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Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Zodiac Movie Poster Image
Notorious case inspires dark, sinuous thriller.
  • R
  • 2007
  • 165 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 17 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 16 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Serial killer is cruel and plainly deranged; cops and reporters argue amongst themselves and become obsessed with the case to the point of ruining their home lives. Paul gives his editor the finger.


Extremely bloody crime scenes; violence includes shooting, stabbing (especially brutal), fighting; much discussion of means of murder, ammunition, and gun types; letters from killer describe plans to kill children on school buses (a boy hears this on TV and looks worried); mention of gas chamber; woman in prison appears with dark bruises on her arm; scary scene in basement when Robert thinks he's met the killer by accident (jump shot, dark shadows, tense music); discussion of a suspect's deviant history ("touching kids").


Suggestion of sexual desire as first victims "park" (they're shot before they even kiss); Paul reports that the killer is a "latent homosexual."


Repeated profanity, especially "f--k," as well as "s--t," "hell," "goddamn it," and other colorful language ("Sweet mother of Christ," "Jesus on crutches," "Tell him to screw," "crap," "getting your rocks off with a girl") and name-calling ("shorty" and "retard").


Some references by name (Folgers, the movie Bullitt), plus background imagery (Coca-Cola and Campbell's soup in vending machines, Slinky on TV); Dirty Harry on movie screen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking to drunkenness in bars (Paul and Robert favor blue drinks called "Aqua Velvas"); more drinking at Belli's Christmas party (he offers a "toddy"); frequent cigarette smoking; Paul looks high/wasted at work -- he snorts cocaine and keeps a full bar and other drugs in his home.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this three-hour movie about the investigation into a string of real-life serial murders during the early 1970s is too violent and disturbing for most teens (and probably even some adults). While some violence takes place off screen, what does appear is brutal and bloody: The Zodiac shoots a couple in their car, stabs another couple in the back (the victims' pained, horrified faces are shown both times), and shoots a cabbie. Police officers and reporters discuss the deaths in some detail. Characters drink heavily and smoke frequently (one also uses hard drugs). References are made to the killer's "latent homosexuality" and a suspect's pedophilia. Language includes repeated uses of "f--k."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykelsodoggie April 9, 2008
Adult Written bykoolmoviebuzzy April 9, 2008

It was iffy.

This movie is very viotent for younger teens. It also says a curse word about every minute of the movie. I would not let you kid see it unless you have a talk w... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byWay2Dramatic April 9, 2008

A good thriller!

This movie is long, and most of it is talking. It is not a slasher movie: it's a smart psychological thriller. It wasn't as violent as it's made... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bycassiep August 15, 2013

Fine for mature kids

Very interesting movie based on true events. Another great film by David Fincher.

What's the story?

An intelligent, sinuous mystery, ZODIAC is less interested in sensational violence than in the ways that the media affects such violence. Based on the notorious, still-unsolved early-1970s Zodiac murders in the San Francisco area, the movie focuses first on efforts to figure out the murderer's motives and then on the ways that the Zodiac "imagined" himself into public consciousness by writing letters to the San Francisco Chronicle and leaving clues to taunt the police. The film begins with a murder -- the first one for which the killer took public credit. After the shooting, Zodiac calls the police and sends a letter to the Chronicle, demonstrating -- in his mind, anyway -- that he's smarter than all of them. As he uses the media to "make himself up," the movie considers the effects of the case on those who pursue him, including Inspector David Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and his partner, Inspector William Armstrong (Anthony Edwards); as well as earnest cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) and brilliantly self-destructive crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.). They run into problems at every turn, from law enforcement officials in different jurisdictions who don't want to work together to handwriting experts, fingerprinters, and even celebrity lawyer Melvin Belli (Brian Cox). With egos getting in the way, only rudimentary technologies to work with, and legal impediments, no one cracks the case, and everyone loses themselves to it.

Is it any good?

David Fincher's excellent movie includes several violent murder scenes (a stabbing is especially grisly). But it's more interested in the consequences of the brutality: crime scenes, investigative procedures, fear in the community. In a mess of intersecting obsessions and deceptions, Zodiac finds remarkable coherence, tracing the similar needs, means, and fictions that structure truth.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the media's relationship with serial killers. How do the killers use the media to gain attention? How do the media use the killers to gain ratings? How do viewers and readers respond to such coverage? Think about how movies portray killers and their pursuers: Unlike The Silence of the Lambs, this movie focuses on the investigation, with very little information about the killer. How does that affect the film's narrative and displays of violence? Is violence more effective when it's shown, or when it's implied? Why?

Movie details

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