Reviews for the film were overwhelmingly positive. Roger Ebert wrote: "The Piano is as peculiar and haunting as any film I've seen" and "It is one of those rare movies that is not just about a story, or some characters, but about a whole universe of feeling." Hal Hinson of The Washington Post called it "[An] evocative, powerful, extraordinarily beautiful film." In his movie guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film 3 1/2 stars out of 4, calling the film "Haunting and unpredictable" and went on to say "Writer-director Campion has fashioned a highly original fable, showing the tragedy and triumph erotic passion can bring to one's daily life. On the film site Rotten Tomatoes, The Piano earned a 90% "Certified Fresh" rating. On Metacritic, it holds a score of 89 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim".
At the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the film shared the Palme d'Or Best Film Award with Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, and Holly Hunter received the Best Actress Award. In 1994, the film won 3 Academy Awards: Best Actress (Holly Hunter), Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin) and Best Original Screenplay (Jane Campion). Anna Paquin was the second youngest person after Tatum O'Neal to win an Academy Award. Holly Hunter is notable for being one of three actresses – along with Marlee Matlin (for her American sign language performance in Children of a Lesser God) and Jane Wyman (for her deaf-mute role in Johnny Belinda)—to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress in the post-silent era for a non-speaking role (her voice is only heard off-screen in a few scenes). The film made its US premiere at the Hawaii International Film Festival.