Risky Business

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Risky Business Movie Poster Image
'80s classic is filled with sex, cursing, and smoking.
  • R
  • 1983
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Though Joel doesn't get to keep his ill-gotten earnings, he otherwise escapes punishment in the end and wins much greater prizes: a boost in life and an evident discovery of his destiny, which is to become rich and materially successful. He doesn't seem evil or corrupt in the traditional sense, but definitely has no problem with being a pimp. Prostitution looks like a temptingly glamorous (and self-empowering) career choice, and just about all female characters are treacherous tramps or harsh authoritarians. Obviously this was meant as satire of 1980s values, but it comes across as close to an endorsement.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Teen characters drink, smoke pot, have sex with prostitutes. Lead character becomes a quasi-pimp as a way to raise a lot of money in a short amount of time. 

Violence

Reckless driving and car collisions; a gun waved around. 

Sex

Sex and prostitution are key plot ingredients, with brief full-frontal female nudity, and girls in skimpy, provocative clothes. Simulated sex, in dream sequences and even in public places, and talk of masturbation. One sex worker is a cross-dressing man. Lead character shown having sex with a girl who is initially a prostitute, but later becomes his girlfriend. Lead character begins to masturbate in bed. He allows a friend of his and his girlfriend to use his bedroom for sex; they are heard having sex as the lead character and his friend try to study. Reference made to various sexual acts and practices as a character reads the most X-rated classified ads to his friend. 

Language

"F--k" is used repeatedly, including in what would be the script's catchphrase: "Sometimes you just have to say 'What the f--k.'" Plus "s--t," "a--hole," and "damn." Euphemisms for sex and masturbation. 

Consumerism

Lead character drives a Porsche, repeats the slogan of the car's advertising campaign of the time. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teen characters get high on marijuana; drink whisky, beer; smoke cigarettes and pipes. Lead character smokes, cultivates a "cool" image with sunglasses and a cigarette. Underage drinking, among other things, at wild party. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Risky Business is a dark 1983 teen sex comedy that launched the career of Tom Cruise.  This popular comedy earned its R rating. It has sex (both in comical fantasy scenes and reality), full-frontal female nudity, profanity (including "f--k"), glorified substance abuse, and an especially jaundiced outlook: A teen embarks on the road to manhood by becoming a part-time pimp, and the message is that in modern America, that's a wise move, financially and socially. Because the young hero is played by good-guy star Tom Cruise, and because his character escapes punishment in the end, young viewers might interpret this as an endorsement, not a subversive satire. This movie is from a time when cigarette smoking was still widely viewed as part of a cultivated "cool guy" image, and that look is embraced right from the opening scene. Teen characters get high on marijuana and drink alcohol as well.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 year old Written bycrankylibrarian January 3, 2014

Squirm inducing, but not due to the sex

Tom Cruise in a star making performance as the nice boy who ends up running a brothel and sheltering prostitutes in his parents' tasteful North Shore home.... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bymardoggie2013 July 7, 2010

Risky Business. :)

This movie is really good. :) After watching it, I really didn't think it was all that bad (content wise) for younger teens. Besides some nudity and sexua... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybarton March 22, 2014

What's the story?

High school senior Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) is a fairly bright, fairly typical teen only-child in a wealthy Chicago suburb, preoccupied with sex, exam scores, and whether he can ever get accepted into an Ivy League university like Princeton. When his materialistic, controlling parents leave him in charge of the household during their vacation, Joel (partially but not entirely egged on by buddies) breaks one rule after another, like driving dad's treasured Porsche or letting schoolmates borrow an upstairs bedroom for their sex tryst. When Joel himself summons a young prostitute named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) from the sleazy end of town for a night of pleasure, he's drawn into the after-dark world of the sex business. With the assistance of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Lana, he discovers pimping could be the solution to a lot of his mushrooming woes about money and advantages.

Is it any good?

This dated but appealing comedy is so much more than just a bunch of dirty jokes in the locker room. Though RISKY BUSINESS arrived with a busload of D-grade teen-sex comedies inspired by Porky's (and a young Tom Cruise had even starred in one of them, the little-remembered Losin' It), critics immediately recognized that this was a much smarter, sharper dark comedy about American values in the 1980s. Joel (who also belongs to a school-age business group called Future Enterprises) is like the nice, well-bred kid next door who attains personal and professional rewards not through the traditional paperboy route, but through vice. The lesson at the end is that, yes, this is the way the game is played, even if the "respectable" adult world pretends otherwise.

The question for parents is whether kids watching this perverted Horatio Alger story will comprehend that it was meant to be a commentary on Reagan-era greed and upper-class criminality.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the character of Joel and the message beneath the movie's comedy. What has Joel gained by the end? Has it made him a better person? 

  • How does this movie seem to both celebrate and satirize the greed and materialism commonly associated with the 1980s? 

  • This movie has a universally recognizable scene in which Tom Cruise's character slides on his socks across the hardwood floor into view dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and his underwear, then proceeds to jump around and lip-sync to "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger. What are some other examples of movies with unforgettable scenes and catchphrases? 

Movie details

For kids who love the '80s

Our editors recommend

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

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

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate