Modern Times

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Modern Times Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Families will cherish Chaplin's silent slapstick.
  • NR
  • 1936
  • 103 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 12 reviews

Kids say

age 6+
Based on 10 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Viewers get a picture of U.S. life during the Great Depression and labor struggles. And kids learn what it's like to watch a silent movie. 

Positive Messages

Made during and set in the Great Depression, the film is clearly a pointed comic study of haves and have-nots and a celebration of resilience in the face of great adversity. The initial frame of the picture announces that it is "a story of industry, of individual enterprise -- humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness." Themes include integrity and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In this film, silly thinly disguises profound. Chaplin's seeming cluelessness, clumsiness, and tendency to make mistakes of gigantic proportion cover an honest, hardworking, generous, and optimistic nature. The needy and unemployed are portrayed with compassion; the rich are callous, unforgiving, and selfish. In one very obvious visual comparison, men at work are equated with sheep. The female co-lead is clever, brave, and independent.


Violence & Scariness

Lots of cartoon action and sight gags without any injury or consequence. Characters get bopped on the head, squirted with oil, kicked in the rear, fall in the water, and have portions of buildings fall on them. There are assorted scenes with man battling machines: getting caught in their mechanisms and being hit in the face with the levers and parts. Gun shots go awry; innocents as well as the guilty are chased by police and held at gunpoint by thieves. Several sequences depict striking workers and the poor rioting against the authorities. The only serious violent act occurs when a man lies dead in the street, a victim of a gunshot during rioting. His daughter grieves at the sight of his body. 

Sexy Stuff

The word "darkies" is heard in one song lyric.


Hills Bros., Morton salt.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Chaplin's Little Tramp accidentally gets drunk when alcohol pours out of a barrel; he wobbles and is bleary-eyed. Several athletes appear drunk in a restaurant melee. In a prison scene that was controversial even when the film was made, Chaplin mistakes white "nose powder" for salt, ingests it, and appears to be "under the influence."   

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that beneath the silent film slapstick comedy and the artistry of Chaplin in Modern Times there is a serious political thread that pits the working man against powerful authority figures. So while kids will be thoroughly entertained by sight gags, comic mayhem, and outrageous characters, grownups and teens will see razor-sharp commentary about class differences and the struggle of the poor and middle class. Action is vintage farce -- pratfalls, bumps on the head, man vs. machine, errant gunshots, and car chases. There is one brief but serious moment when a man is killed during a workers' riot. Several scenes show characters smoking and others involve drunkenness. One lengthy sequence finds Chaplin accidentally ingesting smuggled white "nose powder," and behaving erratically afterward. Though most of the film is silent, there are some synchronized sound effects and singing.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJennifer S. October 22, 2017

Not exactly what I was expecting

Our family enjoys Mr. Bean and Victor Borge, so this seemed right up our alley. Unfortunately, the many serious subjects made the movie-watching experience incr... Continue reading
Parent of a 2 and 8-year-old Written byabgoosht April 13, 2020
Teen, 13 years old Written byLukeCon August 17, 2020

More age-appropriate slapstick antics in another Chaplin classic

Families will certainly enjoy Chaplin’s frequent and effective use of slapstick in Modern Times. The comedic antics used throughout the film effectively evoke l... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 7, 2020

What's the story?

MODERN TIMES is about two people struggling with the isolation of the industrial era. Charlie Chaplin (simply called "A worker" in the credits) is an assembly line worker who loses his job after a work accident. Soon he finds himself leading a communist parade while just trying to return a red flag to a man who dropped it, and is sent to prison. When he comes upon an attempted escape, Chaplin captures the prisoners and releases the guards, and is pardoned because of his heroism. Chaplin soon is determined to go back to jail, and finds his chance when he sees a poor girl (Paulette Goddard) stealing bread, and confesses that it was he who stole it. But a witness identifies Goddard. After a series of missteps and trips through jail, Chaplin and Goddard eventually walk off into the sunset together.

Is it any good?

Children will adore the slapstick in this movie, especially the scenes where Chaplin tries out the feeding machine and when he experiments with roller skates at the department store.

Viewers have to remind themselves how prescient Modern Times was. To us, it may not be surprising that the boss watches the workers on-screen, but this was before the invention of television -- and more than a decade before the publication of Orwell's 1984. Interestingly, it was several years after the invention of the talkies. But Chaplin wanted to make a silent movie, and silent this one is, except for a few words, some sound effects, and a gibberish song.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Depression and the concerns about the dehumanizing effect of technology that are a part of Modern Times. Why did the boss want Chaplin to try the eating machine? What would Frank Gilbreth of "Cheaper By the Dozen" think of the machine? 

  • Why did Chaplin want to go back to jail? Why didn't Goddard want to go to jail? Did Chaplin want you to think that prison was like the factory? Better? How can you tell? How did Chaplin and Goddard differ in their reactions to their troubles? 

  • High school kids: Why was Chaplin arrested for leading the communist parade? Does that violate the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment?

  • In what way is a silent film different from a "talkie" -- besides the fact that it's silent? 

  • How doe the characters in Modern Times demonstrate integrity and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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