On the Basis of Sex

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
On the Basis of Sex Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Well-acted if uneven biopic about RBG's early life, career.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 6 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.

Positive Messages

Promotes idea that a woman should be afforded the same opportunities, career choices as men. Ginsburg demonstrates importance of groundbreaking women and other civil/human rights lawyers in changing the course of history for women and other groups.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ginsburg is an incredibly brilliant and curious woman, a supportive wife, an inspiring professor, and an encouraging mother; she perseveres and never compromises her integrity. Marty supports Ruth's career in an era when that was rarely heard of, and he subverts domestic roles by being the one who cooks and always praising and encouraging her to move forward in her legal work.


Marty collapses in pain, is taken to the hospital, where doctors explain that he has cancer. It's disturbing, upsetting to Ruth.


Suggestive scene between Ruth and Marty; they kiss while she undresses (she's shown in her bra and petticoat). Implied sex. The Ginsburgs are an affectionate, loving married couple. A lawyer stares at Ruth's body, implies that his colleagues' wives wouldn't appreciate an attractive woman working at the firm.


One use of "f--k," plus "s--t," "damn," "d--k," "pr--k," "hell," "a--hole," "laid," and exclamations like "for God's sake" and "I swear to Christ." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink and/or smoke cigarettes in a few scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that On the Basis of Sex is a biographical drama about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life from her time as one of a handful of women attending Harvard Law School in the late 1950s to her first groundbreaking gender-discrimination case in the early '70s. The movie is appropriate for teens and mature tweens. It includes a few scenes of non-graphic marital affection and intimacy, including kissing, embracing, and a glimpse of Ruth in her bra and slip. Language is infrequent but includes a few uses of words like "s--t" and "damn," plus one use of "f--k." Audiences will learn a lot about RBG's personal life and early career, and take away messages about perseverance, integrity, and the importance of equal opportunities for all. Felicity Jones stars as Ruth, and Armie Hammer co-stars as her supportive, loving attorney husband, Marty Ginsburg.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written byteenandtweenmom December 28, 2018

excellent family movie

I took my nine year old daughter to see this. (She also wrote a review.) She's a big fan of biographies about incredible women, and she's a big RBG f... Continue reading
Parent Written byCaz3000 February 10, 2019

Good fit with Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

I took my 8yo daughter to see this yesterday. I suspect it would not be of interest to all kids this age (a good part of the plot revolves around arguing a tax... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old December 28, 2018

great, inspiring movie -- gotta watch it!

Hi, I'm a 9 year old girl who loves RBG. I thought the movie was great! Personally I think if I had taken some of my friends they wouldn't like it s... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 23, 2019


I watched this movie and I kept talking about it for over a week. It was really good except it has some deep parts and some law language. A definite must see.

What's the story?

ON THE BASIS OF SEX begins in 1956 at Harvard Law School's orientation: Young wife and mother Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones) is one of nine pioneering women in that year's class. As Ginsburg navigates sexist professors and classmates, she's also faced with a domestic tragedy when her loving husband, third-year law student Marty Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), is diagnosed with testicular cancer. Ruth follows Marty to New York City and graduates from Columbia Law School, but she can't find a job as a practicing lawyer -- so she settles for teaching law as a professor in New Jersey. Fast-forward to 1970, when the Ginsburgs discover a tax law that discriminates against men who are caregivers and decide to contest it as a way to chip away at the country's mountain of sexist laws.

Is it any good?

This sincere, well-acted biopic benefits from Jones' and Hammer's performances, but it's not as informative or extraordinary as the documentary RBG. The first part of the film, at Harvard, feels slightly unnecessary other than the fact that it lets the filmmakers showcase Jones going toe to toe with the likes of Sam Waterston and Stephen Root, who play a dean and a professor who underestimate the women the law school has deigned to admit. This slowest third of the movie also establishes what a dream of a husband Marty is to Ruth. It's clear, from their earliest scenes together, that the Ginsburgs have a remarkable marriage.

Director Mimi Leder, working from a script by Daniel Stiepleman (Ginsburg's nephew), picks up the pace in the second act once it's 1970 and the Ginsburgs start working on the case (Charles E. Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue) that puts her on the map as not only a law professor but an activist attorney. The character dynamics also ramp up because, by then, the Ginsburgs' oldest child, Jane (Cailee Spaeny), is an adolescent with her own feminist ideas, and the always entertaining Justin Theroux joins the proceedings as RBG's former camp friend/legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mel Wulf. On the Basis of Sex does a fine job capturing the early legal career of a feminist, legal, and cultural icon, but consider it a complement to -- not a substitute for -- documentaries and books about the legendary jurist.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about On the Basis of Sex and what it teaches about the history of gender discrimination law. Why are Ginsburg's contributions to equal rights still relevant today?

  • How is Ginsburg a role model? What is her legacy as an advocate for equal rights? What makes her such an appealing icon? What are her character strengths?

  • What are the movie's messages? How is gender discrimination detrimental to everyone -- not just women?

  • How is the Ginsburgs' marriage portrayed? Was it traditional? How was their partnership aspirational for married couples?

  • How accurate do you think the film is to what happened in real life? Why might filmmakers decide to tweak the facts in movies that are based on true stories?

Movie details

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