K-19: The Widowmaker

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
K-19: The Widowmaker Movie Poster Image
Intense wartime submarine movie celebrates heroism.
  • PG-13
  • 2002
  • 137 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This movie depicts a crew of Russian seamen -- who were the enemies of the United States at the time the movie takes place (1961) -- not as enemies but as living, feeling people just like anyone else. The men learn to work together and overcome their fears, acting selflessly and heroically in the face of a potential worldwide disaster.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The crew's divided loyalty between captains creates serious friction on board. But over the course of the movie, they all learn to trust one another and to work together. Captain Polenin learns to let the men trust him rather than bullying them into respecting him. Some characters, notably Lieutenant Radtchinko, are given chances to overcome their fears.


The movie has relatively few violent/frightening images, but they're all extremely powerful. Several men who enter a radioactive chamber are exposed to heavy doses of radiation and emerge with burning skin (sometimes vomiting, too). Later they're shown bandaged, shaking, and suffering. There's an overall atmosphere of fear and despair. In addition, one character pulls a gun, and another character is struck and killed by a truck. A man gets his hand stuck in a moving chain, another hits his head in the same accident, and there's some blood. Scenes from a violent propaganda film shown within the movie include images of the KKK.


There are some "d--k" jokes, and several men drop their pants to "moon" for a photograph. One passionate kissing scene as a man says goodbye to his girlfriend.


Infrequent use of words like "d--k," "bulls--t," and "jackass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The main character smokes in one scene. A seaman shows up to his post drunk. The men drink toasts of vodka before shipping out, and on the submarine they occasionally drink red wine (which is said to slow the effects of the radiation).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this serious Cold War-era submarine thriller directed by Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow is loosely based on true events that theoretically could have sparked another world war. Though the movie has very little language, nudity, or drinking, it's a frightening and intense experience. The violence is realistic and makes a definite impact, mostly in the scenes of men entering the radioactive chamber and emerging, burned and sick. But for those with strong stomachs, it's a gripping, powerful, and inspiring experience.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9 and 11-year-old Written byjcpilot February 12, 2010

Not a grand movie.

An o.k. action flick. Couple of curse words at the beginning, "SOB, JA" and some bare bums. Nothing too horrible. Some noticable radiation contamin... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old June 26, 2012

Great Movie

Great movie with great drama and acting. 11 and 12 year olds should be in the green area, Common Sense
Teen, 15 years old Written byJoey123 December 10, 2008

A movie that makes you think...

All war movie fans will love this. Some parts are violent and a LITTLE graphic, however, not nearly as much as made out to be. A mature 13 year-old would probab... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 1961, Moscow is eager to set sail with Russian nuclear submarine the K-19, even though it's not quite ready and even though it appears to be a "bad luck" boat. Captain Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson) is replaced by stern, by-the-book Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), much to the anger of his beloved crew. In the midst of all this tension, men are injured during drills, and nothing appears to be working correctly. Worse, the cooling system on one of the nuclear reactors springs a leak, and there are no radiation suits on board. If the bomb goes off, it could start World War III. It's up to the men to repair it, exposing themselves to massive doses of radiation. But even if they get it fixed, can the wounded submarine make it back home to Mother Russia?

Is it any good?

Stuck with an ill-timed summer release in 2002, Kathryn Bigelow's intense, harrowing K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER received mixed reviews, many of which called the film overly serious and too long. Now that Bigelow has won an Oscar for Best Director, it's time to give the movie a second chance.

Bigelow directs with lean efficiency, moving through the submarine's narrow passages swiftly and cleanly. She focuses on a choice few of the men and manages to capture a cross section of them, representing all their hopes and fears in just a few strokes. The movie does indulge in a few "based on a true story" conventions, and the wobbly Russian accents are sometimes distracting, but these are minor quibbles in a brutally effective, brilliantly constructed dramatic thriller.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's radiation-related imagery. Is it frightening? Is it more or less scary than "bigger" violence/action? Why?

  • Given that the situation was an accident, are the men on the K-19 heroes? What does it mean to be a hero?

  • Do you feel the Russians were accurately portrayed? How might the film have been different if the characters were Americans, or if the movie had been released during the time it takes place?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate