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A complex, violent movie for older teens only.
  • Review Date: September 25, 2006
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1981
  • Running Time: 126 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Brian follows his conscience, but his actions lead to his friends' deaths.


Some blood, a few fist fights, and several firefights.


Some brief hand-holding at a dance, but that's it.


Lots of swearing (including "s--t" and "ass"), as well as gay-baiting slurs.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

General Bache shares a drink with his underage proteges and talks about smoking cigars despite his doctor's warnings.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that several of the main characters are killed in this film, mostly by shooting. One character catches on fire. The students of Bunker Hill Academy get into a fistfight with local kids who gay-bait them, calling them "queers," "fag," and "faggot." The film's graphic violence may be too much for sensitive or younger viewers. Brian's father hits him. Brian leads his peers into a siege and battle with adults, doing what he thinks is right, but with fatal consequences.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) is excitedly preparing for his senior year at Bunker Hill Military Academy. He's been appointed the cadet major -- the highest-ranking student at the academy. He should be on top of the world, but the world is changing. People look at the academy and its students as an "anachronism" and insane, explains General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott). "It is insane to cling to honor in a world where honor is held in contempt," he intones. So when the board of trustees decides to sell the school to real estate developers, Brian takes it on himself to lead his peers in the battle to save the school. But can Brian handle the responsibility? Can he carry out Bache's call to save the school? Will adults bargain with a teenager? And can he gain the other soldiers' respect?

Is it any good?


Few films capture what it means to play at war -- and to experience a real battle -- than TAPS, which is a brilliant tragedy. Director Harold Becker and writer Robert Mark Kamen thoroughly explore what war meant in 1981. After all, in 1981, there was no serious war underway in the U.S. War was not an immediate, tangible thing to most Americans. Instead, the war at Bunker Hill is theoretical and ideological. It's an idea borne of the culture wars, where the noblesse of the military contrasts sharply with the crassness of the outside world -- or so it seems.

As the film progresses, it seems to question everything it sets up in the first half, challenging viewers to consider whether this battle is worth fighting to the death, juxtaposing the "playing at war" with the reality of a military battle, with deserters, sanctions, and fatalities.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what this movie is really saying about war. What does Brian, who's only 17 himself, think war is, and how does that compare to its reality? For families with children in the service or a history of military service, this film is a great opportunity to talk about how accurate it is. What's the battle here? Is it worth dying for? What cause would you die for?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:September 25, 1981
DVD release date:September 12, 2006
Cast:Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton, Tom Cruise
Director:Harold Becker
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox
Run time:126 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:violence, bloodshed, and thematic intensity.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byCMoreMovies March 31, 2013

Most Likely Okay for 13+

Honestly, for the most part, this movie is very appropriate for kids 13+. There is violence (gun shots) here and there, but it doesn't engulf the movie as a whole. As for language, not much. A few s- and s.o.b. words here and there. My favorite part was seeing young Tom Cruise!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written by<flyboy> April 9, 2008

The Realities of a Military Life

I thought this movie conveyed a lot of the pride that soldiers feel, how monumental the military's effect is, and how a person with the wrong mix of passion can be destructive (i.e. the Tom Cruise charachter). The ending may prove depressing to you, but it is the harsh reality of the sacrifice of attending a military school and it's effects on one's charachter.
Teen, 13 years old Written bybrie82703 February 15, 2016

Taps review

I loved the movie. It makes you laugh, cry, and brings out all emotions. Even though it is a movie about cadets, there is only a few violent scenes and only 3 shown deaths.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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