Bowling for Columbine

  • Review Date: August 17, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2002
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Must-see gun violence documentary is brutal.
  • Review Date: August 17, 2003
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2002
  • Running Time: 120 minutes





What parents need to know

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

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.

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.

Parents say

Kids say

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?

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:October 18, 2002
DVD release date:August 19, 2003
Cast:Charlton Heston, Dick Clark, Michael Moore
Director:Michael Moore
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some violent images and language

This review of Bowling for Columbine was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

Find out more


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

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

Teen, 13 years old Written bymr socko April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age


this movie is definatley one of the best ive ver seen and was both funny and scary at the same time but i think that michael morre is great in the way he did this film it definetly earned that oscar. Mairlyn manson though creepy raises good point in his interview i think the cartoon was hillarious GREAT MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Adult Written byScalesian April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age

Enter with a open mind...

Unlike what much of the right-wing propagandists say about him, Michael Moore know how to make a thought-provoking and entertaining film. And he does his research. His website has pages of fact-corroborating links and bibliographical information. I do not always agree with him, but when he makes a point, he gives good reasons. Reviewers at this site who have trashed this movie must be taken with a grain of salt...I am suspicious that they never actually watched a film made by Moore, but are defaming him (and his work) based on heresay. I trust the kids' reviews more.
Adult Written byDatou April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age


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


What are the different ways that you access Common Sense Media ratings and information? (Check all that apply)

Essential Apps Guide