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A Christmas Story

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
A Christmas Story Movie Poster Image
Wonderful antidote to cutesy holiday tales; some swearing.
  • PG
  • 1983
  • 98 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 45 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 65 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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. Some now-dated stereotyping of Asian people and their pronunciation of English during a scene set in a Chinese restaurant.

Violence & Scariness

Mostly yelling and arm-twisting when two bullies harass kids daily, though Ralphie's friend does come to class with a black eye after one altercation. Ralphie punches one bully 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.

Sexy Stuff

Ralphie's dad wins a lamp shaped like a woman's leg. Ralphie calls it the "soft glow of electric sex gleaming in the window" and continues to run his hand up the leg when his mother's not watching.


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.


Main character is obsessed with getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Mentions of other brands, some still available (Ovaltine) some not (Look magazine). And the infamous leg lamp is now a hot item at Christmastime.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Ralphie's parents drink wine after opening presents and his dad offers him a sip -- Mom turns it down for him.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Christmas Story has become a must-see holiday classic. Its 1940s setting offers an appealing sense of nostalgia, and it really gets what it means to be a kid at Christmas. That said, both kids and adults 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 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 dated stereotypes about Asian people and their pronunciation of English.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7 and 9 year old Written byJazzerGyrl December 16, 2009

Screen it before your kids do

I know my husband loves this movie, but I can't stand it at all. As a parent, I like it even less. The language is terrible for kids to see, it makes child... Continue reading
Parent of a 7 and 10 year old Written byjeannehayes December 25, 2009

Parents beware, preview this one first

I have never been so incented to post a review a movie until we turned this one off half way through. The CSM reviewer was so off on this one, it's shamefu... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 25, 2010

Great Movie For 10 and Up

This is such a great movie and for my family it is a classic. We are watching right now on Christmas. It is not ok for younger kids because they say bad words a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bymusicgirl1797 December 31, 2009

good movie, but some stuff maybe to inappropriate for younger kids

i think this movie is really hilarious, but i think that the language is too strong for elementery school kids. even though a bunch of the language was hard to... Continue reading

What's the story?

A CHRISTMAS STORY is about Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a 9-year-old boy in 1930s/'40s Indiana, whose entire life is consumed with his one wish: to get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. He also has to deal with a seemingly endless wait for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, a nasty bully, and an overworked department-store Santa. His father (Darren McGavin) seems preoccupied with the neighbors' dogs (he hates them), a huge lamp in the shape of a lady's fishnet-stocking-clad leg that he won, the family's furnace, and the Christmas turkey. His mother seems preoccupied with getting his brother to eat and getting the leg-lamp out of the house, but both parents manage to come through for a chaotic but very merry Christmas.

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 which will seem bizarre to kids today. But what is really engaging is his feel for the timeless details of childhood. Today's kids may not have Ralphie's exquisitely calibrated system of dares and double-dog dares, but they will have some equivalent that is just as thoroughly understood and immutable in their own schoolyard community. And they will have a bully to deal with, something sent away for with box-tops to haunt the mailbox for, a sibling to be annoyed by, an essay 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 Christmas present to hope for beyond all reason.

A Christmas Story is a nice antidote to all those Christmas television specials 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. Their reaction, seeing it not as a disappointment but as a delightful and funny adventure to enjoy remembering in future Christmases, is a lesson for all families.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullies in A Christmas Story: What makes people act like bullies? What makes people befriend bullies? How will the bully's life change after Ralphie fights him?

  • Why is it hard for Ralphie to talk to his parents about what he wants for Christmas?

  • Why is Ralphie so disappointed by the decoder? Do products get advertised during your favorite shows? Does it sometimes catch you by surprise like it did Ralphie?

  • How do the characters in A Christmas Story demonstrate self-control? Why is this an important character strength?

  • Did you notice any stereotypes in the movie? Why do you think things that were once considered socially acceptable (or funny) can later turn into things that feel awkward/wrong?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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For kids who love holidays

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