A River Runs Through It Movie Poster Image

A River Runs Through It



Beautifully filmed movie about family has mature themes.
  • Review Date: April 17, 2003
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1992
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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."

Not applicable
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.

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.

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. It's not perfect, but its father-son themes (and all the fishing) have given it a special place in a lot of grown men's hearts.

Families can talk 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 the film?

  • 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

Theatrical release date:October 9, 1992
DVD release date:April 2, 2002
Cast:Brad Pitt, Craig Sheffer, Tom Skerritt
Director:Robert Redford
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Topics:Book characters, Brothers and sisters
Run time:124 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

This review of A River Runs Through It was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 14 years old Written bycheese-process December 11, 2010

Good movie, good lesson.

It's actually really good! This is not the kind of movie I would normally watch, but it was well done. It's not perfect, but it was a good story of two brothers. It teaches us that if you take things more seriously like Norman and care about education, you'll be successful, and if you do stupid things and make bad decisions, your life will go downhill. Other people gave it bad reviews because it requires you to use your brain! You have to think during this movie to understand what's going on.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Great messages
Teen, 14 years old Written bygschueren May 24, 2009

This was not good

This movie was not a good one at all. The story line was bland and the only redeeming quality was Brad Pitt's acting.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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 myself have read it over and scenes of the movie keeps coming to mind. We have videos of many of Redford ‘s movies and we have watched "A River runs through it" many times. Redford is part of the "famdamily" as he is always around. We never get tired of Redford's perception of Norman Maclean writings, and the beauty of Montana. The script reminds me very much of my own upbringing as my father had the same calling as Mr. Maclean's father. According to "A River Runs Through It," "Methodists are Baptists who can read," a line which by the way is not in the short story, but I think that is a funny line! My husband and I are well-read Baptists! I have heard a movie critic state that the pace of this movie is too slow. I disagree. As one search for inner peace, this is the type of movie that will make you contemplate the beauty of nature in three/four rhythm of the metronome. The photography is outstanding! The acting is great. I love the scene where Norman and Paul as boys talked and wondered whether one could be a fly fisher or a boxer! Then as adult Paul played by Brad Pitt is the "perfect guy" who needs help with his alcoholism but will not accept it. The same applies to Neal Burns, who uses worms as bait, he also needed help but would not accept the fact that he needed help. The scene where Paul refuses to eat oatmeal and the entire family has to wait an eternity to say grace! Finally after hours, they all kneel around the table to say: "Grace!" and they all leave. But the oatmeal stayed on the plate! That scene where the two love birds and their tattoos on their posteriors! That is funny! The sunburn! The drive back home where Jessie Burns decides to go via the train line! Beautiful dialogue when Norman proposes to Jessie because he wants her to come to Chicago with him! Redford himself does a superb job as a narrator. I could not stop myself from comparing Brad to the young Redford. The nominated Director, Producer, Actor, is a visionary who deserves to be praised for his advancement not only in the cinema in the US but around the world. I am glad to live in nineteen hundred because I have seen the beginning of the black and white television, the movies and all the technology and special effects, to be able to watch videos at home and to live in the same century as Redford because I have had the chance to see his works. Redford needs no special effects to show us the beauty of Montana in this masterpiece. The river to me means that line that separates life from death, memories and realities. Redford shows the hands of the Creator so magnificently and a river runs through it.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing


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