The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Inspiring seize-the-day tale with some peril and flirting.
  • PG
  • 2013
  • 114 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 25 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 57 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

You are your worst barrier. Get out of your own way.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Walter Mitty is tired of being too careful. So when an opportunity arises that allows him to push past his limitations and help the magazine he has loved for so long, and possibly impress the woman he likes in the process, he finally goes for it.


A man jumps into a building, crashing through the window, and the entire structure explodes soon after from a gas leak. A man threatens another at a bar, breaking a beer bottle and threatening his opponent with the shards. A man attacks a guy with a briefcase. A shark attacks a man, its jaws snapping.


Some flirting and an unrequited crush is part of the story.


Some swearing, including "bull," "suck," "hell," "d--k" and "s--t."


The film is set in the Time and Life Building in NYC, which are the headquarters of Life Magazine, so there are plenty of mentions of the publication. Also: Dell, Papa John's, Sony, Cinnabon,, Facebook, Instagram, Heinekin, Zero attache case. It's also practically an ad for e-Harmony, which is mentioned numerous times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some drinking at a bar; one man is totally inebriated and pilots a helicopter.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring and directed by Ben Stiller, may be based on James Thurber's short story, but it's very different from it and the original 1947 movie. It's a tween- and teen-friendly tale full of hope, with a can-do, go-big-or-go-home message that's backed by sensational special effects. Expect some swearing, including "hell" and "s--t," and some jarring scenes of conflict, though no graphic violence.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bymotheroftwogreatboys December 29, 2013

Should be 16+

This movie should be rated 16 plus there are some references to sex such as Horney, strip clubs, erection, teen sex. If you are not ready to be in a movie theat... Continue reading
Adult Written byMaverick M. June 4, 2018

A great family movie that would blow your kids minds.

This movie's main character: Walter is a great role model because he never gives up on his mission, and is creative, so nobody can hold him back.
Kid, 11 years old July 5, 2017

Fun Ben stiller Drama/Comedy for the whole family.

In this Ben Stiller film Ben playes a character with a wild imagination. This movie is about Walter having a big crush on his partner worker named Cheryl and a... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byChezchadbread February 22, 2016

Pretty great!

No objectionable content, really. Just a bit of a mature story about taking risks in life, I guess. Great story, great acting, great cinematography, this is a f... Continue reading

What's the story?

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), is the negative asset manager at Life magazine, which means he handles the negatives that arrive from the publication's best shutterbugs and makes sure they're done justice when they're processed and printed. The biggest talent to endorse Walter's skills is Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), a globe-trotting, adventure-seeking, and often unreachable photographer. But that's as close to adventure as Walter gets. He's a devoted son to a mother (Shirley MacLaine) who's keenly observant of his life; a good brother to his underemployed actress-sister, Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), and a sweet colleague to Cheryl, a woman he has a crush on (Kristen Wiig) but can't seem to approach. He's even friendly with the customer service rep (Patton Oswalt) at the dating site he just joined, but hasn't really taken advantage of. But Walter's carefully choreographed and simple life gets complicated quickly when Sean sends a negative to be published for Life's final cover, and it goes missing. Walter will have to leave his nest to find Sean, or risk the wrath of Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), who's managing the magazine's transition online and deciding who stays and who goes.

Is it any good?

See this film for the cinematography, which frames nearly every shot like a perfectly composed photograph of the likes you'd see in, say, Life magazine, where Walter works in the movie. The colors are saturated, the edges are crisp. And there's a monumentality to it all, which is perfect for a film examining the measure of a man, in this case the unassuming Mitty, who gave up on his global-scale dreams once his father died and he needed to help support his family.

Stiller and company do a fine job -- it's gratifying to see Sean Penn tweak his adventuresome, elusive image in the role of the adventuresome, elusive O'Connell -- and especially Oswalt, who takes what's essentially a voicing role and elevates it. But the script is too spare for a story that poses big questions. (The original short story by James Thurber was brief, too.) And nearly everyone in it, including the ostensibly larger-than-life O'Connell (whose idea of profundity appears to be not taking a photo if he wants to just be in the moment), lands squarely in the midrange, characterization-wise, leaving no one truly exceptional for Walter to aspire to. Walter Mitty is fun to watch, but it still plays it safe.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the messages in the movie. What makes Walter finally take action? Does the movie try to inspire you to do something? What holds people back from pursuing their dreams?

  • Talk about the workplace needling that goes on at Walter's office once the downsizing is announced. Is this bullying? How does Walter handle it, and why does the bully get away with it for a while?

  • If you've read the short story, how does the movie compare? What are some of the challenges of turning a book or story into a movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy

Themes & Topics

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