War of the Worlds

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
War of the Worlds Movie Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Alien invasion thriller too scary for young kids.
  • PG-13
  • 2005
  • 117 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 37 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 114 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Father and son mutually disrespectful; people afraid, selfish, and violent.


Aliens attack; humans evaporated, exploded, de-blooded, floating en masses in a river, and sucked up.


Abrupt and passionate.


Generic products referenced.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this movie features repeated violence by frightening, spider-legged and penetrative machines, in particular directed against a 10-year-old girl. Her high-pitched screams and tears might alarm younger viewers. The aliens blow up streets, buildings, and cars, explode or zap some humans into dust, and literally suck the blood out of others (this last occurs in long shot, but it's clear what's going on). In one scary scene, a mob of humans attack Ray and his kids in their car (again, the girl's reaction is disquieting). The movie also includes some harsh language, tense scenes between Ray and his son, and Ray and his ex-wife, and Ray commits what he sees as a necessary murder off-screen.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 12 and 18+-year-old Written bytbaudler1410 April 19, 2009


Very good but not scary or bad
Parent of a 11 and 15-year-old Written byRipstart May 22, 2017

It can be very brutal for some, but most teens should be able to handle it.

There are some positive messages about family. That's about it for the positive messages. Next, the violence isn't that bad. Common Sense made it seem... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byBlueHorse July 22, 2013

Awesome Movie!!

I watched this movie at 12...I LOVED it. My sister, 15 years old was 14 at the time and got a little freaked out at the little girl screaming and crying. (My si... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byI_Knit221 July 13, 2020

A dark, violent movie

I really enjoyed this movie! I am 14 years old and was quite worried about the amount of violence bubbles common sense media has-which is the max number 5. Most... Continue reading

What's the story?

WAR OF THE WORLDS stars Tom Cruise as Ray, a disheartened, divorced father, taking care of his two children -- 10-year-old Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and 15-ish brother Robbie (Justin Chatwin) -- for the weekend. A brief game of backyard catch reveals immediately that Robbie resents his dad's absence and selfishness. But the domestic strife soon takes a backseat to the gargantuan trauma brought on by an alien invasion -- lightning strikes awaken towering Tripods, machines on long spider legs that push up from under the streets of Bayonne, NJ, the pavement buckling and cracking as people, including Ray, watch in astonishment. It's the watching that dooms them initially: they can't anticipate that the machines will, seconds later, be detonating buildings and zapping human targets into a dust that recalls the white detritus that clung to survivors of the 9/11 attacks in NYC. What comes next is a prolonged look at unthinkable devastation, framed by one family's reactions. In part, this focus is achieved by Ray's quick thinking -- he steals the only working vehicle in sight, determined to drive the kids to their mother in Boston, imagining against odds that this end will provide safety.

Is it any good?

Gangbusters effects and terrific camerawork propel Steven Spielberg's film well into its last act, when it runs out of energy and ideas. This collapse is especially disappointing because War of the Worlds begins as a provocative look at how terror affects family and community, that is, something more complicated than an explosion movie. If the first part of the film offers an absorbingly detailed look at the family's dysfunction, the ride in the minivan tightens the focus, as they struggle to make sense of the disaster unfolding around them. "Is it terrorists?" asks Rob. No, says Dad, this "came from someplace else." Rob tries again: "What do you mean, like Europe?" This brief comedy only sharpens the scares that follow, not all caused by aliens. Indeed, two of the most awful scenes involve people fighting each other.

This and other particulars -- a monstrous surveillance eye on a sinuous, seemingly endless arm invades Harlan's basement; clothes from disintegrated victims float through tree branches; a peanut butter sandwich Ray has thrown at the kitchen window slides almost imperceptibly down the glass as he wonders what to do next; Ray asks a man who appears to have survived a plane crash, "Are you a passenger?" -- create a potent mix of recognizable and fantastic moments. The film's last minute breakdown is really the loss of such clever details.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the conflict between Ray and his teenaged son, which ignites several arguments: the boy doesn't trust his emotionally distant father, and resents his seeming selfishness in trying to save the family only and not seeking revenge against the aliens. This raises another issue, as the film's images of invasion allude to 9/11, as well as subsequent fears. How does the movie compare Ray's reaction to that of a survivalist holed up in his basement? How does Ray learn to be a more committed father by paying attention to his kids? How does the film marginalize the kids' mother, and to what effects for viewers?

Movie details

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