Movie review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Coma Movie Poster Image
Medical thriller is smart, but too tense for younger kids.
  • NR
  • 2012
  • 240 minutes

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

Positive Messages

Ultimately, evildoers are punished, and their crimes aren't glamorized, though viewers may come away with the idea that many in the medical profession are greedy and amoral (despite the fact that there are dependable and even noble characters), and younger viewers may wind up thinking they shouldn't trust doctors.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Main character Susan Wheeler is intrepid, intelligent, and brave. Her character is more fleshed out than those of the villains', who are a little one-note -- they're concerned only with glory and power and not patients' health and safety. The cast is nicely gender balanced, with both good and bad male and female characters, but not very racially diverse.


Many shots of gory medical procedures, including a procedure performed on a crying, choking grade-schooler. Many other scenes of people lying in bed motionless and covered with tubes, as well as hanging, motionless bodies. The main character is physically assaulted and choked in a dark alley.


One character is romancing another to advance his career; the two are shown nude in a hot tub together (no sensitive body parts are shown). One character sends another a text reading "Did you screw her?" after he spends the night with a woman.


Some curse words: "hell," "ass," "bitch."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult characters are shown drinking at a bar at a work party; no one acts drunk.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Coma is a tense medical thriller that could spark hospital- or doctor-related worries in younger viewers. There are many views of graphic and gory medical procedures, including an emergency procedure performed on a choking grade-school boy as his mom cries hysterically and piteously beside him. There are also creepy shots of hanging, motionless, dead-looking bodies and people lying near death in hospital beds, festooned with tubes. The main character is physically assaulted and choked in a dark alley and watched on surveillance cameras. Sexual content includes characters dipping into a hot tub nude together (though no body parts are shown). There's some cursing, including a scene where the main character is sneeringly called a "bitch." Characters drink at a work party, but no one acts drunk.

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What's the story?

COMA, A&E's four-hour update of the 1978 medical thriller starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas (itself based on the novel by Robin Cook), has the same basic plotline as the original: Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) is an ethical medical professional up against some decidedly evil doctors intent on deliberately causing comas in patients for nefarious reasons. After an acquaintance falls into a persistent vegetative state following a routine surgery, Wheeler discovers that far too many patients at her hospital end up in comas far too often. They're then transferred to the mysterious Jefferson Institute under the care of menacing researcher Mrs. Emerson (Ellen Burstyn). After inquiries at her hospital result in static from the imperious chief of psychiatry, Agnetta Lindquist (Geena Davis), and chief of staff Theodore Stark (James Woods), as well as some mysterious personal reprisals, Wheeler decides she must know the truth. With the help of hunky supervisor Dr. Mark Bellows (Steven Pasquale), Wheeler starts poking around at the Jefferson Institute. What they find goes beyond anything they'd feared.

Is it any good?

Coma is star-studded, tensely plotted, and directed with fast-moving brio by Ridley Scott (Alien) and brother Tony Scott (Top Gun). It's both creepy and absorbing, particularly for viewers who are already suspicious of what doctors could be doing behind those swinging hospital doors. Those who've seen the 1978 film or read Cook's novel may recall that the original villains were after coma victims' body parts. The new miniseries smartly updates this plot point, since -- as Dr. Bellows says -- we're on the verge of being able to grow organs in a lab, there's no profit in harvesting organs. Thus the evil doctors are now after another objective entirely, one that will strike many modern viewers as pretty disturbing.

Also disturbing, particularly to young viewers: The many shots of graphic, bloody medical procedures, eerie suspended bodies, and the heroine creeping down shadowy hospital corridors. It's easy to imagine Coma igniting a doctor or hospital fear, so think twice before you watch with younger children. Older kids or teens who are equipped to handle the tension may enjoy the brisk drama, which is light on confusing medical jargon and mostly jettisons the 1978 Coma's knotty questions about medical ethics for more straightforward horror-movie plotting. Parents, meanwhile, will like seeing old movie-star faves like Woods and Richard Dreyfuss again. Coma is good watch-together fare for families with older kids, particularly from the perspective of a comfortable, safe couch.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why the events that occur in Coma couldn't take place in real life. Did you know that hospitals are owned by shareholders, overseen by boards, and monitored by the American Medical Association? Why do you think all this supervision is necessary?

  • Can you see any differences in the way the villains of Coma are depicted compared to the heroes? Does the director use different camera angles? Is the music different? What about the dialogue, make-up, or costumes?

  • Many thrillers and horror movies feature scenes with hospitals and doctors. Why is this scenario so scary to viewers? Why would an evil doctor be scarier than, say, an evil baker?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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