The Great Gilly Hopkins

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Great Gilly Hopkins Movie Poster Image
 Parents recommend
Book-based drama has strong messages on family, friendship.
  • PG
  • 2016
  • 99 minutes

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 10 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 8 reviews

Did this review miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in books, TV shows, and movies. Want to help us help them? Suggest a diversity update

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Positive messages about what it means to be a family (it's more than biology), though also deals with the idea that family can be the source of both comfort and heartbreak. Everyone needs others who love them unconditionally and support them but will also correct them when necessary. A lot of empathy and communication must happen in order for Gilly's character to develop and grow.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Trotter is loving, supportive, and kind, even when she finds out Gilly has lied. Same goes for Mr. Randolph, who's patient and sweet to Gilly. Miss Harris is encouraging and won't let Gilly off the hook for acting irresponsibly. As for Gilly, she starts out unfriendly, untruthful, rude, and mean but grows more empathetic as the story goes on and she realizes how much her foster family means to her.


Gilly pushes a student and teaches her foster brother to stand up for himself by yelling at potential bullies.


Occasional use of words including "freakin'," "hell," "damn," and "stupid'; one use of "retarded." Gilly writes a racist letter to her black teacher that uses racist (but unsaid) language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An adult drinks wine at meals.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Great Gilly Hopkins is based on Katherine Paterson's classic 1978 middle-grade novel about an unfriendly foster kid who finally opens up to others after being placed with a devout older woman who's already fostering a little boy. Gilly has a harsh tongue and uses plenty of mild insults, as well as tween swears ("hell," "freakin," "get the hell out," etc.). And she isn’t afraid to get in the face of or even push other kids and/or adults. Once she writes a letter lying about her foster home; in another letter, she makes racist remarks to her black teacher. But thanks to empathy and communication, Gilly's character grows and changes in positive ways over the course of the story. This is ultimately a story about how family is more than blood and how even the loneliest, hardest-to-like person can find a place to belong.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 13-year-old Written bylisainsfo April 7, 2019

Very Good Movie But Not for Younger Kids

The overall story is heartwarming; however, I watched it with my 13-year old son and found a few parts not for younger viewers:
1) The main character, Gilly, a... Continue reading
Adult Written byjohn p. September 25, 2017

A "thinking kids" movie

Faithful film adaptation of a beloved classic book. Kathy Bates, Octavia Spencer and Glenn Close are terrific as is feisty young Sophie Neliesse ("The Boo... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byjack7 May 19, 2020
Teen, 16 years old Written byrecon expert December 14, 2019

Gilly movie

It is a great movie but sad and happy but the end was a lot better then the books ending because it is a stop right there in the book but i the movie the ending... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE GREAT GILLY HOPKINS is based on Katherine Paterson's classic 1978 book about 12-year-old Galadriel "Gilly" Hopkins (Sophie Nelisse). A foster kid who's been in and out of lots of places, Gilly is now put in yet another home, this time under the care of kindly, devout Mrs. Trotter (Kathy Bates). Trotter has another foster child, the young W.E. (Zachary Hernandez), and a good friend and neighbor, Mr. Randolph (Bill Cobbs), who's blind. Despite being a strong student, Gilly alienates others, is unfair to her new foster family, and obsesses over reuniting with her birth mother (Julia Stiles). And then, just as Gilly begins to settle in and warm up to Trotter, W.E., and Mr. Randolph, someone arrives who changes everything.

Is it any good?

Thanks to a faithful script by David Paterson, the book author's son, this adaptation stays true to the spirit of the original, with solid performances that make Gilly's evolution believable. Nelisse, best known for her starring role in The Book Thief, does look a bit old to play Gilly, but she does a great job making her character both fragile and unfriendly, which makes her difficult to like at first. But this is as it should be, since abandoned foster kids can't all be as sweet as Little Orphan Annie. The young actress' expressive face makes it clear that the only person she needs or wants is her birth mother, whom she daydreams about and hopes will come rescue her.

Bates and Cobbs are fabulously cast as Trotter and Mr. Randolph. Both patiently show Gilly the love and respect she's been lacking for most of her life. Their performances, along with those of Octavia Spencer as Miss Harris and Glenn Close as Nonnie, are notably good. Every now and then, the dialogue between the kids feels a bit stiff, but the acting is good enough to overcome some small flaws. And, of course, since the screenwriter is the son of the source book's author, it's clear (like with Judy Blume's Tiger Eyes) that someone who loves the story helped make The Great Gilly Hopkins. Gilly isn't an easy main character to love, but that's part of her appeal -- she's utterly human. She's had more tragedy than most kids can understand, and yet she grows, heals, and loves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about who the role models are in The Great Gilly Hopkins. How can you tell? What makes them role models?

  • Is Gilly a likable character? Is she easy to root for? Why (or why not)? How do empathy and communication help her grow? Why are those important character strengths?

  • What does Gilly learn about the meaning of family in the movie?

  • What does the movie have to say about bullying?

  • If you've read the book: Do you think the movie keeps to the spirit of the story? What changes make sense? What, if anything, do you miss from the book?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love great books and movies

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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