Born Free Movie Poster Image

Born Free



Compelling classic nature story with some animal violence.
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 1966
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Shot on location in and around Kenya, viewers will get to see animals in the wild with predators chasing and killing prey, and see the life of a Kenya game warden in the 1960s. They will also see the pains the Adamsons take in turning a very tame lion into a wild and self-sufficient lion.

Positive messages

As the title spells out, this movie explores what it means for an animal to be free and living in the wild. It may be more dangerous, but it speaks to an animal's true spirit. It's also a lesson in letting go.

Positive role models

Joy Adamson cares so much about Elsa the lion that she works tirelessly to set her free and make her self-sufficient. Her husband, even while recovering from malaria, continues to help his wife succeed.

Violence & scariness

The opening scene shows lions devouring a zebra. Other animals are eaten, some are shot at by wardens, including the parents of the orphaned lions. One lion kills a woman; viewers see a lion rush at her cowering figure and then blood running in a river. A beloved pet dies of old age. Elsa the lion nearly starves and is bloodied by other lions. George contracts malaria and has a fit from taking too much medicine. Elephants stampede and a village is shown afterward in ruins.

Sexy stuff

A kiss.


"Dammit" is uttered once.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A small animal is chastized for drinking alcohol left on a table. Adults drink at meals.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this heartwarming story about returning a tamed lion to the wild doesn't shy away from showing nature as it is. Lions kill and devour animals frequently and are shot and killed by wardens; Elsa the lion causes an elephant stampede, nearly starves, and is roughed up by other lions; and one lion even kills a human, though only blood in a river is shown. Viewers will enjoy both the love Joy Adamson shows Elsa the lion by setting her free and the beautiful views of Kenya and all its wonderful wildlife.

What's the story?

Joy Adamson and her husband, George, live in Kenya, where George is a game warden. When a lion is reported to be killing villagers, George tracks and kills it, orphaning three cubs in the process. To Joy's delight, George brings the cubs home. Joy feeds them with bottled formula, taking care of them like they're her own children. Elsa, her favorite lioness, is like a big puppy, and goes everywhere with Joy, riding on top of her jeep like the Queen of the Jungle. When the lion cubs are full-grown, they have to be sent to a zoo. Joy tries to keep Elsa as a pet until she causes an elephant stampede. Rather than send Elsa to a zoo, she trains her to live in the wild. Un-domesticating Elsa is difficult, but the Adamsons succeed. Once free, Elsa comes back to visit periodically, bringing her own cubs along.

Is it any good?


Joy Adamson's bestselling book, Born Free, spawned several films and a TV series; this one is the first, and best, of the bunch. Adamson's relationship with Elsa the lioness is captivating from start to finish, and the question of whether a domesticated animal can be returned to the wild is compelling. When the Adamsons first meet young Elsa and her siblings, they're irresistibly big-eyed bundles of fluff. But the adult Elsa is a different kind of beast -- headstrong and stubborn. Growing up underfoot in the Adamson household, Elsa is treated like an overgrown house-pet, and she's often quite funny.

BORN FREE feels authentic; the relationship between Joy and Elsa is developed so well that the film often feels like a documentary. Other scenes of animals in their habitats are thrilling. Although the elephant stampede is a little scary, it's followed by a lighthearted sequence featuring Elsa herding an adorable baby elephant. A 9-year-old viewer was initially reluctant to watch, claiming he didn't like "old" movies, but after one glimpse of the cubs he was hooked. It's hard to watch Joy return Elsa to the wild -- as viewers, we grow as almost attached to the lion as Joy is.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about human responsibility to nature. What makes us good stewards of the Earth? How do we care for the animals and plants around us?

  • Families can also talk about their favorite nature stories. What makes a movie about animals good? Is it the far-flung places you get to visit or the up-close looks into animal nature or something else entirely?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 22, 1966
DVD/Streaming release date:January 21, 1997
Cast:Bill Travers, Geoffrey Keen, Virginia McKenna
Director:James Hill
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Science and nature, Wild animals
Character strengths:Compassion, Perseverance
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:some wild animal action and brief language

This review of Born Free was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 11 years old September 22, 2011

A Truly Magical movie

What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Educator Written byshashabel9 June 25, 2011


I LOVE THE LIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! age 2 off. ages 3-4 iffy. ages 5, 6, 7, 8,9, 10,11, 12, 13, 14, 15,16, 17, and 18 on.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent of a 6 and 10 year old Written bynorthlight April 9, 2008

Classic yet a movie of its time

The opening scene is a bit startling: women washing clothes in the river with a lion lurking; consequences are deadly. This scene was more upsetting than the elephant stampede noted in the Commonsense review. Other issues: For a woman living in Africa close to nature, Joy's hair is always perfect and she is a woman of her time: persistent maybe, but not at all equal to the men. Men ultimately make all the decisions. Other items date the movie and one should be prepared to discuss for example, why the White Europeans live in modern houses, and are in positions of authority while the Black Africans are in the background-literally. The story moves along quickly-almost too choppy at times. Nevertheless, it is a movie with depth and one can focus children on the complex issues regarding the lions: safety of the zoo versus dangers in the wild with freedom.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?