Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Runner Movie Poster Image
Stirring, inspiring sports docu about overcoming adversity.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 88 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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

Positive Messages

When you are a victim of circumstance, you can let it consume you, or you can move past it. Strong, clear themes of endurance, perseverance, courage, humility, self-control, overcoming adversity, and living with purpose. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Guor Marial is extraordinarily brave and humble, demonstrates self-control. Aware of importance of representation, he works with unrelenting determination to be the light and hope of a new African nation. He becomes a leader in athletics for his country and on the world stage. 


Frightening true stories of war violence accompanied by video of soldiers with artillery, dead bodies in street. Firsthand account of child separated from his parents, fending for himself for years. A child is tricked and abused, tied up in a room. Several stories of escaping cruel captors. Hints about deeper horrors that Marial experienced as a kid.


Apple laptop computer shown incidentally. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief news image of a soldier smoking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Runner is an inspiring sports documentary about finding purpose through hardship. It follows Guor Marial, a refugee from Sudan who becomes an Olympian and is an exemplary role model. He overcomes unbelievable odds and achieves a high level of success through endurance, perseverance, and self-control. Marial shares some of his horrific childhood as a Lost Boy of the Sudan, which is softened with animation. He tells enough to make it clear that he was fighting for survival against a heartless enemy, but he doesn't get into graphic details. That said, his story does include the fact that, at the age of 8, his parents sent him away for his own safety, and he wandered Sudan alone for years. He was captured and suffered abuse, and escaped several times. Wartime images include footage of soldiers carrying large guns (one is smoking) and dead bodies lying on the ground. This isn't a faith-based film, but Marial is a Christian and references his faith in God as a source of hope.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTeacherrebecca July 1, 2020

Outstanding man, athlete, New American

You will certainly be able to sit together and appreciate the story of this man, his childhood, and life in America. Runner will keep you all so interested in... Continue reading
Kid, 7 years old June 23, 2020

What's the story?

RUNNER tells the story of Guor Marial, a Lost Boy of Sudan who wandered South Sudan alone for four years as a child. After arriving as a teen refugee in the United States, he became a star athlete in high school track. The years he spent running for his life provided the foundation for the athletic skill that ultimately led him to the Olympics. 

Is it any good?

Guor Marial is a human metaphor for getting through life's hardships by putting one foot in front of the other. His story of courage and endurance is one every person should know. Inspirational figures don't come in more impressive packaging: He's a living example of what bravery, persistence, humility, and self-control look like. Director Bill Gallagher followed Marial for seven years and, with Runner, has put together a portrait that's gracefully understated, even though it could easily have been heart-rippingly rage inducing. The gentler tone makes the film less explosive but likely easier to digest for some, allowing viewers to come to their own realizations instead of being told how to think or feel. But no matter how politely they're put, you'll be shocked at the horrors Marial had to endure. You'll also cry with joy at his victories.

The movie's war images and stories aren't recommended for younger kids, but this compassionate bio-doc is a really powerful story for older tweens and teens. Since Marial's ordeal began when he was just 8 and carried through his high school years, kids will be able to put themselves in his shoes. Gallagher creates empathy and understanding for a horrific situation. There's also an anti-bullying undercurrent embedded in the film. Marial was an African teen who didn't speak English and was pretty abruptly dropped into a mostly White suburban U.S. school. Through interviews, it's suggested that thankfully he wasn't bullied or ostracized but rather was welcomed and treated with respect -- and it's clear the entire school was the better for it. A minor quibble? While Gallagher does a great job telling Marial's story, including collecting a substantial number of news and video clips, the story's timeline is confusing, and some information can seem contradictory. Ultimately, though, the entire film is full of life lessons, including that sometimes participation is success, and living to see another day is victory. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of representation. Why is it important to learn stories about cultures other than your own? What did you learn from watching Runner?

  • Discuss how Guor Marial transformed the action that represented his trauma -- running -- into something positive. Do you think there's something negative in your own life that you could use for good? How is running a metaphor for endurance?

  • How does Marial demonstrate courage, perseverance, self-control, and humility? How does he prove these to be important life skills?

  • How does Marial become a leader? What do you think was behind the South Sudan government pulling out their support for him? Why do we need to think critically about the news?

  • Talk about the impact of civil war. How does Sudan's civil war compare to the United States' in the 1860s? To other historical civil wars?

Movie details

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