The phenolic compounds and antioxidant activity of brown rice are well known but the extent to which phenolics and antioxidant activity varies within rice (Oryza sativa) is not known. This study evaluated the natural variation of phenolic compounds in brown rice of the major cultivars currently grown in China. Free phenolics were extracted with chilled methanol, while bound phenolics were released and extracted by alkaline hydrolysis. There were significant differences in phenolic and flavonoid content between these cultivars and significant differences in bound and total phenolics between japonica and indica samples. Ferulic and p-coumaric acids were the major phenolic acids and existed in both free and bound forms, with the bound form of ferulic acid being a dominant phenolic compound in brown rice. Phenolic compounds were the major contributor to the antioxidant capacity of brown rice and bound phenolics contributed more than free phenolics as estimated using ABTS+ radical scavenging method. This study provides additional information on brown rice from japonica and indica subspecies and may assist in retaining or increasing phenolics and antioxidant activity in rice.