The Cove

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Cove Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Gruesome, powerful, and inspiring dolphin documentary.
  • PG-13
  • 2009
  • 92 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 12 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This is a very inspirational and heroic movie. This band of characters employs teamwork, perseverance, and problem solving in order to triumph over terrible odds. In doing so, they demonstrate courage and integrity. They don't necessarily risk their lives, but they do risk their livelihoods as well as some jail time. (They compare themselves to a real-life Ocean's Eleven team.) They do all this to right an egregious wrong (and the movie goes into detail about why it's wrong). Parents, however, may break into a cold sweat at the thought of their own children participating in similar activities.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ric O'Barry is a terrific role model, aside from the fact that he keeps getting himself arrested in the name of his cause (although this might make him all the more appealing to younger viewers). Over the course of the movie, we hear the story about how he captured and trailed dolphins for the Flipper TV show (1964-1967), enjoyed his fame for a while, and then began to regret his actions. He now devotes his life to freeing and saving dolphins. The movie even makes a plea to its audience; O'Barry is now in his late 60s and someone needs to follow in his footsteps.


Though the movie doesn't feature wall-to-wall violence, it contains life-changing moments, notably the brief but powerful imagery of dolphins being slaughtered. We mainly see the water turn red with blood, but there are images of fishermen striking blows and images of struggling dolphins. Otherwise, there is the almost-constant threat of violence, as the filmmakers attempt to get close to the killing grounds. There are aggressive face-offs, and other vaguely sinister confrontations.


Not an issue, though there are images of women swimming in bikinis.


Very brief, sporadic language, including uses of "Goddammit" and "Christ."


The film mentions and shows pictures from Sea World several times, but in an effort to demonstrate the downside of the theme parks. The movie does not entice viewers to rush out and buy tickets.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Cove is the 2009 Oscar winner for Best Documentary. It contains brief, but disturbing and gruesome imagery around the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Though the movie contains a plethora of information about dolphins, the arc of the story focuses on the dangerous attempts to gather proof of the dolphin slaughters. The movie is informative, interesting, and inspiring, but contains shocking pictures: blood-red water, fishermen striking blows, and dolphins struggling and dying. Also, there's an almost constant tension in the film, an ever-present threat of violence. The goal of the movie is to inspire audiences that something can be done, but sensitive and younger viewers might wish to avoid it.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 16-year-old Written bykalicwe January 22, 2011

Not for kids younger than 14.

This film galvanized my 16 year-old's interest in conservation and humane treatment of all creatures. The violent images were horrifying, even to me, but m... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old September 10, 2014

Amazing and Inspiring

This was a little gruesome but I watched it when i was only 8 or 9. But i wanted to see it cuz i wanted to see what was happening to the dolphins in Taiji. I al... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byB-Capps22 March 11, 2013

Great Movie

The Cove is a movie about dolphins being killed for their meat. The positive role models are the people who are trying to stop the killing if the dolphins. Ther... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE COVE shows how, in the small fishing village of Taiji, Japan, thousands of dolphins are slaughtered every year. Some of them are captured and sold to theme parks for huge amounts of money, and poisonous dolphin meat (with its high mercury content) is passed off at fish markets, labeled as other products. Former dolphin trailer Ric O'Barry, who is famous for his work on the Flipper TV series of the 1960s, is now an activist devoted to saving and freeing the dolphins. Teamed up with a squad of experts, his job is to set up cameras and audio equipment in order to capture hard proof of the gory and disturbing slaughter. Unfortunately, the Japanese authorities are well aware of O'Barry and his agenda, and are keeping a close eye on him.

Is it any good?

Winner of the 2009 Oscar for Best Documentary, this film will probably turn away many viewers with the promise of gruesome footage of slaughtered dolphins. But The Cove is such a powerful, informative, and inspirational movie that all of the footage somehow meshes as part of the same experience.

It's amazing how the film balances its many storylines in a compact 90 minutes. We learn about the life and career of former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, the efforts of the Japanese government to legally continue their practices, the intelligence and/or awareness of dolphins, the effects of mercury in dolphin meat, and many other facts and opinions. The main drive of the movie -- O'Barry and his team's efforts to set up their cameras to film proof of the dolphin slaughter -- is as suspenseful as a spy film, and the end result is a combination of elating and devastating.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the disturbing and violent images in The Cove. Was it necessary to show them?

  • Are Ric O'Barry's methods to save the dolphins drastic, or are they appropriate? What else could people do to help?

  • If the dolphins are smarter than humans, what types of things might they teach us?

  • What other atrocities are happening in the world in the name of greed and profit? What are some of the other ways we can stop them?

  • How do Ric O'Barry and his team demonstrate courage and integrity in The Cove? What about perseverance and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love documentaries and animals

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