A River Runs Through It

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
A River Runs Through It Movie Poster Image
Beautifully filmed movie about family has mature themes.
  • PG
  • 1992
  • 124 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This film shows the importance of having a shared family pastime to sustain them through good times and bad. The love of nature is shown throughout the movie. The father of the two main characters is a preacher, and he sees God and spirituality in the forests and rivers the family loves so much.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite their faults, Paul and Norman are brothers who love and try to take care of one another, and they care deeply about the rivers and forests around them and the fly-fishing pastime that centers their lives.


Characters get into fistfights and are shown bruised and bloodied during and after the fights.


A character who has been drinking whiskey all night brings a prostitute with him on a fishing trip. They both pass out, and their naked rear ends are exposed. The man later is shown trying to walk, unclothed with his buttocks exposed, after getting a terrible sunburn.


Native Americans are called "Injuns." One character makes reference to "colored jazz." Occasional mild profanity: "damn," "son of a bitch," "bastard."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters often are shown drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. In one scene, two characters pass out by the river after drinking whiskey all night and well into the next day.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A River Runs Through It  is a 1993 Robert Redford-directed movie based on a story by Norman Maclean. Given that it's a movie set in Missoula, Mont., in the early decades of the 20th century, characters often are shown drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes. Also, a Native American woman is referred to as an "Injun," and a character makes reference to "colored jazz." Early in the movie, two boys are shown dancing in a silly manner in front of several prostitutes lounging around behind a building. There are some fistfights -- characters are shown bloodied and bruised during and after the fights. In one scene, a character visiting from California drinks whiskey all night and well into the day and brings a prostitute with him on a fishing trip. They both pass out face down in the woods, buttocks exposed. The man is later shown trying to walk, unclothed and also with buttocks exposed, after getting a terrible sunburn.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBubbleLad L. January 22, 2018

Too much profanity

I thought this was going to be a family-friendly movie, since it was about a minister's family. I was wrong. The members of the family used every kind of... Continue reading
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bycolten97 October 11, 2012

This movie is very dear to my own Heart! Movies cannot get better than this!

I have read the short story by Norman Maclean, and the movie did justice to Norman Maclean's writing. My husband tends to reread it occasionally, and I mys... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byClorox bleach September 4, 2020
Teen, 13 years old Written byDer Kritiker August 12, 2017

A Beautiful and Inspiring True Story

When I sat down to watch A River Runs Through It, I was expecting a slow movie about the life of a preacher who loves fly fishing. Boy, was I wrong! It turned o... Continue reading

What's the story?

In A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, Norman and Paul Maclean are raised by a Presbyterian minister father (Tom Skerritt) who taught them their schoolwork, religion, and fly fishing as though they were all one subject; all were taught strictly and thoroughly. Norman (Craig Sheffer), though more sober, loves the wild streak in Paul (Brad Pitt) that makes him "tougher than any man alive," but fears it will destroy him. And it does. While Norman becomes a professor of English literature and falls in love with Jessie Burns (Emily Lloyd), Paul becomes a reporter and gets into trouble drinking and gambling. Norman is called by the police to get Paul out of jail, and, ultimately, he's called again when Paul is killed.

Is it any good?

Based on writer Norman Maclean's autobiographical story of growing up in Montana, this is a moving, powerful drama that combines gorgeous cinematography with earnest, heartfelt performances. IA River Runs Through It  isn't perfect, but its father-son themes (and all the fishing) have given it a special place in a lot of grown men's hearts.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about adaptations of stories into movies. What do you see as being the challenges in adaptation?

  • How was the culture of Missoula, Mont., in the early 20th century conveyed in A River Runs Through It?

  • This film focuses on two brothers who are opposites in many respects. How were these "opposite" qualities revealed as the film progressed? What are some other examples of movies in which two main characters are "opposites" of each other?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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