Movies have ratings, which vary a little around the world, but the ratings just don't convey a full understanding of some scenes which may be scary for young children. For example:

  1. Monsters, Inc. is about humorous, fluffy monsters that live in another world, but their day is to scare the living daylights out of small children to 'harness the screams'. Hence there's many 'boo' scenes that are pretty frightening if you're two years old and you don't know they're coming.

  2. Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful/classic Disney movie with lovely visuals and nice songs, but has the wickedest, meanest, most scary evil witch of all the ones I can remember. Go watch it again if you don't remember — Maleficent is her name. Really mean, really scary — the stuff of nightmares.

Both of these movies are rated 'U — Universal'.

So, my question is, how can you determine that the movie is suitable for a 2, 3 or 4-year-old child?

  • 12
    Stop when they're getting scared. Always stay around and watch the movie together.
    – Barfieldmv
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 7:10
  • 1
    I remember watching Gremlins with my dad. Oh boy that was bad; we left the cinema pretty soon. Commented Mar 31, 2011 at 14:08
  • 3
    Gremlins was the specific film that caused the PG-13 rating to be added in the states. Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 0:24
  • 3
    @Andrei It was both Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 6:20
  • 5
    Great question. Star Wars episode 1 is "U" and a character gets chopped into two pieces with a light sabre and the two pieces fall separately down a big hole. Nasty.
    – Fenton
    Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 13:57

13 Answers 13


Common Sense Media is an incredible resource for this purpose. It provides parent-focused overviews and specific details about scenes that contain both desirable and undesirable activity.

Movies are rated for age appropriateness and in each of the following categories:


  • Educational value
  • Messages
  • Role Models


  • Violence / scariness
  • Sexy stuff
  • Language
  • Consumerism
  • Dating, drugs, and smoking

You can also look up movies by age-appropriateness. In addition, there are website, app, tv, book, music, and game reviews on the site.

Here is a quick review for "Gone With The Wind", which is rated G:

enter image description here

  • 1
    This is an excellent resource. +1 Commented Apr 8, 2011 at 0:26
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    Agreed - this is an excellent resource. I wish they'd separate Sex from Nudity - some cultures have different tolerances in these areas. Their ratings for Terminator 3, Monsters Inc and Sleeping Beauty are good and the explanations do give rationale. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 16:44
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    kids-in-mind.com provides a similar service. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 10:07
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    Nice one. They indeed nicely mention Malificent :)
    – Konerak
    Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 12:32
  • @Konerak thanks for pointing out that link... for others, Malificent is the witch in the OP example of Sleeping Beauty Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 14:22

I think it comes down to good 'ole fashioned parental gut feeling. You know your kid. Watch the movie in question beforehand and then judge whether you think it's appropriate for whatever stage your kid is currently in.

Some kids are obviously more sensitive to certain things so you just have to be cognizant of what might be scary for him/her.

I'd also suggest watching the movie with them at least the first time around and keep a close eye on how they react to certain scenes.

  • I think that is the best answer one can give to this question. It is up to what a parent feels their child can handle, and what a parent feels is appropriate for their child.
    – JLZenor
    Commented Mar 29, 2011 at 22:16
  • @Shpigford watching the movie beforehand is a foolproof, but time consuming approach. Why not do background research? Talk to friends? Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 0:23
  • @David - Certainly a good start, if you know someone who has kids of a similar age / personality. I think there's a valid point, though, that the ultimate source of knowledge on what is appropriate for you and your child lies with you.
    – Saiboogu
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 0:42
  • @David Why not do background research? Because like I said, every kid is different and just because your buddy Tom's kid didn't get scared doesn't mean yours won't. Sure, it's probably helpful to get a general feel from other parents, but there's no way to know until you've watched the movie yourself.
    – Shpigford
    Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 0:42
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    @Shpigford I wouldn't ask "did your child get scared", I would expect my friend to let me if I should be concerned. Watching the movie beforehand isn't actually foolproof - children can be scared by unexpected things. I am not convinced that pre-viewing movies is the best way to spend the limited time that I have for my children, when the bulk of the work has already been done by other parents. I think that the information available at a site like www.commonsensemedia.org is pretty solid. Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 1:11

The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) has an extremely good reputation for rating movies, and then explaining WHY a movie is so rated.

They're the ones responsible for the legal rating of British films, but the key advantage for a parent such as yourself is that they generally include WHY they made that decision, and a thorough list of all the potentially concerning scenes.

Their website is here: http://www.pbbfc.co.uk/ and they also do an app for mobile.

  • A particular favourite: "'Beverly Hills Chihuahua' is a comedy about a spoilt little dog who gets lost in Mexico. The film was passed 'U' and contains very mild threat. The threat occurs in a couple of scenes where the doggie heroine is placed in danger. The strongest scene is probably that in which she is placed in a dogfight arena with a Doberman, but there is no baring of teeth or snarling and the big dog does little but sniff the Chihuahua. The humour in the little dog chatting incessantly during the encounter helps to remove any real tension. "
    – deworde
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 16:11
  • 1
    Okay, that's a good website. When I saw Terminator 3, I was appalled that there were 5-year olds in the cinema with us (it's 12A in UK), particularly as it has pretty much non-stop violence throughout, even if that's only between two robot characters. The PBBFC analysis does actually call this out, which is great, but I still think the film is more (15) than (12), given the sadistic violence between the robots - that look perfectly like people. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 16:40

All wonderful answers so far. IMDB also has a useable parental guide to films.

  • 1
    Needs more up votes
    – pramodc84
    Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 12:11

It's hard to predict. I wouldn't think you can really rely on the ratings.

Our 2.5yo had watched Snow White on DVD many times - he would request it before his older sister sometimes. The Snow White ride at Magic Kingdom scared the hell out of him (it has a large number number of appearances by the hag) so much that he rode the entirety of Pirates of the Caribbean with his hands over his eyes.

Also, some older content (like Charlie Brown) actually shows really quite abusive relationships between kids ("I'm going to pound you") and my kids seemed to pick up those things.

Also, if you don't like the movie, I'd recommend throwing it out - if you can! Some of the Barbie and Strawberry Shortcake movies are just garbage and if they can't engage adults even a little they probably have no redeeming quality for kids. I have trouble hiding them, though.

  • Great point about letting go of poor movies - with the various streaming providers we've tried, the children always managed to home in on something that has very poor educational value or is rampant consumerism. Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:51

I frequently use Plugged In Online. It is funded by Focus on the Family, and I've found it to be honest and fair in its assessment of films. Their reviews come from a conservative POV, but they don't slander one group or another.


An important consideration to make is WHY you are showing a movie. At that young age, most of what you do with the child should be intentional. If you think it has a message that you want to convey to your child, or if it is a subject that your child enjoys (and is age-appropriate), then by all means. However, if it's for your own pleasure or because "it's universally rated, so why not?", I would re-consider.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends zero TV time for kids under 18 months, and only up to 1 hour a day (of high-quality) TV up to age 5. Again, the point to be made is intentionality: What is the purpose of you showing this to your child?


Use the rating as a general guide, but sit with your child through the film and if there are scary bits let them cuddle into you for reassurance. At that age you should be the safest thing in their world, and showing you enjoy a film can help them enjoy without being scared.

A large part of making the decision will also come down to how mature your child is in separating fact from fiction. 2 of my children loved being scared, but for some reason the third was much more sensitive (i. e. she is so scared by Doctor Who she just won't watch it, whereas the other two at the same age would watch from behind a cushion, enjoying the scary bits).

Interesting cross-over to the 'should I let my 5 year old watch the news' question - my two eldest find the news much scarier than films, as they know it is real, whereas my youngest doesn't find the news scary at all. I have a feeling she doesn't connect with the reality in the news so films are obviously more exciting/scary for her.


You really have to preview the movie for yourself or ask other parents who have seen the movie. Each child matures differently as well, so you may have to take it one child at a time.

Remember that Disney movies seek approval from a general audience which means adults are included - after all mom and dad pay for the movies, not the kids. Many Disney movies have humor in it that only the adults understand. Most have probably heard about the sexual blips that Disney had in its traditional animation days. Doubt the kids can catch any of those scenes as they last milliseconds sometimes.

Ultimately, it really depends on the maturity of the child and what you as a parent regard as safe-viewing.


Netflix has a good breakdown of most modern movies in terms of how appropriate their content is for children. It will give you details about what potentially objectionable content is in a movie, give recommendations of what age level it is appropriate for, and give you child-appropriate discussion topics based on the content of the movie. I believe you need to be a Netflix member to access this content though.

Here's an example

enter image description here


(Copy from my answer to the Star Wars q)

IMDB lists the age certifications a movie has received in many countries. This can act as a good guidance about movies you haven't seen.

Here is the ones for Star Wars:

Iceland:L (special edition) / Iceland:LH (original version) (video re-rating) / Malaysia:U / Canada:G (British Columbia/Quebec) / South Korea:All / Brazil:Livre / South Africa:PG / Netherlands:12 (DVD rating) / Italy:T / Argentina:Atp / Australia:PG / Canada:PG (Manitoba/Ontario) / Canada:PG (Nova Scotia) (special edition) / Chile:TE / Denmark:11 (special edition) / Denmark:12 / Finland:K-12 (original rating) / Finland:K-8 (special edition) / France:U / Germany:6 (special edition) / Hong Kong:I / Iceland:L (original rating) / Ireland:G / Mexico:AA / Netherlands:AL / New Zealand:PG / Norway:11 (special edition) / Norway:12 / Peru:PT / Portugal:M/12 / Singapore:PG (special edition) / Spain:T / Sweden:11 / UK:U / USA:PG (certificate #24925) / West Germany:12 (original rating) / Canada:A (Nova Scotia) (original rating)



I actually watch the movie first, or read the preview of the story, so I will get an idea whether it is appropriate for my child or not. I have to screen it first, so I would know if my son will get good values out of it. Sometimes, I also ask for recommendations coming from a friend or relative who already watched the movie. I also watch with my 1 year and 11 month old son, so I can explain to him what these things are all about (on his level).


I went through this very question with my husband; he wanted to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with our son when he was 2.5. I said it wasn't appropriate for Matthias, and that he should watch Willie Wonka with Gene Wilder instead.

He wanted to know why, since both movies were 'about' the same storyline and had the same 'rating' given to them. I said simply because the overall 'tone' of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is much darker than Willie Wonka. After he sat down and watched it (without our son), he agreed.

Our policy is to watch the movie ourselves first and try to look at it from our son's point of view.

  • The boat ride section with Gene Wilder getting more and more dramatic is pretty scary! Commented Aug 29, 2016 at 14:52

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