Chinatown Movie Poster Image




Great hardboiled detective film. Not for kids.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: October 19, 2005
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1974
  • Running Time: 131 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A bit of social drinking .

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this film 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.).

What's the story?

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 CHINATOWN 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether a grey area exists between right and wrong (the violent police, the crooked government, and the antihero detective). Did Evelyn Mulwray's abusive relationship with her father excuse her actions at the end of the film? How does Jake break his cardinal rule in his dealings with Evelyn, and how does that comment on his character? 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

Theatrical release date:January 1, 1974
DVD release date:November 23, 1999
Cast:Faye Dunaway, Jack Nicholson, John Huston
Director:Roman Polanski
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:131 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:adult language, brief nudity, and violence.

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Kid, 9 years old May 30, 2009

Contains Jack Nicholson + Roman Polanski.

Good movie. 14 year olds can watch it alone.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
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 right now. Suffice to say that this is a movie that you have to see if you love movies. I will say that I was a bit nervous about showing this to my 14 year old son. However, Common Sense Media has completely exaggerated the bad stuff that is in this movie. The violence, while present, isn't worthy of a five on that scale. It is brief and not any worse than something in a movie like Jaws or Indiana Jones. The nudity, while also present, is also very short. (Female breasts appear on screen for about 3 seconds, which is less than The Godfather and Schindlers List). Also, if you're worried about that, you need to realize that your kids can access porn very easily online, and that this isn't nearly as bad as some things they might see. In conclusion, Chinatown is a masterpiece and a movie that smart kids will probably really love. My son highly enjoyed it, and I will be showing it to my daughter when she is old enough. Happy watching!
Teen, 16 years old Written by3rdPersonPerspective May 24, 2015

A masterpiece with mature content

From an artistic standpoint, this movie is incredible. The screenplay is remarkable; the acting too, including fantastic deliveries from Hollywood legend Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. Nevertheless, the material, while not too inappropriate, is certainly for mature audiences: brief breast nudity, one f-word, and two scenes of disturbing violence.


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