Risky Business



Sexy Cruise classic still a risky choice for kids.
  • Review Date: September 22, 2008
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release Year: 1983
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Though Joel "Goodson" (that name is Irony 101) 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 (he worries about the welfare of his girlfriend-whore Lana even as he believes she used and betrayed him), 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.


Reckless driving and car collisions; a gun waved around.


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.


The F-word 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," "asshole," and "damn."


The status-symbol Porsche automobile and Princeton University get major thumbs-up.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Much tobacco-smoking, specifically intended to signify a young character as "cool." Underaged drinking of alcohol and smoking of marijuana.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this popular comedy is also very deservedly R-rated. It has sex (both in comical fantasy scenes and reality), nudity, profanity, 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.

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 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?


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, not just a bunch of dirty jokes in the locker room. 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. In bygone days of Judeo-Christian censorship in Hollywood scripts, Joel would be severely punished just for thinking about doing what he does. None of that here, and discussion ought to follow about what is satire and what is an approving look at being cool via running a suburban whorehouse for school-agers.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the character of Joel and the message beneath the movie's mordantly amusing comedy. What has Joel gained by the end? Has it made him a better person? Do you think Lana intending to trick him all along? What would you do in Joel's predicament? How does this sexy comedy compare to sex comedies today, like Superbad?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 5, 1983
DVD release date:September 16, 2008
Cast:Rebecca DeMornay, Richard Masur, Tom Cruise
Director:Paul Brickman
Studio:Warner Home Video
Run time:98 minutes
MPAA rating:R

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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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. (Most memorable line: "The SATs are tomorrow and I'm being chased by Guiddo the Killer Pimp !") Yes, of course there is a lot of sex, but the movie intelligently questions sexual values, as well as the consumerist and status values of everyone in Joel's oh-so-tasteful suburb. Parents may squirm more at the incisive criticism of upper middle class hypocrisy than the gyrating bodies.
What other families should know
Great messages
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 13 years old Written bybarton March 22, 2014

my review

What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Easy to play/use
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 sexual subject matter, this movie really isn't that innapropriate. You really get a feel for these characters, and you even see them very vulnerable. I really love this movie, it's a classic.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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