Emancipation release date and time: How to watch Will Smith's new movie online

Will Smith and Ben Foster in Emancipation
(Image credit: Apple)

Controversial star Will Smith headlines his next big movie, Emancipation, which premieres soon on Apple TV Plus. 

The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, tells the triumphant story of Peter (Will Smith), a man who escapes from slavery, relying on his wits, unwavering faith and deep love for his family to evade cold-blooded hunters and the unforgiving swamps of Louisiana on his quest for freedom. 

Emancipation release date, cast

Streaming on: Apple TV Plus (opens in new tab)
Release date:
Friday, Dec. 9
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Will Smith, Ben Foster, Charmaine Bingwa
Runtime: 132 minutes

The film is inspired by the 1863 photos of “Whipped Peter,” taken during a Union Army medical examination, that first appeared in Harper’s Weekly. One image, known as “The Scourged Back,” which shows Peter’s bare back mutilated by a whipping delivered by his enslavers, ultimately contributed to growing public opposition to slavery.

Here's what you need to know to watch Emancipation. Plus, check out the trailer below:

How to watch Emancipation anywhere on Earth with a VPN

If you're stuck abroad — in one of the few countries where Apple TV Plus is not available — you will likely run into geo-fenced restrictions on the platforms and services you can use. But with the help of a virtual private network (VPN), you can access all the services you already pay for, no matter where you are. 

Based on our testing, the best VPN is ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), which is easy to use and delivers fast internet speeds, making it simple to set up for streaming in no time at all. It also works on practically any device, starting with iOS and Android and including streaming devices such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Apple TV. 

ExpressVPN (opens in new tab)

Our favorite VPN service, ExpressVPN (opens in new tab), is a top choice for those looking to access their streaming accounts around the world. It's got a solid mix of safety, speed and ease-of-use. Plus, you get an extra 3 months free if you sign up for a year. If you've never used a VPN before and are curious and not sure, there's a 30-day money-back guarantee if you just want to give it a try.

When is the Emancipation release date on Apple TV Plus?

Emancipation arrives on Apple TV Plus on Friday, December 9. The film will likely arrive sometime around midnight PT / 3 a.m. ET / 8 a.m. GMT.

Apple TV Plus is available in more than 107 countries around the world. 

Apple TV Plus (opens in new tab)

Apple TV Plus (opens in new tab) offers a library filled with excellent programming such as Ted Lasso, CODA, The Afterparty and Severance. Check out the service with a 7-day free trial (opens in new tab). After that, a subscription is $6.99 per month. 

Emancipation reviews

Emancipation reviews are mixed, leaning toward negative. Currently, the film has a 51% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (opens in new tab). Here's a sampling of what critics are saying:

Manohla Dargis at the New York Times (opens in new tab) writes, "The movie is flawed; it features far too many aerial shots and one unfortunate scene with an alligator edges into exploitation-cinema absurdity."

Empire's John Nugent (opens in new tab) declares, "Emancipation can’t avoid the well-trodden hallmarks of slavery stories, nor offer a particularly fresh perspective on them. It’s best when it leans into other modes — and when it centres on Will Smith’s outstanding, understated performance.

Richard Roeper at the Chicago Sun-Times (opens in new tab) says, "Despite the undeniable importance of this story and the obvious passion of those involved in telling it, Emancipation is more than anything a relatively standard-issue, period-piece action film — and that’s a shame, because we see glimpses of how it could have been something much more than that."

Entertainment Weekly's Leah Greenblatt (opens in new tab) praises Smith's performance, saying, "His conviction carries Emancipation a long way, elevating what is essentially a B movie to the realm of something better than its outsize premise: a blunt instrument, maybe, but a brutally affecting one too."

Robert Daniels at RogerEbert.com (opens in new tab) writes, "Emancipation becomes an exhaustive, vicious, and stylistically overcooked recounting of a man whose very visage led the abolitionist charge. Emancipation is a hollow piece of genre filmmaking that rarely answers, 'Why this story and why now?'"

Kelly Woo
Senior Writer

Kelly is a senior writer covering streaming media for Tom’s Guide, so basically, she watches TV for a living. Previously, she was a freelance entertainment writer for Yahoo, Vulture, TV Guide and other outlets. When she’s not watching TV and movies for work, she’s watching them for fun, seeing live music, writing songs, knitting and gardening.