Captain Phillips

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Captain Phillips Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Nail-biting story of ship hijacking is fabulous but intense.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 134 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 59 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie has a global message about how terrorists aren't the only threats, and that poverty can also be a powerful enemy to peace and civilization. The movie also applauds Captain Phillips' ability to bravely and calmly be a selfless leader who cares more about his crew's safety than his own. There's also a message that despite differences in culture and circumstances, there's a shared universal humanity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Captain Phillips is selfless and willing to sacrifice his safety to ensure the safety of his crew. Captain Phillips remains brave and clear-headed during unbelievably grim circumstances. He remains mostly calm and level-headed with the Somalis in order to protect his crew and later to buy himself time. Muse, the head Somali, is fascinating, because he is doing what he has to do for his village, even though it's dangerous and morally wrong. He genuinely believes he won't have to hurt anyone, just ask for the ransom and wait for the money. Many of the crew members rise to the occasion to fight the pirates.


Camera angles bring you up-close to the threats and intensity of the violence. The Somali pirates are heavily armed with semi-automatic machine guns that are usually pointed at the American civilians. At several points it seems like the Somalis are going to kill one of the Americans (usually Phillips). The military gets involved and plans a SEAL mission to try and save the captain, and they have instructions to take out his captors. One of the pirates is a teenager who is seriously hurt when he steps on shattered glass. Phillips is severely beaten. One bullet to the head results in blood/brain spatter on the wall.


A few uses of "s--t" and "piece of s--t," two "a--hole"s and one "ass." There is also "damn," "goddamn," and some threatening language.


Toyota Sienna, Sony computer.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The Somalis, including one teenager, chew a great deal of khat, a plant that is known for being an amphetamine-like stimulant. While it's a controlled substance in the U.S., it's legal in Somalia. Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Captain Phillips is an intense drama based on the true story of an American cargo ship that's hijacked by Somali pirates. Director Paul Greengrass (United 93, the Bourne films) is known for his visceral depictions of action-packed violence, and Captain Phillips is a real nailbiter with extended scenes of suspense, menace, and violence. There is lots of blood, but just a few casualties -- none of them civilians -- but the camerawork makes the danger -- usually death threats facing a machine gun -- feel personal. Language includes a few uses of "s--t"; the Somalis often chew khat, a plant that's a stimulant; and characters smoke cigarettes as well.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJamesHunter January 4, 2019
Written byAnonymous August 18, 2018
Kid, 10 years old February 20, 2014

Astonishing movie! One of my favorites of the year!

This movie has more threats than killings. There is a bloody scene of three pirates being shot, and throughout the movie, a bloody foot with glass in it is show... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCommon Sensor 2000 February 19, 2014

Great movie; minimal violence

Most children 12+ should not have a problem with most of the movie. Even children as young as 8 could be okay (know your child.)

Two instances of violence tha... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on a true story, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS chronicles how the American cargo ship the Maersk Alabama was hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast in 2009. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) has been assigned a dangerous route to take the container ship to Mombasa, Kenya. After hearing an advisory warning mariners to stay away from the Somali coast, Phillips sees two dots on the radar screen, which he later confirms is two boats filled with Somali pirates. Although the ship manages to escape being overtaken the first day, the next day one speedboat reaches the Alabama, with four young Somali pirates ready to call the shipping company to ask for ransom. Muse (Barkhad Abdi), the leader of the pirates, insists they're not terrorists, just businessmen. A series of unexpected events leads the four pirates to flee on a lifeboat with Phillips as their hostage. Meanwhile, the US Navy plans a rescue attempt to keep the lifeboat from reaching Somalia.

Is it any good?

Some moviegoers may have trouble sitting through another of director Paul Greengrass' in-your-face thrillers, where every moment is fraught with anxiety and dread. But Greengrass is like Hitchcock or Spielberg; he's a gifted storyteller of this genre of movies so intense you bite your nails down to the quick and can't settle your heartbeat. The cinematography, the editing, the score -- it's all set up to make your flight or fight reflex work in overdrive, as you identify wholly with Hanks' middle-aged commanding officer, a man of honor who doesn't suffer fools and who is afraid but still willing to deal with four young pirates holding deadly weapons at his heart.

It's no surprise that Hanks is a master of the craft, so what's truly amazing is how good the young Somali actors are, particularly Abdi as the leader of the four pirates. He tells a rival that he might be skinny, but he's no coward, and his bravery, albeit misguided, is there -- in the way he's unwilling to let his bigger, angrier fellow kill any civilians, including Phillips, and the quiet, calm way he explains that he's a fisherman without fish, implying that this life of piracy is what his warlord bosses expect of him. Even if you know the outcome of this standoff between the pirates and the US Navy, the characters and the performances make Captain Phillips a must see for anyone who appreciates high intensity in their action dramas.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's use of violence. Is the violence necessary to depict the true story? Could it have been less violent and still evoked the same intensity?

  • How does the filmmaker's use of camerawork and editing emphasize the sense of danger and violence?

  • What is the movie's message about the Somali pirates? Are they depicted purely as villains or as more complicated characters? Why do you think they do what they do?

Movie details

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