Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Serpico Movie Poster Image
Gritty, mature cop story with violence and nudity.
  • R
  • 1973
  • 130 minutes

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Kids say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

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

Positive Messages

It is brave and just to fight corruption, regardless of the personal cost. One person, if willing to put him or herself at great risk, can bring about major change.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Unconventional in his demeanor, lifestyle, and attitudes, Frank Serpico has a strong moral center and is willing to put his life on the line to ensure fairness, honesty, and integrity in the New York City Police Department. Numerous members of the police force are portrayed as corrupt and "on the take," while others are upright and honest; some straddle the fence and are struggling with their consciences. Set in 1973, there are no female police officers involved.


An early scene shows a beating and attempted rape. The female victim, clothes torn and breasts bare, is rescued by NYPD officers. A policeman brutally kicks a handcuffed prisoner; a second prisoner's head is pushed into a toilet. A man is shot in the face and is shown bloody and wounded in several scenes. In addition there are scuffles, car chases, and guns are fired.


Some kissing and embracing, no overt sexual activity. Partial nudity (bare breasts) in numerous romantic scenes, including one in which a man and woman take a bath together and are seen from the waist up.  Police officers are portrayed as "peeping toms" as they watch an unseen woman undress in a nearby apartment. Accusations of homosexuality are made against a police officer, referencing oral sex.


Constant swearing throughout. Countless uses of "f--k" in many forms, "screw," "s--t," "bastard," "quiff," "fag," the "N" word, "a--hole," "sucking c--k," "prick," and numerous other explicit insults and epithets.


Coca Cola, Land O'Frost.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of social drinking (champagne, wine, beer). One sequence shows the hero drinking and getting very drunk at a club. Police officials pass out marijuana cigarettes to a squad room, hoping to "teach" the officers the affects of smoking and to recognize the smell; the scene results in some merriment as the officers get stoned. Serpico and others smoke cigarettes throughout.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this dark police drama deals with adult issues such as dishonesty, brutality, and corruption of law enforcement officers throughout a big city police department. There are numerous violent and suspenseful scenes which include an attempted rape, the beating of handcuffed prisoners by policemen, chases and take-downs on foot and in vehicles, fighting and gunfire. A man is shot in the face, then shown wounded and bloody during several sequences. The hero is in danger through much of the film. There is partial nudity (bare breasts) in romantic scenes, with no explicit sexual activity other than kisses and embracing. Characters drink and smoke; the main character gets very drunk in a club.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old November 28, 2020

What's the story?

In the early 1970s, real-life rookie cop Frank Serpico (Al Pacino in an Award-winning performance) joined the NYPD. He was idealistic, naive, and committed to excellence. A non-conformist, he barreled ahead with innovative and often eccentric methods that other officers found off-putting and sometimes arrogant. It wasn't long before Frank was stunned to realize that the squad was filled with officers on the take, brutality, and bosses turning a blind eye to misconduct. Disillusioned, Frank tried to find allies in his efforts to deal with the corruption, but was stymied by upper level personnel who were either willing participants in the criminal activity or fearful for their own careers and unwilling to upset the status quo. His frustration took a terrible toll on his personal life as well. As events accelerate, Frank becomes more and more at risk, until his career, his sanity, and his life are threatened.

Is it any good?

SERPICO is a movie released in 1973 that is as impactful and relevant today as it was when it was made. Performances, writing, attention to detail, and the visual story-telling are all first rate. With stark, harsh scenes which show greed and savagery on the part of both the criminals and the law enforcement officers assigned to protect the public, it is a story of courage, risk, and weighty consequences for both the hero and those he opposes.

Frank Serpico was an "outsider" in company that followed a code of protecting the police brotherhood at all costs. His dilemma transcended the confines of the station house and will have resonance for older teens and adults who find his story and this film both relatable and admirable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about making choices under tough circumstances. Would you report bad behavior if you knew it could end up hurting you? What factors would influence your decision? 

  • Often heroes (in real life and in fiction) have a negative character trait -- a "tragic flaw" -- which threatens their ability to overcome great obstacles and reach their objective. What was Serpico's tragic flaw?


Movie details

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