

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

The problem is that Kaye, who's used to selling cars on TV, shoots Derek the Hater as lovingly as he would a new Volkswagen.

Full Review… | October 7, 2002
L.A. Weekly
Top Critic

What partly redeems American History X from its most preachy excesses -- and makes it worth seeing -- is a brilliant, career-high performance by actor Edward Norton.

Full Review… | April 12, 2002
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

Though well-intentioned, turns out to be a simplistic and unconvincing look at a serious problem.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

American History X advocates that "those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it"? It's a powerful social document and should be part of your film watching curriculum.

Full Review… | May 16, 2012
2UE That Movie Show

Audience Reviews for American History X


I haven't wanted to watch this as I was afraid of more Hollywood racist propaganda. Boy was I surprised when the propaganda turned out to be of the liberal variety instead. Regardless of the movie-of-the-week underpinnings, the acting is first rate, Norton and Furlong turning in superlative work.

Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

One of the most powerful films I've ever seen, with an incredible lead performance from Edward Norton. The overall message of the movie is extremely important - that even the most heinous and hateful of people can change, as seen by the slow-burn approach of Norton's friendship with a black man in prison. The ending always gets me, it's a heart-wrenching finale that is hard to watch but extremely appropriate. This is a film everyone should see.

Dan Schultz
Dan Schultz

Super Reviewer


Powerful and gripping from beginning to end. American History X provides a great performance from Edward Norton and a graphic tale involving the influences of society in the household and relationships. Very explicit, destructive and compelling, the film makes a strong mark that's as challenging as its direction. 4.5/5

Eugene Bernabe
Eugene Bernabe

Super Reviewer

American History X Quotes

Danny Vinyard: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it.
– Submitted by Ker Malkin G (2 years ago)
Davina Vinyard: When was the last time you were actually able to see your feet?
– Submitted by Jesse C (2 years ago)
Danny Vinyard: So I guess this is where I tell you what I learned - my conclusion, right? Well, my conclusion is: Hate is baggage. Life's too short to be pissed off all the time. It's just not worth it. Derek says it's always good to end a paper with a quote. He says someone else has already said it best. So if you can't top it, steal from them and go out strong. So I picked a guy I thought you'd like. 'We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.'
– Submitted by Samira O (3 years ago)
Danny Vinyard: I'm sorry, Derek. I'm sorry that happened to you.
Derek Vinyard: I'm not. I'm lucky. I feel lucky because it's wrong, Danny. It's wrong and it was eating me up, it was going to kill me. And I kept asking myself all the time, how did I buy into this shit? It was because I was pissed off, and nothing I ever did ever took that feeling away. I killed two guys, Danny, I killed them. And it didn't make me feel any different. It just got me more lost and I'm tired of being pissed off, Danny. I'm just tired of it.
– Submitted by Samira O (3 years ago)

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