Dark City Movie Poster Image

Dark City



Mind-stretching, futuristic sci-fi can get gory.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 1998
  • Running Time: 103 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

In its weird way the film affirms the human spirit and individuality ("the soul"), compared to the super-powered but stagnant and dying alien race that holds people captive here. Even though the hero is set up to think he's a Ripper-like murderer, he really isn't, and even villainous-seeming characters are secretly working toward the liberation of humanity.


Brief shots of bloody victims (female) of knife-killings, with spiral designs cut into flesh. Some of the zombie-like "strangers" get smashed/impaled, and one has the top of his head sheared off. Hypodermic needles plunged into foreheads.


Female nudity (topless and in profile) of a prostitute, bare-butt shot of the hero. Talk of an adulterous affair (which turns out not to have really happened).

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some cigarette smoking, social drinking as backdrop.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is brief female nudity in a subplot about a helpful prostitute/single mother, though no sex results. She gets murdered for her troubles in helping out the hero, and there are several bloodied corpses plus fantasy violence in which zombie-like beings are decapitated or smashed. The nightmare imagery, recalling ghosts, vampires, and zombies (but with a sci-fi explanation) can be unnerving to sensitive viewers. A "director's cut" DVD lacks the opening narration that explains much of the complicated setup; some viewers might find this non-narrated version confusing.

What's the story?

As with Blade Runner, DARK CITY exists in versions both with and without opening narration to cue the viewer on what in the world (or out of this world) is going on. In a nameless city of endless night, John Murdoch (Rufus Sewell) awakens in bloody bathtub water in a seedy hotel room, where it appears he's just committed the latest in a string of murders of prostitutes. But he has no memory, just a cryptic phone message from sinister Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) to sustain him as the police close in. It seems that the city is secretly controlled by "the strangers," a telepathic army of gaunt, sunlight-shunning Men in Black, who manipulate memories and cityscapes, constantly altering the city in experiments on the human race. But John Murdoch mystifies them because he seems immune to their control. Thus, he becomes a target of the strangers.

Is it any good?


The way Dark City fuses science fiction with classic film-noir detective imagery and Kafka-esque fantasy-allegory is stylish and boldly visionary. It’s definitely not your straightforward actioner of alien abduction. When outstanding computer-graphics effects show the Gotham-like city sprouting and growing out of the ground, it's not just f/x eye candy, it's key to the plot -- a concept rather similar to The Matrix ("reality" is a sham, manipulated by hostile forces) but wrapped up neatly, in one movie, not three, and without distracting kung-fu battles as a metaphor for the human spirit.

In fact, underneath its moody, cosmic-gothic ambiance, Dark City is unusually optimistic in suggesting that Earth people have something inherently precious, an inner grace that would baffle and defeat even creatures as super-powered as the strangers. One more unusual and praiseworthy touch: the script avoids swear words altogether. With a premise as far-out as this one, profanity would hardly have brought in "realism."

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the motivations and actions of "the strangers." The movie never tells us how the Dark City came to be created or humans arrived there. Ask kids if they don't mind that such details are left to the imagination. Do they like this cerebral head trip as much as the more action-focused The Matrix or not, and why?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 19, 1998
DVD/Streaming release date:July 29, 2008
Cast:Jennifer Connelly, Richard O'Brien, Rufus Sewell, William Hurt
Director:Alex Proyas
Studio:New Line
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:103 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violent images and some sexuality

This review of Dark City was written by

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


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

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

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Surreal coming-of-age fantasy -- with Muppets.
  • Dense, dreamlike fantasy isn't for every kid.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Kid, 12 years old March 23, 2013

A Movie I'll See When I'm Older

I'm a huge fan of sci-fi, but I'll see this when I'm older
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Teen, 17 years old Written byAnonConcerned October 22, 2014
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Parent of a 18+ year old Written byBiG_Daddy April 22, 2016

Nice movie

I think it's fine for a responsible child.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models