Spellbound Movie Poster Image




Families should see this m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s film.
Parents recommend
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2003
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Hard work involves making sacrifices but is ultimately worth it. It's OK to be different. Winning isn't as important as preparing well for the competition and doing your best. Major themes include courage, perseverance, and self-control.


Positive role models

Parents are supportive and proud of each child's accomplishments; most of the kids rebound quickly after losses. One speller's father smuggled his family across the Mexican border to give them better lives in America. His children are bright and well spoken and grateful for being in this country. The only featured African-American contestant is from difficult economic circumstances. She says of herself, "My life is like a movie. I go through different trials and tribulations, and then I overcome."


 One parent tells another that the spelling bee is "a different form of child abuse." The competition is tense, and the spellers get nervous.

Not applicable

One mild potty word.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A mom smokes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Spellbound is a documentary that follows eight kids from different socioeconomic and geographic areas as they prepare for the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. It has some tense and sad scenes; kids are upset when they lose (they're escorted onstage to a "comfort room"). One child uses a mild potty word. The film has great messages about working hard, self-acceptance, and always doing your best. The spellers are smart, funny, ambitious, brave, and dedicated; their parents are supportive and proud of their kids.

What's the story?

SPELLBOUND is the true story of the 1999 National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., and especially of eight regional winners in the competition. The eight featured competitors include three children of immigrants (one's father still speaks no English) and a wide range of ethnic and economic backgrounds. The contestants, over 240 of them, all are in the eighth grade and younger. With their slightly old-fashioned area of expertise, these kids have an engaging sense of adventure, affection, and wonder about words and language. One shows off her huge dictionary that's almost as big as she is and about to fall to pieces from use, saying she does not think she will ever part with it. Three boys talk about how they lost to a tough contender named Nupur. Ashley tells us she is a "prayer warrior" who feels like her life is a movie. And we get to see every kind of family. All the parents assure their children that they are winners no matter what happens at the national bee, but some do so more convincingly than others. Each family has its own idea of what it means to achieve success and what they think success could mean for their future. One father hires special spelling tutors and runs constant drills. Others look on, all but speechless, at children whose talents seem as exotic to them as though they had sprouted feathers.

Is it any good?


Every family should see this m-a-r-v-e-l-o-u-s documentary, because it is about so much more than the spelling bee. It's about the strength of American diversity and the commitment of this country to opportunity. It's about ambition, dedication, and courage. It's about finding a dream that speaks to each individual. Most of all, it's about family; the opportunity to discuss the wide variation in styles of family communication and values is in itself a reason for every family with children to watch this movie together.

Plus, it is one of the most genuinely thrilling, touching, and purely enjoyable movies of the year. Spellbound is filled with brilliantly observed moments that illuminate the lives of the individuals but also the lives of all families and dreamers. As we watch these kids, girls towering over boys, more kids with braces than without, puberty's uneven effects everywhere, many of the kids confessing that they feel all alone in their schools, we see them hold on to this mastery of words eclipsing the mastery of most adults -- and leading them to their adult selves.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how the families in Spellbound, especially the immigrant families and those at the lower end of the economic spectrum, see the importance of the spelling bee. Why is making it to the National Spelling Bee even more of an achievement for them?

  • Which of the eight spellers is your favorite, and why? What about him or her stood out to you?

  • What are the sacrifices that the kids and their families have to make to be successful?

  • How do the characters in Spellbound demonstrate courage, perseverance, and self-control? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:May 16, 2003
DVD/Streaming release date:January 20, 2004
Cast:Angela Arenivar, Neelima Marupudi, Ted Brigham
Director:Jeffrey Blitz
Topics:Great boy role models, Great girl role models, Numbers and letters
Character strengths:Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
Run time:96 minutes
MPAA rating:G

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Parent of a 9 year old Written byrobinpeggy April 9, 2008
Teen, 15 years old Written byShinjo April 9, 2008

Fantastic Movie! It really shows you how hard work really pays off!

This is a great movie about a group of kids all in the national spelling-bee. They all study extremly hard and keep working at the words that the need to memorize. It is fun, intense, and really pulls you into a day in the life of each of these smart kids.
Kid, 11 years old August 19, 2011

Good message for all ages

It may be harder to understand for younger preschoolers, it is a great movie for all ages. Nupur is a great role model, telling kids not to give up. There is also a message to work hard and no matter how bad you did last time, you can always improve.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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