Close Encounters of the Third Kind



Suspenseful, thoughtful alien-encounter classic.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: May 18, 2003
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1977
  • Running Time: 132 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Offers instead a hopeful picture of interplanetary events, rather than the typical predatory, violent movie aliens. Rather than fearing the unknown, the Earth's population just as easily might look forward to a peaceful, friendly encounter. Sticking to your beliefs no matter what is a running theme.

Positive role models

A mother is portrayed as unselfish, caring, courageous, and strong as she searches and fights for the return of her young son. The unorthodox hero, obsessed with making sense of what he's seen, proves the value of following a single-minded path in spite of ridicule or opposition. U.S. military personnel are the villains and in most cases are shown to be blindly following orders, harsh, and unsympathetic. On the other hand, the scientists are characterized as open-minded, trusting, and intelligent.

Violence & scariness

Several spooky and frightening sequences: strange lights appear and disappear; mailboxes shake; a house is attacked by unseen presences; a car flies off the edge of a cliff; dead horses, cows and chickens are found lying by the side of the road. A little boy is abducted by aliens; his terrified mother chases him, unsuccessfully. Helicopters stalk the hero and heroine and they are captured by military forces. A giant spaceship and a number of auxiliary craft hover and land on the earth.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable

Occasional swearing: "hell," "jackass," "s--t," "goddamn," "Christ," "bastards," "ass."


Multiple product placements: Coca Cola, McDonald's, Shell Oil, Budweiser, Baskin Robbins, Piggly Wiggly markets.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this ultimately uplifting and optimistic story has many scary and spooky moments before the exact nature of the aliens is revealed. To a mother’s horror, her toddler son disappears and is a captive of unknown villains. The earth is enveloped by strange events: electrical storms, unexplained shaking, and unidentified flying objects (UFOs). A house is attacked by mysterious forces; dead animals appear on quiet country roads. A loving father is faced with losing his family because of his conviction. There are scattered curse words including "hell," "s--t," and "bastard." Members of the military are mostly portrayed as unsympathetic and authoritarian.

What's the story?

When Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) encounter a UFO, they travel to its landing site, Devil's Tower, Wyoming. Jillian is seeking her son, who went bye-bye with the alien ship. Roy's obsession with the UFO sighting drives his family away. Inexplicably drawn to Devil's Tower, Roy and Jillian realize that they're not the only ones who feel they've been called there. French scientist Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), top-secret U.S. government agents, and ordinary folks are there to meet an enormous spacecraft, which, when it shows up, returns humans taken over decades (including Jillian's son). When the aliens appear, Roy boldly boards the ship in an intergalactic exchange program. (In the reissue, which added some new scenes, viewers get a glimpse of the inside of the spacecraft.)

Is it any good?


This is a thrilling adventure story and a brilliant example of the art and craft of moviemaking. The story unfolds with extraordinary power, involving viewers as much in Roy's inexplicable compulsion as in Jillian's search for her son. And the story itself is so different from many other alien movies -- it posits the idea not just that "something" is out there, but that it's something wonderful. Watch how Spielberg lets viewers know that the aliens are friendly.

There's something very believable and compelling about the way that the aliens use music to communicate and to teach the people on earth. Spielberg creates a sense of wonder not just in Jillian's son Barry (Cary Guffey) but in the adult characters and in the viewers, making them children again, with the aliens as the "adults," who -- reassuringly -- look and behave like gentle children, giving us a sense of comfort.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the idea of life beyond our solar system. Do you think there are other intelligent beings out there? Why or why not? If so, what do you think they're like, and do you think they'll ever come to Earth?

  • Talk about how aliens are usually portrayed in the movies. What does this movie do differently? What signs do you get that these aliens will be benevolent?

  • Was this movie scary? What were the scariest parts and why? How does music, lighting, etc. affect how scary a scene is?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 16, 1977
DVD release date:May 29, 2001
Cast:Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillon, Richard Dreyfuss
Director:Steven Spielberg
Studio:Columbia Tristar
Genre:Science Fiction
Topics:Space and aliens
Character strengths:Humility, Perseverance
Run time:132 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:some intense sci-fi action, mild language and thematic elements

This review of Close Encounters of the Third Kind 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

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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

Parent of a 2 and 4 year old Written byjenkensing February 20, 2010
I think to not say anything about the language in the above review, is irresponsible. There were 4 S-words, and GD was used 3 times. Along with the common ones "hell" and "dammit". Those are not appropriate for my children.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Adult Written byAshnak April 9, 2008

Great Sci-Fi Family Adventure Drama

Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byjcpilot February 19, 2010

Pretty good movie

A few curse words, S word and God D it.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


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

Star Wars Guide