Dead Poets Society

Movie review by
Randy White, Common Sense Media
Dead Poets Society Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Inspiring, intense story of a teacher and his students.
  • PG
  • 1989
  • 128 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 27 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Lots of nuggets of wisdom mostly spoken by Professor Keating: Think for yourselves, savor words and language, "words and language can change the world," and you should constantly look at things in a different way. Major themes include compassion and integrity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Almost goes without saying that kids pushed like crazy to succeed will rebel. The boys here smoke quite a bit and sneak out of the school repeatedly, but they sneak out to read poetry and bond. One boy lies to his seemingly heartless father so he can perform in a play. Professor Keating clearly cares a lot about his students. Authority figures in the school stoop to scapegoating one teacher and pitting students against him in order to keep order after a tragedy.


One of the boys commits suicide off-screen via gun shot; parents are shown afterward hysterical as they hold him. One boy gets beaten up, his nose bloodied. One character says of his beau,"if I don't have Chris I'm going to kill myself." One student gets paddled by headmaster as punishment.


One of the teens shows a (somewhat obscured) Playboy centerfold, plus a few jokes about virginity, and teen couples kissing passionately at a party.


Kids call Welton school "Hell-ton" frequently. "S--t" is said about a half dozen times, plus a smattering of "damn," "Goddamnit," and "Jesus."


Sunmaid Raisins make a cameo.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Period smoking -- lots of it. Both pipes and cigarettes smoked by adults and snuck by teens. A high school party includes plenty of drinking -- Knox does whiskey shots with new acquaintances.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dead Poets Society has very uplifting messages especially for teens about seizing the day and embracing poetry as a way toward thinking for yourself and positive self-expression. But it also deals with the suicide of one of the main characters (the gunshot isn't shown, but the parents are shown holding their son afterward, hysterical). Everyone smokes a lot (mostly a reflection of the time mixed with teen rebellion) and one main character drinks shots at a high school party.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bychoosewisely April 9, 2008

Gripping personal story

This story is inspiring and intense. Adolescence is trying time of change, uncertainty, growth and confusion. All of these elements are represented in this sto... Continue reading
Adult Written byteach April 9, 2008

What a wonderful film for kids to see in this day and age!

Everytiem I see this fine coming of age film I am more impressed with the lesson it can show to pre-teens and teens of our time. Although what was "racy... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byKd2606 July 5, 2018

Everyone above 14 needs to see this movie!

Dead poets society is loaded with deep messages and ideas. People of any age can see this movie, enjoy and find a simple massage, but in my opinion people above... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old August 23, 2014

Amazing in every way!!!

I've seen Robin Williams before, but "Dead Poets Society" shows his true talent. You will be enthralled by some of the phrases used by Williams,... Continue reading

What's the story?

In DEAD POETS SOCIETY, the teens attending one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in the country aren't prepared for the new English teacher Mr. Keating (Robin Williams). He encourages these future doctors and lawyers with pushy parents to think for themselves and "seize the day!" He also subtly encourages the boys to form the Dead Poets Society. They sneak out at night repeatedly to read poetry and bond over girls they like and the pressures they face. It's all healthy fun until Charlie (Gale Hansen) taunts the school with hints of their activities, leading to a full inquiry. But that's only the start of the trouble Mr. Keating and the Dead Poets Society faces.

Is it any good?

Older kids fall hard for this stirring coming-of-age drama; they love the way it challenges them to think for themselves. The story also tugs at their heartstrings. They get to know the boys -- their loves, their goals, and their fears. They root for the characters, wanting them to achieve their dreams (one boy wants to play the sax, another wants to become an actor).

Despite Robin William's fine (if a tad cloying) performance, Dead Poets Society belongs to the boys, and the ensemble cast of young male actors (including Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, and Robert Sean Leonard) is up to the task. The movie also has a spell-casting ambiance, especially in the cave scenes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how poetry is explained and used in Dead Poets Society. Did this movie inspire you to read more, be more creative, or even "seize the day"?

  • Which movies inspire you? Why? What about teachers?

  • Families can also talk about Neil, his oppressive father, and his irreversible decision. What help is out there for those contemplating the same actions? What are the warning signs that someone needs help?

  • How do the characters in Dead Poets Society demonstrate compassion and integrity? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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