Machine Gun Preacher

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Machine Gun Preacher Movie Poster Image
Gruesome redemption tale made tedious by oversimplification.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 123 minutes

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 3 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

The movie promotes the idea that people can change for the better and that there's a greater purpose in life. It also says that helping others can be a path toward paying for the mistakes of the past. On the other hand, the idea that fighting violence with violence is a good idea also comes across.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sam is transformed from a drug-addicted thug to a devoted family man to a missionary who will do anything to help protect innocent children who've been orphaned by civil war in Sudan. However, many of his choices are questionable, including his decision to become an active participant in combat.


The film has quite a lot of violence, and some of it is horribly gruesome. There are plenty of standard-issue combat sequences that include firefights, explosions, and bloody deaths. Additional scenes show wartime atrocities being committed and their terrible aftermath. This includes piles of mangled, smoldering corpses, a woman whose lips have been cut off, a child killed by a land mine, and a young boy who's forced to club his own mother to death. One character also menaces his wife; he doesn't hit her, but his actions are violent and intimidating.


One scene features a couple having sex in a car, seen from the outside, and another shows them kissing passionately. There's no nudity, though a woman appears in her underwear.


Lots of swearing. Sam uses "f--k" in about every third sentence. Also uses of "s--t," "c--ksucker," "p---y," "damn," "hell," "ass," and "butt." Sam sometimes swears in front of his young daughter.


Sam has an extensive collection of Harley Davidson T-shirts that he wears throughout the film. Several car brands also get mentioned or are shown on screen, including Caprice and Buick. Sam offers a friend a Coke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Several scenes in bars with people drinking beer, doing shots, and getting drunk. Some of the characters shoot up heroin on screen.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this fact-based drama set mostly in war-torn Sudan includes several combat sequences and some especially gruesome images featuring torture victims. The main character (played by Gerard Butler) transforms from a biker-gang thug into a religious man over the course of the movie. He also swears constantly ("f--k," "c--ksucker," etc.), drinks heavily, and, in the beginning, shoots heroin. It's an inspiring story, though not a pretty one.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCaptain Ercoupe January 3, 2021

Amazing True Story

I loved this movie. The first half hour is a bit hard to watch but it's part of Sam's real life and most of it is important to see to understand the... Continue reading
Adult Written byJason Storms November 14, 2018

Excellent true story! Hollywood took some liberties

The true story of Sam Childers and his ministry in Sudan is absolutely incredible inspirational stuff. Unfortunately, Hollywood took some liberties.

They show... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byStevie111 August 10, 2012

Mature Drama Is Targeted To Adults

The Content in this film is mature, but not too mature for teens. The themes may lose them, though. I'd say know your kid. If they are mature and like a go... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAnnie13 June 10, 2012

What's the story?

When we first meet Sam Childers (Gerard Butler), he's getting out of prison. In short order, he comes scary-close to beating his wife (Michelle Monaghan) and then heads to a bar to get drunk and shoot heroin with his old pal (Michael Shannon). He's not a nice guy. But after finally reaching rock bottom, he finds Jesus and becomes a devoted family man. A chance encounter with a missionary just back from Africa intrigues him, and Sam volunteers to visit Uganda and help with a construction project. From there it's a short trip to southern Sudan, where he's overcome by the plight of children who've been orphaned by a long-running civil war. Sam decides to dedicate himself to building an orphanage and church to help them and to take up a rifle to help fight the brutal rebels –- he becomes the MACHINE GUN PREACHER.

Is it any good?

This is an inspiring tale based on a true story, but it's not a good movie. There's nothing subtle about the way it characterizes Sam. First he's really, really nasty. What viewer will sympathize with someone who screams terrible epithets at his wife in front of their young daughter? But once he becomes a good guy, he's really, really nice. The rebels in Africa: very bad. The soldiers fighting them: definitely in the right, but outgunned and sorely in need of support.

Of course Sam will help them. It's the right thing to do, at least in this movie where there are no shades of gray. The truth may be somewhere in the middle, and at least one minor character calls him on it, labeling him a mercenary. But she's eventually taught a lesson by the rebels, so we know not to take her dissenting views too seriously. The film tells us almost nothing about the political situation in Sudan, but the fictional Sam Childers sure makes the real one seem like a noble fellow.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Sam's story. What do you think about his transformation over the course of the story? Does the movie make more of an impact because it's based on a real person's life?

  • What is the movie's message about violence? How does Sam's decision to join in the warfare affect this message? What, if anything, did you learn about the political situation of Sudan in the real world?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love true stories

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