Dances with Wolves

Movie review by
Maria Llull, Common Sense Media
Dances with Wolves Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
A grand, sweeping journey with graphic violence.
  • PG-13
  • 1990
  • 181 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 28 reviews

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

Positive Messages

Some strongly negative images and scenes are overpowered by what is ultimately strong positive messages: Animosity and prejudice are often based on fear and lack of awareness of the culture and values of the "other." By living among strangers and sharing their lives and aspirations, understanding and respect come naturally. Language is a vehicle which promotes such understanding. Some battles are waged as a means of survival; other battles are about power and subjugation. Native American tribes were fighting the oncoming white troops and settlers for access to their own land and resources which would sustain their way of life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John Jay Dunbar, as a survivor of the Civil War with little or no knowledge of the American frontier and the plight of Native Americans who inhabit it, is the role model for the film’s audience. As Dunbar comes to view the frontier as it really is, the audience follows suit. Dunbar is open to a different way of life, and he is brave, smart, loyal and heroic. Most of the Native Americans in this movie are shown as devoted to family, eager to laugh, protect their way of life, and live in harmony, a vastly different picture of this people from many movies that came before it. With Dunbar the only exception, the white soldiers in this film are depicted as brutal and ignorant.


Intensely violent battle scenes between white soldiers and Native-Americans and between different tribes. Both participants and innocents (including some children) are shot with guns or arrows; they’re knifed, scalped, killed with hatchets or in furious hand-to-hand combat. Human and animal blood flows throughout. Many animals (horses, dogs, and buffalos) are attacked and shown bleeding and dying. Indians ravage an innocent group of settlers; white soldiers beat, pummel, and ferociously kick the film’s hero; the same soldiers gleefully attack a beloved wolf for the sport of it.


A Native-American couple, their bare shoulders visible, are briefly shown making love under the animal skins which cover them. There are several scenes which depict a couple who is deeply in love passionately kissing, embracing, and undressing. There is some nudity, including rear views of a naked male.


Some swearing early in the film: “Jesus Christ,” “I just pissed in my pants,” “Goddamn,” “butt,” “son-of-a-bitch,” “hell,” “bitch,” and some fart sounds.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character smokes a cigar. In numerous scenes the tribal ritual of smoking a pipe is shared by groups of Native-Americans and their guests. A few instances of alcohol consumption.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that certain scenes in this film stretch the boundaries of a PG-13 rating and are extremely violent. Both Native Americans and white settlers are brutally killed, many times in close-up, with rifles, knives, arrows, hatchets, and in hand-to-hand combat. Blood flows in many scenes. Animals, including some who have been seen throughout as loyal companions to the humans, are viciously killed. At the same time, the picture painted of Native-Americans as a peace-loving, desperate to survive, family-oriented people broke much new ground in 1990 when this movie was made. There is some mild profanity in early scenes; some partial nudity and passionate kissing and embracing; and Native-Americans sharing a pipe is shown as an ongoing tribal custom.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJustinC 1 February 2, 2016

Probably too disturbing and violent for most kids under 14, and definitely under 10 or 11

I saw this in the theater with my parent when I was 10, and I remember a disturbing, violent scene (possibly involving torture/whipping? I can't exactly re... Continue reading
Parent of a 2-year-old Written bygerbowski October 14, 2012

Classic western should be ok for most teens

A classic western epic with a different view on Native Americans. Although it can be violent at times, it is not excessive, and the few sex scenes are quite ta... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byConker22 October 12, 2020

Should be R

Dances with wolves should be R.It shouldn’t be PG13.There is a lot of Violence scene with the Pawnee tribe and has several depicts of scalping,burning shooting... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 20, 2020

OMG this is the best movie I've ever saw.

I watched this with my friend a few weeks back, and I loved it!!!!! Watch it or you'll regret that decision.

What's the story?

Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) is a soldier in the American Civil War whose suicide attempt ends up bringing about a battle victory for his side. Given his choice of posts as a reward, he picks the frontier where an insane major sends him miles away to an abandoned, run-down fort. Months go by with no contact from the army. Dunbar's solitude, curiosity, and sense of duty lead him to make friends with some Sioux Indians who come to him seeking answers about the intentions of the white men in their country. Dunbar eventually gives up waiting for the U.S. Army to send supplies and more men. Through more than three hours of movie, he falls in love, befriends a wolf, and the Sioux come to trust him and treat him as one of their own, eventually fully integrating him with the tribe.

Is it any good?

This very emotional and intense epic has many light-hearted moments, but it's not kid-friendly. It is fraught with violence, and there are heavy themes such as suicide (three characters attempt to take their own lives; one succeeds). However, the characters in DANCES WITH WOLVES will stay with you, as will the decisions they make and the love (and hatred) they show.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the plight of the Native Americans and how their situation compares with other situations in the world right now. Was it okay to colonize land that the Native Americans had taken care of for so long? Was there a compromise that would have worked? What would the U.S. be like now if settlers and Native Americans had lived and learned from each other instead of one eradicating the other?

  • Why is there so much violence in this movie? Would the movie make the same impact without the graphic illustration of violence?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

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