A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie attempts to convey the idea that humanity can rise above desperate conditions, that selflessness is its own reward, and that wealth and privilege can blind people to others' suffering.
Positive Role Models
Born into wealth, Jim is a spoiled and ungrateful young boy. But, once the catastrophe of war rids him of all luxuries, he evolves into an independent young man. He exudes compassion and generosity, placing others' needs before his own (unlike the majority of the other POWs who portray "every man for himself" attitudes). Although he is starving and abused, he shares his food rations with women and the elderly and keeps an open mind that all Japanese are not enemies.
Violence & Scariness
Lots of war violence: bombing, shooting, and clubbing. People killing people. Civilians flee tanks and bombs, and starving survivors fight for food.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A married couple passionately kiss each other in bed while adolescent Jim curiously watches.
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Dated derogatory names are used such as "jap," "chink" and "ol' boy."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many characters smoke tobacco in an accurate reflection of the era. Some adults drink casually.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this war movie is grim, emotional, and violent. Expect scenes of bombing, shooting, clubbing, looting, stealing, dead bodies, and starving prisoners of war reduced to eating insects. But the film also contains some uplifting messages about helping others and the triumph of humanity over suffering. Some WWII-era racial insults. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
EMPIRE OF THE SUN is a war story that wants desperately to have a heart. Unfortunately, the humanity is lost among too-slick Hollywood theatrics, melodrama, and an overblown score that implores us to feel what the movie ultimately fails to deliver. About a quarter of the way through watching Steven Spielberg's first serious war drama, one starts to feel that something's missing. It's like trying to make sense of a four-hour movie that's been randomly edited down to two-and-a-half. The cinematography is beautiful, the storytelling is compelling, but nothing really clicks.
Like the young hero in John Boorman's much better Hope and Glory, Jim finds a certain exhilaration in war, and even has moments of fun with it. These moments far outweigh the gravity of his situation, though, and rob the movie of vitality. Spielberg hit the bull's-eye a few years later with the horrifyingly realistic Schindler's List, and again with Saving Private Ryan. But in 1987 he either wasn't a mature enough director to unveil the true horrors of war, or he was simply too protective of his feel-good audience.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.