The Paperboy

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Paperboy Movie Poster Image
Lurid, depraved, messy crime story with lots of sex.
  • R
  • 2012
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 18+
Based on 3 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

A group of characters fails to work together well: Lying, cheating, and murder are the results. Mostly these characters learn what not to do, and they pay the price for it.

Positive Role Models & Representations

No one very admirable. One character is a journalist concerned with telling the truth, but he loses out to a less honest one; this character eventually exhibits some fairly low behavior. Other characters give in to their various sexual obsessions, causing people to get hurt.


Several brutal murders, usually committed by stabbing or slicing with knives. Main characters die. A woman is treated violently and murdered (off screen). One dead body is shown with its entrails hanging out. A main character is shown hog-tied and naked, victimized in some unknown way; he's beaten and bloody with a huge puddle of blood on the floor. Dead animals (mainly alligators) are shown, their guts sliced out. There's a scene of violent sex, and it's unclear whether the woman is experiencing pleasure or pain (perhaps both).


During the pain/pleasure sex scene, the woman is mostly clothed, but the man's thrusting bottom is shown (a shirt-tail hangs partly over it). The woman also has sex with two other characters, one off screen and the other only briefly shown, with no nudity. There's a bizarre sexual scene in which a woman visits a man in prison, and they both reach orgasm merely by looking at each other. Zac Efron is often shown naked except for his "tighty whitie" underwear. Matthew McConaughey is shown partly naked (mostly his bottom). Strong innuendo throughout, and other images of sex (in a car) and brief toplessness (a teen girl).


Strong, constant language is probably about half sexual innuendo. Words include "f--k" and "motherf---er," "s--t," "c--k," "bitch," "ass," "vagina," the "N" word, "blow job," "piss," "goddamn," and "fag."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main characters smoke cigarettes throughout and are seen drinking in bars. In some scenes, characters get somewhat drunk. In one particular scene, a main character -- following a violent attack that leaves his face disfigured -- locks himself inside for a long, destructive drinking binge. He's shown staggering drunk, bottles everywhere, and a horrible smell is described.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Paperboy is a '60s-set thriller from Precious director Lee Daniels about several volatile relationships surrounding a convicted murderer. It's astoundingly violent, with lots of bloody murders and scenes of torture and blood. Nudity isn't prevalent (though viewers do see both naked tops and bottoms), but sex is: One main female character has sex with three other characters, and one scene is very violent (it's not clear whether she's experiencing pleasure, pain, or both). Language is likewise strong, with pointed uses of "f--k," "s--t," and the "N" word, as well as tons of sexual innuendo. There's also heavy drinking. There are no role models here, and not much to be learned. Teens (and younger) may be interested thanks to star Zac Efron (who joins Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey), but this one is best saved for adults.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byA.M.Brown June 24, 2019

Didnt Know

Waaaaay to raucous, explicit and sexually charged. It's actually disgusting.
Parent of a 7 and 10-year-old Written bySouthern M. December 5, 2017

Not for children of any age!

This movie should come with a warning of the content. I was unprepared to see these well known actors portray such characters. I would not recommend for anyon...
Teen, 15 years old Written byLoranikas303 April 15, 2021
Teen, 17 years old Written bystepha_83 February 18, 2016


I watched this without consenting my parent, and I really do regret watching this. It was so filthy and terrible. There are countless murders, nudity, very vulg... Continue reading

What's the story?

In hot, sultry 1960s Florida, journalists Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) and Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo) arrive in tiny Moat County to write a story about a prisoner, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who may have been wrongly convicted of murder. Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman) also tags along; she's written to Hillary in prison, has fallen in love with him, and plans to marry him when he gets out. Unfortunately, Ward's younger brother, Jack (Zac Efron), who's recruited to drive this motley crew around, has fallen for Charlotte. This volatile combination will most certainly lead to trouble, but will it also lead to murder?

Is it any good?

One of this film's big mistakes is the casting of Efron, who may be easy on the eyes but has barely any personality; whenever he's on-screen, which is most of the movie, the scenes deflate. He can't sustain any dramatic tension with his co-stars. Otherwise, Daniels' uneven, lopsided narrative goes too far in spots and not nearly far enough in others. He fails to generate any suspense, and, despite all of the movie's sex, fails to titillate. The only thing The Paperboy does manage is a general sense of unpleasantness.

Decades ago, there was a subgenre of drive-in and exploitation movies about a frightening class of horrible people who lived in swamps. The Paperboy could have been one of these, except that it doesn't feel like anyone is having much fun. His last time out, director Lee Daniels earned an Oscar nomination for Precious, and it looks like he's throwing in everything (kitchen sink included) into THE PAPERBOY to prove that he can do it again. (Unfortunately, he can't.)

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Paperboy's violence. Why is it so extreme? Do the filmmakers want to shock you? Is it necessary for the story?

  • Is the sex in this movie based more on power or on partnership? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.

  • How does this movie deal with issues of racism in America in the 1960s? Is it insightful or upsetting?

  • Are there any role models in this movie? Who's the most admirable character, and why?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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