Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Close Encounters of the Third Kind Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Suspenseful, thoughtful alien-encounter classic.
  • PG
  • 1977
  • 132 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 16 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 24 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Thought-provoking insight into the vastness of space and its other intelligent inhabitants.

Positive Messages

Offers 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. Themes include perseverance and humility.

Positive Role Models & Representations

A mother is portrayed as unselfish, caring, courageous, and strong as she searches for 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 antagonists and in most cases are portrayed as blindly following orders, harsh, and unsympathetic. On the other hand, the scientists are characterized as open-minded, trusting, and intelligent.

Violence & Scariness

Several spooky, 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

Occasional swearing includes "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

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that director Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind is ultimately an uplifting, optimistic story with themes of perseverance and humility, but it has many scary, spooky moments before the aliens' exact nature is revealed. To a mother's horror, her toddler son disappears, becoming a captive of unknown villains. 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 obsession/conviction. Scattered curse words include "hell," "s--t," and "bastard." Members of the military are mostly portrayed as unsympathetic and authoritarian, while scientists are characterized as open-minded, trusting, and intelligent. Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon co-star.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTeenFilmScholar October 3, 2017

Close Encounters

This movie doesn't have much objectionable content, other than some swear words, but you MUST know that the emotional themes are really, really intense, an... Continue reading
Parent of a 12-year-old Written bylittleone522 February 23, 2011

Common Sense Could Use Some Common Sense With Their Review

I wish that common sense media would get their information correct. This movie has language and quite a bit of it. You can find one use of the word Bullsh*t, Th... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCoolpool785 November 5, 2018

Great alien film is suspenseful, some language.

Great movie is mostly fine for families, but not little kids. It has some very scary scenes. One of the scariest involves a boy being abducted. During said abdu... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byConnor M. September 3, 2017

Really imaginative! SPOILERS UP AHEAD!!!!

I saw this for it's re-release yesterday, and it was amazing. The spaceships were very creative-looking. The finale was a little slow, but worth it. As for... Continue reading

What's the story?

In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) encounter a UFO and travel to its landing site in 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. Close Encounters of the Third Kind 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 director Steven 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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the idea of life beyond our solar system in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. 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?

  • How do the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind demonstrate perseverance and humility? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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