Theatrical release poster
Directed byJonathan Demme
Screenplay by
Based onBeloved
by Toni Morrison
Produced by
CinematographyTak Fujimoto
Edited by
Music byRachel Portman
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release date
  • October 8, 1998 (1998-10-08)
Running time
172 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$80 million[1]
Box office$22.9 million

Beloved is a 1998 American gothic psychological horror drama film[2] directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, and Thandiwe Newton. Based on Toni Morrison's 1987 novel of the same name, the plot centers on a formerly enslaved person after the American Civil War, her haunting by a poltergeist, and the visitation of her reincarnated daughter. This was the first film produced by Harpo Films.

Despite being a box office bomb,[3] Beloved received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design for Colleen Atwood, the film received mostly positive reviews, and both Danny Glover and Kimberly Elise received praise for their performances.


Sethe is a former slave living on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio shortly after the Civil War. An angry poltergeist residing in the family home terrorizes her and her three children, causing two of them to run away forever.

Eight years later, Sethe lives alone with her daughter, Denver. Paul D, an old friend from Sweet Home, the plantation Sethe had escaped from years earlier, finds her home and drives off the angry spirit that inhabits it. Afterwards, he proposes he stay and Sethe responds favorably. Shortly after Paul D. moves in, a clean young woman named Beloved, who appears to have a cognitive delay, finds her way into Sethe's yard, and Sethe takes her in.

Denver is initially happy to have Beloved around, but learns that she is Sethe's reincarnated daughter. Nonetheless, she chooses not to tell Beloved's origins to Sethe. One night, Beloved, aware that Paul D dislikes her, immobilizes him with a spell, rapes him. He resolves to tell Sethe what happened, but instead asks her to have a baby with him. When Stamp Paid, a co-worker of Paul D who has known her for many years, learns of Paul D's plans for a family with Sethe, he pulls a newspaper clipping featuring Sethe and tells her story to the illiterate Paul D.

Years ago, Sethe was raped by the nephews of Schoolteacher, the owner of Sweet Home. She complained to Mrs. Garner, his sister-in-law, who confronted him. In retaliation, Schoolteacher and his nephews brutally whipped Sethe, leaving a "tree" of keloid scars on her back. Heavily pregnant with her fourth child, Sethe planned to escape. Her other children were sent off earlier to live with Baby Suggs, her mother-in-law, but Sethe stayed behind to look for her husband, Halle. She was assaulted while searching for him in the barn. The Schoolteacher's nephews held her down, raped her, and forcibly took her breast milk.

When Halle failed to appear, Sethe ran off alone. She crossed paths with Amy Denver, a white girl who treated her injuries and delivered her child, whom she named after her. Sethe eventually reached Baby Suggs' home, but her initial happiness was short-lived when Schoolteacher came to claim Sethe and her children.

In desperation, Sethe slit her older daughter's throat, and attempted to kill her other children. Stamp Paid managed to stop her and the disgusted Schoolteacher departed. Sethe is detained for an unknown amount of time, and it is later revealed she was saved from hanging by the prominent Cincinnati family the Bodwins, who knew Baby Suggs.

Paul D, horrified by the revelation and suddenly understanding the origin of the poltergeist, confronts Sethe. She unapologetically justifies herself, insisting her children are better off dead than enslaved. Paul D. departs shortly thereafter in protest. Afterwards, Sethe realizes that Beloved is the reincarnation of her dead daughter.

Elated yet guilty, Sethe spoils Beloved with elaborate gifts while neglecting Denver. Beloved soon throws a destructive tantrum and her malevolent presence causes living conditions in the house to deteriorate. The women live in squalor and Sethe is unable to work, having become physically and mentally drained by Beloved's parasitic nature. Denver becomes depressed yet, inspired by a memory of her grandmother's confidence in her, she musters the courage to seek employment.

Once Denver gets work with the Bodwins, women from the local church visit Sethe's to perform an exorcism. They do this partly from guilt; years before, they hadn't warned Sethe of Schoolteacher's impending arrival. They are comforting the family, praying and singing loudly when Denver's new employer arrives to pick her up for work. Sethe sees him and, reminded of Schoolteacher's arrival, attacks him with an icepick, but is subdued by Denver and the women. During the commotion, Beloved disappears completely and Sethe, freed from Beloved's grip, becomes permanently bedridden.

Some months later, Paul D encounters Denver at the marketplace. She has become a confident and mature young woman. Arriving at Sethe's he finds her suffering from a deep malaise. He assures Sethe that he and Denver will now take care of her. She tells him she doesn't see the point, as Beloved, her "best thing", is gone. Paul D disagrees, telling Sethe that she herself is her own best thing.


Additionally, Jonathan Demme regular Charles Napier has a cameo as an angry carnie.


Prior to Morrison's receipt of the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, Winfrey purchased the rights to the novel in 1987; the translation to film then occurred a decade later.[3] There was a conflict over screenplay credit with Akosua Busia demanding sole credit and saying Adam Brooks and Richard LaGravenese got too much. WGA gave credit to all three. Busia said they were all little more than script doctors.[4]

Filming locations

Street scenes were filmed in the Old City and Manayunk neighborhoods of Philadelphia.[5] Some other scenes were shot on a soundstage in the city's disused (and later demolished) Civic Center.[5]

Shooting also took place on the north side of the Schuylkill River within Valley Forge National Historical Park in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania,[6] and at the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.[7]

Shooting was done in a field in Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Cecil County, Maryland, at a spot just east of Big Elk Creek and just south of the border with Chester County, Pennsylvania.[8] The State of Maryland subsequently compiled a location map and photographs of the buildings constructed for the film in Fair Hill NRMA.[9]

Filming locations also included New Castle, Delaware.[citation needed]

Praise for Winfrey

During promotion of the film, Thandiwe Newton said to Vogue magazine, "Here we were working on this project with the heavy underbelly of political and social realism, and she managed to lighten things up ... I've worked with a lot of good actors, and I know Oprah hasn't made many films. I was stunned. She's a very strong technical actress and it's because she's so smart. She's acute. She's got a mind like a razor blade."[10]

Box office

Beloved was a box office bomb and could not come close to surpassing its $80 million budget. It grossed only $8,165,551 on its opening weekend,[11] ranking #5 and being beat out by the horror movie Bride of Chucky which ranked #2 and grossed approximately $11,830,855 the same weekend. Oprah Winfrey has gone on public record stating that she ate 30 pounds of macaroni and cheese when she was informed the Saturday after the movie opened that "we got beat by something called Chucky."[12] She also claimed that Beloved's failure at the box office was the worst moment in her career and brought her into a major depression.[13] "It was the only time in my life that I was ever depressed, and I recognised that I (was) depressed because I've done enough shows (on the topic). 'Oh, this is what people must feel like who are depressed.'"[12]

Director Jonathan Demme has commented, "Beloved only played in theaters for four weeks. It made $22 million — I think that's a lot of money. And the only reason it left theaters after a month was because the Disney corporation that released the picture wanted all the Beloved theaters—where we were doing very well, in a number of situations — but the Walt Disney company wanted those theaters for Adam Sandler's Waterboy. So, we were told that they were gonna bring us back at the end of the year, and they didn't. But the picture did very respectfully. It was in the top ten its whole life."[14]

The film remained in theaters into the holiday season, and by 27 December 1998 had grossed $22,746,521.[11] The film later returned to theaters for two weeks in March 1999, grossing an additional $110,000.[11] It was also no longer listed in the top 10 on the box office chart by the November 6–8 weekend and had dropped to the rank of 12 on the chart by this point in time.[15]

Critical reception

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Beloved is currently assigned a 72% "fresh" rating based on 127 critic reviews, with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10. The site's consensus states, "A powerful, emotional and successful film adaptation of the original novel."[16] It has a weighted average score of 57 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 24 critic reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[17] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[18]

Film critic Roger Ebert awarded the film 3½ stars out of 4, praising its cast and emotional weight of the storylines. He wrote that its nonlinear narrative "coils through past and present, through memory and hallucination, giving us shards of events that we are required to piece back together. It is not an easy film to follow. ... The complexity is not simply a stylistic device; it is built out of Sethe's memories, and the ones at the core are so painful that her mind circles them warily, afraid to touch."[19]

Comparing the film and the novel to the Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw, he noted the use of supernatural elements "to touch on deep feelings" as well as the deliberate lack of a final explanation. He added, "Spirit manifestations come from madness and need not follow logical agendas. It is a remarkable and brave achievement for Demme and his producer and star, Winfrey, to face this difficult material head-on and not try to dumb it down into a more accessible, less evocative form."[19]

He also expressed that some of the audience "will not like it–will find it confusing or too convoluted. And it does not provide the kind of easy lift at the end that they might expect. Sethe's tragic story is the kind where the only happy ending is that it is over."[19]


See also


  1. ^ Staff. "Beloved". Box Office Mojo., Inc. Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2013-12-30.
  2. ^ "Beloved". Turner Classic Movies. Archived from the original on April 2, 2016. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  3. ^ a b Suskind, Alex (2013-08-08). "Oprah Winfrey on 'Lee Daniels' The Butler,' Returning to the Big Screen, and the Commercial Failure of 'Beloved'". Moviefone. Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  4. ^ Fierman, Daniel (1998-10-16). "Brawl Over 'Beloved'". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  5. ^ a b "Old City finally ready for close-ups". The Philadelphia Inquirer. 12 December 1997. pp. A10. Retrieved 2021-02-15.
  6. ^ Valley Forge NHP Special Use Permit Oct. 16 & 17, 1997.
  7. ^ Marschka, Dan (2014-02-19). "Oprah Winfrey filming "Beloved" at Landis Valley". Lancaster Online. LNP Media Group. Archived from the original on 2017-08-07. Retrieved 2021-02-15.
  8. ^ Shapiro, Stephanie (1998-08-10). "Fair Hill has hopes for set of 'Beloved' Tourism: The Cecil County community believes the curious will come if the movie set built for filming the Toni Morrison novel is allowed to remain". The Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on 2014-01-02. Retrieved 2014-01-01.
  9. ^ C. Mazurek (1998-07-01). "CE-1517: Beloved movie Set, Fair Hill NRMA" (PDF). Maryland State Archives. Maryland Historical Trust. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2013-12-29.
  10. ^ Meter, Jonathan Van (2011-05-25). "From the Archives: Oprah Winfrey in Vogue". Vogue. Archived from the original on 2017-03-31. Retrieved 2021-02-15.
  11. ^ a b c "Beloved (1998) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
  12. ^ a b "Interview". CNN. Archived from the original on 2011-01-17.
  13. ^ "Oprah Reveals Her Biggest Failure". HuffPost. 2011-01-12. Archived from the original on 2020-10-31. Retrieved 2021-02-15.
  14. ^ "Reelblack talks to Jonathan Demme about New Home Movies". Reelblack. September 29, 2007. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22 – via YouTube.
  15. ^ "Domestic 1998 Weekend 45". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on 16 September 2017. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  16. ^ Beloved at Rotten Tomatoes
  17. ^ Beloved at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  18. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Beloved" in the search box). CinemaScore. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  19. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (1998-10-16). "Beloved". Archived from the original on 2013-06-10. Retrieved 2021-02-15.
  20. ^ Braxton, Greg (1998-12-11). "'Beloved,' 'Homicide' Top NAACP Image Award Nominations". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 2013-10-04. Retrieved 2013-10-01.

Further reading