Midnight Special

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Midnight Special Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Powerful, emotional sci-fi drama about love and sacrifice.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 10 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 is about selflessness and sacrifice, especially on the part of parents for their children. It also subtly addresses the dangers of blind faith/thought.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The good guys  here are the ones who believe in Alton as a person, rather than as a symbol or as a potential weapon -- so, his parents, Lucas, and Paul.


Several scenes of guns and shooting, with bloody wounds and characters falling when hit. Scary scenes of destruction, debris falling from the sky, tremors, collapsing rooms, kidnapping, etc., all involving an 8-year-old boy. He has a bloody nose and bleeding ears. A woman is smacked against a wall. A few realistic car crashes. A man is smacked in the head with a lamp. Some sudden, mildly scary visual effects.


One use of "s--t," and one use of "a--hole."


Mention of Nissan during a radio ad, Isuzu car shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One character asks for "a drink." Two drinks are poured (whisky) but not consumed.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Midnight Special is a sci-fi drama that writer/director Jeff Nichols made to help process his feelings of becoming a father. Some of the movie's story ideas may seem very familiar, but it's more about emotions than special effects or thrills. That said, there are violent moments and scary effects involving an 8-year-old boy; he's kidnapped and shown with bleeding ears and a bloody nose. There are also very realistic car crashes, guns and shooting, bleeding wounds, and injured bodies. Sex isn't an issue, and language is infrequent but does include one use of "a--hole" and one use of "s--t." Glasses of whisky are poured by not consumed (at least on screen). The movie is thoughtful and emotional, but some story details are left deliberately vague.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byseanstock March 18, 2021

Great movie to watch with the kids

My younger children totally got the plot and it is a great Sci Fi movie with the main character being a boy (child). I don't think its too graphic or conf... Continue reading
Adult Written byCathmartma November 23, 2019

Quickly for parents

Worrying moments: kidnapping, nosebleed in car, mysterious strangers, general anxiety about the small boy, car crashes and chases and particularly when the boys... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old December 6, 2020


I thought that this movie was very boring. There was a little violence though. The ending was the only good part where the 2 guys were getting chased but other... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bykillermillerx October 3, 2019

A mysterious Sci-fi that keeps you guessing.

This movie is really mysterious and you kind of have no idea what’s going on, but that is the whole format of the film.
It wasn’t one of my favourite movies but... Continue reading

What's the story?

An Amber Alert has been issued for a missing child, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) -- but he's with his father, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Roy's childhood friend, Lucas (Joel Edgerton). It turns out that Alton has special powers. He can see things, read people's thoughts, and make things happen with his eyes. Roy and Lucas have taken the boy from a kind of religious compound, whose leader (Sam Shepard) very much wants him back. Roy's plan is to get Alton to a specific destination by a specific date. So, pursued by government agents, the fugitives -- aided by Alton's birth mother, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst) -- must travel by night to protect Alton from daylight, which harms him. But when Alton grows sicker and requests to see the sunlight, something unbelievable is revealed.

Is it any good?

Though talented indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols borrows from established sci-fi classics, this movie tells its story in a new way, rooted in characters and emotions, embracing uncertainty and loss. Nichols (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, Mud) has said that he made the movie to help him process becoming a father, and those ideas and feelings take precedence over the story details. It begins without exposition; the focus is on moods, lighting, silences, and a music score filled with wonder.

Sci-fi buffs may feel slighted that not every detail of this particular situation is explained in full, but that's not what MIDNIGHT SPECIAL is really about. Plus, if things were solidified, it would only draw concrete comparisons to Close Encounters, E.T., Starman, the Witch Mountain series, and many other similar stories. This Midnight is special because it's less about visual effects and more about connections, bonds that can't be broken, and the kind of fear, bravery, and acceptance that comes through them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Midnight Special's violence. What purpose does it serve? Is it more upsetting/impactful when it involves the young boy? Does exposure to violent media desensitize kids to violence?

  • The filmmaker says he made the movie to deal with becoming a father. How did he achieve this? What ideas was he wrestling with? Do you think viewers who aren't parents can appreciate it?

  • How does Midnight Special compare to other sci-fi movies with similar stories? What's included, and what's left out? How are the characters different?

  • Are viewers intended to root for Alton to go back "home" or stay with his parents? How does the movie convince us?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love science fiction

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