The Butterfly Effect

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Butterfly Effect Movie Poster Image
Dark sci-fi thriller has lots of violence, sex, language.
  • R
  • 2004
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 19 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 26 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Film explores how the choices and decisions we make in life impact not only our lives, but the lives of those around us. Explores extremely dark subject matter such as incest, child molestation, prison rape, suicide, animal cruelty, bullying, and mental illness. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The movie seems to suggest in some ways that the decency, kindness, and moral compass of individuals is determined primarily by external factors and circumstances rather than choices made from within. Instead of trying to work through and overcome horrific childhood trauma, characters are forever scarred by them; the removal of these traumas results in these characters being -- if not always kinder and more decent -- at least seemingly more well-adjusted. 


Graphic violence, violent situations, disturbing scenes. (Warning: Some spoilers.) A powerful firecracker placed in a mailbox by tweens as a prank results, in one reality, in the death of a mother and baby; in another instance, in the lead character losing his hands, forearms. Suicide, attempted suicide. A dog is tied up in a sack, covered with lighter fluid, set on fire, and killed by a sadistic tween. A young man is beaten to death with a baseball bat. Child molestation strongly implied -- not shown, but aftermath discussed by victims years later. Prison rape implied. Lead character, serving time in prison, is on the verge of performing oral sex on two inmates before he stabs them. A young man is beaten. A lead character is shown as a tween killing another lead character with a large piece of scrap metal. A father with mental illness attacks his son in the mental hospital, choking him. Bullying -- frat boys pick on a goth punk in a bar; the goth punk retaliates by shooting a cue ball from the pool table at them, then breaking off the stick of his pool cue and threatening them. Fraternity pledges shown getting hazed. A teacher shows a mother a drawing her young son made of the boy killing his father with a knife; he is shortly after shown in the kitchen holding a large knife. A diner waitress is sexually harassed by a customer, who grabs her rear end. 


Female and male nudity, full frontal. Talk of sex, and various sex acts. College student often walks in on his roommate having sex with his girlfriend. Post-coital sex talk. Tweens shown looking at pornographic magazines. Lead character brings a girl back to his dorm room; they start to engage in foreplay but stop when lead character's issues with blacking out occur once again. 


Constant profanity used by adults, tweens, and teens. "F--k," "s--t," "ass," "puss out." "F--got" used by tween. In a scene with white supremacists in a prison cell, lead character uses the racial slurs "s--ck," the "N" word. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one of the alternate realities explored by the lead character, the female lead is a drug addict and prostitute. Lead character's roommate shown smoking out of a giant bong. Tweens and adults smoke cigarettes. Woman shown dying in a hospital due to smoking. A pedophile father drinks whiskey while attempting to film his daughter and her friend in a state of undress. College drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Butterfly Effect is a 2004 sci-fi thriller in which Ashton Kutcher plays a college student who can relive the past and attempt to change it for the better. The movie doesn't shy away from traumatic events and dark subject matter. There are scenes involving child molestation, prison rape, animal cruelty (a dog tied up inside a sack and set on fire and killed), accidental murder, suicide, drug addiction, mental illness, and prostitution. One the characters is beaten to death with a baseball bat. In another scene, one tween kills another tween by stabbing him with a large piece of scrap metal. While serving time in prison, the lead character, on the verge of performing oral sex on two inmates, stabs them both in the groin. It has male and female nudity, talk of sex, and sex acts; a college student tends to walk into his dorm room while his roommate is having sex with his girlfriend. Adults, tweens, and children frequently curse, including "f--k."  Homophobic and racial slurs are used. This fearlessness in terms of not shying away from subject matter that is difficult and troubling sometimes overshadows the deeper points the movie is trying to make about "the butterfly effect," "chaos theory," and how events and decisions large and small can play huge roles in determining the kind of people individuals turn out to be. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBrookeLau May 12, 2015

Amazing movie!!

Although the movie does contain some disturbing violence and some language, I think that any teen above the age of 16 should be allowed to watch it... I looked... Continue reading
Adult Written byJayGatsby November 3, 2011

You can't play God

I find it utterly amazing that the author of this review completely dispell's the movie's positive messages and only focuses on the offensive content.... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byRachel Lane October 22, 2012

Disturbed, but still good.

When I saw this movie, it blew me away. It's very disturbing and not for kids, but it is an excellent movie. As you watch it, it really makes you think abo... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byilhc January 16, 2021

Possible good plot.......destroyed!

It's a pity, I still ask me how is it possible to waste such a brilliant idea. From the beginning, the plot catch you, it seems twisted (it is), but easy t... Continue reading

What's the story?

In THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, Evan (Ashton Kutcher) is a tortured soul given to blackouts as a child. Now in college, as his memories begin to return, Evan regrets not having been able to save Kayleigh (Amy Smart), the girl he loved, from her abusive father. He realizes that he can go back in time and change the direction of events, but each time he does he makes things worse. Evan goes back to the moment in which he agreed to take his clothes off for a child porn video made by Kayleigh's father (Eric Stoltz). Instead of saying no or running away or calling the police, 7-year-old Evan's second-chance decision is to explain to Kayleigh's father in the words of his adult persona that her father shouldn't destroy her life. Somehow, this instantly persuades him to stop molesting her. Then college-age Evan, back in the present but of course remembering the original reality, is transformed from cool guy to frat boy, with Kayleigh transformed from suicidal waitress to happy sorority girl. But when 7-year-old Evan showed Kayleigh's father the error of his ways, he forgot about Kayleigh's brother, who now, in scenario  number 2, as the recipient of all of the abuse in the family, is over-protective of his sister. Disaster ensues and Evan has to find a way to go back again to try to make things work out better.

Is it any good?

This movie is pretentious. The title comes from the idea, here attributed to "chaos theory," that the flap of a butterfly's wing can produce a typhoon half a world away. It's an irresistibly intriguing notion -- all of us have thought about what would happen if we could go back in time and make a different choice. But this movie's plot lacks imagination, insight, and even believability.

Evan's time travels include an assortment of every possible form of hideous crime and abuse, including animal torture, child molestation, the death of an infant, prison rape, and drug addiction, all unforgivably thrown in for shock value and none with any shred of dramatic legitimacy. And wherever he is, psychology teacher's pet, half-hearted participant in fraternity hazing, confined to prison, or confined to a wheelchair, Kutcher's acting is not up to the challenge of making even a nosebleed believable.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the subject matter of the movie. How did the movie address the many difficult topics it presented? 

  • What does the movie seem to be saying about the role that events, decisions, and circumstances have on shaping the kinds of people we turn out to be? Does the film adequately address the role individuals have in overcoming traumatic situations and taking charge of their own destinies? Why or why not? 

  • This movie seems to garner extreme reactions from viewers. Some really love it, and others really hate it. Why do you think that's the case? What are some other examples of movies that provoke these types of polarizing reactions? 

Movie details

  • In theaters: January 22, 2004
  • On DVD or streaming: July 6, 2004
  • Cast: Amy Smart, Eric Stoltz
  • Director: Eric Bress
  • Studio: New Line
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Run time: 113 minutes
  • MPAA rating: R
  • MPAA explanation: violence, sexual content, language and brief drug use
  • Last updated: September 20, 2019

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