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Apt Pupil (1998)



Average Rating: 6/10
Reviews Counted: 55
Fresh: 29 | Rotten: 26

A somewhat disturbing movie that works as a suspenseful thriller, yet isn't completely satisfying.


Average Rating: 5.6/10
Critic Reviews: 15
Fresh: 8 | Rotten: 7

A somewhat disturbing movie that works as a suspenseful thriller, yet isn't completely satisfying.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.1/5
User Ratings: 38,141

My Rating

Movie Info

Bryan Singer directed this Brandon Boyce adaptation of Stephen King's novella about teenager Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), who discovers Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen) living in his California hometown. Fascinated with Dussender's wartime atrocities, Bowden blackmails the former death-camp commandant by promising to keep his identity a secret in exchange for Holocaust horror tales, or, as Todd puts it, "everything they're afraid to show us in school." Dussander complies, and as the


Drama, Horror, Mystery & Suspense

Brandon Boyce

Apr 13, 1999

TriStar Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (71) | Top Critics (19) | Fresh (29) | Rotten (26) | DVD (7)

Major junk!

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A creepy, well-acted story of contagious evil!

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Effective but not overwhelming, bone-chilling but not blood-freezing, Apt Pupil is a good shocker that misses the ultimate horror.

January 1, 2000
Chicago Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Apt Pupil is most compelling for its moral dimension.

January 1, 2000
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

More disturbing than anything Keyser Söze could provide.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
Top Critic IconTop Critic

When bodies are buried in cellars and cats are thrown into lighted ovens, the film reveals itself as unworthy of its subject matter.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Chicago Sun-Times | Comments (4)
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

McKellen gives one of the year's great performances.

July 23, 2007 Full Review Source:

Stephen King's 1982 Different Seasons collection has been a gold mine for moviemakers:

March 28, 2006 Full Review Source: Film Journal International
Film Journal International

"Pupil" demonstrates Singer's eye for framing shots and his skill in bringing out the best in his stars. Even so, there's something amiss here.

June 21, 2002 Full Review Source: Kalamazoo Gazette
Kalamazoo Gazette

It's a story that has taken 10 years to get to the screen at least, but what kept it from the screen for so long was lost when it was finally filmed.

June 15, 2001 Full Review

No hace mas que dejarnos la sensación de que o bien el director fue una llamarada de petate o el escritor vio pasar sus mejores momentos hace ya varios años

March 14, 2001 Full Review Source: Moviola

Renfro and McKellen are nothing short of spectacular, but with all things considered, Apt Pupil just isn't a very well thought-out picture.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

Murky storytelling!

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: E! Online
E! Online

King fans will be outraged denouncing the filmmakers as gutless flakes smothering the true horror of Apt Pupil so the film would be more acceptable to the general public.

January 1, 2000
Jam! Movies

If Bowden's motivations were clearer, Apt Pupil might have gone somewhere interesting.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

A methodically slow psychological thriller!

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Screen It!
Screen It!

We expect a probing examination of the essence of evil, but the film stays too close to the surface to deliver any insight.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: NUVO Newsweekly
NUVO Newsweekly

It's sad that for a story with such potential, it was never allowed to materialize fully on the big screen. Rent it for McKellen's performance.

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source:

A powerful and disturbing movie!

January 1, 2000 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

Audience Reviews for Apt Pupil

The idea is sound but the way they meet is a little far fetched, if not just badly adapted. I'm sure the story is better than the film, there is only so much much of a book you can make into a film but especially when the performances are so uneven. Ian McKellen's performance more than outweighs Brad Renfro's and that is the main problem. Far to much is left to the imagination or to what ever your own knowledge of the second world war and the concentration camps is. If this is a bad man and you're using flashbacks, then show this bad man being bad in a flashback! It's not rocket science but i'm afraid Bryan Singer brings nothing to life in his direction. Ian McKellen carries the whole film on his shoulders and everyone else takes the credit. I didn't think much of the conclusion either, again I'm sure it reads better but coincidence becomes contrived if used incorrectly.
November 5, 2013

Super Reviewer

"If you don't believe in the existence of evil, you've got a lot to learn."

A boy blackmails his neighbour after suspecting him to be a Nazi war criminal.

Apt Pupil comes from 'Different Seasons', Stephen King's quartet of novellas that also spawned The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me. This movie is not in the same league as those two, but it still holds considerable interest as King explores the recidivist power of evil and the strange attraction it has to the young. Brad Renfro is Todd Bowden, a teenager who seems to have it all: terrific grades, affluent parents, even a gorgeous girlfriend. Beneath this seemingly perfect middle-class existence beats a dark fascination with the Holocaust and the Nazi death camps, particularly the gory details (you know the stuff: gas chambers, lampshades made from skin, electrodes attached to nipples, Mengele's ghastly experiments and so on.) He spots Mr Denker, an old man who lives in his neighbourhood - partly by chance, partly by his arcane reading, he recognises him as Dussander, a vigilante Nazi war criminal who has slipped from sight and set up in America.

Armed with this knowledge, Todd blackmails the old man into recounting stories of Hitler's 'Final Solution' in all their grotesque horror. It's here that King excels, capturing the uncertain but developing relationship between the nervous old man and the monstrous boy; the content too lures us in, as we - like Todd Bowden - are grossly attracted to tales of the Holocaust even though we shouldn't be. As the film progresses, Todd's constant questioning starts to reignite the old hatred, the old thirst for blood in Dussander's veins, and the character starts to take on different shades.

This is a workmanlike but relatively atmospheric account of King's novella, although the casting has always concerned me. Renfro was a good enough choice for Todd, but I've always felt that McKellen wasn't quite the right actor for Dussander. And David Schwimmer's casting as Todd's geeky school counsellor was laughable - I'm not sure what they were trying to achieve with that one. Still, it works on most levels and seems to get the majority of King's ideas and themes across to the audience. It's not a horror film by any stretch, more a psychological thriller, and quite a competent one.
January 8, 2012
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

Maybe this isn't one of Stephen King's most popular stories, but it's sure one of his most realistically creepy ones. Bryan Singer takes this short story and turns it into a highly performance based movie, which is fine when you have two amazing actors pitted against each other. I never get tired of seeing this story played out on screen and the characters are just so well managed. Brad Renfro looks like your average kid, which is why his bizarre characteristics are even more disturbing and effective. It takes a simple black mail scenario and spins it into something no one would expect. Ian McKellen does a great job as a shell-shocked Nazi war criminal and has you convinced every minute he is on screen. It must've been difficult to deal with such a touchy suspect and humanize the characters the way they do. Bryan Singer is a director that clearly knows what he wants to do and knows how to give off certain emotions with very little convincing. Apt Pupil isn't over-stylized, but incredibly subtle. To see so many evil things take place in such a warm setting us a lot more effective and lasting than having them take place where you might expect them. This is a movie that has only become more effective with age and takes you back to a time where so much of suburbia was still naive to the outside world and horrors that can possibly exist in your neighborhood. It's surreal to imagine your nice old neighbor as an escaped Nazi. I'm sure this movie will continue to be overlooked, especially when it comes to the intentions of the story, but for the people that do see it and understand it, Apt Pupil is one great movie.
June 7, 2011

Super Reviewer

Apt Pupil is a very interesting Thriller. Directed by Bryan Singer who is famous for directing the first two X-Men films directs this chilling and thrilling tale. When he discovers that one of his neighbors is a Nazi war criminal, teenager Todd Bowden persuades and blackmails Kurt Dussander to tell him about his war crimes. Dussander agrees and Todd Bowden starts a lesson he won't forget. Apt Pupil is not a horror film, but its most certainly horrifying due to its subject matter. Bryan Singer has a talented cast at hand and he takes every opportunity of the talent present to create something tense and unerving. However by the film's end you feel that something could have been improved and it could have been somewhat better. The film does a great job at capturing the cold, evil nature of Ian Mckellen's character (who is well cast and gives a great performance) But considering that this is a film directed by Bryan Singer, you know right from the start that this isn't his strongest directorial effort. Apt Pupil is an entertaining and good thriller that could have been a lot better than it is, but it manages to still have a good story and got thrills. Either way, you'll probably have chills coming up and down your spine when you watch the film. Despite its flaws, Apt Pupil is a good, entertaining thriller that delivers chilling moments that are quite disturbing.
May 21, 2011
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

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January 17, 2008:
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Brad Renfro, star of The Client and Apt Pupil, passed away Tuesday of unknown causes. He was 25.
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