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Soul Surfer

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Soul Surfer Movie Poster Image
Earnest sports biopic tugs at heart despite clichés.
  • PG
  • 2011
  • 105 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 39 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 141 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie's strongly positive message is that you can get over the worst of tragedies with perspective, self-determination, and the support of friends and family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bethany is a very positive role model, choosing to respond to enormous loss and tragedy with grace and kindness both for herself and others. Instead of dwelling on what she doesn't have, she focuses on what to give to others.


A shark attacks a young surfer. It happens quickly but ferociously, with lots of blood and some gore.


Flirting, girls in bikinis.


"Jerk" and "oh my God."


Brand names and logos for surfing sponsors, including Rip Curl and Red Bull. Spam.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this inspiring true story about a promising young surfer who was attacked by a shark could give tween and teen viewers lots to think about, from trying to figure out their purpose in life (even at a young age) to trying to come to terms with adversity. With the exception of the attack itself -- which, although quick, unfolds in a gory, violent manner -- the movie is squeaky-clean, with no iffy language, sex, or alcohol or drug content. And the main character is an extremely positive role model, responding to tragedy with grace and kindness instead of bitterness.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 6 and 8 year old Written byFre September 14, 2011

relieved to say thumbs up!

I'm typically very restrictive about what shows I let my kids watch, sometimes moreso than other parents of my kids' peers. I was extra-concerned abou... Continue reading
Parent of a 11 and 13 year old Written byheather.parker June 23, 2012

Great entertainment for the whole family.

Just watched this movie with our two 11 year-olds and we all really enjoyed it. Great for the whole family. I disagree with the review of the "cheesy... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byMovieteenwatcher April 29, 2011


My sister likes this movie but she thought that it was violent when the shark bites off her arm and it's very sad and depressing. She is a good role model... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 3, 2011


I loved this movie! It shows that you can overcome things, even when hope is lost and all odds are totally against you. AnnaSophia Robb was excellent in this mo... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on true-life events, SOUL SURFER chronicles the life of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) in the weeks leading up to the shark attack that resulted in the loss of one of her arms -- and the months of healing that followed. Her parents (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt) struggle to keep her strong even as they learn how to process the overwhelming feelings. Bethany ultimately has two challenges to face: getting back on the board with confidence and joy and coming to peace within herself over the tragedy.

Is it any good?

To be honest, SOUL SURFER gets off to an iffy start, full of cheesy shots of beachy fun in the sun. The characters, especially Bethany's parents, seem one-dimensional and unrealistically saintly; they just don’t seem real. But the minute tragedy strikes -- and does it ever -- the movie finds its footing. It roots its way into your conscience with its determined (but not pushy) message about digging into your soul -- could that be the reason for the title? -- for the wherewithal to continue.

None of the actors are all that complex here, except perhaps for Hunt in one scene of utter anguish. Even Robb, who plays Bethany, feels a bit hollow. Still, the movie works. First, the camera angles showcase the waves and the surfers who ride them at their glorious best. Credit also goes to Soul Surfer's unabashed earnestness: Yes, it’s a message movie, but the message burrows deep enough under your skin to make the movie, given its utter conventionality, unexpectedly stirring. Bring tissues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages about facing life’s challenges. Do you think you'd be able to respond to a life-changing tragedy the way the main character does? How do you think she manages it?

  • What does Bethany learn from her experience, and what does she teach others?

  • The movie is based on a true story. Do you think that means everything happened exactly the way it's shown here? Why might filmmakers change some facts while making a movie?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love strong role models

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