Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Detroit Movie Poster Image
Essential drama about violent chapter in U.S. history.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 143 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie is complex and powerful, with layered takeaways. It raises a lot of questions (often via the characters themselves): How can anyone do this to someone? Why would someone destroy their own neighborhood? It may be difficult for all viewers to fully understand the kind of frustration felt by the characters -- and their subsequent motivations -- but the movie certainly goes a long way toward trying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dismukes is the closest thing to the movie's moral center; he's forever trying to do his best, showing bravery and great strength in order to find peace and kindness. But he's just one part in the tapestry that makes up this huge, complex, diverse, multi-character movie.


Very strong, intense, realistic riot violence. Police beat citizens with gun butts. Guns and shooting, with blood stains, pools of blood, and dead bodies. Grabbing, choking. Smashing windows, throwing rocks, setting things on fire. Knives shown. Male cops ogle and touch female victims; a cop rips a woman's dress while questioning her and treating her harshly, leaving her briefly naked.


A woman's dress is torn off, leading to very brief full-frontal nudity that's nonsexual in nature. Kissing. Mentions of prostitution and pimps.


Many uses of "f--k" and "motherf----r," plus "s--t," the "N" word, "a--hole," "ass," "t-ts," "goddamn," "hell," and "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation). Characters also say "negro."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Background drinking at parties. Frequent cigarette smoking. Pills/pot briefly shown at a party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Detroit is an outstanding drama about the 1967 Detroit riots, regarded as some of the deadliest riots in American history. It's intense, with very realistic violence, including guns and shooting, bloody wounds/pools of blood, and dead bodies. Police beat civilians with gun butts, as well as grab and choke them. People smash windows and start fires, and at one point, a cop rips off a woman's dress, leading to a brief shot of full-frontal nudity. Language is strong, with uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," the "N" word, and more. Characters kiss, and prostitutes/pimps are mentioned. There's lots of cigarette smoking, and characters drink at parties; drugs are shown briefly. Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) lives up to her own stellar reputation here, boldly addressing the very topical theme of race in America. The Force Awakens' John Boyega co-stars, but this isn't an appropriate pick for younger Star Wars fans. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bySusan B. December 16, 2017

Educational, Disturbing & Compassion Inducing

Be very mindful with this film. It is extremely violent and disturbing, both for the physical and emotional violence, as well as racial injustice. However, I be... Continue reading
Adult Written bynmccall77 August 26, 2017

Super intense

I'm actually writing this from the lobby of our movie theater. I had to leave because the intensity was too much for me. What makes this movie so difficu... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byClorox bleach June 12, 2020

History about the Detroit riots

This is a history movie about the Detroit riots
Teen, 17 years old Written bythe person 1234 April 26, 2019

wayyyyyy tooo intese and racist

this movie is really good but is wayy too intese. NOT FOR KIDS!!!!!

What's the story?

In DETROIT, it's 1967 and the police raid an illegal Detroit bar, known as a "blind pig." The incident attracts a crowd, and violence fueled by racial tension quickly escalates. Fed-up African-Americans begin looting and burning buildings in their neighborhoods. A trio of cops patrols the streets, and Krauss (Will Poulter) shoots a looter in the back. Meanwhile, security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) tries to help defuse a situation between a neighborhood man and the National Guard, and singer Larry Reed (Algee Smith) prepares for his big chance to go onstage with his band, The Dramatics. They all wind up at the nearby Algiers Motel, where a man has raised an alarm by firing a starter pistol out the window. Krauss and his cops start questioning everyone there -- black men and two white women -- and the questioning turns to violence. Whoever gets out alive will find their lives forever changed.

Is it any good?

After two masterpieces set in the Middle East, Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow returns to the United States for a third. This is a harrowing, shameful, illuminating piece of American history. As with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, Detroit was written by Mark Boal, largely based on real-life testimonials but also with some fictional fill-ins. Yet it's Bigelow who makes it work, both as drama and as art. Rising through the ranks with B-level genre films (like Point Break), she, more than any other living director, understands how violence is both alluring and repellent. And she's able to show both at once, in shades of gray. In this film, violent threats and showmanship are as important as actual acts.

Detroit starts without fanfare at the "blind pig" raid and proceeds chronologically, inexorably, through the events of 1967. Bigelow effortlessly establishes a sense of time and place, as well as a sense of the scale of the event as a whole, which is never an easy feat. But unlike many of her male cohorts, Bigelow doesn't come at the story through white male eyes; she brilliantly illustrates the utter frustration of racism, even more than its rage. Meanwhile, the characters find depth and poignancy; Anthony Mackie is powerful in just a few scenes, while Star Wars star Boyega serves as a kind of angelic presence, hovering near the events and yearning for peace. When the final results come down, any human being with a heart and soul will be angered by injustice -- and, even so, driven to kindness.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Detroit's violence. How realistic is it? What techniques do filmmakers use to create realistic violence as opposed to fantasy violence? Which has greater impact?

  • How does the movie deal with racism/issues related to race? Are lessons learned? If so, how would you describe them? The movie is set in 1967, but does its subject matter still feel relevant?

  • Does the movie make you want to learn more about this time in history? How would you go about that?

  • How does the movie compare to director Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty? What do her movies have in common? How are they different?

Movie details

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