On the Waterfront

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
On the Waterfront Movie Poster Image
Raises important issues about the nature of power.
  • NR
  • 1954
  • 108 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Fighting; menacing thugs; a body hung on a fence to intimidate another character.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol in tavern. Terry takes Edie for her first beer, which makes her a little giddy.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie raises some important issues about the nature of power.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 17-year-old Written byTerry H. July 11, 2017

Gritty, morality tale flies in the face of the "No snitches" mentality

So far, all the reviews here have missed the fact that director Kazan, who testified during the HUAC proceedings, created this film to answer Arthur Miller... Continue reading
Parent of a 14-year-old Written byTsion September 24, 2009

Great Cinema!

Here is a film gritty, harsh, and violent, but also curiously compassionate and courageous. Here Marlon Brando gives the performance of his career, as Terry Ma... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTom Cruise Fan September 6, 2015

"On the Waterfront" movie review

"On the Waterfront" is possibly my favorite black and white movie ever made. This movie is absolutely incredible. "On the Waterfront" is a f... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLukeCon October 26, 2020

Kazan handles philosophical themes in this crime-drama

On the Waterfront has many themes within its core--it's about morality and the effect power has on us individuals. The film explores these themes in a fran... Continue reading

What's the story?

ON THE WATERFRONT is the story of the men who had the courage to stand up to the corrupt longshoreman's union, which is controlled by Johnny (Lee J. Cobb). One of Johnny's top aides is Charley (Rod Steiger), whose brother Terry (Marlon Brando), a former prize-fighter, is treated almost like a mascot by Johnny -- he makes sure that Terry gets the best work assignments. After Terry unwittingly contributes to the death of a man named Joey, who dared to speak out about union corruption, Joey's sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) goes to local priest Father Barry (Karl Malden) for help. Father Barry sets up a meeting to talk about what's going on, but everyone is too scared to speak up. Finally a man named Dugan (Pat Henning) agrees to talk, but tragedy strikes again. Meanwhile, Terry and Edie fall in love -- but Terry's troubles are just beginning.

Is it any good?

This excellent, thoughtful drama contrasts two conflicting ways of looking at the world and especially at responsibility. Edie and Father Berry see a world in which people have an obligation to protect and support each other. Johnny sees the world as a place where what matters is taking as much as you can. Terry is somewhere in the middle, with his kindness to the Golden Warriors and his pigeons on one side and his willingness to take what Johnny's way of life has to offer on the other. In part, Terry falls in love not just with Edie, but with the vision of another life that Edie represents. Like Edie, Terry is inspired to fight back by a tragic death.

This movie also raises some important issues about the nature of power. At the beginning, Johnny seems very powerful, and power matters more to him than money. But it is clear that the choices he makes to protect that power, more than any action taken by anyone else, are the beginning of the end. As he orders people killed, even close associates, he begins to appear desperate. The men who will kick back a few dollars and stay "D&D" about corruption won't stand for that level of violence and uncertainty.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Joey's jacket is worn by three different characters. What do you think that means? What do you think of Edie's ideas about what makes people "mean and difficult?" Do you think that applies to Johnny? How does Johnny get power? How does he lose it?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love dramas

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