Classic Oscar winner has explicit material, mature themes.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Midnight Cowboy was the first X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though its rating was later changed to an R. Made in 1969, the movie has some strong adult content that can still startle today. The main character wishes to be a male prostitute for women, and there are many sexual situations shown, many of them disturbing and depicting the verge of abuse. Some nudity (breasts and male and female backsides) is shown. In one scene, a character brutally beats up another man, and blood is shown. In a flashback, rape and sexual abuse are suggested. A character dies. Language is not as strong as it might be today but still contains uses of "s--t," "bitch," "bastard," and "faggot," among other words. The character smokes pot at a party (without knowing what it is) and takes a psychedelic drug. Pot, heroin, and "uppers and downers" are mentioned. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink in the background.
Classic. One of my all time favorites. Voight and Hoffman are expected exceptional in their role.
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What's the Story?
A Texas dishwasher who dresses in cowboy garb, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) packs up and heads to New York to become a hustler, selling his sexual services to rich women. Unfortunately the unsophisticated Joe fails in his first few attempts. He meets a small-time con man, "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), who at first tries to fleece Joe but ends up taking him in to his room in a condemned building. Ratso and Joe go to a crazy party, and Joe takes drugs and hallucinates. In flashbacks, the uncomfortable, disturbing events of Joe's life are revealed. Ratso's health deteriorates, and Joe tries to help him fulfill his dream of moving to Florida. But is it too late?
Is It Any Good?
Dingy and foreboding but nonetheless full of life, this movie was one of the year's top hits and won three Oscars, for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay (Waldo Salt). Actors Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, and Sylvia Miles all were nominated. Harry Nilsson's warm, sad theme song "Everybody's Talkin'" also was a hit, and Hoffman's line, "I'm walkin' here!" became one of the all-time classic movie quotes.
In 1969, times were changing, and movies were changing, too. MIDNIGHT COWBOY was an unabashedly adult movie with adult themes and experimental touches, and it took Englishman John Schlesinger to bring this approach to an otherwise gritty New York story. Schlesinger turns in a film of constant visual conflict, centered on the tall, blonde, handsome Joe and the short, dark, scraggy, greasy Ratso. Joe's sunny optimism about the life that awaits him, and what he actually gets, are at odds. Realism also conflicts sharply with the psychedelic party scene.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the sexuality in the movie. Is it meant to be titillating, or does it have a darker side? How frequently does sex connect to love? Money? Violence?
Why do you think this movie is considered a classic?
Despite its grittiness, and all the bad things that happen in it, is the movie ultimately hopeful? What do the characters hope for?
What do the flashbacks show? How explicit are they? What ideas were they trying to convey? How do they affect the present-day story?
Does this movie seem like an Oscar winner for Best Picture? Does it seem as if it ought to have an X rating?
- In theaters: May 25, 1969
- On DVD or streaming: January 1, 2000
- Cast: Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Sylvia Miles
- Director: John Schlesinger
- Studios: United Artists, MGM/UA
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Awards: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: February 22, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
'70s classic is extremely violent; lots of sex, language.
On the Waterfront
Raises important issues about the nature of power.
Gritty, mature cop story with violence and nudity.
For kids who love classic tales
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