Parents' Guide to

Pay It Forward

By Nell Minow, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Syrupy drama has mature themes, cursing, violence.

Movie PG-13 2000 123 minutes
Pay It Forward Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 13 parent reviews

age 16+

Great message for everyone, but movie not made for children!!!

Justice to one person can have an impact on not only the individual but on the world in ways unimaginable. It is the chain reaction of treating others with dignity and love. However, as positive as the message it, it is couched in horrible language, drugs and alcohol, sex outside of marriage as a norm. The strip bar scene at the start should be enough for any parent/educator to realize this is not meant for children and highly cautioned against teenagers. The violence (description of parental abuse and school bullying) is understandable as closely tied to the plot. Nonetheless, the positive message of kindness to another is wonderful, just not worth showing children.
age 16+

Not a family movie

Unfortunately the trailer was very misleading. It looked like a movie with a great message but it was not for 12 year olds. Alcoholic mother, several druggies, and the hero, who dies in the end. The message of the movie could be interpreted as "try to help others, and you get yourself killed". I wouldn't recommend it for family movie night.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (13 ):
Kids say (30 ):

If the theme of PAY IT FORWARD appeals to you and you'd like to see three of the finest actors ever put on film, then you're the audience for this movie. If it sounds syrupy, go see something else. Haley Joel Osment portrays Trevor as an extraordinary child, wise and sensitive beyond his years because of what he has had to face, but still completely believable as an 11-year-old. Helen Hunt is heartbreaking as Arlene, a recovering alcoholic with a history of loss and abuse. And Kevin Spacey is breathtaking in a role that's a departure from the tough and wily guys he often plays.

Trevor's idea doesn't always work, but when it does, people are transformed, not by the favors others do for them as much as by the favors they do for the next people in the chain. We get a glimpse of its impact as the story is interwoven with scenes four months into the future, as a reporter tries to track down the source of the mysterious acts of generosity.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: October 20, 2000
  • On DVD or streaming: May 15, 2001
  • Cast: Haley Joel Osment , Helen Hunt , Kevin Spacey
  • Director: Mimi Leder
  • Inclusion Information: Female directors, Female actors, Gay actors
  • Studio: Warner Bros.
  • Genre: Drama
  • Character Strengths: Compassion , Gratitude
  • Run time: 123 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence
  • Last updated: March 30, 2022

Inclusion information powered by

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

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

See how we rate