Side Effects Movie Poster Image

Side Effects



Thriller's twisty plot overshadows thought-provoking themes.
  • Review Date: February 5, 2013
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 106 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The movie raises thought-provoking questions about whether society is too quick to medicate our problems. It also raises questions about whether medication is necessary or effective.

Positive role models

Though one character starts out by genuinely trying to help another character in need, nothing is quite as it seems. The characters in this movie are mostly selfish, conniving, greedy, and even homicidal. They make poor choices and don't learn anything positive or grow in any positive way.


A bloody murder, via stabbing. It's foreshadowed in the opening minutes of the movie, with a trail of blood leading through a home. A character attempts suicide by crashing a car into a wall and puts herself in danger in another situation as well. Various scenes of arguing, screaming, and struggling.


The main character is shown topless and mostly naked. She has more than one sex scene with her husband, with sex noises and thrusting shown (male nudity isn't shown). A sensual kiss and sexual suggestion between a psychiatrist and her female patient.


Language isn't constant but includes a few uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "damn," "goddamn," and "oh my God."


Many actual antidepressants and other drugs are mentioned by name, and they're shown as consumer products that patients should desire. A fake drug, Ablixa -- complete with advertising (and a website) -- is part of the movie's plot. Red Bull, Yahoo!, Volkswagen, BMW, Rolling Rock beer, and Visine products/brand names are shown and/or mentioned.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Though the movie isn't about substance abuse, it's heavily about the use of antidepressants and other prescription medications. It's also about the side effects of these drugs. The main character is shown to be on several different kinds of drugs, behaving in different ways. Overall, though, the movie never truly endorses or condemns these drugs. Social drinking by adult characters.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects is a twisty thriller centered on psychiatry and antidepressants. There's murder (by stabbing) and blood, as well as some argumentative, aggressive scenes in hospitals. The main character appears topless and mostly naked and participates in more than one strongly suggestive sex scene with her husband; there are also sensual scenes between two female characters. Language is strong but not constant and includes a few uses of "f--k" and "s--t." Drugs are perhaps the movie's main issue, with the main characters taking many different types of prescriptions and reacting in various ways. The movie never really seems to endorse or condemn these drugs, leaving it up to the viewer to decide. Older teens may find the questions the movie raises interesting, and it may open up important discussions with their parents.

What's the story?

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is depressed. She knows she should be feeling better, since her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), has been released from prison after serving a term for insider trading. But she just doesn't. After a suicide attempt, she meets psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who decides to put Emily on antidepressants. Dr. Banks also meets with Emily's former doctor, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as well. Unfortunately, he switches Emily to a new drug called Ablixa, which causes her to sleepwalk -- and worse. When something terrible happens during one of Emily's episodes, it starts to look as if Dr. Banks is to blame. But has he been set up? And, if so, how can he fight back?

Is it any good?


There's enough good stuff here to give the movie a pass, though it could have been a great deal more. After a distinguished, prolific, and varied career, director Steven Soderbergh has announced that SIDE EFFECTS will be his last film. It's too bad, then, that although the movie has Soderbergh's unique textures and use of sound, as well as an unusually perceptive human touch, it's not one of his best. The first half -- based on characters and ideas -- is promising. Mara is touching as the wounded, achingly sad Emily, and the issue of whether and how to medicate her is expertly raised. (In an interesting antithesis scene, a Haitian boy who has seen a ghost is, due to his cultural beliefs, not considered sick.)

But Side Effects' second half turns entirely to a twisty, surprise-heavy plot that relies on quick shocks to prevent viewers from digging too deeply into its shaky logic. Without giving anything away, most of it is very far-fetched.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Side Effects depicts prescription drugs. Does it make antidepressants and other medications look appealing? Do the consequences seem realistic?

  • What is the movie saying about turning to medication as a solution for problems? How much work does the main character put into getting better, and how much of it is the responsibility of the pills?

  • Talk about the major violent scene. How necessary was it to the story? Does it add or take away from the movie's themes?

  • Which of these characters (if any) did you end up rooting for? Are any of them role models?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 8, 2013
DVD release date:May 21, 2013
Cast:Channing Tatum, Jude Law, Rooney Mara
Director:Steven Soderbergh
Studio:Open Road Films
Run time:106 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:sexuality, nudity, violence and language

This review of Side Effects 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.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

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

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Twisty, disturbing Scorsese thriller too intense for most.
  • Terry Gilliam's violent dystopian masterpiece.
  • This is a movie about con games at every level.

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

Adult Written bywonder dove July 8, 2013


Side Effects was a pretty good watch, but not near as thrilling as I'd hoped. I agree with the Commonsense review, that it could have done a lot better. I found it a little boring and dull throughout, yet still somewhat enjoyable. Rooney Mara is an excellent actress! The storyline is a very good one and I can actually see it being very realistic too, I've heard some very scary stories involving the use of antidepressants and it's a shame that we need a pill to make everything better when it's just a cover-up. I liked the suspenseful tone of this film. Sexual content includes nudity (bare breasts) during a sex scene, one other off-screen sex scene with moaning, some kissing and sensuality between doctors and their patients. Violence is gory and includes bloody stabbings, a murder, suicide, a car crash, self abuse. Language isn't too bad nor frequent, but includes the common f-words, sh*t, godd*mn, b*tch...etc. Some social drinking and lots of prescription drug use and discussions. Pretty safe for the 15+ crowd.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 13 years old Written bychanningtatumlover21 March 12, 2013

AMAZING MOVIE iffy for young teens

im 13 and i watched side effects and i was just fine and my parents were comfortable with me watching it, my parents trust my judgement and i am a bit more mature than others for my age. i think the movie was amazing but i don't think many 13 year olds are interested in it but i was very in to it, i would probably say make sure your 13 or 14 year old can handle watching sexual content then i think they will be fine.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byBestMan333 April 13, 2013

Thought-Provoking Film With Non-Stop Thrilling Storyline

This film is one of my favorite flicks!!! This movie does deal with intense material including suicide and drug prescriptions, with scenes of partial nudity, but most older teens should be able to handle. I would rate this PG-13 For Violence, Drug Use & Material, Sexuality, Partial Nudity, & Brief Strong Language
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?