Stagecoach Movie Poster Image


Classic John Wayne Western masterpiece promotes tolerance.
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Western
  • Release Year: 1939
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This morally, psychologically complex story throws together eight characters from vastly different walks of life. As we come to know them, we realize that the most so-called respectable, morally upright of these characters are actually the most lowdown, selfish, greedy, and judgmental. The outcasts, bandits, drunks, prostitutes and weaklings turn out to be trustworthy, noble, and helpful. The movie teaches not to judge a book by its cover.

Positive role models

Ironically, the best role models in this movie are the outlaw who recently escaped jail, the prostitute, and the drunken doctor. During a crisis, they are the ones who behave selflessly, show empathy, and work to solve problems. Most characters come out the end with three-dimensional character traits, with both good and bad sides, except the most "respectable" of them all: the banker. He is the most selfish and greedy of the bunch, and apparently beyond redemption.


Many characters carry guns or rifles. There's a long battle between the Apache and the characters on the stagecoach, with whizzing bullets and flying arrows. Some major characters die, and some blood can be seen.


A major character, Dallas, is apparently a prostitute, though this is never actually discussed. She is treated as a morally bankrupt outcast. Another character is pregnant and delivers a baby, though -- again -- none of this is shown or mentioned.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A major character, the doctor, is a drunk. He drinks constantly, and sobers up only to help deliver the baby. As soon as that task is completed, he begins drinking again. He pals around with a "whiskey drummer" (i.e. salesman) and drinks up all his samples. He also smokes cigars, and other characters are seen smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Stagecoach is a classic, landmark western from 1939, a masterpiece from director John Ford that featured John Wayne in his breakout role. This movie was designed for grown-ups, exploring complex psychological, moral and character issues through its simple story. Happily, it's also crackerjack entertainment, with plenty of tense conflict, humor, and action; it's also famous for one of the most dangerous stunts ever filmed. Younger kids may be bored, but for others that have never seen a western before, this is a grand place to start. It was nominated for seven Oscars and won two.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Several characters from all walks of life board a stagecoach, bound for Lordsburg. We meet a Confederate gambler (John Carradine), a fine lady (Louise Platt), a pompous banker (Berton Churchill), a whisky salesman (Donald Meek), a drunken doctor (Thomas Mitchell), and a disgraced prostitute (Claire Trevor). There's a gabby driver (Andy Devine), and an armed marshal at his side (George Bancroft). Along the way, they pick up the escaped bandit the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Word is out that Geronimo is on the warpath, and that the Apache may attack at any point. Worse, tension arises from within the coach as the different social classics begin to mix. Unfortunately, they must make an unexpected stop when one of the passengers falls ill...

Is it any good?


STAGECOACH is a supremely entertaining and engaging movie experience. John Ford was already an Oscar winner for best director when he made this movie, and it was clear even at the time that he had advanced the Western genre to a new level. It featured psychologically complex characters with an ironic twist on society's most and least accepted figures. Additionally, Ford ventured into Monument Valley for the first time, and instinctively used the Western landscape as an artistic, emotional, and physical enhancement for the onscreen drama, rather than just a backdrop.

The movie features some of the most dangerous stunts ever filmed, and they still dazzle. The archetypal characters are more than just archetypes; they still make an emotional connection. And nothing is more timely than the embezzling bank manager, who still manages to feel entitled, thanks to his high social standing. Stagecoach was a masterpiece in 1939, and it's a masterpiece now.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's violence. Is it thrilling, or disturbing? How do the deaths of these characters affect you? How does the movie achieve these different emotions?

  • Is it ironic that the lowest of the characters are the ones with the most integrity? What might cause these characters to have more empathy and tolerance than their more successful, more socially accepted passengers?

  • In 1939, there was a motion picture code that prevented the movie from showing or discussing anything about prostitution or pregnancy. What may have been the reasons for this?

  • What are the hallmarks of the Western genre? Why was it so popular, and why is it less popular today?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 2, 1939
DVD/Streaming release date:October 29, 1997
Cast:Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Thomas Mitchell
Director:John Ford
Studios:Criterion Collection, United Artists
Character strengths:Empathy
Run time:96 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byH2Clark May 16, 2014

We were looking for a Western...

We watched this with my 11 & 9yo boys. The 9 yo repeatedly said he had trouble keeping the characters straight because they were in black and white! - Funny. This film took a little more explaining than I was expecting, but the quality of the story, and discussing prejudices was worth it.
What other families should know
Great messages
Parent Written byElizabeth Darcy October 19, 2011

Classic John Wayne movie with some more intense parts

Good movie, although the plot is a little complicated and may be hard for younger kids to follow. The violence is a little heftier than the average old Western, but then, it's John Wayne, so that's to be expected. There is really no sexual content aside from oblique references to one of the main character's past life as a prostitute, but they're so subtle that younger kids won't understand. A married woman delivers a baby, but nothing at all is shown. There are plenty of intense, edge-of-your-seat gunfights and high-speed horse chases, but very little blood is shown. One of the main characters is a major alcoholic, and this is at times portrayed as being funny, at other times as being disgraceful. The movie has an overall positive message, although it does portray the Native American Indians in a negative light, showing them as "bad guys" who are always out to get the white settlers. ***Possible Spoiler Alert*** A main character contemplates killing another character so that she won't be captured by Indians, but is shot himself before he can do it.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent Written byboguesa September 6, 2015

Other questions to discuss

The ending scenes- the stunt work with the horses is just incredible. Those stuntmen were incredible. The scenery (Monument Valley, Utah) is so unique. Everyone should visit there at least once! I rated it a "just fine" do to culture concerns I have. To add to discussion questions listed on the main site for "Stagecoach": -Why is "the butcher Geronimo" on the warpath? Why has he "jumped the reservation"? -What do we know about Geronimo from this movies? -What speaking roles do the Apache have? -How could this movie be reshot today to include a more encompassing version of the same story?