The Elephant Man

  • Review Date: August 24, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1980
  • Running Time: 123 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Heartbreaking drama isn't for sensitive viewers.
  • Review Date: August 24, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1980
  • Running Time: 123 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Human cruelty, often dealt with a drunken hand. Exploitation of the physically afflicted.


Physical and emotional abuse; heinous neglect.

Not applicable
Not applicable
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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this emotionally intense movie contains possibly disturbing imagery of cruel treatment, deformities, and surgery. It also treats thoughtfully its themes of exploitation, kindness, and strength of the human spirit.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

In THE ELEPHANT MAN, Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) makes a shocking discovery at a carnival side show: an "Elephant Man" (John Hurt) exhibiting a grotesque deformity over most of his body. Because he's sick and shows signs of abuse, he's brought to London Hospital, where he's studied and made a spectacle of all over again. Another shock comes when it becomes clear that Merrick isn't the imbecile they thought he was, but a compassionate and literate gentleman who's been playing dumb out of fear. Treves exposes him to culture, finery, things he's only dreamed of experiencing, yet a question gnaws at him. Is he exploiting his unfortunate friend for personal gain? Under his supervision, John Merrick, who suffers from "a disfigurement of the most extreme nature," is clothed, fed, shown a loving care he's never before known, but he's still on display, still a freak, and through him Treves has made a name for himself in the medical community and London society.

Is it any good?


Based on The Elephant Man and Other Reminisces by the real-life Treves, as well as Ashley Montagu's The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity, this dark and beautiful 1980 movie leaves the question unanswered. Director and co-writer David Lynch doesn't explain the characters' actions, which makes them good topics of discussion for teenagers mature enough to tackle the subject matter.

Lynch doesn't sentimentalize, either, or tone down his trademark haunting imagery (the design for John Hurt's makeup came from casts of the real John Merrick). He gives us Victorian England in all of its squalor, but he also gives us his most deeply affecting work in starkly beautiful black and white. Standouts in a phenomenal cast are stars Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, and Kenny Baker, the dwarf who, upon leading Merrick toward freedom, says, "Luck, my friend. Luck. And who needs it more than we?"

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether the doctor who rescues the Elephant Man from a circus, only to put him on a different sort of display is a "good man," or a "bad man," as he himself wonders aloud. They might also discuss how society's treatment of the disabled has changed and how it has remained the same since the times of the Elephant Man.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 3, 1980
DVD release date:May 13, 2003
Cast:Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, John Hurt
Director:David Lynch
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:123 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:Parental Guidance Suggested

This review of The Elephant Man was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 16 years old Written bymoviemogul 2.0;... April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Inspiring, sad, and just plain good

Adult Written byBestPicture1996 June 6, 2014

A surreal yet completely human story

The man profiled in this movie is not a Karloff-like creature that has tusks growing from his mouth: Mr. Merrick was a real life human being with an awful condition, but was treated worse than an animal. This movie shows that everyone deserves to be treated the same, and can be a metaphor for minorities, gays, or anyone that has been discriminated for who they are on the outside. I found myself tearing up at Merrick's confessions about his mother and how a beautiful woman had never treated him so kindly. The story of Merrick will stay with you, as will the rest of this beautifully shot, well acted, haunting, mildly surreal film.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Teen, 15 years old Written bycaatherine April 12, 2014

it was the best of films,its was the worst of films

I remember watching this film when I was 5 Or 6 years old ( I was a very pretentious child) and it didn't mess me up (the same can't be said for another David lynch film,I'm looking at you eraserhead). This is an fantastic film with amazing acting, It is worth every minute you spend watching it! Thank you for your time


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