Children of Men had its world premiere at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival on 3 September 2006. On 22 September 2006, the film debuted at number 1 in the United Kingdom with $2.4 million in 368 screens. It debuted in a limited release of 16 theaters in the United States on 22 December 2006, expanding to more than 1,200 theaters on 5 January 2007. As of 6 February 2008, Children of Men had grossed $69,612,678 worldwide, with $35,552,383 of the revenue generated in the United States.
The film received critical acclaim; on the review tallying website Rotten Tomatoes, Children of Men received a 92% overall approval out of 237 reviews from critics; the consensus states: "Children of Men works on every level: as a violent chase thriller, a fantastical cautionary tale, and a sophisticated human drama about societies struggling to live. This taut and thought-provoking tale may not have the showy special effects normally found in movies of this genre, but you won't care one bit after the story kicks in, about a dystopic future where women can no longer conceive and hope lies within one woman who holds the key to humanity's survival. It will have you riveted." On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 84 based on 36 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".
Dana Stevens of Slate called it "the herald of another blessed event: the arrival of a great director by the name of Alfonso Cuarón." Stevens hailed the film's extended car chase and battle scenes as "two of the most virtuoso single-shot chase sequences I've ever seen." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called the film a "superbly directed political thriller", raining accolades on the long chase scenes. "Easily one of the best films of the year" said Ethan Alter of Film Journal International, with scenes that "dazzle you with their technical complexity and visual virtuosity." Jonathan Romney of The Independent praised the accuracy of Cuarón's portrait of the United Kingdom, but he criticized some of the film's futuristic scenes as "run-of-the-mill future fantasy." Film Comment's critics' poll of the best films of 2006 ranked the film number 19 while the 2006 readers' poll ranked it number two. On their list of the best movies of 2006, The A.V. Club, the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and The Washington Post placed the film at number one. Entertainment Weekly ranked the film seventh on its end-of-the-decade, top ten list, saying, "Alfonso Cuarón's dystopian 2006 film reminded us that adrenaline-juicing action sequences can work best when the future looks just as grimy as today."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone ranked it number 2 on his list of best films of the decade, writing:
I thought director Alfonso Cuarón's film of P.D. James' futuristic political-fable novel was good when it opened in 2006. After repeated viewings, I know Children of Men is indisputably great ... No movie this decade was more redolent of sorrowful beauty and exhilarating action. You don't just watch the car ambush scene (pure camera wizardry)—you live inside it. That's Cuarón's magic: He makes you believe."
According to Metacritic's analysis of the most often and notably noted films on the best-of-the-decade lists, Children of Men is considered the eleventh greatest film of the 2000s.
Top ten lists
The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists as one of the best films of 2006:
- 1st – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
- 1st – Keith Phipps, The A.V. Club
- 1st – Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle
- 1st – Tasha Robinson, The A.V. Club
- 2nd (of the decade) – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 2nd – Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter
- 2nd – Scott Tobias, The A.V. Club
- 3rd – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
- 4th – Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times
- 4th – Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
- 5th – Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
- 6th – Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
- 7th – Empire
- 7th – Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
- 7th – Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
- 8th – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times (tied with Pan's Labyrinth)
- 8th – Scott Foundas, LA Weekly (tied with L'Enfant)
- 8th – Scott Foundas, The Village Voice
- Unordered - Dana Stevens, Slate
- Unordered - Liam Lacey and Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail
- Unordered - Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor
- Unordered - Mark Kermode, BBC Radio 5 Live
In 2012, director Marc Webb included the film among his list of Top 10 Greatest Films when asked by Sight & Sound for his votes for the BFI The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time.
P. D. James, who was reported to be pleased with the film, and the screenwriters of Children of Men were awarded the 19th annual USC Scripter Award for the screen adaptation of the novel; Howard A. Rodman, chair of the USC School of Cinematic Arts Writing Division, described the book-to-screen adaptation as "writing and screen writing of the highest order", although Gerschatt, writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, noted that the screenplay bore very little resemblance to the novel, in the gender of the baby, and the character who was pregnant (Julian, in the novel) and the death of Theo, who in fact, did not die in the novel. The film was also nominated in the category of Best Adapted Screenplay at the 79th Academy Awards.
Children of Men also received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and Best Film Editing (Alfonso Cuarón and Alex Rodríguez). The British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominated Children of Men for Best Visual Effects and honored the film with awards for Best Cinematography and Best Production Design at the 60th British Academy Film Awards. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki won the feature film award for Best Cinematography at the 21st American Society of Cinematographers Awards. The Australian Cinematographers Society also awarded Lubezki the 2007 International Award for Cinematography for Children of Men.
The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films bestowed the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film on Children of Men, and it received the nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention.
The HD-DVD and DVD were released in Europe on 15 January 2007 and in the United States on 27 March 2007. Extras include a half-hour documentary by director Alfonso Cuarón entitled "The Possibility of Hope". The documentary explores the intersection between the film's themes and reality with a critical analysis by eminent scholars: the Slovenian sociologist and philosopher Slavoj Žižek, anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein, environmentalist futurist James Lovelock, sociologist Saskia Sassen, human geographer Fabrizio Eva, cultural theorist Tzvetan Todorov, and philosopher and economist John N. Gray; "Under Attack" features a demonstration of the innovative techniques required for the car chase and battle scenes; Clive Owen and Julianne Moore discuss their characters in "Theo & Julian"; "Futuristic Design" opens the door on the production design and look of the film; "Visual Effects" shows how the digital baby was created. Deleted scenes are included. The film was released on Blu-ray Disc in the United States on 26 May 2009.