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John Carter

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
John Carter Movie Poster Image
Mars-based action epic has strong fantasy violence.
  • PG-13
  • 2012
  • 132 minutes
Parents recommend

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 17 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 29 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The battle to save Barsoom rests on an unlikely alliance between Earth man John Carter, Martian princess Dejah Thoris, and a band of nomadic green "barbarians" called the Tharks. Through their eventual teamwork to fight a common enemy, they successfully stop the nefarious Therns from destroying Mars. By the end of the movie, characters who act selflessly are rewarded with honor and respect they deserve.

Positive Role Models & Representations

John Carter learns to stop being selfish and do something to help others. Dejah Thoris is a powerful female character who knows how to defend herself and to inspire John Carter to see beyond his own survival. Sola (another stand-out female character) and Tars Tarkas realize the possibility of leading the Tharks into an alliance with the people of Helium.


Heavy sci-fi violence includes some frightening battle scenes, a weapon that turns anything or one in its path to dust, and a shape-changing villain who plans to destroy an entire planet. There's a Gladiator-style battle to the death in an arena where huge ape-like monsters are killed and another character is decapitated. Sola is branded and tortured and eventually sentenced to death by her own people. Tars Tarkas is injured and expected to die in the arena. John Carter is nearly killed several times. A horrifying flashback shows how John Carter's wife and child died in a fire in their home; he finds their charred remains. An early gun battle injures a U.S. officer. A long-dead character's skeleton is shown. A group of unhatched eggs is mercilessly crushed. All sorts of weapons -- from guns to spears, knives, and swords -- are used in battle.


Lots of longing looks, gazes, and touches between John Carter and Dejah Thoris, which eventually lead to a couple of kisses and the aftermath of a love scene (she's in bed with the sheet covering her all the way, and he's standing outside on a balcony). Other scenes show her in skimpy apparel.


Language includes "hell," "damn," "goddamn," and "stupid."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Before he's transported to Mars, John Carter is shown drinking and enters a saloon where everyone has a drink in hand.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that John Carter is a swashbuckling inter-planetary adventure based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' first book in the John Carter series, A Princess of Mars. There's an underlying romance to most of the story, but it's the movie's violence that might alarm parents of younger tweens. It's prevalent throughout the film and gets gory in a couple of scenes -- like when John (played by Taylor Kitsch) bursts through the body of a giant Martian monster he's just killed or decapitates a tyrannous warlord. Despite John Carter's war-like violence, none of the "good guys" die (although they're shot at, injured, and even tortured). Plus, there are a couple of strong female characters, and an overriding message that there's a particular honor to being selfless, even if it puts your own life in danger.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 17 year old Written bykimt803 March 11, 2012

John Carter Deserves Acclaim

I was not looking forward to seeing this movie as I was not familiar with the story and previews did not entice me. However, I loved the movie. I do believe t... Continue reading
Parent of a 11 year old Written bychilipeppr March 10, 2012

great family movie

Let me begin by saying I was reluctant to let any of our kids see this movie, but my husband won that argument. Their ages are 11, 10, 8, and 4 (yes, 4) and the... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old March 12, 2012

just for me

Its the best movie! But some parents should know that its a little scary for kids under 11 and has some blood horror scenes.
Kid, 10 years old March 20, 2012

What's the story?

Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' book series, JOHN CARTER follows the titular hero (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War veteran who lost his wife and child to the war; all he wants to do is find gold in the Arizona territory. After a run-in with Army officers and a band of Apaches, John Carter finds a gold-filled cave, where he kills a mysterious figure whose magical amulet transports him all the way to Mars. Once on Mars, John is quickly discovered by the nomadic Tharks -- a group of giant green Martians who call him "Virginia." John Carter quickly becomes enmeshed in a battle to help a Martian princess (Lynn Collins) whom he rescued on her mission to save her homeland of Helium against invaders guided by a nefarious shape-shifting cabal of time travelers called Therns.

Is it any good?

Let's start with the obvious: Kitsch definitely looks like an action star, but he's also a reluctant, laid-back protagonist. He's not exactly brimming with the charisma and gravitas of other epic heroes (most of whom, from Aragorn to Maximus, are obviously alluded to in Carter). But Carter's broody personality and longing gazes are a good fit for Kitsch, who memorably starred in TV's beloved Friday Night Lights. The chemistry between Kitsch and Collins -- whose princess Dejah Thoris is fiercely intelligent and brave, as well as beautiful -- will keep teen girls entertained while also proving that not all damsels in distress are useless when it comes to defending themselves.

John Carter's slightly involved story isn't a tightly woven point-A to point-B journey; it's more like The Odyssey, with Carter having to overcome seemingly never-ending obstacles before he and Dejah Thoris proclaim their love and save Barsoom from evil machinations. Character actors James Purefoy and Mark Strong (Hollywood's go-to villain, having apparently inherited the mantle from fellow Brit Ian McShane) stand out in their performances, and many of the best lines are from the giant Tharks, voiced by Samantha Morton and Willem Dafoe. With its impressive 3D and interesting period-meets-interplanetary story line, this is a fun, if not Lord of the Rings-brilliant, saga.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the hero's journey -- how does John Carter grow to accept that his destiny is on Mars? What makes him eventually feel at home in Barsoom? What other swashbuckling heroes is he like?

  • Some say that John Carter relies too heavily on elements from other movie franchises. What portions of the story remind you of other sci-fi tales? What parts make it unique? And is it fair to make those claims when the stories that inspired John Carter predate the movies?

  • Does the movie make you interested in checking out the books it's based on? Do you think the ending sets up the movie for a sequel?

Movie details

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