The Ghost and the Darkness

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
The Ghost and the Darkness Movie Poster Image
Lions terrorize bridge-building crew; gore and violence.
  • R
  • 1996
  • 110 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Movie downplays the agency and competence of Africans to solve their own problems, bringing in a British engineer to build a bridge and an American hunter to clear the area of marauding lions.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Men bravely set traps to kill wily lions but are largely outsmarted by the lions, until they get lucky.

Violence

Several lions terrorize a colony of workers at an African outpost, killing more than 100 men. A victim's raw and bloodied neck is shown. Dozens of sick, injured men are attacked in a field hospital. Men are dragged off screaming by lions. Lions are shown leaping on people, their bloody teeth and mouths shown. Someone describes a lion licking off a victim's skin so he could drink the man's blood. Blood trails are left as lions drag people off to eat them. Lions seem to have super strength as they dodge bullets or fail to be killed by a single shot. A cow is punctured and men drink the blood for bravery. Dozens of human skeletons are discovered in a cave, the victims of lions. A man falls from a tree. A man dreams his wife and child are attacked by a lion.

Sex
Language

"S--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol to celebrate.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Ghost and the Darkness is a 1996 drama about seemingly otherworldy lions that in 1898 killed more than 100 bridge-building workers at a Kenyan outpost. There's plenty of violence, blood, and red-stained lion mouths roaring. Language includes "s--t," and clever camerawork increases the terror of the lions' stalking, attacking, and dragging off of screaming, mauled men. The movie downplays the agency and competence of Africans to solve their own problems, bringing in a British engineer to build a bridge and an American hunter to clear the area of marauding lions. Adults drink alcohol.

Wondering if The Ghost and the Darkness is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

THE GHOST AND THE DARKNESS are the nicknames given to two vicious lions that have been stalking and terrorizing a camp of workers building a Uganda-Mombasa railroad bridge over a Kenyan river in the late 19th century. In a departure from normal behavior, lions seem to be maliciously mauling humans, not for food, but for sport. The Irish engineer in charge, John Patterson (Val Kilmer), is a steady and practical man, and he takes a practical approach to dispensing with the big cats before they drive his workers away. When he shoots one lion, two more seem to become madder and more retaliatory than ever, leading to the deaths of at least 100 men. British railroad magnate Beaumont (Tom Wilkinson) is impatient and unsympathetic and, with no regard for the human toll, demands Patterson solve the problem or expect to have his reputation ruined for life. Enter Great White hunter Remington (Michael Douglas) in full Romancing the Stone/Indiana Jones gear and with a devil-may-care attitude. 

Is it any good?

This is a drearily conventional film. Director Stephen Hopkins himself said in a 1998 interview that The Ghost and The Darkness "was a mess ... I haven't been able to watch it." Worse yet, it promotes old racist and imperialistic assumptions about the competence and superiority of foreign White people over the wisdom and ability of local peoples familiar with their own terrain and problems. (Two notable exceptions are characters played by John Kani and Om Puri.)

If you can get past that premise, Michael Douglas and Val Kilmer give serviceable performances, but the narrative does little more than repeat the same problem -- how to defeat attacking lions -- over and over. It feels odd that White hunters are called in to kill an animal that natives are probably far more familiar with, but high-powered rifles will probably be more effective than spears and hand-to-claw combat. Any time a lion is shot, heroic music wells up to trigger our admiration for the great hunters. Vilmos Zsigmond's cinematography is lush and haunting.  

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes scary movies scary. How do the filmmakers increase the tension through editing to make the lion attacks more frightening?

  • What is The Ghost and the Darkness' attitude toward the expertise of the local people with regard to defending against the lions as opposed to the expertise of the foreign White hunters? Does it make sense that the hunters know Kenya and lions better than the locals do? 

  • The hunters rarely seem afraid. Do you think that's realistic? Do you think sensible people facing danger can be afraid and still do their jobs well? Why or why not?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love adventure

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

Streaming options powered by JustWatch

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate