The Sound Barrier

Movie review by
Tom Cassidy, Common Sense Media
The Sound Barrier Movie Poster Image
Thoughtful, thrilling test pilot drama has moments of peril.
  • NR
  • 1952
  • 109 minutes

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

Educational Value

The movie can be an inspiration to audiences to learn more about engineering, aviation, and scientific progress. There are a number of conversations about how the jet engine works, with technical dialogue but explained in a conversational and interesting manner.

Positive Messages

Perseverance, hard work, and courage are held in high regard. But the potentially dangerous consequences of new flight technology aren't shied away from. The movie celebrates scientific progress.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Determination and drive are displayed by the test pilots pushing for progress. The wife of a test pilot expresses her feelings of concern for her husband's safety openly and honestly.

Violence & Scariness

A pilot dies when a plane crashes and catches fire. Character dies in crash during test flight.

Sexy Stuff

Characters kiss after getting engaged and again after finding out they're having a baby.


A character puts on a culturally insensitive Chinese accent as the punchline to a joke.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Character drinks alcohol after a tense moment.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Sound Barrier is a 1952 black and white, award-winning fictionalized drama about the work of pioneering test pilots trying to break the sound barrier. There are some moments of peril, including two fatal plane crashes that are shown from a distance. But the movie champions the pioneering spirit of the fearless pilots while balancing the potentially tragic consequences of the work they undertake. There are plenty of positive messages to be taken from the movie, including perseverance, hard work, and courage. There is an iffy imitation of a Chinese accent as part of a punchline to a joke that feels dated and one scene where a character drinks alcohol. But this classic example of human achievement remains a treat for even younger audiences. The movie is also known as Breaking Through the Sound Barrier and Breaking the Sound Barrier.

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What's the story?

In THE SOUND BARRIER, a wealthy owner of an aircraft company, John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson) sets his sights on breaking the sound barrier. He hires Tony Garthwaite (Nigel Patricka gifted RAF pilot who also happens to be married to his daughter, Susan (Ann Todd). In the pursuit of scientific progress, family tensions rise to the surface as tragedy unfolds.

Is it any good?

This is a masterfully balanced piece that celebrates test pilots as aviation adventurers but never ignores the feelings of those who are impacted by them risking their lives in the name of science. Directed by British legend David Lean -- Lawrence of Arabia and Brief Encounter -- the movie can be seen as a blueprint for Damien Chazelle's "Space Race" drama First Man. Despite being made 66 years prior, The Sound Barrier matches it blow for blow, even down to the flight sequences, which are just as thrilling and rattly at Chazelle's 2018 movie. The Sound Barrier's Oscar-nominated script by playwright Terence Rattigan is steeped in admiration for the story's dashing adventurers of the skies but feels wholly for the widows in the picture. Leads Patrick and Todd both won BAFTA awards for their performances, while the movie won Best Film and Best British Film.

The photography of The Sound Barrier is beautiful, with the wonder of flight lavishly shown with a sense of awe for an activity not yet commonplace for the general public. The roar of the new jet engines is impressive too, and earned the movie the 1952 Best Sound Recording Oscar. The movie is an ode to post-war progress -- the final shot of a telescope looking up at the stars and a model of a futuristic looking aircraft points directly to the next two decades of aviation exploration and man reaching the moon. An inspirational and heartfelt thrill ride even after all these years.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the scientific progress depicted in The Sound Barrier. Is it right that lives are risked as people try to explore and develop new technologies? What other examples of scientific progress can you think of?

  • Discuss some of the character strengths displayed? Why are perseverance and courage so important?

  • What difference has the jet engine made to the world?

  • Discuss the character of Susan. How does her story counter that of the heroic pilots? Why is this important to the narrative?

Movie details

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