Critics Consensus

Tommy is as erratic and propulsive as a game of pinball, incorporating The Who's songs into an irreverent odyssey with the visual imagination that only director Ken Russell can conjure.



Total Count: 26


Audience Score

User Ratings: 30,210
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Tommy Photos

Movie Info

A boy born and raised in post-WWII England grows up seemingly deaf and mute due to a traumatic experience in his youth. He eventually gains fame as a pinball champion, is billed as a messiah and attempts to lead a religious sect.

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as Nora Walker Hobbs
Oliver Reed
as Frank Hobbs
Elton John
as Pinball Wizard
Tina Turner
as Acid Queen
Eric Clapton
as Preacher
Keith Moon
as Uncle Ernie
Jack Nicholson
as The Specialist
Robert Powell
as Capt. Walker
Paul Nicholas
as Cousin Kevin
Barry Winch
as Young Tommy
Victoria Russell
as Sally Simpson
Ben Aris
as Rev. Simpson
Mary Holland
as Mrs. Simpson
Eddie Stacey
as Bovver Boy
Juliet King
as Handmaiden
Gillian King
as Handmaiden
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News & Interviews for Tommy

Critic Reviews for Tommy

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (6) | Fresh (20) | Rotten (6)

  • One thing is sure: there has never been a movie musical quite like Tommy, a weird, crazy, wonderfully excessive version of The Who's rock opera.

    May 6, 2013 | Full Review…
    TIME Magazine
    Top Critic
  • This 1975 film's inventiveness begins to flag about halfway through, but by then it's a relief. If only Wagner could have lived to see this.

    May 6, 2013 | Full Review…
  • Ken Russell's filmization of Tommy is spectacular in nearly every way.

    Mar 26, 2009 | Full Review…

    Variety Staff

    Top Critic
  • This is both the movie in which [Russell] is most faithful to the ideas and tone of his material, and one of his very worst films.

    Jun 24, 2006 | Full Review…

    Geoff Andrew

    Time Out
    Top Critic
  • It's all fairly excessive and far from subtle, but in this case good taste would have been wildly inappropriate and a fearful drag.

    May 9, 2005 | Rating: 3/5
  • A heaven-sent opportunity for [director Ken Russell] to exercise his gift for going too far, for creating three-ring cinematic circuses with kinky sideshows.

    Oct 23, 2004 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Tommy

  • Jun 02, 2015
    A young man grows up seemingly deaf and mute and becomes pinball champion and a leader of a religious cult. If I were doing one-sentence reviews, I would simply write, "What the fuck?" and that would be that. Since I feel the need to write more substantive reviews - what the actual fuck? This film is nuts. The plot is weird and non-sensical, the cinematography is an LSD trip, and the acting is over-blown. That said, Tommy is also a hell of a ride. Consistently engaging, it kept me guessing, and some of the musical numbers are well-choreographed. Overall ... what the actual fuck?
    Jim H Super Reviewer
  • May 12, 2014
    The Who's translation of Tommy onto the big screen is an unfortunate flop. While weirdness and craziness are part of the appeal, it is used to the point of irrelevance.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Sep 06, 2012
    Reasonably family-friendly social metaphorical overtones within the story of a blind, deaf and dumb master pinball player that's told entirely through musical numbers and by '60s and '70s musicians in acting roles. What could possibly go wrong? Well, with the exception of Ann-Margret's... Golden Globe-winning performance (We'll just forget about that and the giving of Best Dramatic Actress to Sharon Stone for "Casino" when comparing the decisions of the Oscars and Globes), I suppose things went by just fine, though make no mistake, this film is so cheesy that, for a second there, I almost thought that this was a biopic on Tommy Tutone (They didn't even show up until two years after this film, but I was still pretty suspicious). Yeah, this film probably doesn't really help the rumors that Pete Townshend is gay; it certainly made for a dead giveaway for Elton John, because the only kind of people I can see wearing something as crazy as those super shoes or whatever they are are either flamboyantly gay or some really retro hipsters, and we were just barely on our way out of the hippie era by the time this film came out, and hardly getting started towards the hipster era, so that kind of narrows it down. Yeah, I know that crazy tall footwear sounds more like the concoction of potheads, but really, I don't know if you can make up some of the stuff in this film, even if you were as high as Elton John physically was in those Pinball Wizard shoes, though I'd imagine this stuff would be fun to see while you're high, or at least until they bring out the Pinball Wizard, because, I don't know about y'all, but a 10-foot-tall Elton John playing the piano and pinball at the same time is too trippy to handle for someone who's not high. Eh, whatever, this is still a pretty fun film, even if you have to be on drugs to really appreciate it. ...No, I think that even potheads would get weirded out by this film, for although this is quite the piece of entertainment, it sometimes doesn't just get far-out, but just plain "out of sight" (Get it?), and not necessarily in a good way. The film is nothing if not ultrastylized filmmaking experimentation, boasting a bare-bones and underused plot that primarily serves as a vehicle for interpretive musical numbers and thematic messaging, so of course the story isn't terribly well thought-out, and I'm not asking for it to be, though this film, with all of its surrealism, exaggerations, forced events and, of course, [b][u]"pinball aspects"[/u][/b], gets to be too corny and is all but consistent in being unsubtle about its paying little mind to crafting a compelling stand-alone story, thus diluting emotional resonance considerably. This profound lack of subtlety and considerable blow to resonance certainly taints the film's real intentions, because with all of this plot taking a backseat to thematic messaging and interpretive musical numbers, - which are specifically designed to serve as extra emphatic exposition - all of the themes that should be undertones become glaring overtones, and sometimes, the sole focus of the film, to where the film damages the effectiveness of its themes by overbearingly overemphasizing them to a preachy extent, and it doesn't help that, by 1975 alone, these themes of "it's the world that's truly blind" were discussed to death, and primarily through more than enough music. Of course, with all of the non-plot and profound lack - nay - absence of subtlety, one of the biggest blows to the film's effectiveness is, of course, the fact that it is gimmicky as all get-out, being entirely without traditional dialogue or exposition and being told entirely through surrealistic music video imagery and often corny musical numbers. It's certainly a uniquely nifty novelty, and one that isn't too terribly hard to mind, yet the problem is that it is nothing more than just novelty, serving no real advantageous purpose to the film's concepts and being nothing more than gimmick. It's gimmick that works more often than you'd think, to be sure, yet it is gimmick nevertheless, and after a while of watching all of this trippy imagery and ceaseless singery, while you'll surprisingly never completely fall out of the film, the gimmick is bound to where thin here and there, and your attention and investment with it for a moment. The film isn't so much overstylized as much as it's entirely built upon overstylizing, and with all of its good intentions, the film just ends up executing its interesting yet flawed concepts with a bit too much faithfulness to overbearingness and makes for an underwhelming overall final product. Still, it's not like the film fails entirely at its ambitions, for although the film is about as flawed as you would expect it to be when looking at its premise, the film hits enough high notes to keep you going through and through, particularly because it makes quite the "sight for soar eyes" (Get it?). Though dated now, Dick Bush's and Ronnie Taylor's cinematography was striking for its time and remains reasonably impressive to this day with its bouncing of color and just plain bouncing the camera around in an eye-catchingly trippy fashion, which pays quite the compliment to the often too weird, yet more often neat imagery, which is further complimented stylistic choices of a more audible nature. I always felt like The Who could compose a pretty neat score, and sure enough, they do, for although their score work gets to be a bit too cheesily lively, it is nevertheless lively, as well as unique and soulfully grand in a fashion that defines and sparks some life into this film, or if nothing else, helps in making some neat musical numbers. As I said, the film is interpreted entirely through musical numbers, and that concept, while neatly inventive, is bound to get pretty corny and rarely, if ever not be gimmicky, and is most certainly just those two things with this film, yet on the whole, it's hard to really mind all that much, as you'd be hard pressed to not be charmed and entertained quite a considerable bit by all of these classic musical talents' delivering on one colorful number after another, whether it be Tina Turner's "The Acid Queen", or Paul Nicholas' "Cousin Kevin", or Elton John's cover of "Pinball Wizard", or any other number of lively tunes, brought to life by just as lively visuals that create more than a few memorable moments throughout this colorful film, which also provides quite a few memorably colorful characters, though not entirely with the help of the acting performances behind the characters. Though asked to do nothing but stand there and be blind, deaf and dumb, leading man and The Who frontman Roger Daltrey does a better job than you'd expect at conveying the anguish and ambition of the titular Tommy Walker character through what expressions he's asked to don, though Daltrey's still not terribly impressive, and yet he's still the best acting performance of the film, as these musicians and even such skilled performers as the here-and-gone Robert Powell and Jack Nicholsonare asked to do nothing more than keep things lively and lip sync, and a few people can't even do the latter all that terribly convincingly, particularly Ann-Margret, who not only often has trouble lip syncing all that well, but, regardless of what the Golden Globes say, just plain can't act to save her life and overplays all of the hammy expressions and actions with an almost offensive ineptitude and lack of acting presence that, when at its worst, makes watching Olsson (Yeah, that's her real last name, what of it?) something of a challenge. Still, outside of Olsson, even with their having little, if anything to do, the performers have a certain charm about them that compliments the film's colorful characterization, which establishes one memorable character after another, whether it be Tina Turner's The Acid Queen, or Paul Nicholas' Cousin Kevin, or Elton John's Pinball Wizard, or such characters whose names aren't in the titles of the songs I already mentioned as Jack Nicholson's nameless doctor character (or as I prefer to call him, Dr. Eyebrow), Oliver Reed's Uncle Frank character and, of course, Roger Daltrey's titular Tommy Walker character. The film is built around its music and characters, as well as a transparently thin "story", and when you tackle a structure like that, you're film doesn't stand that much of a chance of being especially impressive, so of course this final product isn't, yet the musical and character aspects around which this film is built, while a bit overbearing at times, remain colorful and memorable enough to make the film itself colorful and memorable, or at least about as much as it can be with its immensely flawed intentions. Of course, what carries this film the most is simply the final product's just plain being so entertaining, with color, uniqueness and inspiration that may not be enough to drown out the many fatal flaws found within the film from as far back as its concept development stages, yet is enough for you to stick with the film through thick and thin, have a good time and walk away charmed. After the curtains fall, the film is left about as flawed as you would expect it to be, given its problematic intentions of painting an overbearingly cheesy and profoundly unsubtle "story and plot", which leaves both resonance and the effectiveness of the film's preachy themes to go heavily diluted, while the overall gimmicky novelty of the film gets to be disengagingly overwhelming and ultimately the key culprit behind the film's being underwhelming, yet never leaves the final product to come close to descending to mediocrity, let alone beneath contempt, as the memorably colorful cinematography and imagery, score work - which comes into particularly fine play during the lively musical numbers - and characters define this film and form the immense entertainment value that ultimately leaves Ken Russell's and The Who's "Tommy" to stand as a consistently enjoyable piece of stylish fluff, even if it isn't much more than a piece of stylish fluff. 2.5/5 - Fair
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2010
    This is one of the oddest musicals of all, but it's also pretty cool, and has a lot of good music from the Who. Plus, there are a lot of stars in it.
    Aj V Super Reviewer

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