To Die For

Movie review by
Kevin Heffern, Common Sense Media
To Die For Movie Poster Image
Brilliant, satirical and dark; not for kids.
  • R
  • 1995
  • 106 minutes

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Movie presents a world of characters with few goals and even fewer moral guideposts.


A man is murdered while begging for his life.


A young man is sexually initiated by an older female authority figure. Sex is mentioned and shown without nudity.


Very strong profanity, most of it uttered by teenagers.


Some, generally muted and in the background. USA Today, Coca Cola, the rock band Whitesnake.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pot smoking, several allusions to drinking and drug use by teenage characters.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this film is suitable only for older teenagers. The movie plays on a number of sexual and ethnic stereotypes and situations that require either parental guidance or an extraordinary sophistication in recognizing social and movie satire. There are a number of violent and sexually explicit scenes. An older woman seduces a teen with the intent of having him murder her husband. A man is killed while begging for his life. Teens verbally abuse each other. Drugs and alcohol are used without consequence. Parents should also know that although the film's treatment of sexual and violent situations is generally muted, a younger teenager is likely to miss the satiric thrust of the movie and remember the scenes of cruelty and psychological abuse.

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What's the story?

Based on a true story, TO DIE FOR is told in flashback with staged news reports, fake interviews, and more conventional thriller/film noir suspense set pieces. It takes place in the small town of Little Hope, New Hampshire. Suzanne Stone Maretto (Nicole Kidman) is a pretty, ambitious, but terminally untalented and unintelligent weather announcer. Her plans for national celebrity go awry when her handsome, provincial husband Larry declares his interest in settling down and starting a family. In response to this assertion, Suzanne convinces a naïve teenage dullard Jimmy Emmett (Joaquin Phoenix) and his equally vacant-eyed friends to murder him.

Is it any good?

This black comic thriller, shot in pseudocumentary style by Gus Van Sant, features Nicole Kidman's most accomplished performance to date. Buck Henry, who has lost none of his venom since The Graduate (1967), offers a brilliantly savage screenplay, Van Sant's direction is inspired, and Danny Elfman provides a riveting musical score. Not for kids, but definitely worth a rent for adults.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's treatment of fame and celebrity. What is it about our society that draws people like Suzanne to seek fame and celebrity? Parents may also want to discuss the film's student-teacher relationship. How does self-esteem play a role in Suzanne's manipulation of her accomplices? What would you do if a teacher acted in a similarly inappropriate manner?

Movie details

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