Ways to Live Forever Movie Poster Image

Ways to Live Forever



Emotional tale of boy with cancer who's curious about death.
  • Review Date: July 18, 2013
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2013
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This is a movie about life -- however short it might be for some people -- being a precious adventure without a moment to lose. Sam and Felix each have a terminal illness, but they don't let that get in the way of achieving things they'd really like to do before they die. The movie also encourages curiosity, asking life's tough questions, and recognizing the importance -- and the permanence -- of the arts.

Positive role models

Sam and Felix are both brave in the face of their inevitable deaths, and they're good friends to each other. Sam's parents are loving and kind, as is his little sister. Sam knows he's going to die, so he wants to make sure to write down his hopes and dreams and questions.


It's not violent, but two kids die in the movie and are shown on their deathbeds either at home or at the hospital. In one scene, Sam gets a bloody nose that scares him and his family.


Sam kisses a girl twice (one time it's just a peck, but the second time it's a deeper kiss).


British swears like "bloody," "rubbish," "daft," etc.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

The boys' wish lists include trying a drink and a cigarette.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Ways to Live Forever is an emotional adaptation of author Sally Nicholls' 2008 children's novel about a 12-year-old English boy dying from leukemia. The story follows how a teacher encourages Sam and his friend Felix (who also has cancer) to write because words are a way "to live forever." There are a few British swears and insults like "bloody" and "daft," and a couple of sweet first kisses for Sam, but otherwise there's not much iffy stuff in the movie in terms of specific content. But the heavy themes and focus on dying makes it a better fit for older tweens and teens who will be able to handle the sadness of Sam's inevitable death.

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What's the story?

Based on British author Sally Nicholls' 2008 children's novel, WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER follows the life of 12-year-old Sam McQueen (Robbie Kay), who has terminal leukemia. He and his best friend, Felix Stranger (Alex Etel), are tutored privately by an inspiring teacher (Greta Scacchi) who encourages them to write a journal, because literature -- like all art -- provides a way for someone to "live forever." The boys decide to make a wish list, and Sam fills his journal with not only his wishes, but also tough life-and-death questions. He even leaves a multiple choice survey for his parents to fill in after he dies. As the end of his life nears, Sam continues to search for answers, love his family, and experience new things.

Is it any good?


Spanish director Gustavo Ron captures the vulnerability of a sick tween beautifully. Sam isn't old enough to do anything too wild and crazy, but he is old enough to want a first kiss, to understand the inevitability of death, and to want to make sure he leaves his mark on the world. Young Robbie Kay (who was 14 when he filmed the role) is surprisingly good at conveying both the curiosity of a boy ("what will it feel like when you die?") and the anger and confusion or an adolescent (not to mention the excitement of finding his one and only girlfriend).

Books and movies about people with terminal illnesses are nothing new, but when the dying character is a kid, it can be nearly unbearable to witness. Although Ways to Live Forever is at times a tough movie to watch (and kids may understandably feel saddened by the subject matter), it's not violent or melodramatic. Only in the final third of the story, after Felix dies, does the tone turn heavy. Sam knows that all of the things that he and Felix wished for (to have a girlfriend, fly in an airship, try a drink, take a drag on a cigarette, become a scientist) are only a fraction of what they could have accomplished with more time. But time isn't on their side, and Sam knows it -- as do his parents, his sister, and of course, the audience. When the end does finally, inevitably arrive, it's not as devastating as you imagine, because the humor and curiosity and love that Sam had to share make it bearable after all. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how Ways to Live Forever portrays children with cancer. Is it more upsetting to see movies about children facing death than adults? Do you think kids can handle movies about kids who are dying?

  • Talk about what Sam and Felix put on their respective bucket lists. What do you think you'd want to do if you knew you only had a limited time to live?

  • This movie is based on a book; does the movie make you want to read the novel? What more about Sam (and Felix) would you want to read about?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 19, 2013
DVD release date:January 6, 2015
Cast:Ben Chaplin, Emilia Fox, Greta Scacchi
Director:Gustavo Ron
Studio:World Wide Motion Pictures Corporation
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic elements

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