Movie review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Contest Movie Poster Image
Strong anti-bullying tone outshines movie's low-budget feel.
  • PG
  • 2013
  • 88 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie goes to lengths to analyze the issue of bullying from many perspectives, including those of the victim, the instigator, and bystanders. Throughout the story, their feelings aren't always definitive, which reflects the reality of this complicated issue. Sometimes the bully feels guilty, and sometimes taking out his aggressions on others makes him feel empowered. Similarly, the victim struggles with his conflicting emotions as he develops a tentative relationship with his former adversary. All that is resolved by the story's end, though, and every character has learned compromise, trust, self-respect, and compassion.

Positive Role Models & Representations

This is a mixed bag. The evolution of Tommy and Matt's friendship is a great example of two people willing to see past their differences to establish a relationship, and a number of other supporting characters experience similar changes of heart. When it comes to the adults, though, the message is less clear. Tommy's grandmother is caring and a great listener, but she tends to oversimplify what is a serious issue to him. Matt's older brother leads him down the wrong path for very selfish reasons and never learns his lesson. As for school officials, their solution to the problem is to force together a bully and his victim with no guidance or supervision. It turns out OK in the end, but such a move could have dangerous repercussions in the real world.


Incidents of bullying run the gamut; teens shove victims into walls, slap, punch, kick, and, in one case, toss a non-swimmer into a pool. One exchange is particularly violent, leaving the teen bloodied and bruised. Others actions -– like stealing a classmate's lunch –- cause less physical harm but are equally damaging emotionally. Tommy calls cyberbullying "online humiliation."


Teens flirt, and, in one scene, a guy cozies up to a girl to distract her and cause her to lose a contest, but most of the physical contact is limited to closeness and some quick kissing. In another, a basket of cylindrical food (salami, pepperoni, cucumbers) are implied to be phallic.


Rarely "hell," plus some name-calling like "loser."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Contest tackles the issue of bullying as it plays out between a high school athletic star and the downtrodden victim of his persistent physical and emotional abuse. The story follows the two as they're forced into a cooperative relationship that winds up having a positive effect on how each one views the other. Most of the incidents involve teens roughing up classmates in school halls or pressuring them into acting out against their own peers, but a few darker scenes show a non-swimmer thrown into a pool and another bloodied after a violent beat-down. The now-familiar mantra "speak up" is explored with varying degrees of success, with the teens' school's response –- forcing the bully and his victim to join forces on an unsupervised project -– being the most surprisingly ill-advised. Expect occasional language ("hell," mostly), brief physical contact between teens, and an exaggerated depiction of the social barriers in high school. Ultimately, though, the movie extols tolerance, compassion, and understanding as the greatest weapons against bullying.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byThe WildFlower March 27, 2014

Unrealistic perception of Bullying and overall flat story telling.

Something small to point out: just because a movie that has a stamped approval from a children's network for anti-bullying doesn't make it automatic g... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 3, 2014

Great Teamwork!

Great film with very interesting and positive characters,who always stood up for eachother. The plot of this movie was good too. Best for kids 10+.

What's the story?

CONTEST is set in a small-town high school where social status is irrevocable and the popular members of the swim team rule the roost. Right in the mix is Matt Prylek (Kenton Duty), a team ringleader whose favorite bullying victim is Tommy Dolen (Daniel Flaherty). But when Matt's most recent torment is caught on security cameras, he's suspended from the team and forced to become the school's new poster boy for its anti-bullying campaign by getting on friendly terms with Tommy. Meanwhile, Tommy has entered a teen cooking contest in the hopes of using the prize money to save his grandmother's restaurant, and Matt's older brother, Kyle (Kyle Dean Massey) –- who has an underhanded interest in the restaurant going under –- urges Matt to feign friendship with Tommy to upend his chances in the contest. Neither party is thrilled about the arrangement, but, to their mutual surprise, their forced companionship evolves into a true friendship. Still, old habits die hard, and with so many forces pulling them apart, only time will tell if these two teens can overcome the pressures against them.

Is it any good?

Contest is a low-budget movie that lacks a certain pizzazz teens may have come to expect from the films they watch. Its plot is mostly predictable –- that is, until it veers off into extreme action like one brother running low-tech surveillance on another and some laxative-induced cooking sabotage –- and the characters are cookie-cutter versions of every social niche of the most stereotypical high school you can imagine. But, while that might threaten your teen's attention to the story, it does nothing to mar the messages it's trying to convey about tolerant relationships.

Perhaps the movie's best quality is the care it gives to showing the evolution of both of the main characters' attitudes toward each other. So often in stories of redemption, it's tempting to focus on only the offender's emotional journey, but that's not the case with Contest. Even though Matt's attitude faces the most drastic change, Tommy also finds that he needs to adjust his perspective about his peers as well as about himself. The bottom line? This movie's not likely to win any entertainment awards, but pair it with a discussion with your teens about this timely issue, and it can be another effective weapon in your anti-bullying arsenal. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk with teens about their experiences with bullying. Have you ever seen it in action? Has it ever been directed at you? What different forms can it take? How damaging can it really be?

  • Teens: How does cyberbullying rank in comparison to more traditional forms? What added dangers exist with online torment? What recourse does a victim have against it? Do you know the rules about the dispensation of information online so you don't become an unwitting accomplice in a cyberbullying incident?

  • Talk to your teens about the issues that are on their minds. Which ones are most pressing for them? What social pressures exist? How do these play into how they feel about themselves? What sources of inspiration do they have for a positive self-image? How does the media play into that issue?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love to stop bullying

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

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

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate