Death Wish (1974)

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Death Wish (1974) Movie Poster Image
Sexual violence, cursing in strongly pro-vigilante drama.
  • R
  • 1974
  • 93 minutes

Parents say

age 17+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Guns are tools, just like hammers and axes. If the police don't defend us, maybe we should do it ourselves. City streets are safer when citizens are armed and bad guys know they'll get shot if they try to hurt someone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Kersey starts out as sympathetic character trying to cope with tragic loss, but becomes a serial killer who baits muggers and kills them. He's presented as a justified, heroic vigilante because his wife and daughter were attacked by home invaders, but he never learns who they were and there's no sense that justice is served by Kersey's actions. Law enforcement officials don't prosecute Kersey because crime rate plummets once word spreads that there's a vigilante on the streets. Only consequence is that he has to relocate to another city, where it's clear he'll continue to take the law into his own hands.

Violence

Home invasion robbery, sexual assault with hard slapping, slashing at a face with a knife, struggling that shows a woman's breasts. Rape implied but not shown; attacker says he's going to "stick it in her ass" and rips at victim's clothes while trying to hold her face down. Another attacker says he's going to paint her mouth, that she's going to swallow all the paint, and forced oral sex is implied by the attacker's bare buttocks and thrusting; victim's face not shown. Attackers spray-paint one victim, punch and kick another. Spots of blood visible on the floor and on the victims, including either blood or spray paint at top of victim's buttocks. One victim dies; another spirals into a catatonic state. Many shootings with a pistol show small amounts of blood. Victims shot at point-blank range, killed. Bloody surgery briefly shown. Group of vigilantes kicks and stomps on a fleeing criminal whose severe injuries are mentioned, made light of by one of the attackers. Insulin shock therapy mentioned.

Sex

A husband and wife kiss and talk about whether to go back to the hotel or continue on the beach. Bare breasts and buttocks visible during a sexual assault.

Language

"S--t," "ass," "f--k," "goddamn," "c--t," "Jesus" and "Jesus Christ" (as exclamations), "hell," "son of a bitch," "motherf----r," and "p---y." Penises mentioned.

Consumerism

Several news magazines shown in the context of someone following the headlines.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mention that Kersey is drinking without eating anything. After a shock, Kersey shakily pours himself brown liquor and drinks it quickly. Adults have drinks at a party. A character who frequently smokes is often shown coughing and spraying from an unmarked bottle into his nose and mouth. Some characters smoke cigarettes and cigarillos, and occasionally background action shows smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Death Wish (1974) starring Charles Bronson loads most of the violence into the front of the movie. Controversial in its day, it's still difficult to watch and definitely not for kids, with a home invasion and sexual assault that clearly implies rape, forced oral sex showing bare buttocks and thrusting, and strong language including "c--t" and "f--k." Bare breasts are visible during the sexual assault. Other violence is mostly frequent shootings by a vigilante taking the law into his own hands; bloody gunshot wounds are sometimes briefly shown. Nonviolent sexual content is some kissing and indirect talk about having sex between a married couple. There's drinking and smoking. Kersey is an antihero who becomes a serial killer, which makes him feel better as he's trying to cope with tragic loss. Strongest messages are about how armed citizens are effective deterrents to violent crime and that guns are just tools like hammers or axes, plus the suggestion that if the police can't defend people, people should defend themselves by actively seeking out criminals and killings them. Any sense of justice is notably lacking.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 17 year old Written bySircjalot July 17, 2018

One of the best Vigilante films. Based in New York City "back when the city was filled with crime!"

There's typical violence, such as bloody shootings throughout the film. But the most brutal part of this movie was a rape scene. This scene was very hard t... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byRanger12 April 3, 2018

Death Wish

I think the original 1974 death wish is a very good and thoughtful film, it asks the old age question what would you do? Bronson is one of my all time favorite... Continue reading

What's the story?

DEATH WISH (1974) introduces bleeding-heart-liberal architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson), who becomes a vigilante out for street justice after his wife and daughter are violently attacked in his home.

Is it any good?

As a crime drama or thriller this movie ultimately falls short, mostly because it doesn't connect messages about vengeance or justice with the main character or the story. Most of the violence in Death Wish (1974), and all of the considerable shock value that makes it unsuitable for kids and teens, is loaded into the first 20 minutes or so. What follows, after a too-long trip to Arizona, are too many scenes of Kersey shooting presumed criminals who have nothing to do with him or the crime committed against his family. Even his daughter's recovery takes a back seat to Kersey wandering the streets at night looking for thugs to kill.

Charles Bronson's breakout portrayal of the tough but quiet vigilante was a fan favorite, spawning no fewer than four sequels and a 2018 remake starring Bruce Willis. Teens may be curious about the original, so be prepared to talk with them, especially about the sexual violence, and also about their thoughts on how people can protect themselves, gun use, and taking the law into your own hands.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Death Wish (1974). Is it realistic? Does it add to the story? How much is OK to show in movies?

  • What about the strong language? How much is OK for kids to hear? Is the profanity realistic?

  • Is it ever OK to take the law into your own hands? What if law enforcement isn't effective? Does the movie show that there are consequences for vigilantism? What are they?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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