On the Road Movie Poster Image

On the Road

Copious sex and drugs in boring adaptation of great book.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 124 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Characters more or less drift around, indulge in iffy behavior, and occasionally decide to "grow up" or move on. Lessons aren't learned as a result of anything, and there aren't really any "arcs" to the characters.

Positive role models
The main character becomes a successful writer but earns his success through debauchery, problematic behavior, and mostly passive observance of events and other people in his life. He rarely seems to work hard or learn any lessons. This is doubly true for the secondary characters.

Arguing and the threat of violence. Characters often steal things, ranging from food to cars.


The main characters each end up sleeping with more than one partner. Brief female toplessness and naked male bottoms. Women get pregnant. Kissing and sex scenes are shown, including one that's pretty graphic and an attempt at a threesome. Very strong sexual innuendo is heard throughout, including detailed stories (one about an "orgy").


Language is constant and colorful. Words include "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "c--k," "muff," "goddamn," "a--hole," and "God" (as an exclamation).

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The main characters are almost constantly drinking and smoking cigarettes, and they take other kinds of drugs fairly often. They try pot in one long sequence. No addiction is overtly shown, with one exception: The minor character "Old Bull Lee" is shown to be a junkie, with track marks littering his arms.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that On the Road is the first official movie adaptation of Jack Kerouac's legendary 1957 novel. There's lots of sex and drugs, and Twilight's Kristen Stewart can be seen somewhat naked and in many depraved situations. Expect partial nudity (female toplessness and naked male bottoms), sex (including threesomes and a graphic scene of two men having sex), and strong sexual innuendo. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol almost constantly and smoke pot in a few scenes. A minor character is a junkie with track marks on his arms. Language is likewise strong, colorful, and constant, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and "c--k" throughout. After spending years on the drawing board, the finished movie is really very dull, and despite the K-Stew factor, teens may not even be interested.

What's the story?

Young writer Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) meets free spirit Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund) and begins a life of adventure on the road. He also meets Dean's girlfriend, Marylou (Kristen Stewart), and many other beautiful women (Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams), as well as other talented writers Carlo Marx (Tom Sturridge) and Old Bull Lee (Viggo Mortensen). Sal falls in love, works manual labor jobs, writes, drinks, smokes pot, has sex, and hits the road again. Dean disappears from his life and returns months (or years) later. At the end of it all, Sal believes he has experienced something close to life.

Is it any good?


It's hard to imagine how such an exciting book became such a boring movie, especially since producer Francis Ford Coppola has been trying to make it since 1979. To start, Walter Salles may have been a very bad choice as director. His only previous outing dealing with rebellious youth on the road was the polite, picture-postcard The Motorcycle Diaries, which reduced the volatile Che Guevara to a button-cute romantic lead.

This time, Salles piles on the sex and drugs -- in addition to a grungy, handheld visual style -- perhaps in the vain hope that his movie will seem edgy, but at its core, ON THE ROAD is lifeless and passive. The main character's few active moments are cut short, and it becomes clear that he's simply observing everything as it passes by. The observed characters never spring to life; we never see their point of view. The only burst of life in the movie is Mortensen's frighteningly good bit part as "Old Bull Lee" (a.k.a. William S. Burroughs).

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about On the Road's smoking, alcohol, and drug use. What causes these young people to consume so much? What problems does it cause? What are the consequences (if any)?

  • How does the movie depict sex? Does love enter the equation? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • How does the movie differ from the novel? What kind of impact did the novel have at the time? Do you think it would be the same if it were published today?

  • Should a writer observe everything in his life or actively take part in his life? What would a balance of the two look like?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 21, 2012
DVD/Streaming release date:August 6, 2013
Cast:Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley
Director:Walter Salles
Studio:IFC Entertainment
Topics:Book characters
Run time:124 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:strong sexual content, drug use and language

This review of On the Road was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

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

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bywonder dove September 23, 2013

Don't bother...

On the Road was a big disappointment even though it had a great cast, it seemed like it tried too hard and most of it was very boring, it was too long. I keep hearing the book is much better if you like to read. Kristen Stewart wasn't anything special, in fact she looked uncomfortable throughout the whole film and her acting was bland as usual (her best performance by far was in The Runaways). All characters were unlikable, seemed selfish and no good messages at all here. I will not watch this again or recommend it to anyone. Language is strong with lots of f-words and everything else. Violence isn't bad but some arguing throughout, someone's always picking a fight, characters steal. Sexual content is extremely strong and way too much to even begin to list, there is also nudity, tons of sex and sexual situations including gay, many threesomes...etc. Very frequent drinking throughout, drugs and smoking. Definitely not suitable for anyone under 18!!!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 12 years old July 25, 2013

NOT for kids!!!

After the first 30mins watching this I knew it wasn't suitable for kids, the language, the copious amount of sex, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes were just 3 of many things that made this movie terrible! The book was good book and I enjoyed more than the film. There was a small amount of violence, but a LOT of nudity!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byShivom Oza July 15, 2013

On The Road (2012) Review by Shivom Oza – Directionless

2/5 Stars Aspiring writer Sal Paradise gets affected deeply upon the arrival of his 'liberated' friend Dean Moriarty and his young wife Marylou. The trio takes a road trip across the country and meets several people who impact their journey and their lives. At the conceptual level, the film works. However, to be attentive enough for close to 150 minutes is something else. The film, albeit embellished with marvellous visuals and brilliant acting, fails to engage the audience. The plot isn't gripping enough to hold the audiences for so long. The film was screened at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival under the 'World Cinema' category. Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is one shy fella from New York. The aspiring writer meets the laidback vagabond Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund). Both of them hit it off instantly. Dean is an alcoholic, speed demon, drug-addict, sex-addict, maverick and plain demented. He likes to live the 'high' life and believes in trying out just about everything, even threesomes, including another man. He can do just about anything for money. He marries a girl because he needed money for car fuel. He, assumedly 'straight' until then, has sex with another man, once again for favours in exchange. Greedy and selfish he certainly is, but then he is egoistic too. This is why his friendships/relationships/marriages are always on the brink of collapsing! His young wife Marylou (Kristen Stewart) (not to be confused with the car fuel one), an extremely sexually-liberated woman, along with him and Sal, set off on a road trip! Their journey is barraged with mysterious occurrences. While discovering the outside world, the three learn a lot about themselves and each other. Sal, who is too busy to finish his book, learns a thing or two about friendship and trust. Marylou learns what it feels like to get hurt and Dean doesn't learn anything, until it gets too late. Kristen Stewart is absolutely mind-blowing in the film. Although the film was found lacking at some parts, her performance shines all the way through. Sam plays the understated Sal perfectly while Garrett owns the part of Dean Moriarty. However, the writing was found a bit wanting. The film drags on and on, without any real purpose. Although their lives are affected owing to the journey, there is too much of jumping around between one place to another and the repercussions of the journey on them are not really clear. Even the setting, showing the America of the 1940s and the 1950s, could have been a lot better. Cinematography is just about decent. Direction by Walter Salles leaves a lot to be desired. Had this film been edited a bit differently, it would have been something else (for the good, of course!). Although the subject is interesting, you may avoid this one. Shivom Oza
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking