The Book Thief

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Book Thief Movie Poster Image
Emotional WWII drama explores loss, literacy, and love.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 125 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 13 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 38 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive messages

The movie, as with the book, has positive messages about the power of literacy and books; the importance of unconditional friendship; the relationship between parents and children; and the necessity of standing up for other people in need. The presence of Death also encourages the viewer not to squander their lives, because you never know when the end will arrive.

Positive role models & representations

Liesel is curious, kind, and willing to work hard to learn how to read. Liesel's foster father Hans is patient, loving, and kind. He helps out Max when it would be much easier to denounce him, and he resists getting involved with the Nazi Party, even though it's the ruling government. Rosa comes off as harsh, but she does love Hans and Liesel and shows it in her own way. Rudy Steiner defends and protects Liesel.


The violence ranges from the deaths of various characters to scenes of Nazis terrorizing Jews in front of their homes and businesses and other occasions. Every scene with a Nazi officer is fraught with anxiety, and the character deaths (or near deaths) will upset even adult viewers. There are also a couple of scenes of schoolyard bullying and fights. During a couple of bombing raids, the entire town evacuates and is worried, anxious and afraid. A Nazi officer strikes Liesel and then Hans.


Rudy repeatedly asks for a kiss, and by the end of the movie, when Rudy and Liesel are about 14, it's clear they have feelings for each other. One kiss.


Insults are used, but sometimes as terms of endearment and usually in German, like the expletives "Saumensch" and "Saukerl" ("dirty swine"), "Arschloch" ("a--hole"). Rosa often uses insults: "good-for-nothing"; "dreckigs" ("dirty"); "know-nothing," "stupid," and "idiot."


One shot of an Apple computer and logo in the closing scene.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Some adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Book Thief is a historical drama set in WWII Germany based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. There are many scenes of violence, from the way the Nazis treat Jews, to schoolyard fights, to recurring bomb threats. There are many character deaths and near-deaths that will affect even the most jaded of viewers, though there's almost no blood and zero gore. Language includes German insults that translate to "a--hole" and "dirty swine" as well as "stupid" and "idiot."

User Reviews

Adult Written bydianepgd November 30, 2013

Wonderful Actors - Moving Story

My husband, 12-year old daughter and I thought this was a beautiful film. There were so many thought and conversation-provoking aspects, it's hard to ment... Continue reading
Parent of a 1 and 11 year old Written byBirdiewordy July 31, 2014

Good for teens

I love the movie and book. I do not think its for kids 12 and under, violence is something big in this movie, and bombing threats are quite intense. Absolutely... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byImeremin December 1, 2013

Movie will leave you in a good way

I just saw this movie last night with my family, and it left us all in tears. I have not read the book so I can't compare but the movie was excellent. The... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bySouthoftheBear November 8, 2013

Great Message and Educational

I'm 14, and having read the book at least 3 times, I can say that this movie, although may have a few questionable sevens, does come with an excelent messa... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE BOOK THIEF, like the book on which it's based, is narrated by Death (Roger Allam), who explains that he rarely cares about the stories of the living, with the exception of young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse). In 1938, Liesel is shown on a train with her frightened mother (rumored to be a Communist) and sick little brother, who dies before they reach their small town destination. At his impromptu funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger's Handbook as a memento. She's soon delivered to childless foster parents, gentle painter Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and abrasive laundress Rosa (Emily Watson). At home, Hans discovers the book and begins to teach Liesel how to read, and at school, Liesel befriends her neighbor, the fast-running Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). Liesel's life changes even more when Hans and Rosa agree to hide a young Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement. Liesel, now a voracious reader, forms a sweet secret friendship with Max -- but as the war progresses, all of them are put in danger again and again.

Is it any good?

The film may not steal your heart quite as powerfully as Zusak's novel, but it is faithful enough to show moviegoers why the characters are so beloved. Take Rudy, he's a "boy with hair the color of lemons" who doesn't care that his Olympic idol Jesse Owens is black -- he just wants to run fast and convince Liesel to give him a kiss. Then there's Max, who shows Liesel how to resist hate, and who paints over the pages of Mein Kampf to give Liesel a place for her words. And class actors Rush and Watson are fabulous as the bickering but loving Hubermanns, who really love their new daughter. This is a movie that will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you hold your books close to your heart.

Markus Zusak's novel is unforgettable: How many books are narrated by Death? The movie doesn't pull off the Death narration quite as seamlessly as the novel (plus, Allam's voice is stereotypically deep and knowing), but the at-times heartbreaking story will still resonate with viewers, who will grow to love young plucky Liesel. Nelisse is lovely as the curious Liesel, who despite losing her entire immediate family, is open to love -- whether it's from her parents, her new friend Max, or her best friend Rudy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of literacy and books. How does learning to read change Liesel's life? Why does she "steal" books? How can books make an impact on even a horrible situation?

  • What makes a movie or a book "young adult" -- the age of the protagonist, the intended audience, or something else?

  • How is this movie different from others about WWII? Do you believe there were Germans who weren't fond of the Nazi regime or of Hitler's anti-semitic laws?

  • In the movie, like the book, Death is the narrator, but he doesn't reveal things the same way. What did you think of the narrator in the movie? For those who've read the book, did you like and understand the changes between the page and screen versions?

Movie details

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