Machine Gun Preacher Movie Poster Image

Machine Gun Preacher

Gruesome redemption tale made tedious by oversimplification.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 123 minutes

What parents need to know

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

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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Theatrical release date:September 23, 2011
DVD/Streaming release date:June 5, 2012
Cast:Gerard Butler, Michael Shannon, Michelle Monaghan
Director:Marc Forster
Studio:Relativity Media
Run time:123 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:violent content including disturbing images, language, some drug use and a scene of sexuality

This review of Machine Gun Preacher was written by

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

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

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Teen, 14 years old Written byAnnie13 June 10, 2012

Very bad movie

What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bythe filminator April 11, 2012

everyone thinking about watching this film needs to read this.

This brilliant true story is sad, exciting and in some places unnecesary. although this film is based on facts about a man named sam childers who is released from prison and then finds god and helps children in sudan, the part just after he is released from prison is over the top and only serves to set the scene to show off his criminal behaviour so you can see the change from bad guy to good guy, in these parts there are constant uses of the f word and s word aswell as other foul words, an aggresive stabbing, a sex scene, racial abuse, drug and alcohol use and sam threatens his wife because she quits her job as a stripper/pole dancer,but other than this the story sets good morals like fighting for what you believe in,standing up for the needy and doing what is right. the shootouts aren't as violent as you might think (but scenes like medical scenes and 2 scenes when children are killed can get intense and upsetting),sam trys to do whats right except for one part where he flips out and gets a bit objectionable for about 10 minutes ( he does things like threaten his daughter,is horrible to his friend, gets into a bar fight and is unkind to one of the children he has rescued) but he later comes to his senses. also the language eases up and he does a lot of good for his hometown and the children in sudan. I would highly recomed this film to anyone mature enough to cope with this sad but amazing true story.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written bySinfoniarc March 28, 2012

A Graphic and Realistic Dose Of Reality

I checked 5 out of 6 icons above my review because they're ALL relevant to the picture. My fiance and I saw this movie when it was previewed in Orlando and LOVED it. I think the biggest concern for us was the use of violence to stop violence. It's not your typical movie/documentary about missionaries engorged in a 3rd world country, engulfed by warfare. It's about a man with a rough past who gives his life to God and then becomes a missionary who is forced to use violence in order to spread God's word. I suppose that's what's ironic about the whole picture. The main character, who becomes their preacher, engages in questionable behavior from the beginning and not always for the right reasons. As a Christian and someone who has done missionary work, I couldn't help but question the protagonist's decision to financially bankrupt his family in order to make a difference to a third world country, fighting a tyranical government. At least the protagonist doesn't claim to be an angel (or a saint for that matter). While there's something inherently wrong with killing people in order to minister to others, by the end of the film you can be assured that his heart is in the right place. The movie is violent, profane, graphic, and disturbing. Get ready for a bumpy ride and a learn about how God really does work in mysterious ways.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking