Waiting for "Superman"

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Waiting for "Superman" Movie Poster Image
Thought-provoking docu uncovers educational challenges.
  • PG
  • 2010
  • 102 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 5 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The movie posits that many public schools, in their current state, fail the students they're supposed to educate and that substandard teachers and -- to a larger extent -- the unions that represent them, are to blame. It's a premise that has some grounding in truth, but it may not be a nuanced, multi-dimensional view; some contend that it doesn't tell the entire story. Also, a streak of pessimism runs through the film: If parents don't get picked in lotteries run by good schools, they seem stuck. That may be reality, but it's unclear how it can be made better -- aside from re-examining teacher union contracts, that is. And certainly, there are many other "villains" in the system.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The film clearly shows the commitment of education reformers who want better for their children. It also applauds the fortitude of parents/caregivers who are intent on communicating with schools and helping their kids get a better education, even if they have to make sacrifices. The children are impressive, too; Wise beyond their years, they show amazing resiliency and perseverance considering the obstructions they run into at what seems like every step of the way. It's upsetting to know what may happen if they don't get into a school that will nurture their considerable abilities.


Blighted neighborhoods are shown, hinting at the challenges there.


A subject uses the word "crap" in relation to the school system she manages. Also "ass."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some background smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that while younger kids may not understand the complex problems presented in this documentary about the state of American schools, Waiting for "Superman" is a riveting watch for older tweens and up, especially those who may not be aware of what’s happening in schools besides theirs. It’s an enlightening -- albeit one-sided -- look at education in this country. Depending on what’s happening at tweens' and teens' own schools, this film (which is from the director of An Inconvenient Truth) may spur them, and you, to action.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12-year-old Written bylstephe409 November 26, 2010


Very biased and unfair and discouraging to thousands of hard working teachers. The film is simplistic and one sided and doesn't tell the whole story. I k... Continue reading
Adult Written byjohninbaltimore November 5, 2010

The Truth Behind the Fantasy

1. It is not impossible to get rid of ineffective teachers, as stated by some respondents. It takes effort to accomplish this task. School systems and most ad... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 22, 2014

I don't usually watch documentaries but this was good.

There really isn't any "inappropriate" content. It can sometimes be sad though, like in one part a boy says his dad died because he took drugs. B... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old January 2, 2012

A really good choice

None of the topics the website gives for rating the movie really fit. It is a documentary which means little kids will probably get bored, but for the older kid... Continue reading

What's the story?

In WAITING FOR "SUPERMAN", An Inconvenient Truth filmmaker Davis Guggenheim probes another, perhaps more immediate, calamity: the crumbling American education system. Schools are falling apart; administrators are slow to institute to change; and those who do, like Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, are thwarted by binding teacher union contracts that won’t allow them to fire incompetent teachers. And the students? They aren’t meeting standards: In New Jersey, only 40 percent are proficient in reading; in Connecticut, 35 percent; in the nation’s capital, a dismal 12 percent. But Geoffrey Canada and other charter school founders may hold one large piece to the puzzle.

Is it any good?

Knowledge is power, and the information that this sobering documentary imparts practically demands that viewers wake up and smell the chalk dust. Its message? Our country’s schools are failing our children because we're watching out for the adults in the education system and not the students it's meant to shape. Straightforward when other, lesser documentaries would have gone opaque and academic while still compassionate, the film is gutsy and opinionated in many eye-opening ways. You will be impelled to act by the time the credits roll.

The film does, however, gloss over many ills: It doesn’t address overcrowding and hardly discusses how budgetary challenges hinder calls for change. It’s also undermined by a black-and-white stance -- charter schools are the heroes; unions are the villains. But, oh the climax: Watching the families we’ve gotten to know throughout Waiting for "Superman" hear whether, well, Superman is finally swooping in and saving them from educational quicksand is almost too much to bear. When fifth-grader Anthony says he wants his kids to have more than what he has -- to get a great education -- expect your heart to break.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the premise of Waiting for "Superman" that failing schools lead to failing neighborhoods. Do you agree? Why?

  • Does this documentary approach its subject matter objectively, or does it have an opinion? Is it OK for a documentary to take a specific stance on the topic it's covering?

  • What resources do educators need to do their jobs more effectively?

  • How does Waiting for "Superman" promote communication and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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