Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter Movie Poster Image
Sometimes-gruesome Watchmen extras best for fans.
  • R
  • 2009
  • 64 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

The "Black Freighter" segment -- in which a heroic ship's captain and devoted husband and father transforms into a murderous maniac -- has a pessimistic outlook and is very grim throughout. The far milder "Under the Hood" segment emphasizes the human side of so-called superheroes and supervillains.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some of the caped "good guys" are declared to have been psychotics who used crime-fighting as an outlet for their penchant for violence. One is accused of rape.


Murder by bloody beatings and strangulation. An explosion literally blows men apart. Exceptionally ghoulish details of rotting corpses, including unraveling intestines and oozing body fluids as gulls peck at them. One of the gulls is also graphically killed and eaten.


A woman is described as a "whore." A wooden figurehead has bare breasts. In the separate "Under the Hood" live-action segment, there are vintage pin-up posters and a superheroine has super sex appeal.


"Whore," "damn," and "hell."


Tie-in to vast quantities of related merchandise. The DVD carries promos for other DC Comics-related titles and the Watchmen video game.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

References to drinking/smoking, especially in the live-action segment about a superhero who succumbs to alcoholism.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this isn't a sequel to the Watchmen movie, just supplementary material. The balleyhooed segment on this DVD, an R-rated pirate cartoon, is hideously violent and thematically grim, with murders, dismemberment of rotting corpses, and a hero defeated utterly by evil. Even worse; it's short, just about 20 minutes long. The rest of the running time is devoted to a (PG-rated) faux documentary about "real" superheroes. Neither may mean much if you don't know the graphic novel and movie to which it gives background.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bygamenerd323 October 21, 2009

Great for older audeinces

It's very good, under th hood is quite appropiate but tales of the black freighter is extremley grusome and grisly. Best for adults.
Adult Written byDDad April 2, 2009

If you liked the Watchmen book or movie, watch half of this

I did enjoy the "Watchmen" book and I'm planning to see the movie. If you've read the graphic novel, you'll recognize the "Black F... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byLori R. August 18, 2017
Teen, 13 years old Written byBillb0 July 1, 2017

Compared to some other DC animated films, this is fine.

Suggested Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Bloody Violence Throughout, and for Brief Nudity

What's the story?

When the movie Watchmen came out, it was assumed that Watchmania would have built an audience for this straight-to-DVD release, a spin-off of added material from the original Alan Moore Watchmen graphic novel. The cartoon derives from a delicious idea in the book, set in a world where comics superheroes really exist: what would their comic books be about? Pirate stories, that's what, and the "Tales of the Black Freighter" cartoon short here is an exceptionally horrific sea yarn, in which the ghoulish buccaneers manning a dread Black Freighter destroy another boat, leaving only one survivor, the captain (voiced by Gerard Butler). Deducing the pirates will next massacre his seaside village and family, the captain rigs a macabre raft (using bloated corpses of his slain crewmen) and pursues the marauding vessel, his own sanity slipping away during the nightmarish ordeal. Sharing the DVD is "Under the Hood," a longer, milder (PG-rated) mockumentary, fairly lighthearted in tone, that pretends to be a TV news special on the lives, loves, and scandals of America's costumed heroes in the storyline, from 1938 up through their retirements in the 1970s, when one writes a hot tell-all memoir.

Is it any good?

Strikingly moody, lurid, poetic, and downbeat, "Tales of the Black Freighter" could well have come from the pen of Edgar Allen Poe or Ambrose Bierce (or an adult-content horror comic). Aye, there be hardcore fans out there, of Watchmen and fantastic graphics, who might consider the DVD worth viewing just for this short alone. But that audience is a minority compared to those who would wish this collection had been either incorporated into a worthwhile anthology (like the R-rated cult sci-fi animation Heavy Metal) or, better, bundled as a Watchmen DVD extra with the feature.

It's not really enough to carry a whole disc, and the accompaniments (including a trailer for a Green Lantern animated feature and the first chapter of Moore's Watchmen book) feel like promos (albeit somewhat clever ones) meant to ride the coattails of the big-screen blockbuster into the marketplace. Pirating, you might say, arrrr!

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's downbeat, hopeless outlook and how it fit into the larger scheme of the original Watchmen graphic novel. Do you think it adds to the main storyline or detracts? How would it have worked woven into the movie version?

  • How does the violence in this movie compare to that in the big-screen Watchmen feature? Which has more impact? Why?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comic book action

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