Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Breakthrough Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Intense peril in faith- and fact-based tearjerker.
  • PG
  • 2019
  • 116 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 23 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie is about the power of prayer and love. Parents' love is fierce and unconditional; everyone needs support. Written and verbal message: "Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose." Gratitude, humility, and perseverance are clear themes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

When a family goes through difficult times, entire community shows up in support. A family that receives a miracle shows gratitude, learns humility. Joyce is a fiercely protective mother who fights for her son in all instances; sometimes that means she forgets to be kind, but she tries to correct that behavior through love, hard work. Diversity throughout (based on real-life people).


Not so much "violent" as "sad and upsetting": Three teens abruptly fall through thin ice, and one's life is in jeopardy throughout most of film. Scenes of the boys in and under the water are extremely tense. Other scenes show scared, sad, crying people. Some arguing/yelling. Minor bullying, including one instance of shoving in sports.


Boys describe girls as "hot." Teens have crushes. Hugging.


Ethnic slur during bullying incident. "Hell" is used as an exclamation twice. A teen says "bulls--t," stopping himself before he finishes. "Stupid."


Air Jordans are portrayed as a type of holy grail. Discussion of Warriors basketball team. Many brands used to reflect everyday life, including Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Nike, Xbox, Gatorade, The Bachelor TV show, Hairspray the stage musical, Arby's, Under Armor, Puma, Volvo, Ford Explorer, and Apple products.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Breakthrough is a faith-based drama based on the true story of a teen boy's miraculous recovery from a near-fatal accident. Even though viewers can feel secure about the positive outcome, the peril is palpable for most of the film -- especially during a sequence in which three teens fall through thin ice into frigid water -- and may be too intense for young kids. (Heck, it could be too intense for many parents: A box of tissues is recommended.) The boy, who was adopted as a baby, struggles with feelings of rejection and identity; he continually describes himself as "unwanted," which could be triggering for families touched by adoption. The main characters are good people who are quite human, trying their best, persevering, learning, and evolving; they also learn and express gratitude and humility. With its faith-based message, the movie is most directly targeted at devout viewers, but given that the events really happened, the film's take on the power of prayer may leave some skeptics thinking twice. Executive-produced by NBA star Stephen Curry, the movie stars Chrissy Metz and Topher Grace.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjafamahon April 20, 2019

Spiritually abusive film

Lying about prayer is spiritually abusive and unconscionable. Doing it for a profit... Is much worse.

Yes, prayer has accomplished medical miracles. I don... Continue reading
Adult Written byCocokelly May 9, 2019

The best Christian movie I've ever seen

This movie was by far one of the best Christian movies that I personally have ever seen. I have seen quite a few. The actors were very good compared to the acto... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old July 21, 2019

Best Movie Ever! I cried!

Breakthrough is the most touching movie I have ever seen I cried!
It is an amazing true story of faith in God!!
I would 100% recommend
Teen, 13 years old Written byMovie watchers March 31, 2021

It really depends on the person

While I thoroughly enjoyed it some of my family didn't because it is really sad in moments. This was the first tearjerker I watched, and being someone who... Continue reading

What's the story?

In BREAKTHROUGH, after their 14-year-old son John (Marcel Ruiz) falls through a frozen lake, rescuers and doctors tell Joyce (Chrissy Metz) and Brian Smith (Josh Lucas) that his heart has stopped, and there's nothing they can do. In her desperation, Joyce loudly prays over her son's body -- and, against all odds, his pulse begins again. From that point on, the Smiths turn to their community and pastor (Topher Grace) for support and trust in God that John will survive.

Is it any good?

This is how to make an evangelical faith-based film. From the first notes of Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" in the opening scene, it's clear that Breakthrough is going to be a very different moviegoing experience than what many faith-based audiences are used to. That's because it reflects real American life, not just a Christian bubble: Teens talk about "hot" girls, tease each other in a way that feels like bullying, and even use a mild curse word. Setting that reality up makes it all the more affecting when tragedy strikes the Smith family -- and all the easier to believe the miracle that unfolds. It's also what gives Breakthrough the power to cross over to a mainstream audience (particularly with the NBA's Stephen Curry involved as a producer -- be ready to roll your eyes when characters go on and on about the Warriors game).

Devout Christians may feel discomfort at the secular inclusions; smartly, the movie addresses that conflict through Joyce's irritation with the new pastor from California and all of the "left coast" changes he brings to the Smiths' Missouri town -- like Christian rap and sermons incorporating The Bachelor. But that's real. And so are the main characters: Joyce is prickly, rigid, and not always kind; teen John has an attitude; dad Brian is sometimes weak; and pastor Jason can be a bit of a tool. They aren't always necessarily likable, but the film's honesty is what gives it power. More strength comes from Metz's sensational performance: She doesn't act like a mother whose son is hanging on to life by a thread, she lives it -- and her authenticity will affect every mother in the audience. In its unconventional approach, Breakthrough just might shatter the faith-based film glass ceiling.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Breakthrough's story. Do you think John's recovery is a miracle? Or do you think there's a medical explanation? Or could it be both? Do you think science and spirituality are mutually exclusive, or can they work together?

  • Who in the film is a role model? What admirable actions do they take? Do you see examples of perseverance

  • How do Joyce, John, and Brian show gratitude? How does Joyce learn humility

  • John's school assignment is to share his family history, but John doesn't know anything about his ancestors. What do you believe determines John's identity? What do you know about your own family history? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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