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Harlan County, USA Review

  • Release Date: Oct 16, 1976
  • Rated:
  • Runtime: 1 hr. 43 min.
  • Genres: Documentary
  • Director:Barbara Kopple

Other Critics provided by

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 4.0

    out of 100

    Generally favorable reviews
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert

    The movie is a great American document, but it's also entertaining. (Review of Original Release)

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  • 70

    out of 100

    Village Voice Michael Atkinson

    As the miners make clear, workers have no rights in this democracy that they don't fight like dogs for, and the film has no conclusion--the combat will always continue.

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  • 80

    out of 100


    The stars of the film are the men and women of Harlan County, portrayed here not as patronized mountain folks but as human beings. (Review of Original Release)

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For Families provided by Common Sense Media

OK for kids 15+

Riveting 1976 docu about striking miners has some violence.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Harlan County, USA is a riveting and intense 1976 documentary chronicling a 13-month miners' strike in eastern Kentucky that shows violent altercations between strikers and union-busters, as well as the funeral of a murdered striker where family members are expressing deep shock and sorrow. These scenes might be too much for younger viewers, but for teens and adults interested in the struggles and sometimes fierce battles between organized labor and big business, Barbara Koppel's Oscar-winning documentary is as good as it gets.

  • Families can talk about how a documentary like this was made. What do you think were the challenges the filmmakers had to face before, during, and after filming?
  • What role does music play in this documentary, and how are the songs used in the film to tell the miners' stories?
  • Did anything surprise you in this documentary? Did you learn anything? What's the current state of unions in the United States?

The good stuff
  • message true4

    Messages: By documenting the courage and determination of miners in rural Kentucky on strike for better pay and working conditions, the film sends a message about the power of the average person to stand up to multinational corporations, the government, and other powerful forces.

  • rolemodels true4

    Role models: Striking miners and their wives and mothers stand up for what they believe in, putting their lives and livelihoods on the line while struggling through dire poverty.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: During standoffs between the striking miners and the union-busting scabs, people on both sides brandish guns, rifles, and clubs. One of the scabs is shown firing a gun from his truck. Strikers are shown being arrested and roughly taken away by police. One of the strikers is murdered, and another striker points out where small parts of his brain are still on the road.

  • sex false1

    Sex: Brief, nonsexual nudity: a brief scene of miners taking showers after work, a mother giving her daughter a bath in a washtub.

  • language false2

    Language: Occasional cursing: "S--t," "bitch," "son of a bitch." During a particularly heated exchange between one of the union busters and the strikers, a union buster uses the N-word; this is repeated later as a women supportive of the strike relays the confrontation to her colleagues.

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Many smoke cigarettes.