Wild at Heart

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Wild at Heart Movie Poster Image
Strong violence, sex, language in David Lynch film noir.
  • R
  • 1990
  • 125 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

This is one of those movies in which bad things happen to good (more or less) people, and the repercussions and choices they make aren't necessarily the best available.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Sailor and Lula are lovers on the run with the world against them. Not everything is entirely their fault, but their chosen path in life is hardly one worth emulating.


Brutal knife fight, with stabbing and lots of blood. Brains bashed in, with gore shown. Guns and shooting, minor characters shot. A young teen girl is said to have been raped; image of her crying and bleeding. Car crashes, explosions. Bloody corpses, bloody wounds. Man on fire. Car running over man. Man shoots own head off. Severed hand. Fighting. Shouting. Animals killing on TV program. Talk of a main character's father dying. Vomit.


Main female character topless. Several other minor female characters shown topless. Strong sex scenes. Kissing. Sexy outfits/lingerie. Some sexual innuendo. Sexual gestures (grabbing, stroking, etc.).


Many uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "c--k," "bitch," "bastard," "balls," "piss," "hell," "f--got," "damn," "suck," "stupid," "for God's sake."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots of cigarette smoking from main characters. A supporting character drinks heavily. Other social drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Wild at Heart is a lovers-on-the-run movie from director David Lynch; it won the Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or. It's extremely intense with lots of iffy stuff for younger viewers, and it's not considered one of Lynch's best, but for older viewers and fans of the director it contains much that's worthwhile. Violence can be brutally strong, with lots of blood and gore, fighting, guns and shooting, characters dying, and a reference to a teen girl being raped. Language is quite frequent, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "bitch," and much more. Sex scenes are also quite strong, with vivid, simulated sex, topless women, kissing, and sexual innuendo/gestures. The main characters smoke cigarettes often, and a secondary character is a heavy drinker. Most characters drink socially.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJim24 January 23, 2019
Probably his worst film. The first hour is mostly just sex, which gets really repetitive and boring after a bit. The movie picks up with some intense sequences... Continue reading
Adult Written byMike H. June 8, 2018

Decent Lynch

Good, but Eraserhead is better
Teen, 15 years old Written byCaesar2018 June 9, 2018


Must see for Lynch fans

What's the story?

In WILD AT HEART, Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) are passionate lovers, but when Sailor rebuffs a drunken advance by Lula's domineering mother Marietta (Diane Ladd), she sends a man to kill him. Sailor instead kills the man and goes to jail. Upon his release, he and Lula immediately reconnect, and they decide to break his parole and hit the road for California. This sends Marietta into a rage, and she sends her private-eye boyfriend, Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), to bring them back. But she also hires gangster Marcello Santos (J.E. Freeman) to kill them. Meanwhile, in Big Tuna, Texas, the young couple are nearly out of money. So Sailor agrees to pull off a simple robbery with the slick Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), a robbery that goes horribly wrong. Meanwhile, Lula is pregnant with Sailor's child. Will the couple overcome their troubles and find happiness?

Is it any good?

David Lynch's adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel contains much of his trademark powerful, nightmarish imagery, even if it also appears that he might have been grasping at straws at times. At its core, Wild at Heart is a pretty simple, very good lovers-on-the-run film noir; Sailor and Lula are super-cool yet sympathetic characters whose love is never in doubt. In their scenes together, they seem to truly appreciate each other's nuances and to respect one another. Even if they have been the victims of bad luck and made some bad choices, they are worth rooting for, and Cage and Dern are terrific in their roles (especially Dern, whose physicality in this movie is striking).

Yet Lynch seems to have let his artistic id take over a bit too often, obsessing on both The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley, and trying to shoehorn references into the movie whenever possible -- whether they fit or not. Lynch also includes some moments of plain weirdness, such as a man talking with a high-pitched voice and another man (Jack Nance, of Eraserhead) speaking in odd riddles, which only calls attention to itself. But for the majority of the movie, Lynch's touch works, and provides a strange, entertaining ride. Incidentally, Lynch's groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks debuted later this same year, and many of that show's actors can be seen in small parts here.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Wild at Heart's use of violence. How strong is it? What does the director choose to show and choose to infer? How did it affect you?

  • How is sex depicted? Does the main couple share a trusting, loving bond? How does this compare with other moments of sex in the movie?

  • Are drinking and smoking glamorized or made to look cool? Are there consequences?

  • What is the appeal of the lovers-on-the-run genre? Why do they seem cool or interesting?

  • How are the movies of David Lynch interesting or different?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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