The Impossible

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Impossible Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Very intense story of family's survival against the odds.
  • PG-13
  • 2012
  • 114 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 21 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 90 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Ultimately, The Impossible is a story of a mother and son's devotion to each other after the unthinkable has happened. The movie reinforces the random way that natural disasters cause destruction. There's no reason some people survive and others perish; it's a terrible tragedy with unthinkable consequences. But throughout the calamity, people show each other extraordinary kindness and generosity, sending the message that even in times of despair, there are moments of hope and small miracles to celebrate.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Maria and Lucas do everything they can to help each other survive. There are several times when Lucas must act like the parent and take care of his mother. He even has to literally carry and hoist her up a tree. Although it's a burden, Maria convinces Lucas to save a little toddler boy they find.


The devastation the tsunami causes is catastrophic. People are swept away in a wall of water, drowned or impaled or crushed by debris. Maria is seriously injured as her body makes impact in the rush of water. At one point, she's incredibly bloody and has a large flap of skin hanging off of her leg. People taken to the hospital are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Kids and teens will especially feel for Lucas, who at one point believes his mother is dead. Both Maria and Henry think the other has died. A tween yells at his mother a few times.


Adults at the resort kiss and dance and embrace. There's nudity, but in a completely asexual way. The mom, who was wearing a bathing suit when the tsunami struck, doesn't realize her breast is exposed until her son mentions it.


Strong language includes a tween swearing. Words include "hell" and "goddamn."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Grown-ups drink at the hotel bar and a dinner party.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Impossible is an intense family drama set against the 2004 Asian tsunami. Because of the subject matter, there are many upsetting sequences, particularly in the first half hour after the tsunami hits. People are shown swept away and presumably killed by the rushing wall of water, and a mother is so severely injured that a part of her skin is no longer attached to her body. Parents, please know that you, too, will be affected by the horrors depicted in the film -- none greater than when a boy believes he's all that's left of his immediate family.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLeAnn F. January 27, 2017

So well done, but disappointed with the nudity(non-sexual)

My husband and I remember vividly the real footage we saw on Boxing Day, and since on YouTube, so we were very excited to see this. We thought it was very well... Continue reading
Adult Written byLaurettaG February 4, 2017

It really is very intense

Parents be warned that the "very intense" statement is well-earned. Some of the scenes are quite graphic and sickening and it does contain nudity seve... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byAutumn C July 4, 2019

Very Emotional and Traumatic True Story

I, a 13 year old, feel that children at the age of 13 or older should be mature enough to watch this movie. Although there is a lot of blood in this movie, it d... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byTheFullReview June 13, 2019

Bring Tissues For This Must Watch!

Came for Tom Holland, stayed for the movie. To be honest, I was a bit hesitant to watch this film, but upon hearing that Tom Holland was in it, I had to check i... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on the true story of a Spanish family that survived the 2004 Asian tsunami, THE IMPOSSIBLE follows Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts), a British couple who travels to a luxury resort in Thailand for a Christmas holiday. They have three kids: tween Lucas (Tom Holland) and two younger boys. On Dec. 26, 2004, as the family is playing poolside, the massive tsunami hits the area, sweeping thousands into the ocean. Maria survives the worst but is gravely injured. She finds her oldest, and together she and Lucas attempt to overcome each devastating moment.

Is it any good?

Movies about a massively destructive event, whether it's a war or 9/11, can be difficult to watch and even more difficult to make well. By focusing on one family, director Juan Antonio Bayona wisely distills the tsunami tragedy down to the myopic perspective of one distraught woman and her mature-beyond-his-years son. Watts and Holland's interactions beautifully capture the bond between mother and child.

Watts is terrific, and Holland is remarkable -- reminiscent of young Hunter McCracken in The Tree of Life. No longer a little boy but far from a man, Holland's Lucas is fiercely determined to survive and help his mother secure medical attention. Once they safely land at a Thai hospital, the story loses some of its immediacy, but then we find out what happened to the father and brothers thought lost. The Impossible isn't an easy viewing experience, but it reminds us all that even in times of despair, there are moments of hope and small miracles to celebrate.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether The Impossible is a disaster movie or not. How does the depiction of the tsunami compare to other films about catastrophes? Critics have said the movie's ending takes away from its powerful beginning. Do you agree?

  • What feelings do you have while watching this movie? Is it OK to feel happy for the main characters amid so much devastation?

  • Are cinematic deaths resulting from disasters or accidents different than those due to war or other forms of violence?

  • The Impossible is based on a real family's true story. How accurate do you think it is? Why might filmmakers decide to change some details/facts? How could you find out more?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love drama

Themes & Topics

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