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The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones Movie Poster Image
Teen-friendly fantasy romance doesn't live up to the book.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 120 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 14 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 44 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Like the book, the movie stresses the bravery of teens, the importance of adolescent friendships, and the difficulty (but necessity) of being open about your true self. It also explores how family is more than a connection by blood.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Clary and Simon are incredibly brave in the face of danger. The Shadowhunters -- Jace, Alec, Isabel -- are all courageous, but they've been trained as warriors. Magnus is a "downworlder" warlock, but he still helps the Shadowhunters when they need it. Clary's mother was determined to keep her safe and hidden from supernatural forces. The cast is notably diverse.


Lots of Shadowhunter-on-demon violence, and a couple of the demons are particularly frightening and gross. The Shadowhunters use blades and swords of all sizes (kindjals, chakrams, regular hand knives), as well as spears, vampire guns, and more. A swarm of vampires tries to kill or bite Clary and her friends and manages to land a bite on one unsuspecting character. Werewolves bite and kill demons; the villain and his thugs torture people, and several people come to blows. The body count includes several "extras." A major character is nearly killed, while others are seriously injured.


Clary and Jace gaze at each other longingly and eventually share a long kiss. Magnus Bane wears a revealing outfit (blazer, no shirt, boxer briefs) and flirts with Alec. A family secret alludes to the possibility of a forbidden relationship.


Language includes "damn," "what the hell," "shut up," "crazy," and use of the word "mundane" as if it's pejorative, as well as "oh my God" and "Jesus" (as an exclamation).


A major character drives a Dodge Ram, an iPhone rings in several key scenes, there's a fight in front of a Rue 21, and Clary uses an Apple MacBook.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There's drinking at a warlock's party, where vampires spike the drink of a human partygoer with a sort of debilitating liquid.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones is based on Cassandra Clare's best-selling urban fantasy series about warriors, demons, vampires, and werewolves and is the first film in a proposed action-fantasy franchise. Expect a lot of violent confrontations in the movie -- mostly using special blades and swords -- including scenes of torture and even death. Language is mild ("damn," "what the hell," etc.), and romance is limited to longing looks, a big kiss, and some sexy outfits. Like the book it's based on, the movie features a diverse cast and a brave female protagonist.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byDan G. August 23, 2013

Perhaps not as 'teen friendly' as we are led to believe.

Perhaps OK for older teens. But the following items may be too inappropriate for those 16 and younger. The movie is very violent, more violent than the other... Continue reading
Parent of a 8, 10, and 12 year old Written byBarry Saunders November 29, 2013

Be careful as it freaked my three kids

I use common sense media a lot and normally go under the age what parents say, but we had to stop this movie as my boy 8, girl 10 and boy 12 got freaked out by... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old August 24, 2013

Awesome Action Packed Movie!

Great movie! Was good, but the book was better. There was some sexual content, but less than what was in the book. There is a gay character who hides his feelin... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bycaitlinm_18 August 21, 2013

Really Great!!!

It was a great movie but like all other movies based on books... its nothing like the novel. I enjoyed the movie because of the small parts of a love triangle a... Continue reading

What's the story?

Based on Cassandra Clare's fantasy series, THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES centers on Clary Fray (Lily Collins), a New York City teen on the eve of her 16th birthday who can't stop envisioning or drawing a mysterious symbol. On a regular night out with her best friend, Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary sees a mysterious trio seemingly kill a man. During a second encounter with a good-looking stranger named Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower), Clary gets a frantic call from her mother (Lena Headey). After racing home, Clary discovers not only that her mother has been abducted, but that the symbol Clary kept seeing is a rune representative of her mom's former life as Shadowhunter, an ancient group of warriors that protects humanity from demons. As Clary delves into a supernatural world full of demons, werewolves, and vampires, she starts to fall for Jace while taking her place as a fellow Shadowhunter.

Is it any good?

Aside from some humorous zingers and visually appealing set pieces, the first movie based on Clare's book franchise doesn't live up to the expectations of her large fandom. Clare's phenomenally popular novels are jam-packed with character development, plot twists, and thorough supernatural world building. The main problem with the film is that while all of the subplots and secondary characters -- not to mention an intricate cosmology about angels, demons, and other creatures of the light (or darkness) -- make complete sense in a 500-page novel, director Harald Zwart and screenwriter Jessica Postigo have trimmed altogether too much in some ways and not enough in others, creating a movie so convoluted and unresolved that it doesn't work as a stand-alone film.

Lovers of the series will appreciate that secondary characters like Simon and Isabelle (Jemima West) were cast perfectly; Sheehan is brilliant as Clary's nerdy, funny, devoted, and smitten best friend, Simon, while West is exactly the gorgeous, kick-butt warrior Clare describes. And High Warlock of Brooklyn Magnus Bane (model-actor Godfrey Gao) is every bit as magnetic as in the series. But overall, the leads leave much to be desired, and their love story -- so epic in the books -- seems laughably cliche in this adaptation. There's already a second film planned, so the filmmakers will need to drastically streamline the story and give more screen time to supporting players for it to work.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about page-to-screen adaptations. How does The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones compare to the book? What are the main differences? What scenes from the book did you miss?

  • There's a lot of violence in the storytelling here. How do you think the peril compared to other young adult-based films like Twilight or The Hunger Games

  • There's a theme that "all the stories are true" -- except for zombies. Which supernatural stories or creatures do you wish actually existed?

Movie details

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