The Cider House Rules

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Cider House Rules Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking movie has violence, mature themes.
  • PG-13
  • 1999
  • 126 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Through dialogue and action the film addresses topics such as racism, child abuse, drug abuse, abortion, and incest. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 


Brief knife fight, stabbing. Suicide. Talk of child abuse. It's revealed that a male character had been raping his daughter, resulting in the daughter's pregnancy. 


Brief nudity, male, female buttocks. Sex scene, outdoors, clothed but vocal. 


Infrequent profanity. "N" word used. "A--hole," hell," "goddamn." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character abuses ether, cigarette smoking, some drinking. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Cider House Rules is a 1999 coming-of-age drama in which a young man leaves the orphanage where he was raised for the first time. It's based on the John Irving novel. The movie is set in an orphanage, and the lead character is trained in obstetrics by the obstetrician and one of the caretakers of the orphanage; set during World War II, the movie doesn't shy away from topics such as abortion, incest, child abuse, and the mental and physical damage from fetal alcohol syndrome. The movie also addresses incest, when it's discovered that one of the lead characters has been sexually abusing his daughter, resulting in her pregnancy. Racism is also shown, including use of the "N" word. Brief nudity, male and female backsides. Sex scene, outdoors, clothed but vocal. One of the lead characters dies of an overdose of ether. Knife fight, stabbing. Suicide. Infrequent profanity: "a--hole," hell," "goddamn." 


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byIan F. October 30, 2019

Lushly told coming-of-age story with some complicated themes

The film was adapted by the novel's author and it is interesting to see what was changed from page to screen. The resulting film focuses on Homer Wells, an... Continue reading
Adult Written bySallyP November 2, 2015

Beautiful film

John Irving is an incredible writer. His stories tug at the heart and his characters are unforgettable. I think it's hard to capture Irving's geniu... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bySun Always Shin... December 28, 2020

Not a popcorn flick

What to say about this movie that hasn't been said...I thought it was great when I saw it. It was powerful, it was heartbreaking and moving. It does deal w... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byPoison Ivey October 29, 2009

if you liked Forrest Gump, then I'm sure you'll like this movie


Sorry, Didn't mean to post that first rating =o. Anyways, I'm suprised CSM didn't give this movie more stars, cause I... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, based on a John Irving novel, won an Oscar for best screenplay. Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire), twice returned by adoptive parents, has become the surrogate son of the head of the orphanage, the benevolent Dr. Larch (Michael Caine). Homer has been trained by Dr. Larch to practice medicine and perform medical procedures, including illegal abortions, which Homer refuses to perform. While Dr. Larch has been grooming Homer to take his place at the orphanage, Homer longs to see the world outside the orphanage. Homer gets a job picking apples, living in barracks with migrant workers led by Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo). On the wall is a list of rules, but the migrant workers cannot read, and believe that since they didn't write the rules, the rules cannot apply to them. They feel the same way about other kinds of rules.

Is it any good?

Rules are the theme of this stirring movie. Many of the characters break rules, from the rules on the wall (against smoking in bed and climbing on the roof) to the laws of the state (abortion, licensing requirements, prohibitions on drug abuse), to rules that most people would consider fundamental principles of morality (prohibitions against dishonesty, betrayal of a friend's trust, incest, and, for some people, abortion). In some cases, viewers will think that breaking the rules was the right thing; in others they will not. Notice that there are rules that characters take seriously, like the rules that Mr. Rose explains to Homer about how to pick apples. One of those rules is to be careful not to pick an apple bud, because then "you're picking two apples, this year's and next year's," a rule which may have a deeper meaning to Homer given his views on abortion.

And compare the way that Candy lets life make decisions for her with a "wait and see" approach to Homer, who makes decisions based on his values, including the importance of having a purpose. They have very different reasons for getting together -- he loves her, but she "just can't be alone."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about rules, how they are developed, when, if ever, breaking rules is justified, and when it's justified, how important it is to be willing to take the consequences. Some characters seem to let life decide things for them, but others take the situation into their own hands, and it's worth discussing how to know when to act.

  • What are some of the major topics this movie addresses? 

  • This movie was based on a best-selling John Irving novel. What would be the challenges in adapting a novel into a feature-length film? 

Movie details

  • In theaters: December 10, 1999
  • On DVD or streaming: August 15, 2000
  • Cast: Charlize Theron, Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire
  • Director: Lasse Hallstrom
  • Studio: Miramax
  • Genre: Drama
  • Run time: 126 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements, sexuality, nudity, substance abuse and some violence
  • Last updated: March 14, 2020

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