A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
More of a cautionary tale than a positive message, the movie warns about abuse of power and attitudes toward authority. Nobody knows how they'd actually behave in this situation, but perhaps some foresight will help.
Positive Role Models
The characters are mainly victims, and most are surprised at just how far things went, as if they were unable to control their attitudes and behavior.
Violence & Scariness
Psychological abuse. Prisoners are forced to pretend to have sex. Fighting. Beating with nightsticks. Screaming panic attacks. References to rape.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Prisoner forced to strip. Naked bottom shown. Sexual situations.
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Uses of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "motherf----r," "bulls--t," "ass," "bastard," "humping," "cum," "goddamn," "Jesus Christ" (as an exclamation).
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Frequent smoking. References to drinking and drugs.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Stanford Prison Experiment is a drama based on a famous real-life 1971 psychological experiment in which college students took on the roles of either prison guards or prisoners. The material is very strong, with psychological abuse, fighting, beating with nightsticks, screaming panic attacks, and references to rape. (It might have actually qualified as a "torture" movie if not for the fact that it's not "real.") Language is also strong, with many uses of "f--k," "s--t," and more. Prisoners are forced to pretend to have sex, and there are sexual references. Cigarette smoking is prevalent, and there are references to drinking and drugs. The story of the experiment is standard in most psychology textbooks today, and it serves as a fascinating cautionary tale, as well as a look at our inner workings and the way that power can influence us. Adults and older teens with strong stomachs will likely have a lot to talk about. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This film is a fascinating, revealing, upsetting experience. A movie about the real-life 1971 Stanford prison experiment could have been sadistic and unwatchable, but director Kyle Patrick Alvarez's clinical approach focuses on realism and psychological drama rather than on thrills. Alvarez doesn't try to professionally polish the prison setting; instead, it has a functional, homemade look that makes it feel more immediate. The way the characters wear their hair and clothes -- and they way they carry themselves -- contributes to what feels like an authentic period piece.
The ensemble performances are strong, with the actors uniformly selling the horrors of the grim material, especially former child actor Michael Angarano, who, for his guard role, decides to adopt a scary southern accent (like Strother Martin's in Cool Hand Luke). Crudup is also terrific, balancing the scholarly importance of his study with its moral conundrums, as is Nelsan Ellis as a former real-life prisoner who consults.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.