The Iron Giant

Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
The Iron Giant Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Touching robot-kid friendship tale has great messages.
  • PG
  • 1999
  • 86 minutes

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 44 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 50 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Intended to entertain rather than educate, but kids will learn about the 1950s and get lessons about friendship, responsibility, and gun violence.

Positive Messages

Positive messages about behavior, life values, and important issues. "You are what you choose to be" and "Don't care what anyone else thinks" are verbalized and illustrated several times. "Guns kill; things die; it's a part of life" is portrayed by the errant shooting of a deer, along with "Souls don't die; all good things go on forever and ever." The government's reaction to the Iron Giant reveals the paranoia and fear that were pervasive during the Cold War. Additional themes include communication, humility, and courage.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young hero Hogarth Hughes is resourceful, courageous, curious, compassionate, and intelligent. Though he sometimes ventures outside of his mom's comfort zone (and even his own), he's always well-intentioned and honorable. Hogarth's struggling single mom is portrayed as concerned, loving, and hardworking. The movie's villain, a high-ranking U.S. official, is depicted as ruthless, ego-driven, paranoid, and a threat to the heroes.

Violence & Scariness

Cartoon action sequences throughout: Boat in a storm, man goes overboard but escapes; a huge robot (the Iron Giant, who turns out to be one of the film's heroes) eats metal, destroys a power station, and tromps across the landscape, chasing the young boy hero and frightening people. Sparks fly, buildings fall. A deer is shot and killed. The robot is hit by a train, threatened, and shot at countless times by a squadron of armed military personnel. To defend himself, the robot creates havoc with some spectacular shooting and firepower of his own. Some spooky music accompanies old black-and-white TV footage.

Sexy Stuff

"Hell," is said three times; also an "omigod" and one "butt."


Mentions of Twinkies, Mad magazine, Action Comics, and Superman. Tie-in toys/products.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A secretary smokes a cigarette at her desk; a government official smokes a pipe throughout (accurate for '50s setting). A laxative is used to obstruct the progress of the movie’s villain, with predictably humorous results (this plot line will probably go over the head of younger children).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Iron Giant has plenty of the kind of cartoon action that most kids love: a giant robot under attack; buildings, trains, and cars crashing; futuristic weapons firing; Hogarth, the boy hero, creeping through a dark forest looking for "trouble"; a boat caught in a storm; spooky music; and an arrogant, mean-spirited villain who threatens everyone and everything that's important. It also includes a poignant moment when a deer is shot. The filmmakers bring a point of view to the events, hoping to instruct, explain, and offer thought-provoking ideas through which kids can view the action (i.e. "guns kill," the collateral damage of paranoia, and taking responsibility for our choices). One character smokes a pipe throughout the movie, and one smokes a cigarette (accurate for the movie's '50s setting). "Hell" is said a few times, and Hogarth gives the villain a dose of laxative, which humorously results in trips to any bathroom he can find.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 5, 8, and 10-year-old Written byCrimsonBuckeye March 2, 2010

Great movie, but parents beware

I loved the movie and the ultimate message, but I was very disappointed in the unnecessary use of profanity ([email protected], h3ll). I was also put off by the ultimate thr... Continue reading
Adult Written byecodad October 6, 2016


With all the positive reviews, we expected The Iron Giant to be a classic. For us, it was not. The plot was very predictable and the supporting characters were... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old July 29, 2017

Sad but good

Very good movie,but for 9 year olds it might be sad.The iron giant dies,but at the very end it implies that he comes back to life.
Teen, 14 years old Written byethanct86 October 12, 2015

An old, but shiny rusty joint

A boy finds this creature from outer space, teaches it about the world, tries but fails to convince anyone about his discovery and later the government attempts... Continue reading

What's the story?

Set in rural Maine during the late 1950s, THE IRON GIANT centers on 9-year-old Hogarth Hughes (voiced by Eli Marienthal), who lives with his waitress mother, Annie (Jennifer Aniston). One night, he discovers a huge robot in the woods, munching on whatever metal it can find, including the town's electric substation. Hogarth is frightened but takes pity when the robot is enmeshed in wires and turns off the power so that the robot can escape. The robot turns out to be the world's best playmate, whether cannon-balling into the swimming hole or acting as a sort of amusement park ride. His origins remain mysterious, but his reaction to Hogarth's toy ray gun suggests that he may have served as a weapon of some kind. Local beatnick Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick, Jr.) lets Hogarth hide the robot in his junkyard, but government investigator Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) thinks the giant is part of a Communist plot and presses Hogarth to turn him in. Mansley calls in the army, and suddenly the robot and the surrounding community are in real danger.

Is it any good?

This wonderful film from director Brad Bird has so much humor and heart that it's one of the best family movies around. The script, based on a book by England's poet laureate, Ted Hughes, is exceptionally good. The plot has some clever twists and some sly references to the 1950s to tickle the memories of Boomer grandparents. Setting the story in the 1950s puts the government's reaction to the robot in the context of the Red Scare and Sputnik.

The Iron Giant may not have the breathtaking vistas of some of the best Disney animated films, but it's lively and heartwarming, and the characters, both human and robot, are so engaging that you might forget they aren't real. The robot, created with computer graphics, is seamlessly included with the hand-drawn actors, making the illusion even more complete.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what makes real friendships, like that between Hogarth and The Iron Giant. Do you have to have a lot in common with someone to be friends with them?

  • Were any parts of The Iron Giant scary to you? Why or why not? How much "scary stuff" can young kids handle?

  • What did you think about the ending? Do you think it had to be that way? What was the alternative?

  • What do you know about the 1950s? How could you learn more?

  • How do the characters in The Iron Giant demonstrate communication, humility, and courage? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

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