The Box

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Box Movie Poster Image
Creepy thriller too confusing for kids, awful for adults.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 115 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 12 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 33 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

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 & Representations

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAisaacs54 October 26, 2019

A bit confused!

What I got out of the movie is, Arlington Steward is trying to complete psychological and scientific experiment with employees and family members from NASA. The... Continue reading
Adult Written byMike K. August 8, 2017

Too ambitious for it's own good... but fascinating.

This is certainly one of the most polarizing mainstream films that comes to mind thinking about the last decade in movies. It really is a case of love it or hat... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byFunnyGoblin888 November 6, 2020

Don't waste your time; way too confusing and violent

I understand what the creators were going for, but this is not good.
Too much violence throughout the movie and it is not comic book violence. It is very creep... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byJustified81 January 14, 2020

Confusion and weird

Really confusion and creepy definitely not for kids to watch. I was so confused the whole way through and the ending came to me like 2 hours after the movie end... Continue reading

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?

Richard Kelly's The Box is just plain dull and uninteresting. 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 this movie doesn't share those qualities. 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.

Talk to your kids 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

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