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Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)


Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 170
Fresh: 122
Rotten: 48

Critics Consensus: Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast.

Average Rating: 7/10
Reviews Counted: 44
Fresh: 34
Rotten: 10

Critics Consensus: Gut-wrenching and emotionally affecting, Lee Daniels' The Butler overcomes an uneven narrative thanks to strong performances from an all-star cast.


Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 77,541


Movie Info

LEE DANIELS' THE BUTLER tells the story of a White House butler who served eight American presidents over three decades. The film traces the dramatic changes that swept American society during this time, from the civil rights movement to Vietnam and beyond, and how those changes affected this man's life and family. Forest Whitaker stars as the butler with Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, James Marsden as John F. Kennedy, Liev … More

PG-13 (for some violence and disturbing images, language, sexual material, thematic elements and smoking)
Directed By:
Written By:
Danny Strong
In Theaters:
Jan 14, 2014
Box Office:
The Weinstein Company - Official Site


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Critic Reviews for Lee Daniels' The Butler

All Critics (170) | Top Critics (44) | Fresh (122) | Rotten (48)

It's not an interpretation of actual history as much as it is a reduced revision of movie history.

Full Review… | January 3, 2014
Top Critic

The Butler proves a decent, significant, but slightly stodgy affair. Its dignified restraint stifles its anger.

Full Review… | November 12, 2013
Time Out
Top Critic

A high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment ...

Full Review… | September 2, 2013
New Yorker
Top Critic

Forest Whitaker imbues his part with immense dignity and the old-age makeup is effective showcasing Cecil during his later years.

Full Review… | August 18, 2013
Top Critic

[A] turbulent, emotionally overpowering movie.

Full Review… | August 16, 2013
Orange County Register
Top Critic

Winfrey is good, though, demonstrating yet again that she's an actress and not just a celebrity playing an actress.

Full Review… | August 16, 2013
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic

The Butler is often impressively acted, beautifully shot and clearly designed to try to pick up a heartfelt award or two. But, as a film, it's too fragmented to carry its own weight on its shoulders and is over- burdened by a starry cast.

Full Review… | October 10, 2014
Birmingham Mail

The Butler tells an obviously important and inspiring story, but the actual movie is laughable.

Full Review… | September 18, 2014
Combustible Celluloid

A large-scale, middle-of-the-road work that is entertaining and moving in the way that many other movies about the struggle for race equality have been.

Full Review… | June 27, 2014
Windy City Times

The Butler is as worthy and earnest as its hero... but some scenes have a gut-wrenching impact that makes the struggle to overcome bigotry and oppression heartrendingly real.

Full Review… | March 22, 2014
Movie Talk

A deeply moving melodrama about a subtly subversive black butler at the heart of the White House. You will need Kleenex.

Full Review… | March 10, 2014
Flick Filosopher

It's a heart-warming tale simply told.

Full Review… | February 7, 2014
Daily Record [UK]

The best film of 2013 (paired with "12 Years a Slave").

Full Review… | January 7, 2014
Movie Dearest

A more grandiose version of The Help, The Butler stands at the ready, eager to offer an after-dinner mint of simplified, sweetened history to make us--especially white Americans--feel good about how that whole racism thing turned out in the end.

Full Review… | December 27, 2013
Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)

That Gloria expresses her own pain and her own desires makes the film's most important point, that history is not a trot through dates and period details, presidents and incidents.

Full Review… | December 17, 2013

It's a veritable star-spangled jamboree. And through it all, Whitaker keeps his powder admirably dry ...

Full Review… | November 17, 2013
Observer [UK]

Think of it as a Trojan horse. Apparently harmless, it takes key myths about the land of the free and inflicts an impressive amount of damage.

Full Review… | November 15, 2013
This is London

As the beating heart of this story about "a crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice", Whitaker is back on form.

Full Review… | November 15, 2013
Birmingham Post

The Butler provides a well-paced look at the fluctuating and often shocking socio-political landscape of the 20th Century...

Full Review… | November 15, 2013
Digital Spy

It's effectively Forrest Gump Goes To The White House, with all the patronising political reductionism that implies.

Full Review… | November 15, 2013

Has all the bells and whistles one could want from a big, fat Oscar-baiting picture.

Full Review… | November 15, 2013
Irish Times

What makes this film worth seeing, above all else, is the remarkable, grade A cast-list.

Full Review… | November 14, 2013
Daily Mail [UK]

It may be a tad schematic but it's never less than absorbing and beautifully acted by a strong cast, including Oprah Winfrey as Cecil's troubled, lonely wife.

Full Review… | November 14, 2013
Daily Express

If only history were like this: epochs of simple-minded epic struggle, followed by happy-ever-after closures.

Full Review… | November 14, 2013
Financial Times

This is an strangely slushy movie from Lee Daniels, whose last two films bristled with unexpected life. By contrast, this star-packed drama uses a true story to trace the Civil Rights struggle from the 1950s to the present day.

Full Review… | November 14, 2013

Audience Reviews for Lee Daniels' The Butler


A somewhat moving film done with grace and dignity, but lacking the emotional heft to be profound. Although Whitaker and Winfrey deliver, the performances of the rest of the A-List ensemble cast is hit-or-miss. Entertaining but unnervingly episodic.

Christian C

Super Reviewer


This film tries to accomplish several tasks without doing so, and doesn't quite meet expectations at every turn. The premise follows butler Cecil Gaines (Whitaker) as he works for many generations of presidents; through their tenures at the White House. Throw in celebrity cameo depictions of presidents (Robin Williams, James Marsden, Liev Shreiber) and some feel-good humor and it's obvious Oscar bait. In actuality the film centers on Cecil and his family, and their fight for civil rights while being surrounded by the nation's turmoil. It tries to be explicit with language and violence, but it's meant to be more subdued. It never quite seems realistic or historically accurate, because it tries to fit into historical events that mattered. His children fall into every historical event or movement dealing with civil rights. One son knows and marches with Martin Luther King Jr. then becomes a Black Panther. Another goes to Vietnam. Meanwhile Cecil influences policy with every president he meets. Sadly, this is supposed to be based on a true story, but liberties were gratuitously taken: the name of the butler is changed, his influence is exaggerated, and the stories about his sons are completely fabricated. Every performance seems strained, especially Oprah's and Whitaker's, and it shows with every passing moment. In the end Ronald Reagan is shown as the hero, and it slows until it's a painful crawl. It's too long, too pretentious, and just too problematic for its own good.

Spencer S.

Super Reviewer

I'm really glad I saw this movie if just for the fact that I am ignorant of the Civil Rights movement and what it meant to real live people and in fact, I think that's when this movie came alive: when the Freedom Riders and the Black Panthers took the stage. That these kids might be at odds with their conservative-let's-not-rock-the-boat parents was a revelation. Weird casting choice for presidents (John Cusack as Nixon? Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower?) managed to nonetheless work. I didn't remember that Reagan was such a butt-head about race. Forest Whitaker, the Big O, are great.

Bathsheba Monk
Bathsheba Monk

Super Reviewer

It's a heartwarming and important story to tell, but the gross historical inaccuracies and liberal brow-beating kept me from enjoying it. The cast is superb for the most part, but the casting left me shaking my head at times. If Lee Daniels wanted to make a "rise from discrimination to the pinnacle of power" story, then more power to him, but the liberties he takes along the way are inflammatory sensationalism and sometimes downright dishonest character assassination. I am referring specifically to the mischaracterization of Ronald Reagan. Reagan biographer Paul Kengor interviewed many White House staff, cooks, housekeepers, doctors, and Secret Service over the years, and reported "they are universal in their love of Ronald Reagan." Also, Kengor adds that Reagan's opposition to change in South Africa only concerned that it not become a USSR- satellite communist state.

My summation of the casting is mixed as well. Forest Whitaker is outstanding as always. He and Oprah Winfrey carry the film; their powerful understated performances, I think, successfully portray the struggles and perseverance the real people must have demonstrated. I also note Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr., David Oyelowo, and Vanessa Redgrave as delivering superb performances. However, the casting of John Cusack as President Nixon and Jane Fonda, most egregiously as Nancy Reagan, can only be described as a sick inside joke. This must be the producers'' idea of retaliation against anything Republican.

Overall, as I've said, it's a story that deserves to be told, but this particular production is melodramatic overkill. It's contrived for dramatic effect. Instead I recommend "The Help," "The Color Purple," and especially "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman." Presented as the story of the struggles of one black family dealing with changing attitudes through a time of difficult transition in American history, The Butler is exceptional and noteworthy.

Clintus M.
Clintus Maximus

Super Reviewer

Lee Daniels' The Butler Quotes

Louis Gaines:
What are you doing here?
Cecil Gaines:
I came here to protest with you.
– Submitted by Caleb D (9 months ago)
Cecil Gaines:
Americans always turn a blind eye to our own. We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.
– Submitted by madi E (13 months ago)
Cecil Gaines:
I know my way around.
– Submitted by Lucas B (13 months ago)
John F. Kennedy:
I'll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.
Jacqueline Kennedy:
Eight years.
– Submitted by Kathy O (14 months ago)
Cecil Gaines:
You need to go.
Louis Gaines:
Cecil Gaines:
Get the hell out!
Louis Gaines:
Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Butler. I didn't mean to make fun of your hero!
– Submitted by Moe J (14 months ago)
Gloria Gaines:
Everything you are and everything you have, is because of that butler.
– Submitted by Marcus Y (14 months ago)

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