Black Widow (1987)

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Black Widow (1987) Movie Poster Image
Dated '80s crime drama has nudity, strong language.
  • R
  • 1987
  • 102 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Trust your instincts, don't give up, and justice will prevail. Agent Barnes faces some dated sexism in the workplace when her boss suggests she start dating rather than pursue becoming a field agent and again when her boss gives her a neck rub and starts to move his hand lower on her chest. She shrugs him off and nothing more is said. In the end Barnes remains a strong, independent woman who doesn't need validation from men romantically or professionally.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Agent Barnes is a smart, independent woman who handles her male-dominated work environment tactfully but firmly, isn't afraid to speak her mind to men who are trying to intimidate her, trusts herself and her instincts, and doesn't give up. The black widow herself marries multiple times for money, but she doesn't rely on her looks or stereotypical behavior to attract men; instead she studies their areas of interest so she can have intelligent conversations with them. A coworker and her boss both show romantic interest in Barnes, but both back off and don't repeat them when they're turned down.

Violence

Main plot is about a serial killer who uses poison. No deaths are shown. A man is forced at gunpoint to overdose on heroin; he is frightened and nervous. Nothing's shown, but his dead body is seen afterward with no gore. A gun not being used is shown, and guns are shown being used in a police-training film playing in the background. A woman punches herself in the stomach once in frustration and doubles over in pain. The heroine is in peril once and briefly looks panicked. A brief underwater struggle resolves safely.

Sex

A man and woman swim naked together; the woman is seen fully nude from the front, she and the man are seen fully nude from behind, and her bare breasts are clearly seen as she's floating on her back with her legs around the man's chest. They kiss passionately after talking about whether to have sex. A woman is fully nude from behind and one breast is shown from the side. A married couple kisses in bed; nudity is implied but no sensitive parts are shown. Some light kissing and caressing over clothing, mention of turning out the lights. A boss gives his employee a neck rub and moves his hand down her chest; she shrugs him off. A woman moves suggestively for her husband and lifts her skirt to her thigh. A woman on a tanning bed is wrapped in a towel implying nudity underneath. Kissing in silhouette. Mild sexual innuendo when two women are learning mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A woman kisses another woman on the lips briefly in a slightly hostile manner.

Language

Infrequent but strong, including a couple of "f--k" variations, "s--t" a few times, and "goddamn," "hell," "crap," "damn," and "turd" once or twice each.

Consumerism

Main plot is about a woman who marries and kills for money. She doesn't behave overly greedily but lives luxuriously. Partial labels visible on incidental bottles and cans. Many ordinary food and household products visible during a police search.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A man is forced at gunpoint to overdose on heroin; a syringe, powder, and spoon are visible; he's shown tying a strip of rubber around his upper arm and later slumped over dead. A woman fills a syringe and injects it into a bottle of brandy. Adults frequently drink alcohol. Drunken behavior isn't shown, but drinking during the day is shown several times. Many adults smoke, but the main character doesn't.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Black Widow is an '80s thriller about catching a serial killer who marries older, wealthy men and then poisons them so she'll inherit their money. There's full-frontal female nudity and both a woman and a man fully nude from behind. Bare breasts are also visible in a couple of other scenes. Other sexual content is moderate, with some kissing and caressing over clothing. Profanity isn't frequent, but it's strong, with "f--k" and "s--t" a few times each. Milder words such as "damn" and "crap" are used once or twice each. There's no gore. Guns are shown a few times but used only once, to force a man to overdose on heroin; injection isn't shown but the paraphernalia is. Adults frequently drink alcohol, although drunken behavior and consequences aren't shown. There's also a lot of smoking, although the heroine doesn't smoke. Expect some dated sexism.

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What's the story?

Federal agent Alexandra Barnes (Debra Winger) suspects that a BLACK WIDOW killer is on the loose when several wealthy men die unexpectedly. Each man was married to a different woman, who then inherited all the wealth, but Barnes begins to suspect that the same woman is changing her identity with each new victim. Against her boss' wishes, Barnes goes out into the field to track down the elusive suspect. She eventually finds Catharine (Theresa Russell) in Hawaii and poses as a new friend. As Barnes gets close to Catharine, the tide begins to turn as she suspects Barnes is not who she says she is. Catharine will do anything to protect herself. When she manages to get Barnes jailed as a murder suspect, it looks like she just might get her way.

Is it any good?

Despite strong performances from the two main stars, this thriller comes across as more of a plodding crime drama. Instead of creating suspense over whodunnit, or even about the true identity of the villain, the plot lingers too long on things that don't really matter. This makes it harder to appreciate the real meat of the story, which ought to have been the relationship between Barnes and the Black Widow. A few scenes here and there with cheesy, clunky dialogue don't help, either.

The production quality feels more like a very special episode of Magnum, P.I. than a feature film, and the nudity comes across as an unsuccessful attempt to add sophistication. Teens may be drawn to it, but even older teens who can handle it won't find much else to hold their interest. The ending does have a surprise or two, and it's nice to see a strong female heroine on her own in the last shot instead of in someone's arms.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the sexual content in Black Widow. How much is OK for teens to see?

  • Does the amount of swearing seem realistic to you? How much is OK in movies?

  • Is Agent Barnes treated as an equal at work? In what ways?

Movie details

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