Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day



Sweet book-based comedy has great family messages.
Common Sense SealPopular with kids
  • Review Date: October 6, 2014
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 81 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Over the course of their horrible day, the Coopers learn that being part of a loving family is more important than being popular, having a pretty girlfriend, pleasing a demanding boss, nailing a job interview, or just about anything else. They stay positive (and find humor) in the face of adversity, for the most part, and are there for each other when it matters. 

Positive role models

During the terrible day, the worst in all of the Coopers comes out: Parents are distracted (dad Ben ignores the baby during a job interview and lets him eat a marker), important responsibilities are ignored (mom Kelly ignores her job for a long time after she creates a catastrophe at work), teens make big mistakes (texting while driving, drinking enough cough medicine to basically get drunk before going on stage, etc.), etc. But ultimately they all support each other when the chips are down, and there's no question that they're a loving, caring, hardworking, down-to-earth group. Really, the terrible day helps them all admit and face up to their weaknesses and become stronger as a family. There’s some brief cyberbullying when a classmate takes a picture of Alexander and puts his picture on the face of bikini-clad women and spreads the photo around school. And Anthony's girlfriend is self-centered and materialistic, but she's clearly not intended to be a positive role model.


A few loud pratfalls involving the kids and the adults. Anthony gets in an accident while taking his driver’s test; the van is damaged, and there's some screaming/yelling. Alexander sets some papers/posters on fire during a science experiment, and his dad sets his sleeves on fire at a hibachi restaurant. Dad Ben chases after an escaped kangaroo and gets kicked in the chest. Ben opens the door to his house, and an alligator snaps at him.


Anthony wants to get his driver’s license so he can make out with his girlfriend in the back of his parents’ minivan on prom night. He tells his girlfriend she has a "cute butt." Alexander’s dad accidentally hires three male strippers for Alexander’s birthday party thinking that the "Thunder from Down Under" is an act for kids; the dancers are told to keep things tame just in time. A chaste kiss; a baby's naked behind is seen. The mom walks in on her teen son in the bathroom; nothing is shown, but it's clear she's seen him naked.


Words used include "butt," "crap," "idiot," "pee," "shut up," "OMG," "sucks," "boobs," "penis," and "butt thong." The adults say things like "oh sh..." and "oh mother!" but don't complete any profanities.


Mac computers and iPhones are seen/used. Trader Joe's is mentioned. A character references Gossip Girl. Anthony is called Wreck-It Ralph, referencing another popular Disney movie.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Suffering from a cold, Alexander's 13-year-old sister drinks cough medicine straight from the bottle (in front of her dad) to get through a school play and ends up drunk on stage; she eventually throws up. Dad Ben drinks at a restaurant and accidentally sets his shirt sleeves on fire.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is loosely based on the classic children's book of the same name. During 11-year-old Alexander's very bad day, his 13-year-old sister (Kerris Dorsey) drinks cough medicine from the bottle and ends up drunk, his dad (Steve Carell) accidentally sets his shirt on fire, and his 16-year-old brother (Dylan Minnette) picks up his cell phone during a driving test, then gets into a car accident. Additional mayhem also ensues, but amidst the chaos, Alexander's family manages to support each other and ends up even stronger than they were before. There's also some mild language (butt jokes, "crap," "idiot," "sucks," etc.) and inappropriate behavior (cyberbullying, the suggestion that party performers are going to start stripping, etc.), but ultimately this is a sweet, entertaining movie with positive messages about finding humor in adversity and coming together as a family.

What's the story?

The day before his 12th birthday, Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is having a very bad day while his family is on top of the world. His unemployed dad, Ben (Steve Carell), finally has a promising job interview, while his mom, Kelly (Jennifer Garner), is up for a big promotion. His 16-year-old brother, Anthony (Dylan Minnette), is poised to get his driver’s license the day of his high school prom, and his 13-year-old sister, Emily (Kerris Dorsey), is starring as Peter Pan in her middle school play. Frustrated by their lack of empathy for his underdog status, Alexander makes a birthday wish that his family would get a taste of what it's like to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day....

Is it any good?


ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY is based on Judith Viorst's classic book of the same name, but it feels as much like that book as it does Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Alexander, charmingly played by Oxenbould, captures what it's like to be an awkward tween in love with a girl for the first time and stuck in the middle of a perfect family. And, the Coopers at first seem a little too perfect (talented sister, popular son, handsome dad, beautiful mom), but the movie really turns funny -- and relatable -- when the whole clan's day becomes terrible, horrible.

Carell is great at playing a man who initially appears to be the world’s most patient, loving, and optimistic dad -- and he's even better when he's a mess. Garner's working mom expresses a realistic amount of guilt when she stares longingly at her baby, but she really shines when she gets to let loose. Ultimately, Alexander is a cute family movie with great messages that tweens and parents will enjoy together. There are some funny jokes that will go over kids' head -- so parents won't be bored -- as well as enough action and laughs to keep kids entertained, too.

We're pleased to award Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day with the Common Sense Seal, marking it as a top pick for kids and families.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the fact that Alexander feels ignored by his family because of their busy lives. Have you ever felt that way? Do you think families today try to do too much? What are your family's priorities?

  • A middle school student takes an inappropriate picture of Alexander and spreads it around school, embarrassing him. What steps would you take if that kind of cyberbullying happened to you?

  • What do the Coopers learn about each other over the course of their terrible day? How do their priorities change? What are the movie's messages about family? 

  • Anthony is treated badly by his girlfriend. What makes it clear that their relationship isn't ideal? Would you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend to stop if he/she weren't treating you with respect?

  • Fans of the book: How is the movie different than the book? Did you enjoy the added details about Alexander's siblings and parents? What are some of your favorite book adaptations?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 10, 2014
DVD release date:February 10, 2015
Cast:Steve Carell, Jennifer Garner, Ed Oxenbould
Director:Miguel Arteta
Studio:Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Topics:Book characters, Brothers and sisters, Great boy role models, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:81 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:rude humor including some reckless behavior and language
Awards/Honors:Common Sense Seal

This review of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day was written by

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  • 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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Parent of a 8 and 11 year old Written byTuesdayBear October 26, 2014

PG? Really?

On this movie, make your own choice, but here's what I saw that parents should know: The bad: 1. The 13 year old daughter takes dose after dose of cough syrup, finally finishing by drinking it straight from the bottle. The father only comments that perhaps she should stick to the dosage requirements, and never takes it away. This is a pretty big plot point. 2. If you feel the terms "sucks" and "butt crack" shouldn't be part of your child's vocabulary, don't see this movie. And the word "penis" is used something like 5 times in one scene. 3. The dad chugs an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant while all his buddies cheer him on. 4. Yeah, the strippers at the end don't just "suggest" they are strippers, they actually start dancing and removing articles of clothing. No, they don't show any skin, but it was out of place and confused my daughter. 5. There are references to the older brother having looked forward all year to making out with his girlfriend in the back of the family van after prom. The Good: 1. This is a family that sticks together through everything, and the parents stay pretty positive through most of it. Love for family is the best part of this movie. 2. The older brother makes a very good choice regarding his relationship with his girlfriend.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Educator and Parent Written byHSMomofThree December 26, 2014

May be cute overall, but I totally disagree with the Common Sense Seal for this one!

This movie has good general themes (family, being supportive, appreciating the good things even in a bad day), but as other parents mentioned, there are some things that are just downright inappropriate for kids. There were several scenes that I was quite uncomfortable with my kids watching -- all the "boob" and "penis" talk was just unnecessary and seemed gratuitous, like they were just going for lowest-common-denominator laughs from 9-year-old boys. The worst part, for us, was when a schoolmate used an app on his phone to put the main character's head on a buxom, scantily-dressed woman (in lingerie, for crying out loud! In a KIDS' movie!) and email it to the whole school. That was completely out of place and inappropriate, and the whole "getting picked on" thing could have easily been communicated without making a sexual thing of it and putting those kinds of pictures in my kids' heads. There were also the male strippers at the end, which was vague enough to go over the kids' heads, thankfully, but it's just another thing that didn't need to be in this "family-friendly" movie. Sigh. I'm afraid that this first recipient of the "Common Sense Seal" has totally undermined my trust in Common Sense Media. If the review had mentioned the sexual content, we could have protected our kids from those parts (if we saw the movie at all).
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent Written bytarmale November 1, 2014

Good movie but some parts bordering on pg13

My husband and I took our 10 year old to see this today. The movie is very cute and funny but then there are some parts where your jaw is just hanging open in disbelief. This is a Disney movie, right???? Some of the language is very un-Disney like. P***s and b**bs? Really? We could have done without that.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


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