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Lee Daniels' The Butler (2013)



Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 168
Fresh: 122 | Rotten: 46

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
Critic Reviews: 44
Fresh: 34 | Rotten: 10

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



liked it
Average Rating: 3.9/5
User Ratings: 77,352

My Rating

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



Danny Strong

Jan 14, 2014


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All Critics (168) | Top Critics (44) | Fresh (122) | Rotten (46)

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

January 3, 2014 Full Review Source: Grantland
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

November 12, 2013 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
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A high-minded, didactic, but irresistible entertainment ...

September 2, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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

August 18, 2013 Full Review Source: ReelViews
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[A] turbulent, emotionally overpowering movie.

August 16, 2013 Full Review Source: Orange County Register
Orange County Register
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Winfrey is good, though, demonstrating yet again that she's an actress and not just a celebrity playing an actress.

August 16, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

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.

June 27, 2014 Full Review Source: Windy City Times
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.

March 22, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Talk
Movie Talk

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

March 10, 2014 Full Review Source: Flick Filosopher
Flick Filosopher

It's a heart-warming tale simply told.

February 7, 2014 Full Review Source: Daily Record [UK]
Daily Record [UK]

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

January 7, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Dearest
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.

December 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Vue Weekly (Edmonton, Canada)
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.

December 17, 2013 Full Review Source: PopMatters

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

November 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
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.

November 15, 2013 Full Review Source: This is London
This is London

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

November 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Birmingham Post
Birmingham Post

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

November 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Digital Spy
Digital Spy

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

November 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Film4

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

November 15, 2013 Full Review Source: Irish Times
Irish Times

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

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: Daily Mail [UK]
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.

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: Daily Express
Daily Express

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

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: Financial Times
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.

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source:

Lee Daniels comes good with this rich and politically subversive tale of a long-serving White House butler.

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: Little White Lies
Little White Lies

Engaging and enjoyable run-through of Civil Rights history, enlivened by a superb central performance from Forest Whitaker, a strong supporting cast and a parade of entertaining (if occasionally distracting) cameos as the various presidents.

November 14, 2013 Full Review Source: ViewLondon

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.
August 18, 2014

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.
February 17, 2014

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.
January 28, 2014
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.
January 22, 2014
Clintus M.
Clintus Maximus

Super Reviewer

    1. Louis Gaines: What are you doing here?
    2. Cecil Gaines: I came here to protest with you.
    – Submitted by Caleb D (8 months ago)
    1. 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 (12 months ago)
    1. Cecil Gaines: I know my way around.
    – Submitted by Lucas B (12 months ago)
    1. John F. Kennedy: I'll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.
    2. Jacqueline Kennedy: Eight years.
    – Submitted by Kathy O (12 months ago)
    1. Cecil Gaines: You need to go.
    2. Louis Gaines: What?
    3. Cecil Gaines: Get the hell out!
    4. Louis Gaines: Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Butler. I didn't mean to make fun of your hero!
    – Submitted by Moe J (12 months ago)
    1. Gloria Gaines: Everything you are and everything you have, is because of that butler.
    – Submitted by Marcus Y (12 months ago)
View all quotes (9)

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