City of Lost Children Movie Poster Image

City of Lost Children



Bizarre, beautiful French sci-fi with creepy images, themes.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1998
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Surreal take on the Frankenstein theme, of artificial creatures turning on their creator in a commentary on humanity. The importance of human connection -- worth even major risks and sacrifices.

Positive role models

Miette is an exceptionally brave and resilient young heroine, while One is a Hercules-type muscleman good guy (although not terribly smart). Not every monstrosity is evil (such as "Uncle Irvin," the helpful brain), nor do good characters always act righteously. Fanciful setting seems to depict a society in which kids can rely on nobody but each other.


One villain is bloodily impaled with a speargun. Characters turn homicidal and kill with their bare hands, and the little-girl heroine is shockingly beaten and nearly strangled. Flashback to a mad-science lab fight, with bloody faces and smashed test tubes. One character threatened with a shotgun. Explosions and fires non-explicitly kill people.


A distant view of topless showgirls as a panicked nightclub empties. A woman in a low-cut gown tried to seduce a drunken man.


"Bitch" in the subtitles.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The strongman One drinks himself insensible in a bar. He and other characters smoke cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this surreal French film about bad dreams is full of nightmare-inducing imagery include menacing cyborg-like men who have replaced their eyes with old camera lenses, creepy faces distorted by wide-angle lenses and CGI rapid aging, and an opening invasion by nasty Santa Clauses. Children are menaced, with kidnapping, violence, betrayal, and with death -- drowning and strangulation. There is brief showgirl nudity in a nightclub scene and scene of coy sexy talk. Violence includes bloody faces, an impaling, near-shootings and fatal explosions (still, mayhem is minor for an R-rated movie). Characters smoke and drink. Most versions of the film require reading of subtitles (and "bitch" comes up in translated dialogue). A childlke grown man and a precocious little girl are a "romantic" lead couple -- but there's no sexual contact between them.

What's the story?

In a mad-science lab at sea the rogue results of unwise genetic tinkering conduct their own experiments on human children kidnapped from the town. The mutants include a dwarf woman, six bumbling clones, a brain in a tank, and the boss, a spindly synthetic fiend called Krank (Daniel Emilfork), superintelligent but lacking a human soul, which he tries to gain by stealing dreams from the captive children. The rebellious brain -- named Irvin -- has decided enough is enough and subverts Krank's efforts by secretly poisoning the kids' dreams into nightmares. Meanwhile back on land, a carnival strongman named One (Ron Perlman) loses his adopted "little brother" to the clutches of the Cyclopses, a monkish brotherhood who have replaced their eyes, cyborg-style, with creepy camera-lens implants. It turns out they have been supplying children to Krank. One teams up with stoic, streetwise waif Miette (Judith Vittet) to fight the baddies and find the lost kids.

Is it any good?


CITY OF LOST CHILDREN  is a breathtakingly one-of-a-kind fantasy, not easy to follow or figure out but an incredible ride in getting there. Somehow it successfully gene-splices sci-fi "cyberpunk" with scraps of Jules Verne, fairy-tale innocence, exquisite CGI f/x and carnival-midway surrealism. From an opening nightmare sequence of bad Santas it escalates the wonder, weirdness, and pathos, right until the eerie closing theme song, with a showstopper cliffhanger ending. It may not surprise anyone this was a costly money loser in its native France, its eccentricities a turnoff to mainstream audiences. But for broad-minded parents not discouraged by the way-out elements it's a spellbinder for mature teens and up.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the unusual style of the film. Was it off-putting or hard to follow? How does it compare to American movies you've seen?

  • Did the surreal style of the movie change your impression of the violence? Did it seem less realistic, or more creepy?

  • Talk about some of the themes in the movie -- the search for a soul, the need for human connection, resilience in the face of horror and loneliness.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 15, 1998
DVD/Streaming release date:October 19, 1999
Cast:Daniel Emilfork, Dominique Pinon, Judith Vittet, Ron Perlman
Director:Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:114 minutes
MPAA rating:R

This review of City of Lost Children was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 12 years old March 31, 2013

A Movie I'll See When I'm Older

I'm a huge fan of sci-fi, but I'll see this when I'm older.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written bySylph June 3, 2012

A fifteen year old's view from it.

I say that this is an appropriate movie for approximately the age of thirteen and up, though I myself watched this as a fifteen year old. It's beautifully done, with a hauntingly memorable and entrancing story line and soundtrack, especially L'exécution, with it's almost merry-go-round reminiscent style. The main visual, background and costume aspects are Steampunk, a style which many would know of from such famous writers as H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, with mechanical apparatuses being common use. It definitely is not a film for the majority of younger children (mainly under 12s), seeing as the storyline does have the possibility of being hard to follow for younger kids, not to mention that there is a fair bit of bad language, and there are many nightmarish themes which may frighten them. But for more mature children and thirteens and up I do recommend this film- it may not have been a blockbuster, but the storyline is heart-wrenching, the characters are believable and the ending is gorgeous but creepy. Well worth it.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byNeon_Fish January 17, 2016

Don't bother

It's like a prolonged nightmare that makes your head spin. Not for kids. Dunno what the target audience would be :/
What other families should know
Too much violence


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?