West Side Story



Musical masterpiece tackles race, with some violence.
Popular with kidsParents recommend
  • Review Date: June 24, 2003
  • Rated: NR
  • Genre: Musical
  • Release Year: 1961
  • Running Time: 152 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Explores themes of social injustice and judicial corruption in mid-1950s New York and encourages viewers to question the meaning of "liberty." Although America is known to be "land of the free," the movie portrays how incoming immigrants struggle and are discriminated against. There are frequent gang fights based on race, but in the end there's a sense that lessons are learned and love and understanding of people as individuals, rather than groups, conquers all.

Positive role models

Maria is an inspirational role model who doesn't believe in fighting or war. She's able to view people for who they really are, rather than focusing on race or social class. The male role models in the film are lessons to be learned from. Riff and Bernardo are unable to let their hate for one another subside. Determined to hurt each other, they'll fight to the death, even if it's at the expense of someone else's life. 


Although choreographed with dance moves, the big fight scene leads to two characters being stabbed to death. Another is shot to death. A female character is nearly raped.


Brief reference to prostitution. Some kissing. 


The words "hell" and "s--t" are used, as are derogatory names: "spic" and "polack."


Coca-Cola bottles and boxes are moved about, and classic Chevrolet cars line the streets. 

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A musical number mentions drinking and the use of specific drugs. In dialogue, there are brief references to alcoholism. Many characters smoke cigarettes (accurate for the era).

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this updated Romeo and Juliet story explores race relations and immigration within a musical format. Street fighting and knifings are depicted, though some of the violence is lessened by the choreography. In one disturbing scene, a gang of boys physically abuses a young woman and a rape almost takes place. A major character is killed.

What's the story?

A classic American musical with strong social commentary, WEST SIDE STORY updates Shakespeare's tragedy about star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, to 1950s New York City, where second-generation American street gang the Jets, led by Riff (Russ Tamblyn), are at constant odds with rival Puerto Rican gang the Sharks. A showdown is inevitable, but love gets in the way when Jets member Tony (Richard Beymer) falls for Maria (Natalie Wood), the sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (George Chakiris). People die and hearts get broken.

Is it any good?


Co-directed by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, this beautiful musical is a visual masterpiece packed with talent. The music of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim is unforgettable, as are the Oscar-winning performances of George Chakiris as Bernardo and Rita Moreno as Anita, the spunky girlfriend of Bernardo and confidant of Maria.

The raging emotions of the characters are expressed through song and dance (Jerome Robbins' choreography mixes jazz, ballet, and Latin influences), resulting in a kinetic display of emotion more expressive than words. Stylish street-wise sets and cinematic technique take the movie to another level, rich with visual symbolism.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the issues of racism, immigration, gangs, and youth culture. What do you think the two gangs would say about the American Dream?

  • What kinds of stereotypes are explored in this movie? Does the movie serve to challenge or reinforce stereotypes?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 23, 1961
DVD release date:April 1, 2002
Cast:Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno
Director:Jerome Robbins
Topics:Arts and dance, Brothers and sisters, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:152 minutes
MPAA rating:NR

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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.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written byChrissy505 March 8, 2009


This was an amazing, amazing movie with memorable characters and a wonderful story. It's also very sad I started crying when Tony gets killed and when Maria takes the gun and wants to kill herself. It's beautiful. I highly suggest it for older kids because my little brother started crying really really hard and asked if he was dead (I told him he was just passed out so he wouldn't cry harder). Still an amazing movie though. See it See it See it!!!!!!!
Adult Written bysbdreamin April 9, 2008

Great for conversation on social issues

West Side Story is another classic, along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird, except with some fantastic singing and dancing. The social message is the whole point of the movie; it is a modern day Romeo and Juliet, where the boy and girl, due to their social backgrounds, are NOT supposed to be together but fall in love anyway. There is a lot of stuff about race, gangs, etc. that is still relevant over 40 years later. There are fights and violence and a main character gets killed, so this is not for the littlest ones... save this for your jr. high school and up age kids, unless very mature.
Adult Written bypaddy19 April 9, 2008


I disagree, I think this movie should not be R. This movie is a classic musical and I think it brings up a lot of good topics. Yes you might have to talk to you child afterwards about parts but that is what it is there for. It is to bring up thoughts and to bring publicity to problems that were happening in the US. I watched this when I was in middle school and liked it and understood it. I do believe that some children might not be ready for it, but it is a classic because it is a good movie and musical.


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