A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Shows kids growing up in the 1930s/'40s listening to the radio for entertainment. Kids can read up more about the "Little Orphan Annie" program.
Underneath some ironic and satirical humor, this is a warm story about a 1930s/'40s family. It's a refreshing look at a less-than-perfect holiday experience and the unexpected joy that can be found when things don't go as planned. Family and friendship are both valued. Characters learn the value of self-control.
Positive Role Models
Ralphie engages in some iffy behavior (lying to stay out of trouble, getting in a fight, etc.). But he's mostly well intentioned, and he does show determination. And while Ralphie's dad seems like the disciplinarian, it's his mom who hands out the soap when he's caught swearing.
A snapshot of White, middle-class Midwestern families in the 1940s, without much other diversity. Ralphie fantasizes about shooting robbers -- two are Black -- and several Black children are in Ralphie's class, but they aren't part of the story. Ralphie's mother (who is never named) and teacher have important roles in Ralphie's life, but they're mainly caretaking and disciplinary ones. Racist statements about "children starving in China" and "bargaining as much as an Arab trader" and stereotyping of Asian people's English pronunciation and food preparation. Though Jewish people go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas, it's treated as a bizarre holiday ritual. Ralphie fantasizes about how sad his parents would be if he were blind.
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Violence & Scariness
Kids are bullied daily, mostly yelling and twisting arms behind backs, though Ralphie's friend does come to class with a black eye after one altercation. Ralphie punches a child who's bullying him until he gets a bloody nose. A dream sequence shows Ralphie with his prized BB gun shooting and killing four comical bandits. A kid touches an icy metal pole with his tongue on a dare, and it freezes to the pole. A dog's ear gets caught in a door, and Ralphie's dad jokes about shooting the dogs. Children are physically punished, and Randy believes their dad will kill Ralphie. After meeting an intimidating Santa and his elves, children are forced down a scary slide.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Ralphie's dad wins a lamp shaped like a woman's stockinged leg. Ralphie calls it the "soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window" and runs his hand up the leg when his mother's not watching. A bowling ball is dropped onto Ralphie's dad's lap, and he calls it a "blue ball."
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Strong language, used by both adults and kids, includes "ass," "son of a bitch," "hell," "hot damn," and insults like "idiot," "dumb," etc. Lots of discussion about the use of profanity, both by Ralphie's father -- who constantly swears while fixing the heater -- and especially by Ralphie himself, when he lets the "F" word slip in front of his dad, which is heard by the audience as "fudge." He's punished with a mouthful of soap.
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Products & Purchases
Ralphie is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Mentions of other brands, some still available (Ovaltine) and some not (Look magazine). The infamous leg lamp is now a hot holiday item.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Ralphie's parents drink wine after opening presents and his dad offers him a sip -- Mom turns it down for him.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Christmas Story has become a perennial holiday favorite. Its 1940s setting offers an appealing sense of nostalgia for those who grew up in middle-class, Midwestern homes. And it really gets what a kid in that setting felt at Christmas -- main character Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has to practice self-control to earn his dream gift. That said, both kid and adult characters use and discuss strong language ("ass," "son of a bitch"), and one famous scene involves young Ralphie using the "F" word (though viewers hear the word "fudge"). Afterward, he's punished for swearing by having his mouth washed out with soap. Ralphie is also bullied and eventually beats up his nemesis, then cries afterward. One child sticks his tongue on a flagpole on a dare and needs the fire department to unstick him. A scene set in a Chinese restaurant includes racist stereotypes about Asian people, and Black characters are only robbers or in the background of the story. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Part of the appeal of this movie, based on the memoirs of humorist Jean Shepard (who narrates), is the authenticity of the period detail. Much of Ralphie's world may seem bizarre to kids today, especially if they're from different racial/ethnic, religious, or economic backgrounds, but Shepard's feel for the timeless details of childhood emotions and growing pains is genuinely engaging. Today's kids may not have Ralphie's exquisitely calibrated system of dares and double-dog dares, but they will have some equivalent that's just as thoroughly understood and immutable in their own community. And many will have to deal with bullying, an annoying sibling, an assignment to dream of impressing the teacher with, the adult world to try to figure out, and, most of all, some magic dream of the ultimate gift to hope for beyond all reason.
A Christmas Story is a nice antidote to all those Christmas movies with perfectly harmonized carols and perfectly wrapped gifts. Because people tend to get so obsessive about every single detail at Christmas, the last scene of this movie, when the family's Christmas dinner is exactly the opposite of what they had planned, is especially sweet (other than the racist portrayal of Asian people, that is). Their reaction, seeing it not as a disappointment but as a delightful activity to enjoy remembering in future Christmases, is a lesson for all families.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.