Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Milk Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Memorable, mature biopic brings a movement to life.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 128 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 23 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Milk discovers a sense of purpose when he moves to San Francisco with and becomes an equal-rights advocate. His story gives hope to countless gay men, many of whom are afraid to come out. Milk and his longtime boyfriend appear to have a nurturing, supportive relationship, but when they break up, Milk finds himself embroiled in a highly dysfunctional relationship, which unfortunately ends in suicide. Later, Milk himself is assassinated by a fellow politician. Political intrigue and betrayals are revealed; the assassination plays out in excruciating detail onscreen.


A man shoots two others, point blank. Another man is beat up in a hate crime. Black-and-white archival footage shows homosexuals being harassed by cops. Also, a man Milk is involved with hangs himself; the scene in which his body is discovered is upsetting and somewhat gruesome.


Hook ups between men. Lots of ogling and a fair number of conversations filled with sexual innuendo (including discussion of what one person would "do" to another). Naked photos; a man walks around in his briefs. Men kiss and grope each other.


Fairly explicit, including "c--ksucking," "dick," "s--t," "f--k," "prick," and more. A derogatory epithet that starts with "f" is also hurled a few times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking, some to the point of inebriation. Some characters are shown rolling marijuana.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this intense, stirring drama examines the life of Harvey Milk, a civil- and gay-rights advocate who was assassinated in 1978. It explores prejudice against homosexuals and traces the beginnings of the gay rights movement. The film offers an unflinching look at homophobia during that era. Expect strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), sexual situations, partial nudity, political manipulation, suicide, and murder. Some material may be too challenging for younger teens, but older teens and adults will find it a thought-provoking piece of history.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMatt1Syd July 28, 2011
Parent of a 1 and 8-year-old Written bySteffauri516 July 21, 2011

Moving and educational movie~

I greatly enjoyed this film; I was raised in a very open family around lots of different people, and both of my parents agreed that it is never too early to exp... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byBreakingBeauty4 February 16, 2015


Sean Penn's dynamite performance as Harvey Milk is deserving of the Oscar.
Teen, 13 years old Written bylecritic April 5, 2009

Best Movie of 08

Every single person who voted for prop 8 should be forced to see this. The acting was beautiful and there was not too much in the way of inappropriate things. I... Continue reading

What's the story?

On the eve of his 40th birthday, closeted New Yorker Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) meets the love of his life, Scott Smith (James Franco), and decides it's time to find a "new scene." He heads to San Francisco, where he and Smith open a camera shop in the Castro. There, determined to enjoy a life where he and others are free to live and love, Milk discovers his true calling as an advocate for equal rights and, eventually, a leader of the gay-rights movement. But after he finally succeeds in becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office by winning a seat on the city's Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk meets Dan White (Josh Brolin). A conservative politician also serving on the board, White grows increasingly frustrated by his own inability to navigate politics' rough waters -- Milk's strong suit -- until, one fateful day in 1978, he unleashes his rage on Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber).

Is it any good?

Although this film wears its politics on its sleeve, it does so with finely tuned storytelling and brilliant pacing that propels the action forward without sacrificing character development. "Message" films often fail to distinguish themselves cinematically because they're so focused on hitting their talking points -- but MILK isn't that kind of message movie. Penn delivers an Oscar-worthy perofrmance as Milk, a San Francisco icon who's presented with all the complexities of an everyman -- a charismatic, courageous everyman -- who finds his way to greatness. Happily, the supporting cast -- particularly Franco, Brolin, and Emile Hirsch as Milk's friend/fellow activist Cleve Jones -- are also up to snuff. (That said, though it's true Milk traveled in large social circles, his entourage could have been trimmed for the film so it wouldn't feel quite so crowded.)

Director Gus Van Sant, who unleashes a singular vision here, throws archival footage into the mix, giving it heft -- not that Milk really needed any more of it. The film is infused with a palpable sense of purpose. Soulful, enlightening, politically relevant, and thoroughly affecting, Milk will leave audiences breathless.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what Harvey Milk stood for -- pro and con. What do your kids think about the gay rights movement, and how do they think things have changed -- if at all -- since 1978? Does the movie have a point of view on Milk's role in history? Do your kids think it's accurate? Why? Another good discussion can be had about the art of the film itself and how the filmmakers used archival footage in the movie. Does that affect the authenticity of what people are seeing?

Movie details

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