Tropic Thunder

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Tropic Thunder Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Showbiz satire is witty, violent, controversial.
  • R
  • 2008
  • 111 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 27 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 70 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Robert Downey Jr.'s character is a Caucasian actor who undergoes a skin-darkening procedure to play an African-American soldier; while in character, his demeanor is purposely stereotypical. There's also a running gag about "retards" regarding Ben Stiller's character's portrayal of a mentally challenged man. Both of these issues are meant to illustrate the movie's theme: that Hollywood is full of self-absorbed prima donnas who need to stop being so insecure and egotistical. There's also finger-pointing at audiences who eat up tabloid fodder and mindless entertainment.


At first the blood-and-guts gore is fake (part of the movie-within-a-movie's makeup/special effects), but at a certain point it becomes real. Graphic violence includes a man's body exploding; a menacing young boy (possibly a young teen) toting machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and handguns; a decapitated head being played with; body parts strewn around; many explosions and close-up shots of G-4 and other explosives; a toddler knifing someone and being comically thrown off a bridge (but surviving), and much more.


The men discuss relationships, and one closeted character proclaims he loves "p---y" while another talks crudely about how he'd perform oral sex on the gay man in exchange for help out of a predicament. Other than that, just a quick kiss at the end between an actor and his date.


Nearly every sentence includes explicit language, with very few exceptions. This is a contender for most on-screen "F" bombs of the year. Along with the constant "f--k"s, "motherf----r," "p---y," "c--k," "c--t," and other hard-R words make several appearances.


Product placement is mocked with a fake energy drink called "Booty Sweat." Real brands include Diet Coke, Access Hollywood, TiVo (quite prominently), and the Gulfstream V jet.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A major subplot involves a heroin processing plant; a character is a heroin addict; various characters drink and smoke.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this hard-R action comedy starring kid favorites Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and (thanks to Iron Man) Robert Downey Jr. is really a satirical send-up of Hollywood culture -- from the stereotypical castes of actors and greedy studio heads to celeb-obsessed TV shows. Much has been made of some of the movie's more controversial sources of humor, including having Downey darken his skin to play an African-American character and a running gag about a mentally challenged man played by Stiller's character. It's all meant to drive home the movie's points about Hollywood, but you may need to explain that to teens. There's also a lot of gory violence (both fake and realistic) -- including a 12-year-old drug lord who's scary and good with weapons -- as well as enough swear words to make Quentin Tarantino blush. Drugs (use and manufacture) are part of a significant subplot, but there are basically no women in the film, so there's only brief mention of sex.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKimberle September 23, 2013

Pause, there is nudity!

I was about ten minutes into the movie and my husband and I always make sure to avoid nudity and sexual content at all costs but there was a pornographic magazi... Continue reading
Adult Written byPres January 16, 2020

Lewd, Nudity, Language NOT FOR KIDS

Not sure why CSM said there wasn’t much sexual content. There is a fully nude women early in the movie. Also women with very tiny bikinis and bare butt and brea... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byanissa919 August 4, 2010


i like this movie because it is very funny but i think it is definitely inappropriate for people younger than me and iffy for people 13-15
Teen, 17 years old Written byHomer-dean-parrish May 27, 2021

one of the greatest movies of all time

probably one of the only paradoy movies that was done well. as someone who really appreciates what the military does this was a fun film to see and would reccom... Continue reading

What's the story?

Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is a fading action star desperately trying to reclaim Hollywood bankability in the Vietnam film-within-a-film TROPIC THUNDER. Joining Speedman on the Southeast Asia set are Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Oscar winner who controversially darkens his skin to play an African-American soldier; scatological comedian/out-of-control drug addict Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black); savvy hip-hop-mogul-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Johnson); and nerdy film-school grad Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). When the overwhelmed, grossly over-budget director (Steve Coogan) realizes he's about to lose control of the movie, he concocts a last-ditch plan with the loopy Vietnam vet (Nick Nolte) whose memoir the movie is based on: Chopper the ensemble into the jungle with nothing but their uniforms and a map in hopes of capturing more intense performances. But soon after being deserted, the actors encounter the very real threat of armed heroin manufacturers, who mistake the fake army unit for American DEA agents.

Is it any good?

Writer-director-producer Stiller pokes witty fun at self-absorbed actors and greedy studios in this send-up of action-packed war dramas. Although it's darker and more violent than the much-seen trailer suggests, Tropic Thunder is bitingly funny and incredibly intelligent. Downey is especially brilliant as "the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude" -- a Method actor so caught up in the part he doesn't drop character between shots. Black has less to do as a junkie lowbrow comic, but Baruchel and Johnson shine as, respectively, the newcomer actor who actually read the entire script and the diversified rapper adding acting to his many revenue streams. It's remarkable that Stiller, unlike many actors who direct themselves, resisted the opportunity to focus on himself and instead allowed his ensemble of whip-smart actors with impeccable comedic timing to do their thing.

In a fabulous piece scenery chewing, a nearly unrecognizable Tom Cruise straps on a bald cap and a hairy fat suit to play repulsive studio head Les Grossman, the kind of obscenity-spewing tycoon who would sell his mother's soul to Satan for higher box-office grosses. He even tries to convince Speedman's loyal agent (Matthew McConaughey, who for once keeps his shirt on) to let Speedman die at the heroin gang's hands in exchange for a personal jet. Cruise and Downey are the hilarious highlights in one of this year's funniest films.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about satire. Do teens get that everything in the movie is satirizing formulaic Hollywood blockbusters, insecure actors, mindless celebrity gossip shows, etc.? What do they think about Downey playing an African American? Funny? Offensive? How is it different than the now-unacceptable practice of white actors performing in blackface for minstrel shows? And what about the "retard" characterizations? Ask your teens whether they thought it was amusing or off-putting, and see if they can explain their point of view. It will help them see the material critically. How does the movie-within-a-movie allow the filmmakers to poke fun at the film industry?

Movie details

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