Transcendence Movie Poster Image


Dark, pretentious sci-fi thriller tackles big questions.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 119 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Absolute power corrupts, and we need to be careful about how we use technology. While a brilliant scientist/artificial consciousness thinks he's trying to improve the world, it soon becomes clear that he won't tolerate any interference.

Positive role models

A woman is willing to do almost anything to save her beloved, dying husband, even if it means transferring his consciousness into a powerful computer network. And when she realizes that her actions have dire, unintended consequences, she's willing to make a huge sacrifice in an attempt to make things right.


Several scenes feature soldiers attacking a compound, using machine guns and explosive devices that turn a large field of solar panels into debris. A character is assaulted by two men and then kidnapped. Another man is badly beaten, and his battered and bloody body is shown in detailed close-ups.


A few kisses between a husband and wife.


Occasional use of the word "s--t."


One character uses several Apple products, including an iPhone and an iPad. She also drives a Subaru. Some city signage is visible, including an ad for Citibank. A fictional copy of Wired magazine features Depp's character on the cover.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A few scenes show adults drinking in bars or having wine with meals.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Transcendence stars Johnny Depp as Dr. Will Caster, a brilliant researcher in the field of artificial intelligence who's shot by a band of anti-technology extremists and finds another life within an experimental supercomputer. As the scientist's mind expands into new frontiers, he starts to devise new ways to cure diseases and heal the environment ... but he also pursues his own less-altruistic agenda. This is pretty intense, brooding end-of-the-world material, which is too much for younger viewers. Expect explosions, gunfire, and other action sequences, as well as infrequent swearing (including "s--t"), a little kissing, and a few bar scenes with adults drinking.

What's the story?

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), the world's preeminent expert on artificial intelligence, is attacked by a band of anti-technology extremists, leaving him close to death. His research partner/wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall), realizes that she and their brilliant scientist friend (Paul Bettany) can save Will -- or at least his mind -- by transferring his consciousness into a powerful experimental computer. The scientist quickly becomes intertwined with the Internet, giving him access to every electronic system on Earth, and is soon developing stunning breakthroughs that promise to change the planet for the better. But Will has other goals as well, and his growing power makes him a threat to anyone in his way.

Is it any good?


TRANSCENDENCE is ambitious, with an interesting premise, making for an engrossing cinematic experience. But, just like the supercomputer at the center of its plot, it feels at a slight remove. Yes, the cinematography is impressive and the actors are talented, but it doesn't fail to remind you at every turn that it's epic -- to the point of pomposity.

Still, the film asks some very compelling questions: At what point does human interest in artificial intelligence cross the line? How far do we want science to go? Are there any downsides to our yearning to create a "sentient machine"? The movie addresses all of these somewhat, but only on the surface. It's got too much on its plate -- special effects, dystopian plot, Depp -- to pay close attention to other themes it raises: love, death, immortality. Perhaps if it had allowed some of its more intimate moments to linger, Transcendence would actually be transcendent. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Transcendence's messages about technology. Is this a cautionary tale? Do you think anything like this would ever be possible in real life?

  • Is that really Will in the computer? How is he like a human, and how is he not?

  • What do you think about the relationship between Evelyn and her virtual husband? How do her feelings change toward Will, and how does his digital consciousness react?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 18, 2014
DVD/Streaming release date:July 22, 2014
Cast:Johnny Depp, Kate Mara, Morgan Freeman
Director:Wally Pfister
Studio:Warner Bros.
Genre:Science Fiction
Run time:119 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:sci-fi action and violence, some bloody images, brief strong language and sensuality

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Parent Written byhelpinghand April 23, 2014

Thought Provoking

Very interesting ideas put into a great technological thriller, good acting and is appropriate for most audiences. At times can be confusing so it could go over younger audiences heads. Very little language, no sex, no drugs, and some blood.
Educator and Parent Written byMovie Review Maven June 1, 2014

Humanity vs. Technology

Movie Title: Transcendence PG-13, 1 hour 59 minutes Grade: B In a Nutshell: This was a really interesting movie about awareness: both computers’ ability to become self-aware, as well as humans’ struggle to truly understand what’s inside each other’s hearts. Dr. Will Castor (Johnny Depp) explains in the beginning of the movie at a technology conference: “For one hundred and thirty thousand years, our capacity to reason has remained unchanged. The combined intellect of the neuroscientists, mathematicians and engineers pales in comparison to the most basic A. I. Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence.” The film addresses the haunting “unavoidable collision between mankind and technology.” The overall feeling of the movie is, ironically, a bit artificial, but I still enjoyed it. This is the first directorial effort from Wally Pfister, who is receiving some negative reviews for a few of the film’s clunky issues, but his cinematography experience (The Dark Knight trilogy) shows through and elevates the movie. Uplifting theme: The movie tries to preach two simultaneous, yet opposing messages: Humanity is more important than technology; technology can help us heal the world. What role should artificial intelligence play in our lives? Things I liked: I adore Paul Bettany in any movie and who can’t say the same thing about Johnny Depp? My kids laugh that Morgan Freeman is in every movie ever made; sure enough, he’s in this one too. I loved the small twist at the end. (No spoiler alert) The entire spark that sets off this artificial intelligence conundrum is the perfect love between two imperfect humans. Things I didn’t like: Some of the scenes are ridiculous with plenty of holes and uninspiring dialogue. Things to notice: Preppers will get a kick out of seeing the items listed as being in demand on the store door after all the power goes off the grid. Non-preppers should ask themselves what might happen if there were an EMP or some other trigger that knocked all of our power out and sent us back to the stone age. What would you do? How would you live? What would you value? Someone hangs a computer motherboard of sorts on to a dream catcher. Interesting lines: An audience member listening to Dr. Castor’s presentation asks him “You want to create a god? Your own god?” Dr. Castor answers “That’s a very good question. Isn’t that what man has always done?” “I don’t want to change the world. I just want to understand it.” - Dr. Castor They’re short on logic, but there’s no shortage of irony.” - Dr. Castor “The internet was supposed to make the world a smaller place. It feels smaller without it.” - Max “Artificial intelligence is an unnatural abomination and threat to humanity.” – R.I.F.T. Evelyn asks her husband “Where are you going?” He answers “Everywhere.” Dr. Caster says to Evelyn “I can upload you. I can protect you from them.” A suspicious Evelyn replies: “I’m not afraid of…them.” Evelyn worries about one of her employees who has become “transcended” and asks the anti-technology fanatics who beat him up “What did you do?” Max responds “We gave him back his mortality.” “Human emotion…it can contain illogical conflict.” - Max Tips for parents: Any parent who has watched their kids get sucked into their cell phones or other electronic devices will question how well technology is serving humanity. The film has very little bad language, but some violence. Young children may get bored, but older children could be guided into an interesting conversation about the role technology should play in their lives. Check out this movie clip to get you started.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 16 years old Written byBobTom July 25, 2014

Actually better than I thought it would be.

I went in to this movie with extremely low expectations. It has a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, if that means anything. So, I actually enjoyed the first half of the movie quite a bit. The acting was decent, and it set up the premise pretty well. Now, about the premise. It's a very cool idea. I love sci-fi, and the plot definitely intrigued me. The idea was great, but the execution was poor. Poor, but not as terrible as everyone makes it sound. You can still enjoy this movie quite a bit, but know going in to the movie that there are definitely problems, especially logic issues and gaping plot holes. Now, about the content. It wasn't too bad. But I'm 16, and some parts could be a little too violent for younger kids. I mean, some parts, especially towards the end, had some blood for sure. Swearing was very minimal, with only a couple s**t's. Sex was limited to kissing and one brief shot of them kissing in bed. So overall, not too bad for tweens/younger teens. The movie definitely has plenty of issues and it really doesn't make any sense, but I still kind of enjoyed watching it. Kind of. Worth a rental. 12+