The Elephant Man Movie Poster Image

The Elephant Man



Heartbreaking drama isn't for sensitive viewers.
  • 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.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking
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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.

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?


This dark and beautiful 1980 movie is 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. 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/Streaming 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

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Teen, 16 years old Written bymoviemogul 2.0;... April 9, 2008

Inspiring, sad, and just plain good

Teen, 13 years old Written byrebo344 July 23, 2015
This is an excellent movie. Very sad and John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins did well. Grade: A
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 15 years old Written byehh108 April 9, 2008

A masterpiece

This is one of the most moving films ever made. John Hurt does a magnificent job under his makeup portraying a human who is only beginning to discover his humanity. This is not a movie for young kids, as it has many disturbing and scary images. For mature viewers, however, it is a must-see.