Pay It Forward Movie Poster Image

Pay It Forward



A bit syrupy, but sentimental teens may enjoy it.
Popular with kidsParents recommend
  • Review Date: May 8, 2003
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2000
  • Running Time: 123 minutes

What parents need to know


Brief fight scenes, character mortally wounded, sad death.


Sexual references and situations.


Some strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters abuse alcohol and drugs.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie has some strong language, and characters abuse alcohol and drugs, including heroin and marijuana. There are references to the most severe domestic abuse. There are some fights, one resulting in mortal injury. A character attempts suicide. Another shoots his gun, though no one is injured. A character dies tragically. There are sexual references and a discreet sexual situation. A character's burn scars may be upsetting. Pre-teens and teens may be especially concerned by the violence that occurs at a school, despite the metal-detectors kids walk through as they enter.

What's the story?

Seventh grader Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) has every reason to believe that life is harsh and painful. His parents are alcoholics and his father is either absent or abusive. He walks into school every day through a metal detector. Outside his classroom window is an endless expanse of desert. And his mom works two jobs in a city filled with despair, Las Vegas. But then his teacher Eugene (Kevin Spacey) encourages his students to "backflip" the world into something better. He does not expect much -- maybe a clean-up of some graffiti. But Trevor decides to do three important favors for people who need them. Then, instead of allowing them to pay it back, he will ask each of them to "pay it forward," doing three favors for other people, and asking them to do the same. One of Trevor's favors is to bring his mom Arlene and Eugene together, though it turns out that it is not just to make them happier. Arlene and Eugene put all of their effort into making sure they do not get hurt again until they learn that it is risking hurt that makes us alive.

Is it any good?


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 are 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 is 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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the pay it forward idea. Would it work? What favors would family members like to do? Why is "routine" so important to Eugene? Why do we see him ironing his shirt twice in the movie? Why do we see Eugene sitting at a student's desk when he talks to Trevor? Why does Trevor say that "it has to be hard?" Families should also talk about Trevor's comment that the most important thing is watching people, paying attention to things they may not even know they need. Some families will also want to dicuss whether there is a religious allusion in the death of one character.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 20, 2000
DVD release date:May 15, 2001
Cast:Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt, Kevin Spacey
Director:Mimi Leder
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:123 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written byhs_teacher/parent February 14, 2012

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.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written byMom and movie lover October 12, 2010

Excellent message and move, but NOT a "Family Film"

Pay It Forward was a moving film about cause and effect and consequences. It hit home about anyone's actions causing ripples in the water of the world. If you have the chance to see this, I would recommend you do. It is a story and a concept you won't ever forget. BUT -- our DVD box on the back says "Extraordinary Family Film" NOT! It totally depends on how old your family members are!!! I would say anyone below 14 shouldn't see it. There is alcoholism, drugs, violence, bad language, and sexual situations. The ending would not be one a younger child could handle. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER What I think would most disturb any younger viewers though is the fact that the boy this story is about is killed at the end. It was incredibly emotional for the 3 adults I watched this with and there is no way our children could have handled this hopeful story with this sad end. Though the point is poignantly made about this boy's effect on the world, it is a hard ending to take.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Parent Written bybeckykay733 November 21, 2011

Pay It Forward Review

Rebecca Varberg Professor Jossart English 110 November 7, 2011 Pay It Forward The world is a large place with millions of different kinds of people. Some are good and some not so much. Sure chances of changing the world are pretty slim, but what if one person tried. If that one person was successful in helping someone else and it then caused that person to help other people, maybe changing the world would be possible. Could this be realistic or will people just remain the same as they are today? A young boy, Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment), who is troubled by his alcoholic mother, Arlene McKinney (Helen Hunt), and fears his abusive absent father, Ricky McKinney (Jon Bon Jovi), is working on his social studies assignment. This assignment is extra credit and asks the students to think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor comes up with the plan to do a favor for three people in need, but instead of those people returning the favor back to him, they pay the favor forward to three different people in need and it keeps building from there. The people that Trevor picked were a drug addicted homeless man, Jerry (Jim Caviezed), his emotionally scarred and burned social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet (Kevin Spacey), and a class mate that was always being bullied, Adam (Marc Donato). Trevor doesn’t think that his three people paid the favor forward, so he believes his project was a complete failure. Although throughout the movie you see that reporter, Chris Chandler (Joy Mohr), is slowly tracing this successful story back to Trevor. Trevor would not be able to see much of his accomplishment with this project because at the end of the movie, Trevor dies by being stabbed by another student, who is bullying Adam. This movie is the perfect example of how a movie should be; it makes you laugh, cry a lot, and it is something that stays in your heart and keeps you thinking for weeks afterwards. This movie seems realistic when it comes to the problems faced by people in everyday life. These real life problems that affect everyday people are alcoholism, divorce, drug addictions, child abuse, and so much more. If you were to go into any classroom and talk to ten to twenty students, you would probably find students that are facing these problems at home. This is an extremely horrible thing that children have to deal with and I think that people sometimes just look the other way and try to ignore it. Movies like this will hopefully open people’s eyes and they will learn that they can do something to help. This movie shows that it takes one person to start a movement to change someone’s life for the better. The part of the movie that was unrealistic is changing the world. Yes, one person can make a difference, but they cannot change the word. The movie shows that Trevor’s plan to “Pay It Forward” works, but it is a movie. In real life, I could not picture people doing the favors that were done in this movie, for example the first favor you see is someone giving away their Jaguar car to the reporter, after the reporter’s car is damaged. It would be wonderful if “Pay It Forward” could happen, but it is highly implausible. The world would be a beautiful place if only people would be willing to help each other and not expect a favor back. I never heard of this movie before, up until a couple weeks ago when a friend came over and suggested we watch the movie. I now would recommend everyone to watch it. It may not have the happiest ending, but it shows that one person can make a difference no matter what their age. Some one that is in their teens could impact the world just as much, if not more, than someone in there fifties.


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