The 5th Wave

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The 5th Wave Movie Poster Image
Disappointing adaptation has violence, some romance.
  • PG-13
  • 2016
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 18 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 68 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Like the book, the movie exalts the human virtues of survival, teamwork, hope, and love -- things that the aliens see as weaknesses but that the humans (and at least one Other) know are the driving forces of humanity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Cassie's parents are loving and try to save and protect their kids as best they can. Cassie does everything possible to get back to her little brother, Sammy. Zombie also protects Sammy. Evan Walker shows the complexity of being human, and he saves and defends Cassie from the Others. 


People die or are injured from bullet wounds, natural disasters, explosions, and a killer virus that infects the majority of the world's people. The government enlists child soldiers to kill the enemy; at least one of them dies. Cassie kills someone she thinks has a weapon, but it turns out to be a cross. Fist fights and hand-to-hand combat. Some scenes show an entire field of body bags or dead bodies on side of the road, in front of houses, etc. Cassie's gunshot wound is bloody and requires suturing. She bleeds a lot and passes out (off camera).


Main characters start kissing and lie down in a car, but there's no evidence they do more than kiss. Several scenes of teens staring at other teens' bodies (including one of guys looking at a girl's backside and another of a girl gazing at a guy bathing in a river -- his shirtless chest is visible).


One "f--king" (exclamation) and a few uses of "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "dumbass," "Jesus!," "stupid," etc.


Sony phone, computer, Dodge, Colt 45 handgun, ABC, CNN.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In the opening scene, Cassie's at a high-school party where everyone seems to be drinking beer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The 5th Wave is based on Rick Yancey's best-selling YA sci-fi alien-invasion thriller. Like the book, the movie features end-of-the-world catastrophes, deaths, and violence (mostly from bullet wounds, but also from natural disasters and a worldwide killer virus), but it's not quite as graphically violent as The Hunger Games trilogy. Focusing mostly on Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), the story features about as much romance as the first Divergent movie (a couple of passionate kisses, the apparently requisite shot of a shirtless hunk) and a few uses of strong language (including one exclamation of "f--king," plus "s--t," "ass," "dumbass," "bulls--t," etc.). Cassie is a brave and determined main character, but fans of the book series will want to discuss whether the filmmakers fully captured her personality -- and those of most of the characters portrayed in the movie.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byRania Kalloryi April 6, 2016


This was great for my daughter Artemis! At first I was worried it was to intense and she would get scared. She was on the edge of the seat and practically chewi... Continue reading
Adult Written byJohn Blyis April 6, 2016

Heart filling story!

I went to the movie with my mother Jennifer to see if it was appropriate for my nephew Parker. I thought he would enjoy it. He had no nightmares. His remark at... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byGRACE_Bookworm January 27, 2016

Book > Movie

After falling in love with the story of Cassie and her friends in "The 5th Wave" book, I was looking forward to watching the adventure come to life on... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old February 23, 2016

Not my favourite alien film, but I didn't mind it.

This gripping book-based tale had me expecting a terrific, action-packed and somewhat humorous thrill ride, like the book. It was less than what I expected. I e... Continue reading

What's the story?

This adaptation of Rick Yancey's best-seller follows Ohio teen Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose life used to revolve around her close-knit family, her best friend, and her unrequited crush on football star Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). But everything changes the day mysterious extra-terrestrial forces start attacking humans in coordinated waves. The first wave wipes out all electricity; the second wave causes natural disasters; the third wave is a killer virus (which takes out Cassie's mom, a nurse), and so on. Mr. Sullivan (Ron Livingston) takes Cassie and her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) to a refugee camp, but when Army Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber) arrives to transport the camp's children to a nearby military base, Cassie is separated from Sammy, and tragedy ensues. Vowing to reunite with her brother, Cassie wanders alone on the streets until she's shot in the leg by a sniper and saved by the mysterious (and attractive) Evan Walker (Alex Roe).

Is it any good?

Fans of Yancey's gripping sci-fi thriller will wonder how his page-turning action and riveting, charming characters got transformed into this flat, humorless, and disappointing movie. Although Moretz is certainly up to the task of playing Cassie, from the movie's very first scene, the on-screen Cassie bears little resemblance to the Cassie of the page, especially in the set up. While edits and trims from the source material are to be expected in the process of creating a film adaptation, THE 5TH WAVE strips several of the key players of everything that makes them not just likable but also instrumental to the story. Cassie's relationship with Evan is so compressed that he's reduced to being no more than hot and stoic. By the time he's making declarations of affection, the audience has no choice but to laugh at the cheesy lines -- and not in an endearing way.

Everything that made Cassie and Evan's slow-burning connection feel realistic on the page has been cut, including the humor. In fact, the humor is missing from most of the film. As the young soldiers deployed to fight the enemy, Robinson is fine as Ben, and Maika Monroe is reminiscent of Jena Malone's Hunger Games character, Joanna, as Ringer, the tough-as-nails recruit who's the only one to question Vosch's authority. Unfortunately, some of the other supporting characters from the book barely get a couple of lines between them, including Tony Revolori as Dumbo, Parish's intelligent squad-mate. Schreiber earns his paycheck with a couple of bombastic speeches, and Maria Bello sports a distracting accent (and looks positively evil) as one of the military officers in charge of the kids. On the bright side, if enough of the novel's fans turn out to see it, perhaps the filmmakers will summon a stronger script for the second film in the trilogy. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the popularity of movie adaptations of YA books about surviving against the odds. What do these stories have in common? How are they different?

  • What purpose does the violence serve in The 5th Wave? Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it? How does the violence in the book compare to the movie? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • How does Cassie compare to other female protagonists in YA books and movies? Is she an ordinary girl thrown into extraordinary circumstances or an already extraordinary girl who finally gets a chance to show off her talents? Is she a role model?

  • Unlike many post-apocalyptic stories that take place in the distant future, this one could be set today. Does that impact your ability to relate to the story -- that it could take place at any moment? How does it compare to other movies?

  • For those who've read the book, how does the movie compare? What was added? Removed? How did you picture the movie in your head?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love action and sci-fi

Themes & Topics

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