The Abyss

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

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 12 reviews

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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 byRiver213 November 1, 2019

A true review of The Abyss

"The Abyss", compared to today's standards, is most certainly a family film and a classic that's on par with "Close Encounters of the T... Continue reading
Parent of a 9 and 11-year-old Written bywheresnaldo April 29, 2019

Constant Cursing - not appropriate for younger viewers

My husband had been wanting to share this movie with our girls 11 and 9. It was FULL of constant cursing (mostly the S- word but lots of other colorful combinat... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byabyss1998 July 31, 2019
I thought it was a great movie but I caught something in the movie that was not included in the review. At 1:37:32 one of the main characters drops the F bomb.
Teen, 14 years old Written bySamfan4 April 19, 2019

James Cameron has done it again.

This is another James Cameron great. The Movie takes place at the bottom of the ocean. With some intense violence, mystery, and Science Fiction, it's per... Continue reading

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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