The Red Shoes received positive reviews, but did not make much money at first in the UK, because the Rank Organisation could not afford to spend much on promotion due to severe financial problems exacerbated by the expense of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). Also, the financial backers did not understand the artistic merits of the film. However, it ended up becoming the sixth most popular movie at the British box office in 1948. The film currently holds a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 53 reviews.
The film received only a limited release in the U.S., in a 110-week run at a single theatre. In 1948 it earned $2.2 million in US rentals.
The success of this run convinced Universal Studios that The Red Shoes was a worthwhile film and they took over the U.S. distribution in 1951, The Red Shoes becoming one of the highest earning British films of all time.
Contemporary reviews from ballet critics in the UK and in the US were mixed. Some wrote positively, but others were mixed, criticising the film for being clichéd and unrealistic.
The Red Shoes led to a few other films that treated ballet seriously. It was only after he made the studio executives watch The Red Shoes a few times that Gene Kelly was able to include ballet in An American in Paris. After the film became a huge success in the U.S., MGM began plans to make a film actually titled Red Shoes Run Faster with red-haired dancer Lucille Bremer, but quickly scrapped the idea.
The Red Shoes is also arguably the most famous work done by Powell and Pressburger and is considered one of their great works as well as a classic of British cinema. The film is particularly known for its cinematography, particularly its use of colour. In the introduction for The Criterion Collection DVD of Jean Renoir's The River, Martin Scorsese, who has long championed Powell and Pressburger's works, considers The Red Shoes, along with the Renoir film to be the two most beautiful colour films.
The Red Shoes underwent a complete restoration as the result of a seven-year effort. With fundraising spearheaded by Scorsese and his longtime editor (and Michael Powell's widow), Thelma Schoonmaker, the restoration work was completed by Robert Gitt (assisted by Barbara Whitehead) at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. This restored version made its debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, followed soon after by a DVD and Blu-ray release in the UK by ITV DVD as well as screenings at festivals around the world. The digitally restored print has also subsequently been released in America by Criterion on DVD & Blu-ray.