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The Abyss

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Abyss Movie Poster Image
Undersea UFO adventure is breathtaking but intense.
  • PG-13
  • 1989
  • 140 minutes
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 10 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The U.S. military (in particular, an all-white group of overconfident Navy SEALS) are more or less the villains here, arrogant and paranoid and fixated on weaponry and Cold-War destruction. The filmmakers' sympathies are with the (ethnically and sexually mixed) working-class oil-rig crew, shown as more sensible and concerned for each other's safety and well-being. The main characters are a feuding couple in the process of divorce, with lots of marital sniping woven into the adventure; the wife in particular is accused of being more interested in career advancement.


Blood shed in hand-to-hand combat and near-strangulation. Freshly-drowned bodies shown. A knife and a gun brandished. A montage of real-life atrocity footage from Vietnam, the Holocaust, and other infamies. A psycho character slashes his arm in a masochistic "cutting" ritual.


Quick glimpse of bare breasts as a female character in cardiac arrest is defibrillated.


"Damn," "hell," "dick," "SOB," and "s--t," all several time; "goddamn"/"oh my God"; the heroine referred to as a "bitch" more than once.


Somehow a Coca-Cola machine found its way on board the base.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there's a fair amount of salty language in this ocean thriller. The camera exposes bare breasts in a medical-emergency context. Violent acts include death by drowning, hand-to-hand combat, and a threat of nuclear annihilation. Young viewers with fears of the water and/or claustrophobia might be uncomfortable with vivid portrayals of drowning and submersible environments. A scene -- not faked -- in which a domesticated rat is immersed in breathable liquid is a real don't-try-this-with-the-family-pet-at-home moment. The US military doesn't come off looking particularly good.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byMovieLover4Lyfe May 27, 2010
I am not a big 'alien' movie fan. They tend to be scary and hey, i'm not a big fan of scary movies either haha but this movie seems to hold some... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymovieslug August 9, 2009

good movie

not mentioned by common sense there is a scene were a man cuts himsself due to stress
Kid, 11 years old October 30, 2009
I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!! Kind of like Titanic but with aliens!! Great movie. Few swears but nothing terrible. Older kids and tween movie. Not very violent...

What's the story?

An American nuclear submarine bristling with atomic warheads encounters the deep-sea equivalent of a UFO and loses all power and contact with the outside world. As Cold-War tensions with the Soviet Union escalate, the US Navy conscripts the civilian oil-rig workers of an experimental underwater drilling platform to mount a deep-sea "rescue" expedition (it turns out to be more ominous than that) to the unresponsive sub, while a hurricane whips up the ocean surface. Things get worse; the platform is itself battered and crippled in an accident, and the commanding SEAL officer (Michael Biehn) becomes mentally unstable under the pressure -- even more so when the luminous, enigmatic, inquisitive UFO aliens return to check out the stressed humans up close.

Is it any good?

Lots of orchestral crescendos and awesome visuals in this huge-scale underwater epic. The film was so highly touted in its production phase that rival Hollywood studios had time to get lookalike (and inferior) marine sci-fi flicks (Deep Star Six and Leviathan, if you had to ask) already in theaters by the time perfectionist director James Cameron released THE ABYSS. Even then, Cameron was less than satisfied, and in DVD and VHS you can find both the original Abyss and a "special edition" that attempted to better blend the alien-first-contact story into the plot. Even so, it mixes like the proverbial oil and water. Cameron's realization of the characters' high-tech, deep-sea survival ordeal is so fascinating (and excruciatingly suspenseful) in its own right that the sci-fi element seems intrusive -- a Close Encounter of the Rather Unnecessary Kind.

Younger viewers who can even tolerate the likes of Jar Jar Binks will be more accepting of the aliens. James Cameron later dispensed with the UFO stuff to offer a vivid documentary nature feature Aliens of the Deep.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about ocean exploration and living underwater, and how much of the astounding aquatic technology shown here is the real deal, shot by James Cameron in one of the largest underwater tank-sets ever built -- not sci-fi CGI. Dwelling for long periods beneath the surface of the sea poses many of the same challenges as setting up space colonies. Ask kids what they would prefer -- manning a space station or a submarine platform? How would they have dealt with the unstable Navy SEALS here in a more constructive manner?

Movie details

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