Cape Fear

Movie review by
Danny Brogan, Common Sense Media
Cape Fear Movie Poster Image
Scorsese/De Niro revenge thriller has sexual violence.
  • R
  • 1991
  • 128 minutes

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Kids say

age 17+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Revenge is the primary theme, which takes the form of intimidation and violence. Even those characters on the receiving end have behaved questionably, be it tampering with a court case, taking drugs, having a borderline affair, and arranging their own act of retribution.

Positive Role Models & Representations

On the face of it, Sam is a family man who takes his job as a lawyer seriously. However, it soon emerges that he is on the cusp of having an affair with a colleague -- it's also suggested he has been unfaithful in the past -- and has also buried some evidence in an earlier court case. He also behaves aggressively towards his wife and daughter as the pressure of his situation gets to him. Max is a convicted rapist. He is violent, manipulative, and obsessed on exacting revenge on Sam. Leigh is a strong woman who despite having a difficult relationship with her daughter, Danielle, would do anything to protect her. Danielle is depicted as being rebellious, smoking pot and going against her parents wishes. A police officer suggests to Sam that he should use (illegal) force to stop Max. The housekeeper, Graciela, is Latino, which plays up to racial stereotypes. A confederate flag bumper sticker is seen.


Plenty of bloody violence with the threat of sexual assault never far away. Characters hit with pistols, pipes, and chains leaving bloody wounds and severe bruising. A character is brutally assaulted in their bed. They are handcuffed, have their arm broken, a part of their cheek bitten off, and are repeatedly punched -- the latter seen in silhouette form through a window. It emerges they were then raped. A character's throat is slit with a piano wire before being shot -- they are seen lying in a giant pool of their own blood. A family dog is poisoned. Multiple references and suggestions of rape. In one scene, a character is about to be forced to watch the rape of their spouse and child, but the perpetrator is set on fire before they can do so. A parent grabs their teenage child by the face in an aggressive manner. A married couple shake each other in an act of aggression. Various fight scenes with headlocks, headbutts, punches, head stamping, and people being hit with rocks. During a storm a boat crashes into rocks and subsequently falls apart. Character drowns.


A married couple have sex, but the scene is brief and there is no nudity. Multiple characters are seen in their underwear in non-sexual scenarios. An older character behaves inappropriately with a 15-year-old, pushing their thumb into their mouth and kissing them. The 15-year-old reciprocates before running off. A description of an "erection" from a book is retold.


Multiple uses of "f---ing" and "son of a bitch," along with "bastard," "s--t," "balls," "arse," "erection," and "damn." "Jesus" and "Christ" are also used as exclamations. Characters threaten violence, including sexual violence. A character is referred to as "white trash" on multiple occasions.


A number of drinks brands are clearly depicted, most notably a type of water. The central family live in a grand house.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Multiple characters smoke cigarettes, with one taking it up during the course of the movie. Another character is regularly seen smoking a cigar. Two characters -- one a teen -- smoke pot together. Another character gets drunk at a bar. They are later violently and sexually attacked, which they, in part, wrongly blame on getting too drunk. Wine is seen at a dinner.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Cape Fear is a violent revenge thriller, with references and scenes of sexual assault, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro. It is a remake of the 1962 movie of the same name. Convicted rapist Max Cady (De Niro) blames his former lawyer, Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), for his incarceration and is determined to make him pay. The violence is bloody and involves guns, bike chains, pipes, rocks, and a piano wire used to cut someone's throat. A woman is brutally assaulted in her bed by Max after drunkenly meeting him at a bar. She has her arm broken and part of her cheek bitten off leaving a nasty wound. She is then repeatedly punched, a scene witnessed in silhouette form. It is then revealed that Max raped her. She in part wrongly blames her drunkenness for the assault. In another scene, Max is about to rape both Sam's wife, Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis) in front of him while he's tied up. However, Danielle throws a flammable liquid on Max causing his cigar to set him on fire. Many characters smoke, with Sam taking up smoking during the course of the movie. Danielle also smokes some pot given to her by Max. There is strong language throughout including multiple use of "f--king" and "son of a bitch." Both De Niro and Lewis were Oscar nominated for their roles.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Written byAnonymous November 1, 2020
Teen, 17 years old Written byProm Night February 21, 2021


Sex is not that big of an issue but violence and language is
Teen, 14 years old Written byFilms123 July 12, 2020

Violent and Disturbing. Not for kids.

I watched this when I was about 11. It was one of the only movies that gave me nightmares. I dreamt about DeNiro standing above my bed puffing on his cigar for... Continue reading

What's the story?

In CAPE FEAR, lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) seemingly lives a comfortable life with his wife, Leigh (Jessica Lange) and daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis). That is until Max Cady (Robert De Niro) a newly released convict -- who Sam defended 14 years ago -- turns up determined to exact revenge.

Is it any good?

With its dramatic score to a shirtless, heavily-tattooed De Niro exercising in his prison cell, the mood for this violent revenge thriller is set in its opening scene. There's no slow buildup here. Nolte's North Carolina lawyer, Sam Bowden may have forgotten who De Niro's convicted rapist Max Cady is, but Max sure hasn't forgotten who he blames for his incarceration. After being released, Max heads straight to Sam's town to exact 14 years worth of payback. Subtle it's not, but then Cape Fear doesn't pretend to be. The violence is full-on and the sense of danger -- including a constant threat of sexual violence -- is deliberately unsettling.

The movie marks the seventh time Martin Scorsese and De Niro worked together and the trust between the two is evident. De Niro cranks it up to 10. A lesser director might have reined in his leading man, but here he allows De Niro to portray Max as an unhinged menace capable of extreme acts of violence at any given moment. The actor was rewarded with an Oscar nomination, as was Lewis as the rebellious Danielle -- the most likable of all the characters. Film buffs will also get a thrill seeing actors from the original 1962 version -- including Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck -- crop up in this remake. Cape Fear is far from Scorsese's best work. It’s also an uncomfortable watch, which is exactly what it sets out to be.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the extreme and sexual violence in Cape Fear. Why do you think Scorsese chose to make the violence so intense and bloody? Why did he include a rape scene? What effect does it have on the movie overall?

  • Sam withheld some evidence at Max's trial. Why did he do this? Can you understand why he did? Discuss the idea that everyone deserves a fair trial.

  • This film marks the seventh collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro. What are the advantages of working with someone you know so well? What are the disadvantages? What's your favorite Scorsese/De Niro movie, and why?

  • The movie is a remake of a 1962 film. How do the two compare? In general, what do you think of remakes?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers

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