Midnight Cowboy

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Midnight Cowboy Movie Poster Image
Classic Oscar winner has explicit material, mature themes.
  • R
  • 1969
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Two otherwise selfish characters learn to become friends and to help each other, even if their actions are sometimes questionable and the consequences strong.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teens should definitely not be emulating these low-down street hustlers or any part of the late 1960s drug culture depicted in the movie.

Violence

In a flashback, there's a suggestion of several men raping Joe's girlfriend. (They are shown lined up, waiting for a turn, though the act itself is not shown.) A man is beaten viciously, with some blood shown. A main character dies. In a dream, Joe tries to strangle Ratso. There's also arguing and a general feeling that people are out to get one another.

Sex

Though it's somewhat tame by today's standards, and very little is actually shown, the movie has very strong sexual content throughout. The main character tries to be a male prostitute for women. He is shown having sex with a few women and also a man to give him oral sex. In flashbacks, the young Joe is shown in disturbing, quasi-sexual situations (suggesting possible abuse). It's also suggested that the character may be struggling with his own sexual orientation. In a later scene, Joe is unable to perform until the woman calls him "faggot," which turns him on. Some naked bottoms (male and female) and breasts are briefly shown. (Note: The movie was originally given an X rating but was re-rated an R.)

Language

Fairly strong for the time, the language in this movie today would get a PG-13 rating. It includes two uses of "s--t" and uses of "faggot," as well as "ass," "damn," "crap," "bastard," "son of a bitch," "for Christ's sakes," "goddamn," and "Jesus."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The movie takes place in the late 1960s, and the main character attends a party where he smokes pot without knowing what it is and then taking psychedelic drugs (the movie has a weird, colorful, psychedelic sequence). Pot, heroin, and "uppers and downers" are mentioned. Characters smoke cigarettes from time to time, and there are a couple scenes with drinking in the background.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Teen, 13 years old Written byalessde03 August 18, 2016

Really good

Despite getting a X-Rating it's is still a great movie Young kids won't get the movie and might feel disturbed Best left for adults or older teens... Continue reading

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?

Movie details

For kids who love classic tales

Our editors recommend

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

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 and learning potential.

Learn how we rate