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

Movie review by
Yvonne Condes, Common Sense Media
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Movie Poster Image
 Popular with kids
Sweet book-based comedy has great family messages.
  • PG
  • 2014
  • 81 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 40 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 49 reviews

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

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 & Representations

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. They demonstrate perseverance and teamwork when things get tough. 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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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... Continue reading
Adult 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 th... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 10, 2014
It was pretty good, but the sex and language is a little iffy.
Teen, 15 years old Written byJflores14 October 11, 2014

Silly book spin off is tween material

This book related show has it's funny moments and has good family values, however there is some inappropriate content that could keep kids from going
Cont... Continue reading

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 in ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY. 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?

This is a cute family movie with great messages that tweens and parents will enjoy together. It's 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 Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 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. 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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fact that Alexander feels ignored by his family in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day 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? 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? 

  • 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?

  • How do the characters in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day demonstrate perseverance and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

  • 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

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