Critics Consensus

Smartly filmed, tightly scripted, and -- most importantly -- consistently frightening, Poltergeist is a modern horror classic.



Reviews Counted: 59

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Audience Score

User Ratings: 182,116


All Critics | Top Critics
Average Rating: N/A
Reviews Count: 0
Fresh: 0
Rotten: 0


Average Rating: 3.4/5

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Movie Info

With Poltergeist, directed by Tobe Hooper, Steven Spielberg had his first great success as a producer. Released around the same time as Spielberg's E.T., the film presents the dark side of Spielberg's California suburban track homes. The film centers on the Freeling family, a typical middle class family living in the peaceful Cuesta Verde Estates. The father, Steve (Craig T. Nelson), has fallen asleep in front of the television, and the dog saunters around the house revealing the other family members -- Steve's wife Diane (JoBeth Williams), sixteen-year-old daughter Dana (Dominique Dunne), eight-year-old son Robbie (Oliver Robins), and five-year-old Carol Ann (Heather O'Rourke). Soon strange things begin to happen around the house; the pet canary dies, mysterious storms occur, and Carol Ann is summoned to the TV set, where a strange shaft of green light hits her and causes the room to shake ("They're he-e-ere!"). As curious events continue, Carol Ann is repeatedly drawn to the television, where she begins to talk to "the TV people." Soon Carol Ann is sucked into a closet, disappearing from this reality plane. Unable to find his daughter, Steve consults Dr. Lesh (Beatrice Straight), a para-psychologist from a nearby college. Lesh finds that paranormal phenomena is so strong in the Freelong household she is unable to deal with it and sends for clairvoyant and professional exorcist Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) to examine the house in hopes of finding Carol Ann. Tangina makes a horrifying discovery: Carol Ann is alive and in the house, but is being held on another spectral plane. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi

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JoBeth Williams
as Diane Freeling
Craig T. Nelson
as Steve Freeling
Dominique Dunne
as Dana Freeling
Oliver Robins
as Robbie Freeling
Heather O'Rourke
as Carol Anne Freeling
Zelda Rubinstein
as Tangina Barrons
Virginia Kiser
as Mrs. Tuthill
Lou Perry
as Pugsley
Clair E. Leucart
as Bulldozer Driver
Dirk Blocker
as Jeff Shaw
Helen Baron
as Woman Buyer
Noel Conlon
as Husband
Robert Broyles
as Pool Worker No. 1
Joseph Walsh
as Neighbor
Sonny Landham
as Pool Worker No. 2
Jeff Bannister
as Implosion Man
William Vail
as Implosion Man
Craig Simmons
as Implosion Man
Philip Stone
as Football Announcer
Phil Stone
as Football Announcer
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News & Interviews for Poltergeist

Critic Reviews for Poltergeist

All Critics (59) | Top Critics (8)

  • [It] raises interesting psychological issues in the context of a baroque ghost story. It's a devastating commentary on the tv-oriented suburban lifestyle. Finally, it demonstrates the power and efficacy of the story told from the child's point of view.

    Apr 26, 2018 | Full Review…
  • The film delivers honest special-effects shocks without forfeiting its good nature.

    Jun 1, 2011 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • Given the talents, Poltergeist is an annoying film because it could have been so much better.

    Sep 25, 2007 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • Though the shocks are well conveyed, it's the sweetness that lingers, making this the first cute and cuddly entry in the genre.

    Sep 25, 2007 | Full Review…
  • It is consistently redeemed by its creator's dazzling sense of craft.

    Feb 9, 2006 | Full Review…

    David Pirie

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • Hooper and Spielberg hold our interest by observing the everyday rituals of this family so closely that, since the family seems real, the weird events take on a certain credibility by association.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3/4

Audience Reviews for Poltergeist

Even with the level of horror toned down to meet Spielberg's crowd-pleasing standards (which is a pity considering that this movie was also directed by the guy who conceived one of the most terrifying films ever), Poltergeist is quite entertaining and has a lot of great moments.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

Poltergeist represents horror at it's top form in the early 80's. It's not the best horror movie out there, but it definitely deserves it's high praise. Relying on the cast and practical effects to drive this ridiculous story, "Poltergeist" becomes far more impressive than it should be. I loved Poltergeist almost to the point that it has become one of my favourite horror films, however, I am not too much of a fan of how off-the-rails it goes towards the end of the film. I liked leaving everything to my imagination. I jumped, felt the pain, and I was scared for the parents in this film. Every good element that a horror film should have is present here. With a great cast, a lovable and insane premise, everything about this film just feels right, as far as this genre goes. "Poltergeist" is one hell of a thrilling horror flick that I can watch anytime. Highly recommended to the horror junkies.

KJ Proulx
KJ Proulx

Super Reviewer

When researching Horror films, you will undoubtedly come across, "Poltergeist". You'll also notice that the film is often showered with adulation. I have no idea why. The attraction to this movie has always been lost on me. I didn't think it was scary when I was a kid, and after a recent viewing, I still can't establish a connection to the film. If anything, the recent screening caused me to dislike "Poltergeist" even more. The film's biggest weakness, is that all of the scares are derived through special effects. For me, this style always comes up lame. Although state-of-the-art at the time, 30 years certainly hasn't done the effects any favors. There isn't any tension or atmosphere to make the viewer uncomfortable, so once the special effects are rendered useless, all you're left with is annoying characters and poor acting. Speaking of the acting, it may unintentionally, be the most horrific part of the whole spectacle. What also makes "Poltergeist" suffer, is the fact that the film seems very impressed with itself. That's actually common in Spielberg movies, so it's not a surprise here. It also carries a constant hint of optimism, that ends up detracting from the horror. "Poltergeist" is corny nonsense. It might beat today's paranormal efforts, but that doesn't say much.

Jason Calvin
Jason Calvin

Super Reviewer


A suburban home is invaded by an evil presence which befriends the family's young daughter and draws her into its spirit realm. Although Tobe Hooper is credited as director of Poltergeist, producer Steven Spielberg's fingerprints are all over it. Hooper's pedigree within the cult horror fraternity as creator of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is combined with Spielberg's consummate skill as entertainer to create a hybrid that contains many of the horror standards including living trees, evil clowns, self mutilation and corpses aplenty but maintains its mainstream crowd-pleasing sensibilities. It shares a lot of ingredients with Close Encounters Of The Third Kind but this snap shot of likeable suburban America is disturbed by something far less benevolent. The special effects have actually dated surprisingly well considering and there are some great moments, particularly the disturbing kitchen scene and a great finale when coffins literally start erupting out of the ground. Kind of like Jaws for ghosts, Poltergeist is warm and funny plus creepy and chilling when it means to be and succeeds at everything it sets out to do. One of the classic family-orientated horror films.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

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