A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Advocates for courageousness in the pursuit of right even when the consequences may be severe. Promotes the ideal of the greater common good triumphing over economic and political influences. Warns of the dangers of nuclear power plants: the chance for human error, the effect of even minor natural disasters, and the possibility of self-interest on the part of corporate or government agencies in determining safety.
Positive Role Models
The three leading characters all are portrayed as brave, hardworking, and willing to risk all to do the right thing. The more the heroes learn, the more heroic they become. The audience learns what's at stake along with those heroes, increasing the characters' effectiveness as role models. Corporate types are motivated by self-interest and job security rather than righteousness. It's set in the 1970s, so the glass ceiling is well entrenched; no women hold positions of power. Little ethnic diversity.
Violence & Scariness
Suspenseful throughout; continuous apprehension that major environmental disaster may be coming. A shadowy car follows an unsuspecting victim, finally running his car off the road and crashing down a hillside. The driver is bloody when he's later removed from the wreckage. Spoiler alert: A major character is shot in the back, killed instantly and graphically. Characters are threatened at gunpoint.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A belly dancer is briefly seen on a television screen.
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Intermittent swearing: "hell," "goddamn," "bastard," "son of a bitch," "chickens--t," "a--hole," "taking a leak," "screw it," "Jesus Christ."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some social drinking at a party and at a bar. No drunkenness. Set in the 1970s, so characters occasionally smoke.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The China Syndrome is a suspense-filled, entertaining "issue" movie that has a strong point of view. An active nuclear plant shakes and shimmies; parts crumble and fall, all threatening a catastrophic accident in California. A constant sense of impending doom underscores the film, with shots designed to bring the viewer close to the "core" of the drama. Violent scenes include a car being run off the road and crashing (the bloody victim is seen later), and (spoiler alert) a major character is graphically shot in the back, dying instantly. Swearing is occasional and includes "goddamn, "s--t," "a--hole," "bastard," and "Jesus Christ." Released in 1979, only 12 days before the Three Mile Island disaster in Pennsylvania (the worst accident in the history of nuclear power in the U.S.), the movie warns against relying on nuclear energy as a replacement for fossil fuels. Characters smoke, and there's social drinking in a few sequences. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This award-winning film works on many levels. Outstanding performances; an intense, suspenseful story and script; and later events (both the Chernobyl disaster in Russia and the accident at Three Mile Island in the U.S.) confirmed the premise of this film and give this movie both power and resonance. Most of all, it's thrilling entertainment. When it was first released, some thought it over-earnest, too political, and foolishly fearful of nuclear power. The movie may be even more impressive today, given our increasing preoccupation with energy-dependence. Highly recommended for teens and their families, it's both exciting and thought-provoking.
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Our Editors Recommend
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