Zelig (1983) - Rotten Tomatoes

Zelig (1983)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

Movie Info

Driven by a desperate need to conform, Leonard Zelig develops the bizarre ability to take on the physical characteristics of anyone he happens to be near. This hilarious mock-documentary tells the life story of this "human chameleon," from his initial celebrity in the 1920s to later efforts to cure him.more
Rating: PG
Genre: Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Woody Allen
In Theaters:
On DVD: Nov 6, 2001
Warner Home Video

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Woody Allen
as Leonard Zelig
Mia Farrow
as Dr. Eudora Fletcher
Garrett M. Brown
as Actor Zelig
Stephanie Farrow
as Sister Meryl
John Buckwalter
as Dr. Sindell
Marvin Chatinover
as Glandular Diagnosis ...
Stanley Swerdlow
as Mexican Food Doctor
Paul Nevens
as Dr. Birsky
Howard Erskine
as Hypodermic Doctor
George Hamlin
as Experimental Drugs D...
Ralph Bell
as Other Doctor
Richard Whiting
as Other Doctor
Will Hussung
as Other Doctor
Robert Iglesia
as Man in Barber Chair
Eli Resnick
as Man in Park
Wendy Craig
as Herself
Gale Hansen
as Freshman No. 1
Michael Jeter
as Freshman No. 2
Peter McRobbie
as Workers Rally Speake...
Sol Lomita
as Martin Geist
Mary Louise Wilson
as Sister Ruth
Alice Beardsley
as Telephone Operator
Paula Trueman
as Woman at Telephone
Charles Denney
as Actor Doctor
Michael Kell
as Actor Koslow
Sharon Ferrol
as Miss Baker
Richard Litt
as Charles Koslow
John Rothman
as Paul Deghuee
Francis Beggins
as City Hall Speaker
Jean Trowbridge
as Dr. Fletcher's Mothe...
Ken Chapin
as On-Camera Interviewe...
Gerald Klein
as Hearst Guest
Vincent Jerosa
as Hearst Guest
Deborah Rush
as Lita Fox
Stanley Simmonds
as Lita's Lawyer
Robert Berger
as Zelig's Lawyer
Jeanine Jackson
as Helen Gray
Erma Campbell
as Zelig's Wife
Anton Marco
as Wrist Victim
Louise Deitch
as House Painting Victi...
Bernice Dowis
as Vilification Woman
John Doumanian
as Greek Waiter
Ed Lane
as Man on Telephone
Marianne Tatum
as Actress Fletcher
Will Holt
as Rally Chancellor
Cole Palen
as Zelig's Stunt Double
Pam Barber
as Fletcher's Stunt Dou...
Bernie Herold
as Carter Dean
Marshall Coles Sr.
as Calvin Turner
Ellen Garrison
as Older Doctor Fletche...
Jack Cannon
as Mike Geibell
Theodore R. Smits
as Ted Bierbauer
Sherman Loud
as Older Paul
Elizabeth Rothschild
as Older Sister Meryl
Susan Sontag
as Herself
Irving Howe
as Himself
Saul Bellow
as Himself
as Herself
Ed Herlihy
as Himself
Dwight Weist
as Himself
Gordon Gould
as Himself
Windy Craig
as Himself
Jurgen Kuehn
as Himself
Kuno Sponholz
as Oswald Pohl
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Zelig

Critic Reviews for Zelig

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (3)

Lampooning documentary tradition by structuring the entire film as a meticulously crafted bogus docu, Woody Allen tackles some serious stuff en route

Full Review… | July 7, 2010
Top Critic

The comedy tends to the smirk-inducing rather than the laugh-out-loud, and the second half wanders somewhat, but Zelig is a strong contender for Allen's most fascinating film.

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

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

A masterpiece: a brilliant, even passionate historical pastiche, a superbly pregnant meditation on American society and individuality, and an eerie fantasy that will live in your dreams.

Full Review… | December 22, 2011

Woody Allen's Zelig (1983) perfected the fake documentary a year before This Is Spinal Tap.

Full Review… | September 8, 2007
Combustible Celluloid

Hilarious Woody Allen vehicle, a mockumentary with special effects ahead of its time.

December 8, 2006
Dispatch-Tribune Newspapers

Audience Reviews for Zelig


This mockumentary about a human chameleon who is able to change race, appearance, and professional demeanor at will is rather clever with the "archive footage," the smoooth 'n smarmy radio-voiced "narrator," and the "cameo interviews" with actual famous literati, but the movie tips on the tightrope of Woody Allen's slapstick inanity and Woody Allen's in-depth human analysis without ever transcending to the latter.

I'm not one for blanket political correctness, but if you're gonna use blackface and slant-eyed make-up, you've gotta say something narratively relevant and not just treat it as a gag. There's so much social and cultural critique to be mined for both smart comedy and introspective pathos: people's prejudices toward different races, the knowledge of one's own race as the Other, the oftentimes unquestioned authority of those in respected professions, et cetera.

The fictional Dr. Eudora Fletcher states that to the untrained observer, Zelig's faux-psychiatrist sounds realistic, but he's really just deploying cliched lingo. It would follow that Zelig adopts different stereotypical speech patterns for different races or classes, but all of this "research" is presented in silent "archive footage," not some tour de force bit of spoof acting like Robert Downey Jr.'s in "Tropic Thunder." Nothing changes within Woody or Zelig to actually BECOME or even inhabit another personality, which is sadly unsurprising since Woody Allen seems incapable of playing anyone other than Woody Allen. (And anyway, mimicking Dr. Fletcher is technically a plothole because Zelig's chameleonic power doesn't work with or on women.)

Without grounding in what it actually means to "pass" as a different race, class, or other distinction, this lightweight premise and execution is almost as insulting as Woody's blind man bit in "Hollywood Ending."

Alice Shen

Super Reviewer

This is Woody Allen's funny, offbeat, and really cleverly hilarious mockumentary about Leonard Zelig, the "human chameleon"- a man with a multiple personality disorder so bad, he compulsively transforms into anyone that he is near.

The bulk of the film is shot in the style of 1920s/30s newsreels, and follows Leonard through history as he does everything from show up to batting practive with Babe Ruth, appear at the Vatican with Pope Pius and stand behind Hitler at the Nuremberg Rally. Basically, this film pioneered the same concept and special effects later used to great effect and acclaim by Robert Zemeckis with Forrest Gump.

This film is a lot funnier, more clever, and more zany, though. Besides his antics with mimicking people and showing up at various historical events, Zelig becomes a celebrity in his own right, and, while being treated and cured by Dr. Eudora Fletcher, he falls in love.

This is a brisk, funny, very sweet, and terrific film. I loved the ideas and the execution. At a running time of 80 somehting minutes though, this feels really slight and the style seems to overrun the substance. The film does get slightly beneath the surface though, so it's not all fluff. It's not one of Woody's best, but I'd put it near the top of his B-Sides.

Chris Weber

Super Reviewer


My mind has now been blown by Woody Allen. I mean, I have always liked him. Yet, this film makes me feel as though I am only beginning to scratch the surface of Allen's creativity. The fact that this was made in the 80's only serves to impressive me even more. The special effects are incredibly well done and this film succeeded in looking like a collage of film stock from the 20's. The film may lose steam in the middle, but the impression is likely to stay with you forever. A wholly unique and mesmerizing experience.

Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

Zelig Quotes

– Submitted by Dan J (3 years ago)

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