Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

American History X

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
American History X Movie Poster Image
This dark drama is not for kids.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 118 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 18 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 19 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

One character, seemingly an unredeemable racist and criminal, completely cleans up his act. Others are either virtuous (but ineffective), or entirely evil.


Numerous fights and particularly brutal murders.


A prison rape and a lusty skinhead girlfriend.


Very Strong language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking and drug-dealing.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this flawed but live-wire drama of two brothers caught up in a violence-ridden SoCal skinhead lifestyle raises some important points, but the mixture of very R-rated realism (strong language, hideous violence, and frank sex) makes this a very guarded choice for anyone but older teens and up.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 17 year old Written byTsion February 10, 2013

A Brutal, Brutally Honest Glimpse at Devastating Hate

American History X is one of the finest American films of the 1990s. It's a rather polarizing movie that tells the story of a reformed white supremacist w... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written bydouble E April 9, 2008


Did you just give one of the most powerful movies ever made a 2/5?!?!?!?!?!? I think you did. I can't believe it. This is considered one of the greatest... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byHeroOfLight94 June 13, 2009

Must see film for teens

This movie is excellent it should be shown in schools to promote anti-racial messages and such. But, the violence and language is pretty bad byt they make the m... Continue reading

What's the story?

Los Angeles high-schooler named Danny Vineyard (Edward Furlong) offends his teachers and classmates by openly proclaiming his Aryan-supremacist views and praising Hitler. The black principal (Avery Brooks) tries a creative solution, making Danny write a paper examining his older brother and mentor Derek (Edward Norton), an avowed skinhead who served time for murdering a black youth in a streetfight. Just getting out of prison, Derek, thoroughly repentant about his racist past and horrified to see his brother going down the same road, cooperates with the principal trying to set Danny straight.

Is it any good?

It’s certainly "artier" than most films dealing with social ills; it's a live-wire drama, not a dry, TV movie-of-the-week that usually arrives complete with a teacher's study guide and lab coats. Some of the cut-and-dried reasons behind racist youth gangs (lack of economic opportunity, weak adult supervision) can be fleetingly discerned here. Mostly the vibe is emotional, not intellectual, making white-power lifestyles and repugnant politics feel as attractive as rock music to angry young people, then giving the viewer a tragic fadeout to ponder over the consequences. There are times when this movie scores trying to be a strong take on a topic that leaves no audiences feeling neutral. And there are other times when you can feel the filmmakers shaking their mighty fingers at the audience, naughty, naughty. Welcome to the After-School Special of your worst nightmares.

Norton was Oscar-nominated for his role, which he carries off with frightening physicality and conviction. You believe him thoroughly as a swastika-tattooed, head-shaved fanatic, and as a humbled, wiser ex-con trying to do good instead. But the key character of Danny seems badly underwritten, as are the simplistic motivations ascribed to the pathology in the Vineyard home. A late scene laying a lot of blame on the late Mr. Vineyard in the first place seems too convenient. First-time director Tony Kaye clashed with both the film studio and actor Norton over how to handle the story and tried to take his name off the completed film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how there are actually such things as skinhead-punk gangs who are avowedly anti-racist, and if that's any better a solution to the cycle of violence and reprisal here.

Movie details

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate