Sleepy Hollow Movie Poster Image

Sleepy Hollow



Very gory, violent take on classic tale.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1999
  • Running Time: 105 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

No real positive messages in this movie. 

Positive role models

In this incarnation of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane is a police detective who advocates more humane treatment of criminals and applies scientific techniques to find clues in murder mysteries. 


Gore and blood. Frequent decapitations, with severed heads rolling in all directions. Corpses. A man killed with a spike through the chest. There is a tree that bleeds and is filled with decapitated heads. Heads on spikes and swords. An ax murder. A witch slices off the head of a bat. 


Brief scene of people having sex in a forest; no nudity, not graphic. Reference to fornication. 


A few "damns" and "hells."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One of the characters drinks alcohol from a flask. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Sleepy Hollow is a 1999 Tim Burton-directed horror movie in which Johnny Depp plays an Ichabod Crane reimagined as an 18th-century detective sent to investigate a series of mysterious decapitations taking place in a rural upstate New York village. This is a very, very gory movie, with many headless corpses, lots of spurting blood, heads being sliced off and bouncing to the ground, various other murders, a couple of "boo!"-type scares, and of course characters perpetually in peril. The heads all show up eventually, too. There is a brief but non-explicit scene of a couple having sex, several very gross moments, and a scene of torture in an iron maiden. A witch slices off the head of a bat. There are some references to the occult and of characters selling their souls to Satan. 

What's the story?

Johnny Depp plays the honorable but easily frightened Ichabod Crane, not a schoolteacher in this version but a sort of 18th-century detective, committed to the use of science and logic. He is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of murders attributed to the Headless Horseman, the ghost of a bloodthirsty Hessian soldier, who steals the heads of his victims because his own was stolen from his grave. Crane insists that the murderer cannot be supernatural -- until he sees it himself. Still, he analyzes the evidence to find the secrets that link the victims and the human force driving the Headless Horseman.

Is it any good?


SLEEPY HOLLOW is less the Washington Irving story than it is Scream set in post-Revolution times. The themes of science vs. supernatural and appearance vs. reality appear throughout the movie as Crane must understand his own past to see the truth. He describes himself as "imprisoned by a chain of reasoning." He keeps coming back to a toy given to him by his mother, a spinning disk with a bird on one side and a cage on the other. As it spins, the bird appears to be inside the cage, an optical illusion, and, not by coincidence, the very illusion (persistence of vision) that makes viewers think that the people in the thousands of still pictures that make up a movie are really moving.

Depp plays Crane with the right haunted look and rigid posture. But the ludicrousness of some of the plot turns and the exaggerated fright reactions leave him with the most outrageous eye-rolling since Harvey Korman's imitation of a silent film star. Indeed, the movie frequently brings to mind those sublime Carol Burnett Show movie parodies, especially when the villain ultimately finds time for a detailed confession as the planned final victim is waiting for the Headless Horseman to arrive. The wonderful Christina Ricci is wasted in an ingenue part.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about whether gore is ever necessary in a film. Is gory the same thing as scary?

  • In the original "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane is a teacher, but in this movie, he is reimagined as a New York City detective sent to the upstate New York village of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of mysterious murders by decapitation. Why do you think some filmmakers take liberties when adapting classic stories into movies?

  • This movie was directed by Tim Burton, a director with a well-known style. How does this movie fit in with his overall style? Who are some other directors with distinct styles of moviemaking? 

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 19, 1999
DVD/Streaming release date:May 23, 2000
Cast:Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken, Johnny Depp
Director:Tim Burton
Studio:Paramount Pictures
Run time:105 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:graphic horror violence and gore, and for a scene of sexuality

This review of Sleepy Hollow 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

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

Teen, 14 years old Written byMichikorabbit2 December 25, 2009
I don't get this site. It pans some of my favorite movies... Whatever. You know what's weird? I scrolled through the members' reviews, and most of them gave the movie 4 or 5 stars, while "common sense" says that "there are lot of slasher movies better than this," and gives it two stars. You know what? I'm calling bull. How can you dismiss this as just a slasher film? This is more of a murder mystery! Are you just against the movie because of the gore? But you know, whatever floats your boat. Enough against the faceless people that run this site who will most likely never read this review. I believe this this was an awesome movie, my family and I see it every Halloween. If you like Tim Burton, watch this. If you like Johnny Depp, watch this. If you like horror movies, watch this. I'm not saying that this is my favorite movie, but it is very good. And I don't just like it because I'm a Tim Burton fan. This movie has a great atmosphere, you really feel a sense of foreboding throughout. Plus, after seeing it a couple times, you really pick up on some extra things going on in the background. And maybe it's because I'm terrible at foretelling the outcome of movies, but I was caught by surprise by the ending. Any horror and mystery fan will love this!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Kid, 12 years old April 13, 2009

He he he he he he he!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I found this movie absoloutley hilarious and the balance between comedy and horror was perfect. I couldn't stop laughing when the head rolled down the hill.
Teen, 13 years old Written byA.M. June 21, 2010

Great Movie

I had to see this because I love Johnny Depp, Tim Burton, and Danny Elfman. It was suprisingly good, being one of the only horror movies I have allowed myself to see (I'm more of an adventure-fantasy guy). I'm no parent, but the blood looks fake, and so do the severed heads. It's not that bad. Give it a look to watch on Halloween or Thanksgiving.
What other families should know
Too much violence


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