Movie review by
Kelly Kessler, Common Sense Media
Chinatown Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Great hardboiled detective film is very violent.
  • R
  • 1974
  • 131 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 22 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Most of the messages here are mixed.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While the main character is theoretically on the side of good, he too breaks rules to attain what he desires. The majority of the characters are liars, thugs, or otherwise criminals.


Includes off-screen drowning, a graphic on-screen murder, gunplay, a graphic cutting, slapping of a woman, and some extended fistfights.


Two sexually suggestive photos, a suggestive joke, a couple in bed together (after off-screen sex), implication of incest, very minor female nudity (in profile).


Some strong profanity.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A bit of social drinking .

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Chinatown focuses on corruption within the government. The film presents many instances of mild violence (fistfights, gunplay, murdered bodies, etc.) and a more disturbingly violent onscreen killing of a major character. Parents should note that characters with whom viewers place emotional investment meet extremely unfortunate demises. The film also includes some sexually suggestive materials (post-coitus conversation, dirty jokes, implications of incest, etc.).

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 16-year-old Written byCau March 28, 2016

A dark but incredible movie for smart kids

This is one of the best movies ever made! It is a beautiful and complex portrayal of 1930s Los Angeles with a plot that is far too complicated for me to go into... Continue reading
Adult Written byPaul Wahlburg February 15, 2016


I gave chinatown 4/5 stars because of how greatly it was directed, first off i would like to say that roman Polanski worked miracles on this movie. after watchi... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byLeonvol February 3, 2021

The detective

Good movie about a detective that has a really hard case. I will not spoil what it’s about. But if you like detective movies you probably like this
Teen, 13 years old Written byLukeCon September 20, 2020

Towne's smart writing propels this dark noir-classic

Chinatown stands as one of the most well-written films I've seen, if not the most. I can certainly say that Robert Towne knows the important aspects of scr... Continue reading

What's the story?

In CHINATOWN, ex-cop Jack Giddes (Jack Nicholson), carries on a lucrative detective business -- at least until a woman seeks information about her philandering husband. In his attempt to prove the husband's affair, Jack finds himself entangled in a deadly game with the Los Angeles police department, the local government, and a beautiful femme fatale (Faye Dunaway). Someone is siphoning water from the local supply, much to the dismay of the local farmers. Ultimately, Jack must uncover the trail of corruption and deceit to save his own hide (and nose).

Is it any good?

Roman Polanski's film is a visually lavish trip back into the hardboiled detective genre. The gorgeous costumes and harsh lighting help to capture the seediness lurking behind legitimate society in 1930s Los Angeles. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences recognized the film with Oscar nominations in major performance, design, and technical categories. Robert Towne (Shampoo, Mission: Impossible) ultimately brought home the Academy Award for his original screenplay. (The writing process had been a contentious one, as Towne had originally planned for a happy ending.) The film was intended to be the first of a trilogy, about the water company, gas company, and a freeway project respectively. Ultimately, only one sequel (The Two Jakes) found its way into production; Nicholson would go on to direct and star in that film.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether a grey area exists between right and wrong (the violent police, the crooked government, and the antihero detective). How does Jake break his cardinal rule in his dealings with Evelyn, and how does that comment on his character?

  • Did Evelyn Mulray's abusive relationship with her father excuse her actions at the end of the film?

  • This film also lends itself to discussions about cinematic style (excellent harshly shadowed lighting) and issues of genre. How does the type of storytelling present in this film compare to current trends in television detective shows such as Law and Order and C.S.I.?

Movie details

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