The Box

  • Review Date: November 2, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Creepy thriller too confusing for kids, awful for adults.
  • Review Date: November 2, 2009
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 115 minutes





What parents need to know

Positive messages

Despite the movie's overwhelmingly negative message about humans being more selfish than selfless, Norma and Arthur's actions ultimately prove that as parents, at least, they have enough unconditional love for their child to be completely self-sacrificing.

Positive role models

Despite their decision to hit the "button unit," Norma and Arthur are repentant and remorseful about their actions and go to great lengths to try to right their wrongs. They never spend any of the money they "won" and instead try to track down the many mysteries surrounding the strange offer they were given.


The entire movie is based on a violent premise: Couples must decide whether to sentence someone they don't know to death and win $1 million or to pass up the lucrative offer. There's also gun violence, scenes that feature two dead women, a kidnapped child, and other bizarre, disturbing goings on. One of the main characters is horribly disfigured in the face, and another protagonist is missing almost all of the toes on her foot. Characters often have strange nose bleeds and act creepily in general.


A married couple embraces several times, exchanges longing looks, and kisses passionately.


On the milder side -- one use of "s--t," plus "hell," "damn," "stupid," and "Jesus" used as an exclamation.


Corvette, Jack Daniels, and JVC are all seen.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adults drink wine, cocktails, and champagne at a rehearsal dinner and reception. Arthur says he "needs a drink" and has a glass of whisky.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this Cameron Diaz thriller from the director of Donnie Darko is based on a macabre premise: that human beings would rather win money than protect a stranger's life. It's too confusing and intense for tweens and young teens, and, in addition to the cloud of violence hovering over the entire movie, there are several disturbing images, including an upsetting disfigurement; two women being killed at close range; people who have eerie, unexpected nosebleeds; a fatal car accident; and gun violence. The swearing is fairly mild (one use of "s--t" is as strong as it gets), the sexuality is limited to the main couple kissing passionately and embracing, and the drinking is mostly social and done by adults. Still, most kids won't want to bother figuring out the movie's dark themes and puzzling plot.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Set in 1976, THE BOX follows Norma and Arthur Lewis (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden), a happily married couple raising a sweetly precocious son (Sam Oz Stone) in the Richmond, Virginia, suburbs. One day, the Lewises' doorbell rings at 5:45 a.m. -- but when they open the door, all that's there is package. Inside, the couple finds a mysterious wooden box with a glass dome covering a red button. That afternoon, a disfigured man named Arlington Steward (Frank Langella) informs them that they've been selected for a unique offer: They have 24 hours to decide whether to push the button and win $1 million -- and, in doing so, sentence a stranger to death -- or to do nothing and keep a $100 consolation prize. Strapped for cash, Norma eventually pushes the button ... but then immediately regrets it. The Lewises are caught up in an enigmatic cat-and-mouse game with Steward as they attempt to figure out who he's working for and how to stop the murders, since it's clear the next "stranger" to be killed could be one of them.

Is it any good?


Enigmatic thrillers with high-concept premises can lead to cinematic highs like The Usual Suspects, and those with sci-fi overtones can be cerebral like the under-appreciated Minority Report, but Richard Kelly's The Box is just plain dull and uninteresting. Diaz and Marsden (who looks either stiff or smoldering in every scene) can't believably pull off the Southern married parents routine, Diaz's horrible attempt at a Southern accent alternately draws groans and guffaws, and the '70s accouterments -- like the awful wallpaper and Marsden's ghastly mutton chops -- don't help. At least there are glimpses of Alice and What's Happening! on the telly.

The movie's premise starts off like a Twilight Zone episode, but it soon devolves into a ridiculously schlocky conspiracy to treat humans as sociological test subjects. Even Langella, one of those dignified older actors who could ask for a bus pass and make it look interesting, is too over the top as the Grim Reaper-esque agent of doom. By the time a zombie-like crowd starts following Diaz and Marsden around a public library, it's difficult to suppress the "it's so bad, it's funny" laughter.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about what the movie's experiment says about human nature. Is money more important than a stranger's life?

  • What would have you done given the same choice? Was what happened after the characters "hit the button" predictable?

  • Do movies have to be believable or relatable to be entertaining?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 6, 2009
DVD release date:February 23, 2010
Cast:Cameron Diaz, Frank Langella, James Marsden
Director:Richard Kelly
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:115 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic elements, some violence and disturbing images

This review of The Box was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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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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Kid, 12 years old July 13, 2010


This movie had a good idea that could've been developed into a crazy action film that got good reviews except the makers/writers took a wrong turn and turned it into a random mess. The first half of the film was very good, despite Cameron Diaz's southern accent (which was laughable), then it just turned random. A lot of it should've been taken out, I sat there wondering if they had an editor. But I did like the ending I thought that was good.
Teen, 13 years old Written byiamjustinbieber... February 26, 2011
when i opened this movie to watch it i exspected thrills and chills but all i got WAS BORING BORING BORING! DON"T WASTE YOUR MONEY ON THIS SH**!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Kid, 10 years old May 22, 2013


a fantastic thriller that keeps you hooked on all the way through. I hugely disagree with common sense media with their one star, I didn't find it confusing and Im ten so, yeah a fantastic movie.


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