The Last Picture Show



Classic American film has heavy themes and sex.
  • Review Date: August 15, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1971
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This is not so much a film with a feel-good message to convey as it is an honest reflection of a year in the early 1950's in which two boys grow into manhood amidst a dying small town in Texas.

Positive role models

Sam the Lion is a stern but decent mentor to Sonny and Duane.


Two teenage boys get in a fight over a girl, resulting in one smashing a beer bottle into the other's face. The boy has to go to the hospital and wears an eyepatch until his damaged eye fully heals. A young boy is shown dead on the road after being hit by a truck.


Sexual content throughout the film: One of the older teen characters has an affair with a married woman. During a skinny-dipping scene in a swimming pool, there is full-frontal nudity of women, and backside nudity of men. In a car, a boyfriend and girlfriend make out; the girlfriend removes her top and bra. A group of older teen boys chip in to pay for a prostitute to have sex with their friend, a mute boy who is a virgin. They watch as the boy climbs into a car with the prostitute, who berates him over his performance the entire time, slaps in the face, and leaves him with a bloody nose. Two of the main characters attempt to have sex in a motel room. The woman's top is removed and her breasts are exposed. Some sexual noises during another encounter with shots of the woman's hands tensing. A high school basketball coach makes reference to masturbation as to why his players lack vitality at practice.


"Sons-a-bitches," "pussy," "pissants," and "bastard." Characters use the middle finger gesture.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

As a reflection of life in a small Texas town in the early 1950s, several of the characters smoke cigarettes and a high school coach uses chewing tobacco. Characters who are underage by today's standards (and not necessarily those of the early 1950s) drink beer and whiskey. Driving a teen boy home from an unpleasant altercation, an older woman gives the boy a flask of whiskey to drink during the long ride.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Last Picture Show is one of the greatest American films ever made. The emotional depth and strong sexual content throughout the film make this one best for mature teens and adults only. Characters speak freely and frankly about sex, losing their virginity, and prostitution, and there's some full-frontal female nudity and bare male bottoms. Several characters have sex, though the main act is mostly offscreen. Characters smoke and underage characters drink.

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What's the story?

It is the fall of 1951 in Anarene, Texas, population 1131. Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are high school seniors and best friends in the process of growing into manhood. Duane is dating Jacy (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town who is learning how to use her beauty to her advantage. Sonny has always been attracted to Jacy, but between her beauty and her dating Duane, he always felt she was out of reach. In the next year, these three grow up and come to terms with who they are and where they want to go in life as Sonny has an affair with the wife of his coach; Duane loses Jacy to kids from families as wealthy as hers; and Jacy manipulates them both for her own ends. Restless in their stultifying small town, these three characters must decide if they want to inherit the lives they see lived by the older residents around them, or if they want to find something beyond Anarene's city limits.

Is it any good?


Simply put, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW belongs in the top 10 all-time greatest American movies. Set in the early 1950s, the past is evoked through black-and-white film and Hank Williams on the radio. Director Peter Bogdanovich, with an outstanding ensemble cast turning in some of their best work, creates a world that is both rooted in its era and full of universal themes of growing up, growing old, first loves, the restlessness of late teens, the contradictions of middle-age, and the facades people wear in public, in small towns in particular.

The dust storms, the country music on the radio, the nuance and subtlety in the performances all create a mood and production that seems effortless. Rarely in movies do characters seem so real. For aspiring writers and filmmakers, The Last Picture Show is one incredible lesson in how to create a world, a time, and the fully-formed characters who inhabit it.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how this film captures a year of life in a small Texas town in the early 1950s. How do we understand that time is passing? How is the sense that this town has seen better days conveyed in the film?

  • Why do you think this film was black and white?

  • While set in a very specific time and place -- a small town in Texas in 1951-1952 -- what are some of the more universal problems and desires the characters experience?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 22, 1971
DVD release date:November 30, 1999
Cast:Cybill Shepherd, Dennis Quaid, Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms
Director:Peter Bogdanovich
Studio:Criterion Collection
Topics:Friendship, High school, History
Run time:118 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:sexuality, nudity, and language
Award:Academy Award

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  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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