Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Arrival Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommendPopular with kids
Great, deeply thoughtful, compassionate sci-fi tale.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 116 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 27 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 63 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

While many sci-fi movies are about battles and war, Arrival is more interested in compassion for and understanding of an alien race than in trying to wipe it out; the danger in the movie is that war will start if the good guys can't make a connection in time. There's also a message about time and choices that's better experienced than explained. If you could see the future and the past all at once, would you make different choices?

Positive Role Models

The central character is a strong, intelligent, independent woman. Her natural curiosity and compassion -- as well as those same qualities in her male colleague -- eventually pay off in a big way.


A young girl dies (off screen) of a vicious illness; hospital scenes, girl in bed, hair gone. Explosion. Threat of war.


A man and woman slowly form a bond, culminating in a hug. References to a spousal relationship.


One use of "f--k." Also "damn," "hell," "God no," "screw it," "idiot," "I hate you."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult character drinks wine at home.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 8-year-old Written byKaitis1Mom December 13, 2016

What is your purpose on Earth?

Arrival is a good movie, focusing around the language and communication expertise of famous Dr. Banks, after a series of 12 alien pods land in as many countries... Continue reading
Parent Written byA S January 19, 2021

Thoughtful and not boring

- not scary
- not sexy
- not dumb
- not violent
- not overly dramatic
Teen, 16 years old Written byraziuddin.mahmood March 26, 2017

A smart, thoughtful, realistic science fiction film. One of the best movies of 2016!

Arrival revolves around a linguistics professor who is recruited by the military to interpret symbols being given by extraterrestrials, to communicate, and to d... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylondontelephonebooth November 13, 2016

Unique Sci-Fi

This movie is utterly deserving of its five stars. "Arrival" is not your typical alien movie; it follows a linguistics professor attempting to transl... Continue reading

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?

  • Is Louise a role model? How does she demonstrate curiosity and compassion? Why are those important character strengths?

  • 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?

Movie details

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