90 Minutes in Heaven

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
90 Minutes in Heaven Movie Poster Image
Faith-based drama about life after returning from afterlife.
  • PG-13
  • 2015
  • 121 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

"You can hope without faith but you can't have faith without hope." God teases people with glimpses of heaven then snatches it away in order to teach lessons. "God is still in the miracle business."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Don is a devout Christian who wants to serve God until he becomes deeply depressed after having to leave the gates of heaven to return to life and a painful, protracted rehab. He becomes despondent and withdrawn, and loses his graciousness and generosity as he struggles to understand why he was sent away from heaven to a life of suffering.


A car is hit head-on by an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Parts of the accident are shown in slow motion, but much more is implied than actually depicted. A man's arm and leg are shattered. A painful experimental device is inserted into his arm and leg to help the bone grow back together and avert the need for amputations. We learn he has more than 30 surgeries through his recovery.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Don is given morphine to alleviate his pain.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that 90 Minutes in Heaven is a Christian-themed feature based on the best-selling memoir of the same name by Don Piper, a pastor who was hit head-on by an 18-wheel truck and was declared dead for 90 minutes before he began breathing again. The accident is shown, as is Piper's bloodied and bruised face. He explains that once back to life, he had a hard time connecting with loved ones because during those 90 minutes, he had glimpsed heaven and it was a disappointment to return to the pain of living. A character is given morphine to alleviate his pain.

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What's the story?

In 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN, Don (Hayden Christensen) is a devout Christian pastor who says that, for the 90 minutes he wasn't breathing after a terrible car accident, he visited heaven. He wasn't allowed to pass through the "pearlescent" gates but instead was sent back to life on earth, a trial that began with more than a year of excruciating and uncertain treatments to repair his shattered leg and arm. He falls into a depression and refuses to speak to anyone, even refusing to breathe at one point, which leads to pneumonia. His wife, Eva (Kate Bosworth), agonizes over his despondency. Friends pray for him. The retired pastor who replaces him tells him to shape up and start allowing his loved ones to do things for him, because all they have to offer during the terrible ordeal is their love and service. Slowly he tries to allow others to help him, and in that process, he improves physically and begins to see a new purpose to his life. As the movie ends, he spies a young man in a wheelchair with the same painful device attached to his injured leg that Don wore for a year. Don offers comfort and support.  

Is it any good?

While the story is engaging, the filmmaking feels disjointed. Don, depressed and without a will to live, seems to be at death's door as he stubbornly refuses to breathe deeply despite the demands of his doctor and his caring wife. 90 Minutes in Heaven is presented as a dramatic point in the action that could lead to his death. In fact, soon after that, he's diagnosed with double pneumonia, a seeming death sentence. As the audience hangs on what may come next, neither the breathing nor the pneumonia are ever mentioned again, and his health seems to improve. Similarly, his good friend David visits in the hospital and says he'll organize prayer to heal Don. We see people pray, and that's the end of that plotline. David shows up briefly at the story's end to hear Don speak of heaven for the first time, and he promptly disappears mid-scene. A sleazy attorney pops in and out of the action as Eva struggles to pay the bills, but this too provides no useful narrative payoff. Early in the action, Don mentions that a recent traffic ticket for not wearing his seat belt changed his habit and that would be "a crucial decision," a seemingly deliberate foreshadowing that is never mentioned again.

The movie has two touching moments: when his daughter coaxes him out of his wheelchair to "dance" with her at her party, and when finally upright on crutches, he spies a young man in a wheelchair at church, wearing the same painful bone-stretching device that saved Don's leg. Don tells him that he understands the young man's pain, suggesting that helping others overcome obstacles is Don's new purpose in life.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the power of prayer referenced in 90 Minutes in Heaven. Do you think that prayers for Don helped him recover? Do you think prayer should be used to change the world for the better in other ways as well?

  • How did Don learn to be more generous as a result of the accident? Why do you think someone who is sick and suffering might reject the help of loved ones trying to be supportive?

  • Don was worried that people would think he was crazy if he told anyone that he'd gone to heaven. How would you react if a friend told you they'd been to heaven and come back?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love faith-based tales

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