Cowboys & Aliens
By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Cool but predictable sci-fi Western has lots of violence.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Meacham tells Jake that it "doesn't matter who you were, only who you are," and that's the movie's main lesson (well, aside from the fact that in the face of a violent alien invasion, human beings should ignore their differences and work together).
Positive Role Models
Most of the characters are deeply flawed, but there are still a few role models: Meacham is selfless and kind, and he even sacrifices his own safety to help Emmett and Jake. Ella puts herself in harm's way to help the others, and Jake, despite his criminal past, proves himself a hero.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of violence, starting with the opening sequence, when Jake kills or incapacitates three men in short order -- with a knife, a gun, and his fists. Dolarhyde has a man punished by tying him up and letting a horse drag his body away. Expect lots of explosions and a high body count, especially when the aliens (which are frightening) start attacking -- they crush people and bite and feed on them. People shoot, slash, and throw arrows at the aliens, occasionally impaling them with spears. Blood from medical experiments; wounds shown. In a couple of scenes, the aliens nearly kill a young boy, and one shot of the aliens will make audiences jump.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of big kisses -- one of which is pretty intense -- plus a few mentions of prostitution and references to a "whore." A female character is shown naked from the waist up, but only from the back.
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Language includes "damn," "goddammit," "bulls--t," "s--t," "pecker," "hell," "son of a bitch," "ass," and "stupid."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
As in most Westerns, most of the cowboys congregate at a saloon, where everyone drinks, including the town preacher, who swigs out of a bottle of liquor he's using to clean a wound. Some characters are clearly drunk. Jake does shots of whiskey; a couple of cowboys are shown drunk or with cigars or cigarettes, including Jake, who rolls his own and then smokes it. Jake also participates in a Native American ritual that involves drinking tea that makes him hallucinate.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this Western/sci-fi hybrid will definitely appeal to boys and fans of the two stars -- the new Bond (Daniel Craig) and the former Indy (Harrison Ford) -- but there are some violent scenes that may be too intense for tweens. Although it's light on romance -- just a couple of kisses and a few references to a prostitute -- the movie is heavy with explosive action (shootings, stabbings, and gruesome aliens) and has a high body count. Language includes words like "s--t" and "damn," and alcohol consumption is fairly high, considering that the cowboys spend most of their downtime drinking in a saloon. Despite a generally positive message about people banding together to fight a common enemy, the movie's violence can be overwhelming.
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Cowboys & Aliens
Based on 24 parent reviews
The least prudish parent here says 'avoid this one for violence'
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What's the Story?
Based on Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's graphic novel, COWBOYS & ALIENS opens with an unnamed man (Daniel Craig) sitting in the desert with a mysterious bracelet cuffed to his wrist. After felling three men who think he's good for bounty, the lone cowboy appears in a sleepy 19th-century Arizona town, where he encounters a kind preacher (Clancy Brown) and enrages Percy (Paul Dano), a drunken bully who's the son of local cattleman Col. Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). When the local sheriff (Keith Carradine) discovers that Craig is actually Jake Lonergan, a wanted criminal, he arrests him. Then aliens attack the town and kidnap many residents -- including Percy, the sheriff, and the saloon owner's wife. To stop the invasion, Jake teams up with Dolarhyde; his Native American deputy, Nat (Adam Beach); the sheriff's grandson, Emmett (Noah Ringer); Doc (Sam Rockwell), the barman; and Ella (Olivia Wilde), a beautiful, gun-toting woman who knows more about the aliens than anyone else.
Is It Any Good?
Craig buzzes with a simmering intensity that can turn into a swashbuckling boil at any moment. With his sharp features and broad shoulders, he transforms from brooding loner into a relentless warrior every single time he's threatened -- from the opening scene to the last alien he dispatches. But as promising as the movie starts -- with Craig's amnesiac, wounded gunslinger stealing clothes (including tight-fitting leather chaps) off his rivals and galloping into town -- the middle is a muddle of alien carnage and incomplete plot development that leaves you dissatisfied no matter how exciting it is to watch Craig and Ford share the screen.
Ford, no longer dashing and young, is now the perfect curmudgeon; his Dolarhyde is a meanie with a soft spot for his ne'er-do-well son. Beach is earnest as Ford's underappreciated charge-turned-employee, but the Native American subplot in the second half feels a bit Dances with Wolves without any heart. Wilde is appropriately gorgeous as the enigmatic Ella, but her romance with Jake is far too predictable. If director Jon Favreau had paid as much attention to the story as he did the fighting sequences, Cowboys & Aliens could have been a milestone instead of just another passably cool summer movie.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the merging of the two genres. Which aspect worked better -- the Western or the sci-fi parts?
How was the violence handled in the movie? Was there too much, or was it necessary to the story?
When you see actors in a movie, do you think about the other parts they've played in the past? How does that affect the way you react to them and their actions?
- In theaters: July 29, 2011
- On DVD or streaming: December 6, 2011
- Cast: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
- Director: Jon Favreau
- Studio: Universal Studios
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense sequences of western and sci-fi action and violence, some partial nudity and a brief crude reference
- Last updated: June 2, 2023
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