The Exorcist Movie Poster Image

The Exorcist

Trendsetting shocker about a possessed child.
Popular with kidsParents recommend
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Horror
  • Release Year: 1973
  • Running Time: 132 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Technically the plot is about the redemption of the doubting Father Karras, who sacrifices himself to save a life, but it's the sense of evil in the film that stays with you. The "good" characters seem bewildered and powerless. Regan's mother refuses to even tell the girl's father what's been happening.


The demonic Regan punches her mother and other investigators and (offscreen) brutally murders a man. She also mutilates herself, vomits blood, and in a famous moment, rotates her own head completely around. Another character falls fatally out a window and down a flight of steps.


Nothing seductive or titillating, but still intense, as the possessed girl lewdly propositions men, talks about oral sex, and is briefly shown rubbing a crucifix in her groin.


A little girl taken over by the devil doesn't hold back much in the cursing department.


Soft-drink signs, movie-company logos.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social imbibing, and a character is drunk at a party. Mention of pills and pot.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a mature horror film, not aimed at (or paced for) kids. No rock-music soundtracks or look-out-the-killer-is-behind-you scares, but rather an awful sense of corruption as demonic possession takes over an adolescent girl like a loathsome progressive disease. The infamous makeup effects of projectile vomiting and blood, blaspheming, and gutturally obscene language were meant to disturb the viewer as nothing before seen in movies, and they still convey solid shocks.

What's the story?

Linda Blair plays Regan MacNeil, the bright 12-year-old daughter of successful actress Chris (Ellen Burstyn), who can afford to raise the girl in a nurturing atmosphere with live-in cooks and nannies (Regan's absentee father is written off as self-absorbed and oblivious). The first signs of trouble include Regan playing with a Ouija board and claiming she's communicated with a ghost she calls Captain Howdy. Then the girl begins behaving abnormally, urinating in front of party guests and foretelling death for Chris' film-director boyfriend. While Regan suffers grueling medical exams and gets progressively worse, the story line simultaneously follows Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller), a Greek-American Catholic priest with some doubts about his religion. When medical science fails to cure the howling, obscenity-spewing, uncontrollable Regan, doctors point Chris to Father Karras, whose background in psychology includes the now-rare rite of exorcism. Karras summons another priest to help, the wiser and older Father Merrin (Max Von Sydow), and together they begin to do battle with Regan's occupier.

Is it any good?


If you think your teen is ready for this shocking film, keep in mind that some audience members in the '70s reportedly fainted after seeing Dick Smith's grisly makeup effects on Blair. In some extreme cases, viewers even required psychiatric care. Also, the moans, snarls, and profane utterances from Regan (most are actually the dubbed-in voice of a well-known older actress, Mercedes McCambridge) amount to some of the most chilling audio ever done for film.

Thanks in part to Linda Blair's wrenching, Oscar-nominated performance, The Exorcist was a huge hit, earning back 10 times its $10 million budget (a then-lavish sum, outrageous for a "mere" horror flick). Movie historians cite it (along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as the conclusive end of old-school spook shows featuring Dracula and Frankenstein and bobbing rubber bats.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the film's religious and scientific overtones. Does Father Karras regain his religious faith in the finale, and how does he become almost Christlike? What do you think about the novel's suggestion that this might not be a "real" demon but rather some terrible but explicable mental disorder?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 26, 1973
DVD/Streaming release date:March 26, 1997
Cast:Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow
Director:William Friedkin
Studio:Warner Home Video
Run time:132 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:horror elements, violence, profanity and intensity.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent Written bygrapelover46 September 13, 2012

This movie may be from 1973, but trust me, it is very, very frightining.

What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Parent of a 13 year old Written bycolten97 October 10, 2012

The Devil Made Her Do It

In late 1973 and early 1974, women and men were lined up for blocks. People were known to become ill watching it. Some fainted. Some ran out of the theater in tears. There were reports of people having to be institutionalized, and at least one miscarriage was attributed to viewing it. No, it wasn't a Rolling Stones Concert. It was a film called The Exorcist. The first time I had heard of something called The Exorcist was on late night television when the author, William Peter Blatty, was a guest on The Tonight Show. The conversation centered around how horrible some of the things in the book were. I had also seen the novel listed on The New York Times Bestseller List, and it seemed as if it would remain there forever. After having been on the waiting list for what seemed like an eternity at the local library, I was finally able to obtain a copy. It was the first book I had read in one sitting since probably Nancy Drew and The Hidden Staircase quite a few years earlier. And yes, for it's time it was filled with gut wrenching details of what happens when for some unexplained reason; an innocent girl is possessed by Satan. While reading the book I was sure that if it ever made its way to film, most of the details would certainly be either `cleaned up' or omitted altogether. As you know the film was made and it spared the movie going public absolutely nothing in the way of details. Certainly many of the people who lined up to see The Exorcist did so to watch some of the more gruesome scenes, the worst of which involved Regan's masturbation with a crucifix. Yet, the hysteria went well beyond the fact that such scenes were so vividly depicted. I think one needs to look no further than Mel Gibson's The Passion to find the answer as to why. I'm sure most of you have read the story of people leaving Mel's film in tears, some to the point of being hysterical. From most articles I have read, it seems that the majority of the audience that was moved were those people of strong religious beliefs. For many others, the depiction of the brutality in The Passion may have been uncomfortable to sit through, but weren't emotionally effected to any degree. Much of this same feeling can explain the hysteria surrounding The Exorcist. Those who had a definitive belief in Heaven and Hell, of Good and Evil, of Jesus as The Savior and Satan as the epitome of pure evil were affected by The Exorcist far more than those who were agnostic or just never had a strong belief in spiritual matters. There is no doubt though that much in the way The Passion did, The Exorcist caused many to reconsider how they felt about their faith. The Exorcist made the prospect of Satan being alive and well and a life of eternal damnation a very uncomfortable prospect. The fact that Blatty claims his book and screenplay were based on a true story seemed to give the film even more credibility. For me, The Exorcist has always been more about the never ending conflict between pure evil and pure innocence than about being an average horror story. There are many more levels to this film than what initially meets the eye. There is no doubt that while the main story revolves around an innocent young girl, Regan McNeil, being inhabited by Satan himself, Blatty enhances it greatly by adding different characters in various stages of conflict. Regan's mother, Chris McNeil obviously cares deeply for her daughter. Yet she is not beyond reproach. In one scene when Reagan's father hasn't called on Regan's birthday, we see her desperately on the phone doing battle with an overseas operator. The problem is not how vicious the phone call is, but that she does it within ear shot of her daughter as if to drive the point home to Regan how worthless her father is. When, she finally does seek the aid of Father Damian Karras, we don't feel that she believes in exorcism anymore than he does, but is desperate enough to accept the fact that it is possible and will take any and all measures to save her daughter. Father Karras is a priest torn by conflict. He is ridden by overwhelming guilt for having abandoned his mother to enter the priesthood. He is torn spiritually by the confessions of those priests who seek his help as a psychiatrist, so much so that he now questions his own faith. When he states to the Bishop that `Regan's case meets all the criteria,' we know that even more than Chris, he doesn't really believe in the power of Satan to inhabit a living being in the manner that it has taken over Regan. Yet, he will do what is required of him as a priest concerned about the health of a child. Jack McGowran gives a terrific performance as the alcoholic director filming Chris's latest film in Georgetown. Kitty Winn is Sharon Spencer, the secretary who works for Chris and always seems to be in the line of fire when Chris is angry. She is always there but for all the horror she witnesses, Winn appears too bland and emotionless and her performance is probably the weakest in the film. Max Von Sydow as Father Lancester Merrin is a no nonsense aging priest. He has done battle with evil before and he shows us its effect in every scene he occupies. One could pass it off to being just good make-up but it is so much more than that as Sydow demonstrates all the nuances that brings to life a man who has faced Satan and lived to tell about it. He knows what he is up against, understands he must do it again and the consequences of what that battle may be. If I have a small complaint with The Exorcist it is in regards to the character of Lt. Kinderman. I have never been able to buy into the character. It is not the fault of Cobb who is his usual stalwart self in the role. The whole character should at best have only been necessary for a few brief scenes yet; he has several that go on way too long and do not add anything to the story. Even in his scenes with Chris or Damian, Kinderman is so odd that he distracts us too much from their characters and it is Chris and Damian's reactions that are more important to us, not his investigation. For all you trivia buffs out there, Blatty once sued the producers of Columbo, stating they based Peter Falk's character on Kinderman. If memory serves me correctly Blatty lost that one. As for Director William Friedken, although he won the best director award for The French Connection, for me The Exorcist will always remain his defining film. The Final half hour of The Exorcist are still as dynamic today as they were 31 years ago, French Connection car chase be damned. It seems that to many of the younger movie audiences of today, The Exorcist has become more of a joke than anything else. That's not surprising considering how many times it has been lampooned, even by Linda Blair herself in Repossessed. Yet, if they were to view the film in a more serious vein, not as just another creature feature, they may just find that there really is more to this film than a little girl spewing pea soup and spinning her head around 360 degrees. It is the ultimate battle between Heaven and Hell and Good and Evil. It is the story of the complete and total degradation of innocence. It is a study in character, and whether a man torn by the forces surrounding him, can regain his faith and his belief in God and mankind to save the life of a little girl, caught up in forces beyond her control. Call it a horror film, call it a religious film, call it what you want. For me, The Exorcist is and will always remain a classic in every sense of the word. And if I regard you as a classic of any kind I have no choice but to leave you with my grade, which for The Exorcist is an A.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written byfuture_spielberg July 18, 2009

classic. just amazing.

Ok you know what? If you are mature, have your mind on right, aren't too bugged by hell or the devil you can see this movie. This movie is not for the woozy or light of heart. Oh, trust me, I watched this with two friends (we have a lot of horror movie parties, this was the first time for all of us watching The Exorcist) and we were scared out of our wits watching it. Violence is so-so, I had to look away when she was in the hospital. Yes, some might call it "disturbing" I was disturbed when she was swinging on her bed for the first time screaming "mother!! mother!". But you know what? I went to sleep like a baby after that movie. It was the last movie we watched and I went to sleep without one nightmare. She pukes, spits, there is some blood, she hits and kicks and punches people. Language is grotesque, but, I mean, she was posessed. Yes, they use the F word, like no 13 year olds have heard that in their lives! And now we get to the infamous masturbating-with-a-crucifix scene. Ok...seriously...regular people who aren't posessed masturbate. If you are really religious I guess it would make you think it was a horrible movie. I respect that. But if you are mature you will really just appreciate this fine work of genius. The Exorcist is amazing, I still can't believe it was made in the '70s...
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking