Arthur (1981) Movie Poster Image

Arthur (1981)



Sweet-spirited '80s comedy with lots of drinking.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 97 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Ultimate message is about growing up -- ironically, because Arthur is adult, but his money (and drinking) let him play and act more like a lad all his life. Side message seems to be that the working classes are nicer than the rich, but once in a while an eccentric like Arthur (and, to a lesser extent, Hobson) can cross over.

Positive role models

Butler Hobson is a caring father figure who isn't afraid to tell Arthur exactly what he thinks of his lifestyle and behavior, while somehow still remaining kind. Oft-drunken Arthur is "heroic" in that he would sacrifice his fortune for love -- although we find out it's no a great risk after all. Wealthy are portrayed as practically a different species, ruthless and predatory. Arthur's dad says the wealthy are all "criminals." The villain, a non-drinker, is a threatening hunter and killer (as though those go hand-in-hand). Working-class Linda shoplifts. One character of color is a dignified chauffeur.


One threatened stabbing. Arthur gets beaten up.


Arthur drunkenly flirts with a couple of prostitutes and is shown the next day, non-explicitly naked, waking up in bed with one (she mentions that her father's raping her determined her path in life). Arthur jokes about sexually-transmitted diseases. His classy aunt speaks of Arthur's "erection" and promiscuity.


"Dick," the s-word, "screw," "hell," "Goddamn it,"  "bastard," "asshole."


Mention of the "Simonizing" process, the NYC clothing store Bergdorf-Goodman, emblems of credit-card companies and florists. Mention of the video-game then-sensation Space Invaders.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Alcohol drinking by Arthur is regular and intense. When he's not drunk he's often drinking in order to get drunk or in the process of ordering more drinks (doubles preferably). Some other characters also drink -- a lot. Linda smokes cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this popular '80s comedy turns time and again to comical drinking and drunkenness. Though some of it is played for pathos and sadness, the slurred-speech joviality and teetering gait is usually upbeat and funny. The title character, a multi-millionaire playboy, picks up prostitutes and is shown the next morning in bed with one (who speaks about incest in her history). There is some light swearing that doesn't go beyond the "s" word.

Parents say

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What's the story?

During a Christmas season in New York City, Arthur Bach (Dudley Moore), a lifelong wastrel with a $750 million family fortune, spends his time, as always, having fun -- clowning, partying, driving his private race car, and, most of all, drinking to excess. Despite Arthur's womanizing (with a few prostitutes in the opener), his father decides to marry Arthur off to a girl from another super-rich family for stability and decorum. But while Arthur is gallivanting around his best friend, disapproving butler and father-figure Hobson (Sir John Gielgud), he meets and hits it off with a free-spirited would-be actress, Linda (Liza Minnelli), who works as a waitress. Will money- and alcohol-addicted Arthur call off the wedding so he can be with impoverished Linda?

Is it any good?


ARTHUR was a crowd-pleasing "sleeper" in its day, with a witty screwball-comedy mien that hearkened back to golden-age screen comedies of yesteryear. (Though swearing and very light sex is something past censors wouldn't have permitted.) It also offers the Hollywood-wish-fullfillment of a poor little rich girl/guy who just needs someone to love him for who he is, not his millions. Kid viewers can especially relate to Arthur's giddy immaturity, his toys, and his slightly wistful need to make everyone laugh (so they'll like him).

It's the boozing part that's iffy material. Dudley Moore's character isn't sloshed continually -- it just feels that way. Think Popeye with his spinach, when Arthur grabs a bottle to get giggly and uninhibited enough to confront stuffy relatives and peers. Moreover, Arthur's one of the most "enabled" alcoholics ever, with an entourage and two attractive, non-gold-digging females vying to pamper him. In a way this flick is a shallow male fantasy, but, just like Hobson the sarcastic butler, viewers learn to love Arthur anyway for his innate decency and harmlessness. If only all drinkers were like that.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the choices Arthur makes. Do you really think he's going to sober up and be a better person in the end? A more sentimental (and less successful) sequel, Arthur 2: On the Rocks, attempted sincerely to address that question.

  • Ask kids what they think their lives would be like if they were raised like Arthur, in a mega-rich environment without responsibilities. What messages does this film send about immense wealth?

  • Does this film go too far in making drunkenness look positive and consequence-free?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 7, 1981
DVD/Streaming release date:July 30, 1997
Cast:Dudley Moore, John Gielgud, Liza Minnelli
Director:Steven Spielberg
Studio:Warner Home Video
Run time:97 minutes
MPAA rating:PG

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Teen, 15 years old Written byBestPicture1996 March 6, 2011

Funny, funny, funny 80's flick!

"Arthur" is never pee-your-pants hysterical (at least to me) but it had several very funny one-liners, (mostly by the quiet but extremely sarcastic and comical butler Hobson, played to Oscar-winning perfection by John Gielgud.) Moore & Minnelli are both great in their roles. It's a charming little film that never borders into dramedy territory, it's always light-hearted!
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 9 years old October 2, 2011

iffy not good

Violence iffy language mild body part related Personal Assult Moderate Consumerism Iffy Drinking intense
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2011


Alcohol, sex, money, and love: large points in this classic movie "Arthur".
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Great role models


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