The Grapes of Wrath

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Grapes of Wrath Movie Poster Image
Classic John Steinbeck adaptation is still powerful.
  • NR
  • 1940
  • 128 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This movie shows the goodness and decency of the "common man," even if he isn't perfect and even when facing terrible poverty and economic injustice. Themes include integrity and courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Forced off their land in Oklahoma, the Joad family do their best to take care of and love each other as they travel to California to find work, despite tremendous difficulties, dire poverty, and poor odds. Characters demonstrate perseverance, compassion, and humility.


A woman is shot and killed by a police officer. Police club a man to death with a billy club. A man with a rifle threatens to shoot and kill a man on the verge of bulldozing his home. Family members die on the journey.



Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters smoke cigarettes and pipes and chew tobacco. Early in the movie, two characters pass a bottle of whiskey back and forth and drink from it but do not act intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Grapes of Wrath is the classic John Ford-directed adaptation of the classic John Steinbeck novel. There are some brief moments of violence throughout the film: A woman is accidentally shot and killed by a police officer, police and "Okies" do battle with fists and billy clubs, and a man threatens to kill another man with a rifle as he's on the verge of bulldozing his home. Also, as it's a movie from 1940 set during the Great Depression, there is some smoking and tobacco chewing. Overall, for 21st-century families, this film is still an all-important chronicle of a difficult time in American history and raises still-relevant questions about poverty, farm work, and the enormous gaps between the rich and the poor, in this country and throughout the world.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bycalebcourtney January 24, 2016

Good for explaining hardship and economic matters matters.

I watched this movie with my 10 year old cousin, and he was a little puzzled by it, but after I answered his questions, he seemed to get the jist of it. He aske... Continue reading
Adult Written byrandyocala May 3, 2011

Go for it!

Great portrayal of social issues, the book would be pretty heavy for this age, but the movie is fine.

Also, great actors such as Fonda and Darwell.
Teen, 16 years old Written by37cas April 28, 2010

Great example of the Great Depression

Grapes of Wrath, clearly shows what it was like for travlers during the Great Depression.
Teen, 13 years old Written byBestPicture1996 September 25, 2009

Good in it's own way

I saw this in 6th grade in Social Studies, so I didn't really see every single second of it, but from the jist I got I thought it was a good movie about th... Continue reading

What's the story?

The classic John Steinbeck novel THE GRAPES OF WRATH about dust-bowl farmers emigrating from Oklahoma to California became a classic film with Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and Jane Darwell (in an Oscar-winning performance) as his mother. Tom returns home after serving time in prison for manslaughter to find that his sharecropper family has lost the right to farm the land and is leaving to find jobs in California. All twelve of them pile into the truck, including Casey, a former minister. In California, thousands of migrants have arrived. Exploited by the bosses, the workers are too scared to organize and insist on better treatment. The bosses have hired thugs who prevent anyone from objecting to their treatment. Tom kills one, Casey is killed, and Tom kills the assailant. Wanted by the authorities, Tom cannot stay with his family, which has now found a government-sponsored work camp with better conditions. After he leaves, Ma says, "Rich fellers come up. They die. Their kids ain't no good and they die out. But we keep a-comin'. We're the people that live. Can't wipe us out. Can't lick us. We'll go on forever, 'cause we're the people!"

Is it any good?

The acting, from Henry Fonda down to the smallest parts, is a truly fantastic achievement that goes far toward making this film as unforgettable today as it was when it came out in 1940. Through John Steinbeck's unforgettable characters and story, director John Ford presents a vision of the American West during the Great Depression, a wide-lensed vision of big skies, vast fields, and a brutal and unforgiving economic climate.

What is especially striking about watching this movie today is how so many of The Grapes of Wrath's themes -- economic disparity, tensions between labor and capital, and the worth and dignity of the "common man" -- still resonate to this day, despite being set during the Great Depression. All in all, the result is a film that cuts to the core of both the obstacles, problems, and, ultimately, redemption for those in pursuit of "the American Dream."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about novels adapted into movies. What would be the challenges of adapting a movie of the size and scope of The Grapes of Wrath?

  • How does the movie present the difficulties of Oklahoma farm workers trying to create new lives for themselves in California?

  • If this movie was to be remade now, how do you think it would be different?

  • How do the characters in The Grapes of Wrath demonstrate compassion, humility, and integrity? What about perseverance and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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