A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Arrival is a deeply thoughtful sci-fi movie about trying to communicate with aliens rather than defeat them. It presents battle and war as last resorts, with only frightened, desperate people looking to violence as a solution. It champions education, compassion, and curiosity and has a strong female lead character (Amy Adams). Brief, upsetting hospital scenes show a girl dying of an invasive disease, and there's an explosion and the threat of war. Language is infrequent, although there is one use of "f--k." Other words heard are more along the lines of "screw it," "God no," "I hate you," and "idiot." One adult character drinks wine, and there are references to a married relationship, a budding romance, and a hug. Although the movie is slow-paced, it's a great, exceptionally compassionate pick for families with curious, thoughtful tweens and teens.
What's the story?
In ARRIVAL, professor of languages Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is headed to work when news of an alien landing spreads. Twelve alien pods are now hovering in different spots all over the world. Before long, she's approached by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). He asks for her help in translating the alien language, in hopes of learning the purpose of their visit. Paired with scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise ascends into the spaceship and meets the aliens face-to-face. After several trips, she finds she can communicate with them through writing. As the world waits and starts to panic, and talk of war begins, Louise and Ian may have discovered the secret that could save them all -- if it's not too late.
Is it any good?
This deeply thoughtful, profoundly compassionate sci-fi movie beautifully mixes realism with a sense of wonder. It keeps its mysteries at bay, and, amazingly, doesn't disappoint when all is revealed. French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario) is becoming one of the best, smartest cinematic storytellers in the world, finding new ways to pull the camera back and observe, taking a little extra time to find emotions, and explore spaces and sounds (a chirping bird is especially poignant). The cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma) is breathtakingly mesmerizing, still and patient, without relying on action or adrenaline.
The long build-up to the meeting of the aliens in Arrival is as wondrous and breathless as anything the movies have conjured up recently. Most films that begin with mysteries eventually give up everything, and invariably too soon, resulting in an anticlimax. But, as written by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out), and based on a short story by Ted Chiang, the puzzles and the thought-provoking solutions in Arrival only enrich the movie's transcendent quality; we're left with satisfying answers, but also fantastic questions.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Arrival's violence. What's shown and not shown? How is violence kept in the margins of the movie and used more as a threat or a suggestion? What impact does that havce?
How does Arrival compare with other sci-fi movies about aliens? What other movies in this genre can you think of that focus on peace, rather than war?
Are the aliens scary? What about them is scariest? How does the movie go about introducing them to us? Would you have been afraid to talk to them?
- In theaters: November 11, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: February 14, 2017
- Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, Space and Aliens
- Character strengths: Compassion, Curiosity
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: brief strong language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
Find more movies that help kids build character.
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
For kids who love sci-fi
Our editors recommend
Top advice and articles
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.