Not a superhero movie; a dark, gory, complex morality tale.
Popular with kids
  • Review Date: March 5, 2009
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Action/Adventure
  • Release Year: 2009
  • Running Time: 163 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Dark, complex messages about issues like morality, humankind's basic nature, and the specter of mass global destruction. There's not much here that falls into clearly "right" or "wrong" categories; it's all muddled and ambiguous.

Positive role models

Unlike traditional superhero films, which draw clear lines between the evil villains and the valiant heroes, the characters here are all very complex antisuperheroes, with complicated motivations and sometimes questionable ends. They all believe they're doing the right thing, though to accomplish their goals they may have to break the law, beat up a few people, or worse; the climax presents a huge moral dilemma, as one character concocts a heinous plot aimed at achieving a noble aim -- but at an enormous cost.


Several intense martial arts fight scenes with close-up, slo-mo shots of limbs breaking, faces being smashed into walls and furniture, and people being stabbed, punched, and kicked across the room. The film opens with a man being beaten severely and then thrown from a high rise window to his death. A woman is savagely beaten and almost raped. One character seems to relish carnage, whether it's on the battlefield or during an urban riot, while another shows no emotions as he methodically attacks people in inventive and painful ways, including pouring boiling oil on one attacker, sawing off someone's hands and electrocuting him, and taking a meat cleaver to a child rapist. A young child's corpse is eaten by dogs, and the ashes of the rest of her remains are shown in a furnace.


A few long, intimate close-up sex scenes include partial male and female nudity. The only character who's computer enhanced wears no clothing at all and walks around with his penis visible (it's blue, but it's definitely a penis). A prostitute propositions customers on the sidewalk, graphically flashing her breasts. Porn magazine Hustler is visible on a coffee table.


Plenty of swearing, including "goddamn," "f--k," "s--t," "prick," "bastard," and other choice words.


Tie-in to vast quantities of related merchandise. Almost nothing except for a fleeting glance of Fuji Film (remember the non-digital camera days?).

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some characters smoke; one has a fondness for cigars. Several scenes feature bars and drinking. One woman seems to have a drinking problem and is rarely seen without a drink in her hand.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this non-animated adaptation of the beloved cult graphic novel isn't just another superhero story and is absolutely not for kids. Even the director has said that he purposely made the movie intensely gory to make a point about the consequences of violent behavior. Sex is paired with graphic violence in a near-rape scene, and characters act in ways that seem highly amoral. They also swear constantly (including "f--k" and "s--t"), smoke, and drink. There's plenty of nudity, with some very graphic sex scenes and a computer-enhanced character who walks around nude (sure, he's blue, but he still has a normal male anatomy). Both the novel and the movie examine complex issues of morality, humankind's basic nature, and the specter of nuclear holocaust. Not light stuff, and certainly not for anyone who expects a simple good vs. evil story. If your teens can tackle heavy philosophical questions, they might be mature enough to make sense of the film's complicated plot. Finally, the movie clocks in at 2 hours 41 minutes most of which are chock full of in-your-face violence, darkness, and peril.

What's the story?

In an alternate version of 1985 -- Richard Nixon is still president, and Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union have never been hotter -- a surprisingly fit senior citizen is thrown from a high rise to his death. The victim turns out to be the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a gun-toting retired crime fighter known for his keen bloodlust. His former colleagues come out of hiding to find his killer, led by Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), a cloaked avenger with a blotchy, shifty mask. Rorschach thinks the murderer is working down a list of crusaders, and he and the rest of the crew -- including Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Silk Sceptre II (Malin Akerman) -- are on the hook. Even Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), the only one among them who's truly gifted with superpowers, may be in danger. Who's watching the Watchmen?

Is it any good?


Purists, take heart: This big-screen adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' revered graphic novel hews fairly closely to the written page, right down to the darkly beautiful world it renders. But that may be its biggest downfall. For no matter how respectful it is to the novel (save for a tweak here and there, including a simplification of the ending), WATCHMEN is curiously unenergetic. Much of it is told in flashback, and the plot moves from one back story to the next. Plus, the dialogue falls flat -- lines like "Here I am, spilling my guts to my archenemy" are best left on the page -- and scenes meant to be climactic are decidedly not. That's not to say that director Zack Snyder didn't try. In fact, he amps up the fight sequences so much that they're martial arts-movie-worthy and even gratuitously violent. That's actually a departure: Watchmen is famously cerebral -- the action isn't the point, and by focusing on the superheroes' battle prowess, the film undercuts the novel's attempt to humanize them.

The cast is uneven. As Sceptre II, Akerman is wanting. She struggles to plumb depths and pales in scenes that pair her with the deeply serious (and, not surprisingly, first-rate) Crudup. But even he is outshined by Haley, whose continued success is heartening (it's good to see him cement the comeback he achieved with Little Children). Haley's Little Children co-star, Wilson, is also fantastic, perhaps because he, too, has opted for a palpably realistic performance, instead of the stylized one that Goode unfortunately adopts. All of that said, Watchmen deserves to be watched. The special effects are impressive, the cinematography admirable. Just don't expect the same thrill that fans of the novel must have experienced when they first cracked open the book.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's portrayal of human nature. Are people good? Bad? All of the above?

  • If your teens have read the book, ask them how the movie is different -- and what impact having real people in the roles has on the story. 

  • According to director Zack Snyder in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, "I wanted to make sure everyone understood: This is not a kid movie. Violence has consequences. And doing that with a PG-13 just dilutes that message." Do you agree? Does the violence in this movie have more impact because it's not illustrated?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:March 6, 2009
DVD release date:July 21, 2009
Cast:Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Patrick Wilson
Director:Zack Snyder
Studio:Warner Bros.
Run time:163 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:strong graphic violence, sexuality, nudity and language

This review of Watchmen was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

  • Comic-book adaptation has brains, brawn, and style.
  • Fun movie, but may be too intense for younger kids.
  • Super-nostalgic superhero adventure still soars.
  • Excellent sequel much darker, more violent than the first.
  • Retired heroes fight to save themselves in gritty classic.

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bymetalheadsouthpark July 30, 2009

Easter Eggs you don't need...

This movie was tougher to rate overall than most, while specific characters were never good role models, the overall message of the movie was positive (the lessons good, the way they were learned, not so good). I loved this movie, especially considering I saw it in theaters, and am somewhat familiar with the novel (I have a copy I need to finish 100%!)... I would say this movie could have earned a NC-17, but because of the overall message, I would allow an average 16 year-old to watch it. The more inappropriate content is actually harder to find, I recently bought the "Director's Cut" Blu-Ray with digital copy; strangely the digital copy is the theatrical version, however, this time while watching, I noticed things I hadn't in theaters; The Comedian begins watching a movie, that looked as though it was setting up for pornographic content, and has a dirty magazine on his coffee table. During the scene where Adrian Veidt catches Rorschach and Night Owl treading in the snow, the movie the comedian was watching re-appears on the top monitor to the right of Veidt's head, and there are explicitly pornographic films playing on two other monitors, one visible fairly long. Another potentially offensive monitor showed a crucifix with Jesus' head replaced by that of a goat (this could be considered Satanic.) Veidt's monitors are shown often, but are only that clearly visible, at least with highly offensive content for that sequence. Other than these scenes the offensive content was fairly blatant. Good movie, fun to watch, and if your 13-15 year old kids aren't observant, you could let them watch, as long you will be there, and you may make it a one time deal, so that they don't find the offensive material!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Great messages
Teen, 13 years old Written bydemontre March 6, 2009


Adult Written bybetsfio July 30, 2009

Over the top violence

I found this movie so over the top violent, that I left halfway through the movie. I would never want my kids to see this movie, at any age!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Special Needs Guide