Bowling for Columbine

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Bowling for Columbine Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Must-see gun violence documentary is brutal.
  • R
  • 2002
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 20 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie's frequently stated message is to ferret out the reasons for endemic American gun violence so as to prevent violence in the future.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This is an issue movie, not a character-driven one; nonetheless, we meet many individuals who care about their fellow human beings and try to prevent harm.


There is archival and very disturbing footage from the school shootings at Columbine High School; the footage is blurry and hard to make out but may nonetheless disturb young or sensitive viewers. There is also war footage from Kosovo, several sequences featuring cartoon violence, still photos and video of assassinations, murders and a suicide (though gore is light). These sequences are short, but still quite disturbing.


A couple of sequences feature guns being fired by scantily dressed women, or show armed women in revealing outfits. A Marilyn Manson album featuring a man with (fake) breasts and a vagina is shown briefly.


Some cursing and derogatory language, including "fag," "f--k" and "s--t."


Many brands are mentioned, such as Lockheed Martin and Kmart; the actions of said companies are often criticized.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few brief references to drinking and one interview subject smokes during the interview.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bowling for Columbine is a documentary about gun violence that includes a number of disturbing scenes to illustrate its points, such as footage of real-life people being shot, gun suicides, assassinations, battle footage, and so on. Perhaps most terrifying, the movie includes security camera footage from the Columbine High School massacre. These scenes are brief, but effectively horrifying. Bowling for Columbine also includes strong language, criticism of American political policy, a brief shot of a nude man with the private parts of a woman on an album cover, an interviewee who smokes and a few references to drinking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byRarityfan2019 October 1, 2019

let's go Bowl

A look back at the Columbine shooting 20 years ago. Still actual 20 years later.
Adult Written byLowe's man June 28, 2016

incomplete but still informative

I watched this movie looking for answers about what triggered this particular mass shooting. I didn't get an answer there like I was hoping to, but I did... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byCooltiger37 August 25, 2019

Vital gun violence docu has some disturbing moments

For the record, while I do think CSM's 17+ rating for it is a bit harsh, the violent parts in "Bowling for Columbine" (graphic images of shooting... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byMovie Nerd 45 May 13, 2018

Well made and thought provoking documentary on gun violence.

Although I am not American (Australian) and in my country the ownership of automatic firearms is illegal ever since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, gun violen... Continue reading

What's the story?

Filmmaker Michael Moore's documentary examines gun violence in America. Moore interviews a wide range of Americans, including shock-rock star Marilyn Manson (whose music was tied to the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School massacre), NRA leader Charlton Heston, the brother of Terry Nichols (Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator), and many others. Moore is deeply concerned and the ultimate bleeding heart liberal, but he is not an ideologue. He learned to shoot in high school and is a life member of the NRA. When a bank gives him a rifle for opening a new account, he casually checks the action while he asks if anyone ever considered that maybe guns and banks were not the best possible combination. Much of the time he lets the story tell itself, but sometimes, Moore becomes the story, as when he brings two young survivors of the Columbine shooting to K-Mart's national headquarters to protest their selling of ammunition, including the bullets still in the bodies of the two young men. After a day of deliberation, a K-Mart spokeswoman reads a statement.

Is it any good?

Any documentary about gun violence in America in which the single most intelligent and insightful comment is made by a guy named after a dead beauty queen and a serial killer is worth a look. This documentary is more mosaic than polemic and mordantly funny, though it does veer a bit over the top when Moore tries to link television producer Dick Clark to the murder of a six-year-old by a six-year-old, because the boy who killed his classmate had a mother who worked at one of Clark's restaurants in a welfare-to-work program. And his relentless questioning of a clearly memory-impaired Charlton Heston, leaving a photo of the murdered girl in Heston's home after Heston stalks out of the interview, has the unintended result of making Heston seem more sympathetic.

But Moore's movie confronts complex questions fearlessly, even as it acknowledges that it does not have the answers. Why do our fellow North Americans in Canada, who have proportionately the same number of guns, shoot each other only one-tenth as often? Why are Americans fearful even out of proportion to the amount of violence we subject ourselves to?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the questions Moore raises. Why do Americans shoot each other so much more often than any other country? Why don't Canadians lock their front doors? Why was Moore successful in persuading K-Mart not to sell ammunition any more?

  • What kind of filmmaker is Michael Moore? What do you think he leaves out of his movies? Have you heard any criticism of his methods?

  • What can you do to try to reduce violence or to change other things that matter to you? What different avenues do people use to affect change?

Movie details

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