Donnie Darko

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Donnie Darko Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Winningly edgy teen-angst sci-fi tragicomedy.
  • R
  • 2001
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 15 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 61 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

You can argue that Donnie's sacrifice is to save others and redeem his past behavior, but it's unclear if it was ever a choice.

Positive Role Models & Representations

We never get clinical details info on Donnie's emotional instability -- he may be delusionally schizophrenic, a defiant kid mistreated by The System, or both -- but the film is clearly on his side, as a smart and unappreciated boy. More than it is on the side of the people he scorns and hurts, like an upbeat gym teacher or a gung-ho motivational speaker. Donnie (possibly in a trance state) commits vandalism and sabotage and even murder, though he sacrifices himself in the end. Donnie's parents, despite all the family and social dysfunction, have a solid and loving relationship.


A character fatally shot in the eye (appearing in bloody, ghostly form). Another character fatally run over by an automobile. Fistfights between teens, knife pulled on the hero. Gore is more extreme on the DVD "extras" and the Director's Cut.


Donnie and his new girlfriend have sex, though nothing is shown. Discussion of sex and (non-clinical) child pornography. A nude woman in a painting briefly glimpsed.


Frequent swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "d--k," "goddamn," and hell. A young girl says "f--k-ass."


There is an obscene teen discussion of the sex life of Smurfs (Donnie turns out to be a huge fan). A plug for the Stephen Hawking book A Brief History of Time and a certain national video-store chain.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens and adults smoke cigarettes. Donnie is supposed to take prescription pills for his emotional problems.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Donnie Darko is a dark thriller with a cultlike following. The movie has frequent swearing from teens, adults, and even a young child, and includes "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and more. There is also frequent sex talk that is supposed to represent the generally anti-establishment viewpoint of the hero here: an angry, possibly mentally ill teen. Classroom vandalism (apparently committed by the hero under some sort of spell) and profane disrespect of teachers and authority-figure adults is part of the plot, and not exactly frowned upon. There is teen sex (non-explicit), references to pornography, and violence, although there is very little blood. There is also a violent death at the end.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byNotMorganFreeman August 5, 2019

Creepy. Edgy. Mysterious.

If your kids can handle watching Stranger Things, they can handle this.
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bymark33 April 14, 2019
Teen, 16 years old Written byLet Me Watch Go... October 14, 2020

One Of My Favourite Films

Don’t listen to the people who are giving this a 13+. That is shocking.
Sex and Nudity: 3/10. A teen and another teen have fully clothed sex. Nothing graphic,... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byCheshire_Kitty16 July 9, 2018

A hauntingly beautiful film that really makes you think.

The reason why I love Donnie Darko so much is because it really makes you think, when you watch it the first time you might not understand it thoroughly but as... Continue reading

What's the story?

In a cozy affluent suburb in October, 1988, DONNIE DARKO (Jake Gyllenhaal), a rebellious teen, smart but diagnosed with mental illness and sort of a misfit at school, is lured from his bedroom by a phantom wearing a grotesque, metal-masked rabbit costume. The rabbit, "Frank," tells him exactly when the world will end -- in 28 days. Meanwhile a shattering series of events disrupt Donnie's already-unsteady world, including young love with a new girl at school. A plane engine falls out of nowhere onto his house, a sympathetic English teacher (Drew Barrymore) is punished for her choice of literature in the class, a youth-mentoring positive-thinking guru (Patrick Swayze) brainwashes the community, visions of wormlike appendages emerge from people's chests, and a neighborhood crazy lady turns out to be an ex-nun scientist who researched time-travel and metaphysical cause-effect paradoxes. Got all that? More menacing visits from "Frank" the rabbit lead to a Halloween night revelation, and Donnie realizing his pivotal role in this weird, interconnected web of destiny.

Is it any good?

This movie was embraced as a genuinely oddball "cult" item almost instantly upon its unsuccessful theatrical release. Like most cult movies, Donnie Darko works well on numerous levels -- as a brainy piece of science-fiction, an ominous psychological thriller, a satire on suburban values, or a tragic drama of a doomed young rebel. If anything it goes a little overboard in making adults (especially teachers/faculty) look cowed or cravenly stupid compared with the unstable but intellectually brilliant Donnie, well played by Gyllenhaal as a guy who can be likeable, sympathetic, and scary all at once.

Though Donnie -- sometimes in a trance-state, sometimes consciously -- commits vandalism and lashes out, he's smart enough to sense the eerie time-warp pattern behind all the odd goings-on. And he's heroic enough to make a Christ-like sacrifice at the end, for the good of everyone else, when the "end of the world" comes. Though it's possible he never had a choice -- just the insight. But by making their hero a classic underdog teen trying to come to grips with society, rather than an adult, the filmmakers created a far more poignant tragi-comic-coming-of-age-giant-skull-faced-rabbit-horror drama. Can you name a better one?

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what in the twisty plot of Donnie Darko is "real" or not, and whether the "philosophy of time travel" holds up. Could this whole story all be the result of delusional Donnie not taking his medication, as his family complains at the start? Did Donnie ever have control over the events that unfold?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love cult classics

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