Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Armstrong Movie Poster Image
Portrait of an American hero celebrates humility, hard work.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 98 minutes

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Positive Messages

Success is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. No matter how humble your beginnings, dedication to education, training, and hard work pay off in achieving your goals and beyond. Passion and the pursuit of STEM activities have potential to change the world. Great things can be achieved through teamwork.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Neil Armstrong is ultimate aspirational American role model. From accounts of family, friends, colleagues, his own words, we learn he was a kind, thoughtful, brave, humble man with strong values, positive character traits, ability to stay calm and make good decisions in difficult situations. He made a career out of his childhood passion through hands-on military experience and college education -- ultimately selected to be first man on moon because of admirable behavior, good-natured attitude, capability. 

Violence & Scariness

Unemotional, newsreel-type footage of fiery plane crashes, rocket explosions. Perilous moments as Apollo 11 has trouble landing, etc.; since ultimate outcome is known, stories are told with smiles/other disarming behavior.

Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A control room worker smokes. A spectator takes a drink from a beer can. As film explains how Neil Armstrong is not the kind of guy to drink too much, there's a shot of men holding glasses with a clear liquid.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Armstrong is a documentary authorized by Neil Armstrong's family that presents the man inside the iconic astronaut. Historic news footage and commentary about fiery crashes and disasters are presented without emotion, likely helping subdue potential feelings of fear in most viewers. It's hard not to notice how very white and male NASA was in 1969, but parents can turn that into a "look how far we've come" moment. Historic footage shows one person smoking; other clips briefly show alcohol. STEM-loving kids will be captivated, but others may end up spacing out. Still, in a time when it can feel like big personalities reap fame and fortune for doing very little, this film serves as a nice reminder that a quiet, honest, kind, hardworking introvert was at one time the planet's biggest celebrity because he earned it. Courage, perseverance, humility, and teamwork are clear themes.

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What's the story?

Through interviews, newsreels, never-before-seen home movies, and Neil Armstrong's own words, ARMSTRONG looks at the life of the first man to walk on the moon. Friends, family, and colleagues share insights about Armstrong's childhood in rural Ohio, aerial combat in the Korean War, and college years at Purdue University, and his efforts with NASA through the historic Apollo mission. 

Is it any good?

Like Neil Armstrong himself, this documentary unspools with an understated, steady, quiet, unflappable calm. It's a nice complement to other films about the lunar landing, such as Apollo 11 or First Man; the difference being that Armstrong covers Armstrong's entire life, not just the months surrounding the walk on the moon. In doing so, the case is made for "why him?" -- i.e., why an ordinary kid from an unremarkable part of the country ended up living one of the most extraordinary lives. The answer is straight from the parental advice playbook: Study hard, stay out of trouble, treat others with respect, be kind, and so on. These qualities weren't just the recipe for becoming an astronaut; they're what got him selected to be first off the rocket.

This biodoc was authorized by Armstrong's children, giving family, friends, and NASA cohorts permission (and confidence) to share previously unheard stories. Through his writings and speeches, Armstrong himself "speaks," albeit with a Hollywood voice: Harrison Ford. A fellow aviator and famous on-screen spaceman, Ford punctuates the film with his world-weary confidence, his slightly gravely tones finding the deeper meaning in the astronaut's words. The involvement of the Star Wars rebel represents the film's only cinematic sizzle, so while its messages about working hard and being a good person are exactly the kinds of things we want our kids to hear, the docu is really only likely to captivate Space Campers who are already in awe of one of history's most accomplished citizens.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Armstrong's personal and professional qualities that led to him being selected as the first man to walk on the moon. In what ways did Armstrong show his integrity, courage, and humility

  • Discuss the Armstrong family and the way Janet supported and dealt with Neil's dangerous pursuits. Why is it important to show her perspective? Would you say his family demonstrated teamwork? What other examples of teamwork did you see in the film? 

  • Explain how communication is essential in a space mission. What did you observe from the film?

  • How is perseverance necessary when trying to accomplish something that's never been done before? The film discusses the nonchalant attitude toward the loss of lives in trying to beat the Russians to the moon. If the U.S. hadn't persisted, how do you think it would have impacted America, if at all?

  • How did Armstrong and his family deal with the fame and expectations that came with his job? What do you think it would be like to be famous? What are the pros and cons?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love space

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