Preteen girl looking at a cell phone with her parents

Family movie night? There's an app for that

Download our new mobile app on iOS and Android.

Parents' Guide to

On the Waterfront

By Nell Minow, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Raises important issues about the nature of power.

Movie NR 1954 108 minutes
On the Waterfront Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 12+

Based on 5 parent reviews

age 12+

On The Waterfront - On Target

Bud Schulberg’s hard-hitting story and screenplay were destined to become an instant hit and in the directorial hands of craftsman, Elia Kazan was turned into a worldwide phenomenon. Schulberg’s writings covered a curious variety of topics from corruption within the fight game ‘The Harder They Fall’ to the plunder of bird plumage in ‘Wind Across the Everglades’ - even taking a serious shot at Media and the promotion of corrupt charlatans as ‘hero’s’ with ‘A face In The Crowd’. In his early war years, Schulberg also gathered evidence for the Nuremberg trials - not one to hold back on the trail of inhuman activities. Adding immeasurably to the power of ‘Waterfront’ were the towering talents of Composer Leonard Bernstein - creating a haunting musical soundscape that gave life to the settings and soul-searching torment of its characters. Performances, guided by Kazan, were career cementing for Brando, Eva Marie Saint (introducing) and Karl Malden, along with a hand-picked cast of powerhouse support players all destined for solid careers. The violence portrayed within this picture was not simply sensationalistic, as it was for many that tried to copy ‘waterfront’ but rather to make a statement against violence, in an effort to bring justice into a corrupt institution. It still packs a wallop today as it did 70yrs ago. Boris Kaufman’s striking B/W cinematography (‘Patterns’ 56) adds considerable visual power. The Columbia DVD features a good image and sound transfer and I see has since been remastered in HD.
age 12+

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (5 ):
Kids say (9 ):

This excellent, thoughtful drama contrasts two conflicting ways of looking at the world and especially at responsibility. Edie and Father Berry see a world in which people have an obligation to protect and support each other. Johnny sees the world as a place where what matters is taking as much as you can. Terry is somewhere in the middle, with his kindness to the Golden Warriors and his pigeons on one side and his willingness to take what Johnny's way of life has to offer on the other. In part, Terry falls in love not just with Edie, but with the vision of another life that Edie represents. Like Edie, Terry is inspired to fight back by a tragic death.

This movie also raises some important issues about the nature of power. At the beginning, Johnny seems very powerful, and power matters more to him than money. But it is clear that the choices he makes to protect that power, more than any action taken by anyone else, are the beginning of the end. As he orders people killed, even close associates, he begins to appear desperate. The men who will kick back a few dollars and stay "D&D" about corruption won't stand for that level of violence and uncertainty.

Movie Details

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.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate