Punisher: War Zone Movie Poster Image

Punisher: War Zone

Violent vigilante comic book story is gory, grim stuff.
Parents recommend

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film's "hero" is a vigilante who fights New York's organized crime figures after his family is executed for accidentally witnessing a mob execution. His murderous work is in many ways secretly approved of by legitimate law enforcement personnel. He shoots and kills an undercover FBI agent and is tormented by this. Discussion of terror plots and biological weapons (which are to be sold "to the ragheads in Queens"). Some discussion of God's mercy and forgiveness and plan; the main character rationalizes his work by explaining that "someone has to punish the corrupt." A criminally insane character is referred to as "Looney Bin Jim."


The movie's body count is in the dozens, with constant, extreme, and bloody/gory violence -- including shootings, fights, bare-handed neck-breakings, decapitations, several point-blank shotgun blasts (viewers see the victim's face obliterated), stabbings, death by explosion, and more. A man stabs another man through the neck with the stem of a broken wineglass. A man is killed by having a chair leg thrust through his face. A man is seen devouring another man's kidneys after murdering him. A man is hurled into an industrial glass crusher; viewers see his face, stripped bare of skin and pouring blood (later his face is a grotesque patchwork of scars, grafts, and transplants). Several extremely detailed special-effects deaths -- like when the "hero" punches someone so hard that he penetrates their skull. A man is hurled onto the sharp metal posts of a wrought-iron fence.


A brief refrence to "screwing hookers."


Constant strong language, including "f--k," "motherf--ker," "s--t," "ass," "a--hole," "crap," "c--ksucker," and more. Some Italian vulgarities.


Some brands -- Range Rover, Krispy Kreme, Beretta -- are mentioned by name.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters smoke, drink hard liquor, and are seen snorting cocaine. References are made to crystal meth and anti-psychotic drugs.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this over-the-top action movie is unrepentantly violent, with a body count in the dozens and constant extreme, grisly depictions of hand-to-hand combat, gunshot wounds, explosions, industrial accidents, and much more. The movie's tone is also very moody and bleak -- it may be based on a popular Marvel comic book character, but it's not kids' stuff. It's more akin to the adventures of Dirty Harry than those of Spider-Man. Not only does the film tacitly endorse the vigilante "hero" and his violent methods, but so do law enforcement characters -- who either turn a blind eye to his activities or actively help him. Characters also use extremely strong language, drink, and use drugs (some are shown snorting cocaine).

What's the story?

Based on a popular comic book character first introduced in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in 1974, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE revolves around ex-Marine/Special Forces instructor Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson). When Frank's wife and children are slain after witnessing a mob execution, Frank begins a one-man war on New York's underworld, unimpeded by due process and the rule of law. Frank's most recent assault on crime boss Bily Russoti (Dominic West) not only sees Frank killing an undercover FBI agent but also leaves Rusotti grievously wounded, insane with rage, and even more dangerous. As Frank tries to atone for his acts to the agent's wife and daughter, Rusotti breaks his criminally insane brother, "Looney Bin Jim" (Doug Hutchison), out of the asylum to pull off a bioweapons-smuggling scheme -- and exact personal revenge.

Is it any good?


There's no denying the vim, verve, and energy that director Lexi Alexander (Hooligans) brings to Punisher: War Zone; there's also no denying the movie's extreme gore and violence. This film marks the third time that The Punisher's come to the big screen -- previous iterations have starred Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane -- and unrepentant fans of hardcore action cinema will enjoy it. In many ways, the filmmakers were even right to make the film so over-the-top; a sanitized, PG-13 version of a film about a semi-insane vigilante who murders criminals might be even more upsetting than the atomized flesh and spraying blood on display here.

Stevenson is easily watchable in the lead role -- tormented when he needs to be, lightning-fast and unhesitant when in action. And West (best known for his work on The Wire) grimaces, giggles, and glowers out from under disgusting make-up and prosthetics as the mutilated villain, who goes by the name "Jigsaw" (in many ways, Jigsaw is a modern -- and disgusting -- nod to classic Dick Tracy villains like Flatop, the Brow, and other deformed, demented pulp fiction criminals). Punisher: War Zone is going to appeal to a very limited audience of older action fans, but they'll love its high-adrenaline, gore-heavy approach. If you go in expecting the glossy, "biff bang pow!" bloodless action of recent comic book adaptations like Iron Man or Batman Begins, you're going to get a rude, gory awakening.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the appeal of extreme violence on screen. What draws viewers to this kind of movie? What are the effects of watching so much grisly violence, even if it's intended to be deliberately over-the-top and cartoonish? Families can also discuss the film's endorsement of "going outside the law" to punish criminals who've evaded the consequences of their actions. Do the ends ever justify the means? What other recourse do people have when the system doesn't work?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 5, 2008
DVD/Streaming release date:March 17, 2009
Cast:Dominic West, Julie Benz, Ray Stevenson
Director:Lexi Alexander
Run time:100 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:pervasive strong brutal violence, language and some drug use

This review of Punisher: War Zone 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

  • Iron Man Movie Poster Image
    Great action, lots of style, some iffy stuff.
  • Batman Begins Movie Poster Image
    Smart and entertaining, but also very violent.

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

Teen, 15 years old Written bymarvelfan77 August 12, 2014

punisher war zone

this is probably one of marvels most intence violent and exiting movies although it often abuses gore and foul language and has a very similar type of action as liam neeson's "taken".
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bypicardisbetter April 6, 2015

Totally Underrated

I don't know what these movie critics are talking about, this movie is surprisingly good. Ray Stevenson actually did what Thomas Jane couldn't, make the Punisher outfit look theatening
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 16 years old Written byGO CUBS GO September 12, 2009

its cool but violent

there is a lot of violence through the hole movie its fun to watch but some times go a little over the top
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing