American Animals

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
American Animals Movie Poster Image
Smart, energetic tale of attempted heist; cursing, violence.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 116 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Demonstrates the ways in which iffy group mentality can lead to poor choices. Also demonstrates that, although heists may look easy and fun in the movies, they're not that way in real life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of the real-life versions of the characters seem to have learned a lesson from their failed foray into crime, but others seem a bit blasé about it. Nonetheless, none of the characters should be emulated.


Young men attack a woman with a Taser. A man is hit by a car. Men fight/punch. Bloody pictures/paintings.


Sexual references/sex talk. Kissing/flirting. Young men ogle women.


Very strong language, with multiple uses of "f--k," plus "s--t," "a--hole," "ass," "shut up," "retarded," "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation), and "God help me."


Google search shown. Hungry Man TV dinner shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink and smoke in several scenes. Brief drug use.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that American Animals is a true-crime story about an attempt to steal rare books from a college library; the real-life participants are interviewed alongside scenes showing the fictionalized action. Expect a potentially upsetting scene of men attacking a woman with a Taser. There's also some fighting, and a man is hit by a car. The dialogue includes a few eyebrow-raising sexual references; characters also kiss and flirt, and men ogle women. Strong language includes many uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Teens drink, smoke, and use drugs. The movie is clever and energetic, and it plays with its ideas in smart ways, but the subject matter makes it most appropriate for mature viewers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byphilmiler July 11, 2020

Great movie!!

It’s a nail bitter. Great editing. And the interaction with the real life characters is priceless! The depiction of violence isn’t so harsh. It’s a great medium... Continue reading
Adult Written byLUCASJUDGE July 17, 2019
Teen, 13 years old Written byKatsune January 26, 2021

Great Heist

Some exaggeration with the violence. Its not that bad. Neither is the language, which isn't even a problem among children to be honest.
Teen, 16 years old Written byLanemary September 5, 2018


Learned NOTHING about North American wildlife. Very misleading.

What's the story?

Based on actual events, AMERICAN ANIMALS follows Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhard (Barry Keoghan) as they drift through their suburban life. Then Spencer discovers the rare book room at Transylvania University in Kentucky, where priceless copies of a Darwin edition and Audubon's Birds of America are kept. The friends begin to entertain a "what if" idea of stealing the books; over time, their notion turns more and more into an actual plan, complete with charts and disguises. They enlist two others, Eric (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner), and a date is set. Despite their fantasies of how the theft is going to go -- fueled by a well-studied stack of heist movies -- the actual day happens quite differently.

Is it any good?

For this true-crime movie, writer/director Bart Layton attempts a new angle and succeeds. American Animals is narrated by the heist's actual participants, and it's brilliantly edited, bringing fascinating layers to the proceedings. Layton's previous movie, the documentary The Imposter, asked pointed questions about perception, acceptance, and truth, and he continues with those themes here (albeit in a more crowd-pleasing way). Not only does American Animals allow for its interviewees to sometimes contradict one another, it occasionally drops them right into the action along with the actors who are playing them to further underline possible inconsistencies in memory and storytelling. (The movie claims that it's not "based on" a true story; it is a true story.)

Even better are the imagined victories, the scenes that feel just like traditional heist movies, but with an outsider's knowledge; the scenes play against the characters' knowledge and the viewers' knowledge in fascinatingly different ways. American Animals probably wouldn't have worked if not for the fine performances, especially by the nuanced, vulnerable Keoghan (who was disturbingly good in The Killing of a Sacred Deer) and Ann Dowd, who brings great fear and hurt to her role as librarian Betty Jean Gooch (the real Ms. Gooch also appears as herself). The film eventually captures the horrible weight of committing a crime. In this way, American Animals isn't just highly entertaining, but it also provides food for thought.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about American Animalsviolence. How does it feel to see the men attack the librarian? Why? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How are drinking, drug use, and smoking shown? Are they glamorized? Are there consequences? Why is that important?

  • How does group mentality lead to the young men attempting the heist? Do you think they would have done it individually? Would you have gone along with it?

  • What did the men learn from their foray into crime?

  • How effective is the movie's mix of documentary reporting and fictionalized drama?

Movie details

  • In theaters: June 1, 2018
  • On DVD or streaming: August 28, 2018
  • Cast: Evan Peters, Barry Keoghan, Ann Dowd
  • Director: Bart Layton
  • Studio: The Orchard
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Run time: 116 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: language throughout, some drug use and brief crude/sexual material
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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