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Water for Elephants (film)

Water for Elephants
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Produced by Gil Netter
Erwin Stoff
Andrew R. Tennenbaum
Screenplay by Richard LaGravenese
Based on Water for Elephants 
by Sara Gruen
Starring Reese Witherspoon
Robert Pattinson
Christoph Waltz
Hal Holbrook
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by Alan Edward Bell
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • April 22, 2011 (2011-04-22)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $38 million[2]
Box office $117.1 million[2]

Water for Elephants is a 2011 American romantic drama film directed by Francis Lawrence. Richard LaGravenese wrote the screenplay, which was based on Sara Gruen's 2006 novel of the same name. It stars Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz.[3][4]

The film was released in the United States and Canada on April 22, 2011, and received mixed to positive reviews from film critics; it garnered a "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based upon aggregated reviews,[5] and a rating of "mixed or average reviews" at Metacritic.[6]


The film opens in present day, when the proprietor of a small traveling circus (portrayed in the movie by Circus Vargas) encounters an elderly man, Jacob, who has apparently become detached from his nursing home group, which attended the circus earlier that day. They strike up a conversation and Jacob reveals that he had a career in the circus business and was present during one of the most infamous circus disasters of all time and the circus owner asks him to share his story.

Most of the film then takes place in a flashback to the era of the Great Depression. 23-year-old Polish American Jacob is a Cornell veterinary medicine student on the brink of a promising career as a veterinarian. Unfortunately, during his last final exam, he is informed that his parents were killed in a car crash. His father has left huge debts, and the bank was foreclosing on Jacob's home. Feeling there is no point in returning to school, and having no home to go to, he jumps onto a passing train where he meets Camel.

In the morning, Jacob discovers that he jumped on the Benzini Brothers Circus train. He sees a beautiful woman, Marlena Rosenbluth, and meets August, the circus owner, head animal trainer, and Marlena's husband. Jacob reveals he studied veterinary science and has noticed a problem with Silver, the star horse in the show. August agrees to hire Jacob as a vet for the circus animals after Jacob tells August that Silver has laminitis, is in terrible pain and will soon be unable to walk, never mind perform.

August instructs Jacob to "fix" Silver and keep him performing as long as possible. But Jacob cannot bear to see Silver's suffering and takes it upon himself to put Silver down. August is furious with Jacob's decision to euthanize Silver against orders. To show Jacob who is boss, he threatens to throw him from the moving train — telling him that an animal's suffering is nothing compared to a man's, and that Jacob must carry out all of August's future orders if he wishes to keep his job.

August eventually procures Rosie the elephant as Silver's replacement. He is initially thrilled and invites Jacob to his car for dinner and cocktails with him and Marlena. Jacob — clearly attracted to Marlena — watches uncomfortably as the married couple flirt and dance in front of him, but later in the evening becomes clear that their relationship is complicated. August is possessive, jealous and sometimes rough with Marlena.

In the next few weeks, August becomes frustrated when Rosie the elephant seems impossible to train. August is brutal with Rosie, beating her when she fails to follow orders. After one such beating that August gave to Rosie when she ran away after fleeing from the event and dropping Marlena, Jacob realizes that the elephant was trained in Polish and only understands Polish commands. After that, Rosie performs beautifully and the circus enjoys a short period of success. While working closely together to train Rosie, Jacob and Marlena fall in love. After August discovers this, he cruelly taunts the two. Later that night, Marlena discovers that August plans to throw Jacob from the train and they run away together, hiding in a local hotel. Soon after consummating their relationship, they are ambushed by August's henchmen who drag Marlena away and beat up Jacob.

Jacob returns to the circus to find Marlena. After Marlena finds Jacob she tells him that his friends Walter (Kinko) and Camel were thrown from the train and killed. Several circus employees have become fed up with August's murderous cruelty and unleash their revenge by unlocking all the animals' cages while the big top tent is jam-packed with an audience enjoying Marlena and Rosie's performance. Jacob attempts to find Marlena in the chaos and August attacks him. When Marlena tries to stop August from beating Jacob, he turns his fury on her and attempts to choke her, while one of August's henchmen continues beating Jacob. Two circus workers save Jacob just in time. Lying on the ground, bloodied and beaten, he looks up and sees Rosie hit August on the back of the head with a metal spike, killing him.

Back in the present, Jacob explains what happened afterward: he returned to Cornell, took his last exam, and finished his degree. He and Marlena took several of the horses and Rosie and got jobs with Ringling Brothers — he as a vet and she continuing to perform with the animals. They married and had five children and kept Rosie until her death many years later. Eventually, he took a job as a vet at the Albany Zoo and Marlena died peacefully in her bed at an old age. He convinces the circus owner to whom he is telling his story to hire him in the ticket booth. The circus owner agrees and Jacob states that he has finally come home.




On a budget of $38 million,[7] filming began on May 20, 2010 in Los Angeles, Piru, Fillmore in California; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Kensington and Chickamauga in Georgia. The filming wrapped up on August 4, 2010. This is the second time Witherspoon and Pattinson have costarred together as they had filmed a deleted scene from 2004's Vanity Fair in which he was her estranged son. Reshoots for the film were scheduled for mid January 2011.[8]

The stampede scenes were digitally composed.[9]

The Loco Star of the Movie

The film featured two locomotives, Tennessee Valley Railroad #610 and McCloud River Railroad No. 18. McCloud No. 18 was built in 1914, and it was the true star of the film.[10]


Critical response

Water for Elephants has received mixed to positive reviews; review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports that 60% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 189 reviews, with an average score of 6.1 out of 10. The critical consensus is: "It's a tale tastefully told and beautifully filmed, but Water for Elephants suffers from a pronounced lack of chemistry between its leads."[5] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 reviews from film critics, the film has a rating score of 52% based on 35 reviews.[6]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four, stating: "This is good sound family entertainment, a safe PG-13 but not a dumb one, and it's a refreshing interlude before we hurtle into the summer blockbuster season."[11] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review. He stated: "The Reese Witherspoon-Robert Pattinson film will please fans of Sara Gruen’s best seller, but it lacks the vital spark that would have made the drama truly compelling on the screen."[12]

Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film a positive review, stating that "despite the stars' lack of romantic chemistry, there's much to enjoy in this cinematic retelling of Sara Gruen's big top bestseller, starting with the spectacular circus setting."[13]

Richard Corliss of Time magazine stated: "The proceedings get so slow and saccharine that viewers will relish the film's moments of redeeming idiocy. In one of them, Marlena whispers to Jacob, 'Bring Rosie to my tent and don't tell anyone' — as if the roustabouts wouldn't notice a 12-ft.-tall, 10,000-lb. creature striding down the midway. Granted, they'd also take a look at his handler, the divoon Robert Pattinson; but Rosie has a pretty strong odor too, and that's what will stick to you after seeing Water for Elephants."[14] James Berardinelli, film critic for ReelViews,wrote: "There's an old-fashioned vibe to Water for Elephants; it's the kind of movie Hollywood once turned out with regularity but rarely does anymore."[15]

Some critics, however, praised the film's cast. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle stated that Pattinson succeeded at holding his own at the center of a major feature and that Witherspoon, while an odd fit for the role, was "actress enough to make it work." He continued: "the affectionate but turbulent dynamic among [Christoph] Waltz, Pattinson and Witherspoon is endlessly watchable."[16] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also said that Pattinson and Witherspoon "smoldered" under the "golden gaze of Rodrigo Prieto's camera."[17]

Box office

Water for Elephants was released in theaters on April 22, 2011. In the United States and Canada, Water for Elephants was released theatrically in 2,817 conventional theaters. The film grossed $6,924,487 during its opening day on April 22, 2011, with midnight screenings in 2,817 locations.[2] Overall the film made $16,842,353 and debuted at #3 on its opening weekend.[18] On its second weekend, it dropped to #4 and grossed $9,342,413 - $3,313 per theater.[19] By its third weekend it dropped down to #6 and made $6,069,603 - $2,322 per theater.[20] As of September 27, 2011 its final gross is $58,709,717 in the United States and $58,385,185 overseas, for a total of $117,094,902.[2]


Group Category Recipient Result
NewNowNext Awards Next Must See Movie Nominated
2011 Teen Choice Awards[21] Choice Movie – Drama Nominated
Choice Movie Actor – Drama Robert Pattinson Won
Choice Movie Actress – Drama Reese Witherspoon Nominated
38th People's Choice Awards Favorite Drama Movie Won
Favorite Book Adaption Nominated
Favorite Movie Actor Robert Pattinson Nominated
Favorite Movie Actress Reese Witherspoon Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Original Score James Newton Howard Nominated
Best Art Direction and Production Design Jack Fisk Nominated
Best Costume Design Jacqueline West Won

Home media

The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 1, 2011 in two physical packages: a 1-disc DVD and 2-disc Blu-ray/Digital Copy combo pack.[22][23] As of Nov. 6, it has been on Direct TV Cinema.


  1. ^ "WATER FOR ELEPHANTS (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2011-03-24. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Water for Elephants (2011)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-09-27.
  3. ^ "Full cast and crew for Water for Elephants (2011)". IMDb. Retrieved October 18, 2010.
  4. ^ Anderton, Ethan (2010-02-17). "Christoph Waltz Replacing Sean Penn in 'Water for Elephants'". Retrieved 2010-10-31.
  5. ^ a b "Water for Elephants Movie Reviews". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-04-21. 
  6. ^ a b "Water for Elephants Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  7. ^ Kaufman, Amy (April 21, 2011). "Movie Projector: Tyler Perry's latest 'Madea' film should trample 'Water for Elephants'". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved April 21, 2011. 
  8. ^ (2011-01-12). "Hollywood Insider : Robert Pattinson’s Elephants movie reshoots". What' Retrieved 2011-01-13[dead link]
  9. ^ Ian Failes (September 30, 2011). "Incredible, invisible, effects". fxguide. Retrieved November 4, 2011. 
  10. ^ "20th Century Fox shoots McCloud River No. 18 in action". Trains. May 28, 2010. 
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (2011-04-21). Water for Elephants :: :: Reviews. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  12. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants: Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  13. ^ Turan, Kenneth (2011-04-22). "Movie review: 'Water for Elephants'". Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  14. ^ Corliss, Richard (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants Review: Under the Big Top with Reese and RPattz". Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  15. ^ Berardinelli, James (2011-04-23). "Water for Elephants Review". ReelViews. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  16. ^ LaSalle, Mick (2011-04-22). "Water for Elephants review: High-wire circus act". Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  17. ^ Travers, Peter (2011-04-21). "Water for Elephants Review". Retrieved 2011-05-02.
  18. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for April 22-24, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-01.
  19. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for May 6-8, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  20. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for May 13-15, 2011". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-05-14.
  21. ^ Ng, Philiana (2011-07-19). "Teen Choice Awards 2011: 'Pretty Little Liars,' Rebecca Black Added to List of Nominees". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2011-07-27. 
  22. ^ DuHamel, Brandon (31 August 2011). "Water For Elephants Arrives on Blu-ray in November". Blu-ray Definition. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 
  23. ^ Rosenfield, Kat (31 August 2011). "Water For Elephants Stampeding Into Stores Nov. 1". MTV. Retrieved 13 September 2011. 

External links