Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Spotlight Movie Poster Image
Powerful, intense film about Boston church abuse scandal.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 128 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 8 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Integrity and teamwork are important themes. The truth must be told, no matter how unpleasant or painful. Those who abuse their power must be brought to justice. Journalists play an important, necessary role in exposing what some might prefer to keep hidden.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The team works hard and tirelessly to arrive at the truth, and Robinson is accountable for having missed the boat on the story the first time.


Fairly graphic descriptions of children being sexually molested and assaulted and suffering physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse. Some yelling in intense scenes. 


Some spoken sexual references/terms. But, really, the only content in the film related to sex is violent in nature (details in "Violence" section).


Language isn't constant but includes "a--hole," "s--t," and "f--k."


A few brands/labels seen, including Toyota.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character smokes in one scene; in another, a man glimpses track marks (from drug use) on someone.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Spotlight chronicles the events leading up to the Boston Globe's trailblazing articles, published in 2002, about Boston priests abusing children -- and the perpetrators' superiors covering it up. It's an intense subject, and characters discuss the wrongs that were done to them with much pain and discomfort, which isn't easy to watch, but the movie ultimately offers valuable messages about the importance of exposing wrongs and making those who abuse their power accountable for their crimes. Expect some swearing (mostly "s--t") and verbal sexual references, loud arguing, and somewhat graphic (and definitely disturbing) accounts of kids being abused, as well as hints of their reliance on drugs and alcohol. Characters are also seen smoking. Under the CCPA law you have the right to protect your personal information. Make a Do Not Sell request to Spotlight.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 9-year-old Written bytherealxeno79 December 31, 2019

A Powerful Film

This is what kids should watch. This is important, moving, rage-inducing, and heartbreaking, but it tells the facts as presented.

Kids NEED to know about this... Continue reading
Adult Written byAmal Khandakji December 23, 2019
Teen, 13 years old Written byChezchadbread March 2, 2016

Absolutely Phenomenal

This is a ground-breaking film. It is so real, and it is a great example of amazing filmmaking. With amazing performances and a fantastic script, Spotlight is n... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byDrSoup007 January 20, 2016

My expectations going in were already high, but it's such a pleasure to be surprised in this way.

Never before has a film left me so ravished by it's subject matter and how brilliantly it was handled. This movie takes a lot of guts to make, and it'... Continue reading

What's the story?

In 2002, following the arrival of new editor-in-chief, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the Boston Globe's investigative reporters -- Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matty Carroll (Brian d'Arcy James), who are members of an internal team called SPOTLIGHT -- and their editor, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton), are assigned to look into abuse allegations against the Catholic Church. In a city like Boston, where the church looms large, it's a tall order, and one that involves a little bit of soul-searching ... and a whole lot of digging.

Is it any good?

Put simply, this drama will likely make journalists want to be better at their job and Catholics either quit or commit themselves to making the church do better. It's that thought-provoking. Told with few flourishes -- relying instead on fine storytelling, a strong script, and a deliberate-but-insistent pace -- Spotlight immediately feels timeless, telling an All the President's Men-like story with the same gravitas and intelligence as that classic.

Credit goes primarily to the stellar cast, a disciplined group that doesn't give into the usual over-acting that hobbles some "prestige movies." Kudos also to screenwriter Josh Singer, who has approached the subject matter with palpable care and empathy. Spotlight makes viewers think about how an unquestioning faith in institutions may not just be inadvisable, but devastating. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Spotlight depicts journalists doing their job (and sometimes failing at it). What pressures do they face? Does the film put journalists on a pedestal or humanize them?

  • What role does the media play in society? Does that role change based on the type of media (print, online, broadcast)? Do you have different expectations for reliability/accountability from the different forms of media? Why or why not? What other questions are key to ask to understand the media?

  • How does the film show how systemic injustices take root? Is there any way to prevent them?

  • How do the journalists in Spotlight demonstrate integrity and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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