The film has received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 48% of 188 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.5 out of 10. The film was released in theaters in January 2010. Alcon Entertainment financed and co-produced the film with Silver Pictures, while it was distributed by Warner Bros. in the United States; international sales were handled by Summit Entertainment.
Thirty years after a nuclear apocalypse, Eli (Denzel Washington) travels on foot toward the west coast of the former United States. Along the way he demonstrates uncanny survival and fighting skills, hunting wildlife and swiftly defeating a group of desert bandits who try to ambush him. Searching for water, he arrives in a ramshackle town rebuilt and overseen by Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Carnegie dreams of building more towns and of controlling the people by using the power of a certain book. His henchmen scour the desolate landscape daily in search of it, but to no avail.
In town he barters with a store owner, the Engineer (Tom Waits), to recharge the battery of his portable music player. While waiting, he goes across the street to the town bar, where a gang of bikers attack, but he quickly kills them all. Realizing Eli is a literate man like himself, Carnegie asks Eli to stay, making it clear that the offer is non-negotiable. After Carnegie's blind mistress Claudia (Jennifer Beals) gives Eli some food and water, Carnegie orders Claudia's daughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to seduce Eli, but he turns her down. While killing time, she finds his book. Unperturbed, Eli offers to share his food with her, and before they eat, he says grace. The following day, Solara repeats the prayer, but Carnegie overhears them and realizes Solara's words relate to the book he has been seeking. He soon forces Solara to tell him if Eli was reading a book, and realizes Eli's book is the one he wants—a Bible.
Eli sneaks out of his room and Carnegie has his henchmen shoot at Eli, but the bullets seemingly just graze him, as if he is being protected. Eli shoots most of Carnegie's men and hits Carnegie in the leg with a shotgun blast. Solara, having left the town, leads Eli to a cave which is the town's water supply, hoping she can accompany him on his travels. Eli traps her inside and continues on alone. Solara escapes and soon finds herself ambushed by two bandits who attempt to rape her, but Eli reappears and kills them. As they continue on, Eli explains his mission to Solara. According to Eli, his book is the last remaining copy of the Bible, as all other copies were intentionally destroyed following the nuclear war thirty years ago. He says he was led to the book by a voice in his head, which then directed him to travel westward to a place where it would be safe. The voice assured him that he would be protected and guided on his journey.
Eventually, Eli and Solara investigate an isolated house. They fall into a trap, but manage to allay the suspicions of the residents, George (Michael Gambon) and Martha (Frances de la Tour), who invite them in for tea. When Eli realizes that the couple are cannibals, they attempt to leave just as Carnegie and his henchmen arrive. In the ensuing shootout, George, Martha and many of Carnegie's men are killed. Eli and Solara are captured. When Carnegie threatens to kill Solara, Eli surrenders the Bible, but Carnegie shoots him, and leaves him for dead. Solara escapes and drives back to help Eli. Rather than chase her, Carnegie returns to the town, since his sole remaining vehicle is running low on fuel. Solara finds Eli, and they drive until they reach the Golden Gate Bridge, and then row to Alcatraz Island, where they find a group intent on preserving what they can of literature and music. Eli tells the guards that he has a copy of the King James Version of the Bible. Once inside, Eli, revealed to be blind, begins to dictate the Bible from memory to Lombardi (Malcolm McDowell), the leader of the group.
Meanwhile, back in the town, the Engineer opens the locked Bible where Carnegie discovers, to his dismay, that it is in Braille, and orders Claudia to read it to him. She pretends that she cannot remember how to read it, telling Carnegie his leg wound has become infected and his men have begun to run amok. At the sanctuary, Eli has died, but not before he finished reciting the entire book. The printing press at Alcatraz begins producing copies of the Bible, and Lombardi places one on a bookshelf between the Torah and Tanakh on one side and the Quran on the other. Solara, though offered sanctuary, chooses to return home, taking with her Eli's sword and other possessions.Denzel Washington as Eli
Gary Oldman as Carnegie
Mila Kunis as Solara
Ray Stevenson as Redridge
Jennifer Beals as Claudia
Evan Jones as Martz
Joe Pingue as Hoyt
Frances de la Tour as Martha
Michael Gambon as George
Tom Waits as Engineer
Chris Browning as Hijack Leader
Malcolm McDowell as Lombardi (uncredited)
In May 2007, Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. signed the Hughes brothers to direct The Book of Eli, based on a script by Gary Whitta. (The brothers had last directed the 2001 film From Hell.) Subsequently, Anthony Peckham rewrote the script, and in September 2008 Denzel Washington won the lead role. The following October, Gary Oldman was cast to star alongside Washington. Principal photography began in February 2009 and took place in New Mexico. Alcon Entertainment financed the film and co-produced with Silver Pictures.
Jeff Imada choreographed the complex fight scenes, which feature the Filipino martial art of Kali. Washington trained for months with Dan Inosanto and Imada for his role.
The film was released in North America on January 15, 2010 in 3,111 theaters. It took in $11,672,970—$3,752 per theater, its opening day. By the end of its opening four-day holiday weekend it grossed $38,437,553—$12,355 per theater. It ranked number two, behind Avatar. On its second weekend, it placed third with Legion taking its number two place and grossed $15,732,493—$5,057 per theater. By its third weekend it dropped down to number five and made $8,908,286—$2,897 per theater. The film has come to gross $94,835,059 in the United States and Canada, and $62,256,659 in other markets, with an estimated worldwide total of $157,091,718.
The film has received mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 48% of 188 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.5 out of 10. The site's consensus is that "It's certainly uneven, and many viewers will find that its reach exceeds its grasp, but The Book of Eli finds the Hughes brothers injecting some fresh stylish fun into the kind of post-apocalyptic wasteland filmgoers have seen more than enough of lately." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 0–100 reviews from film critics, has a rating score of 53 based on 33 reviews.
Todd McCarthy of Variety predicted "this will not be one of ... Denzel Washington's bigger grossers." Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 of 4 stars and said of the film: "You won't be sorry you went. It grips your attention, and then at the end throws in several WTF! moments, which are a bonus." Reviewing the film for The A.V. Club, Scott Tobias graded the film a B, and wrote "At a time when theaters are experiencing a glut of doomsday scenarios, the Hughes' ashen, bombed-out future world looks a little too familiar, no matter how crisply they present it. But the showdown between Washington and a deliciously hammy Oldman complicates the film's overt religiosity...". Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a D, calling it "a ponderous dystopian bummer that might be described as The Road Warrior without car chases, or The Road without humanity.
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on May 31, 2010 in the UK and on June 15, 2010 in the United States and Canada. The DVD took the top spot on all three national home video market charts in its first week. It premiered No. 1 on Home Media Magazine's Rental Chart, the Nielsen VideoScan Blu-ray chart, and the Nielsen VideoScan First Alert Sales Chart, where it outdistanced its nearest competitor in sales by a 3 to 1 margin.