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Pay It Forward (2000)

PG-13 | | Drama | 20 October 2000 (USA)
0:33 | Trailer

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A young boy attempts to make the world a better place after his teacher gives him that chance.



(book), (screenplay)
3,518 ( 212)
1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Ricky McKinney
Colleen Flynn ...
Woman on Bridge
Thorsen's Daughter (as Hannah Werntz)


Young Trevor McKinney, troubled by his mother's alcoholism and fears of his abusive but absent father, is caught up by an intriguing assignment from his new social studies teacher, Mr. Simonet. The assignment: think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor conjures the notion of paying a favor not back, but forward--repaying good deeds not with payback, but with new good deeds done to three new people. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution not only in the lives of himself, his mother and his physically and emotionally scarred teacher, but in those of an ever-widening circle of people completely unknown to him. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


A movie from the heart that connects with the heart. See more »



Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language and brief violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:



Official Sites:



Release Date:

20 October 2000 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Cadena de favores  »

Box Office


$40,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend:

$9,631,359 (USA) (20 October 2000)


$33,508,922 (USA) (2 February 2001)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| |


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


Haley Joel Osment celebrated his 12th birthday on the set during the last day of shooting. Although Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt had completed their own filming, they turned up on the set just to celebrate his birthday. Coincidentally, Trevor McKinney, the character played by Osment, celebrates his 12th birthday in the movie. See more »


When Arlene is spitting out the vodka in the sink, it's daylight outside, even though it's supposed to be nighttime. See more »


Jerry: You ever been on the street?
Arley: My mom took us pretty close.
Jerry: Well, you can't know. Not until you look at a dumpster. But when you climb into that thing for the first time and you pull those newspapers over you, that's when you know you've messed your life up. Somebody comes along like your son, and gives me a leg up, I'll take it. Even from a kid, I'll take it.
See more »


Referenced in After Tiller (2013) See more »


Calling All Angels
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A topnotch message heads a topnotch film
3 October 2003 | by (Ottawa, Canada) – See all my reviews

Pay It Forward

Everyone says they want to make the world a better place and young Trevor McKinney is no exception. Only he isn't just using words, he is using an idea. What would happen if three people were given a favor and, instead of paying it back, they paid it forward?

Trevor is an intelligent and caring young boy who has seen first hand that the world can be a very unkind place. When his mother, Arlene, isn't out working long hours she is home drinking her sorrows away. Trevor's father is an even worse drunk who has only taught Trevor the value of neglect and abuse. School is no picnic either, as the school bully sees little Trevor as a particularly good mark. Just when things couldn't look any worse for Trevor, something happens. While in class one day, Trevor's new teacher, Mr. Simonet, asks the class to involve themselves in a project, to find something that each of them can do to make the world a better place. While most children come up with heart felt but mostly implausible ideas, Trevor comes up with something special. What if he gave out three random favors to three individuals in need, and instead of paying him back they passed on three favors to someone else, and then those people did the same? Would it change people's lives or would the chain break shortly down the line? Eager to see his idea blossom, Trevor begins his project and thus starts a train of events with such impact that no one, not even Trevor, could have imagined its results.

Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment star in the big screen adaptation of the Catherine Ryan Hyde novel, Pay it Forward. Spacey is his usual golden self as the horribly disfigured but highly intellectual schoolteacher, Eugene Simonet. Although not a tremendous character actor, Spacey does have great screen presence and is one of the kings of emotional acting, as everyone has most likely already seen in such films as Seven and The Usual Suspects. In this film his acting is so real and emotional that for a while I was calling Mr. Spacey Eugene. Helen Hunt once again graces filmgoers with her role as Trevor's troubled mom, Arlene. I don't have enough time to go over how talented Ms. Hunt is, so, as to not get caught up in repetition, I will just say that her quality acting and perfect delivery are once again displayed in this film as she plays a very real woman with very real problems. Now I usually really can't stand seeing young children in movies as lead characters because I can't stand the fact of Hollywood constantly exploiting them for their "cuteness", but this Haley Joel Osment continues to baffle me. I can't understand how, at his age, Osment can be an emotional acting genius. He surprised me in Sixth Sense but in Pay it Forward he blew me away. He understands the concepts of timing and emotion, and is not used to cuten up this film but to actually take charge of it, which he does just as well as any actor far ahead of him in years. Of special mention to fans of quality acting, Frequency's Jim Caviezel turns in another brilliant performance as a homeless drug addict who is taken care of by Trevor as part of the his Pay it Forward project.

To compliment the talented cast is talented director Mimi Leder, whose earlier works include the George Clooney and Nicole Kidman thriller The Peacemaker, and Morgan Freeman's Deep Impact. In Pay it Forward Leder does a near perfect job of directing a story with a lot of depth and realism. Leder keeps the flow of the film interesting and doesn't let the film get caught up in boring or uninspired dialogue, but that could be because the material and ideas she had to work with were so captivating, either way I won't complain. Leslie Dixon should also be thanked because her screenplay was intelligent and really holds your interest and won't let go. The only two gripes I had with this film were that I didn't find enough attention was paid to the actual Pay it Forward idea, and a few minutes near the film's end really downed me and threw off kilter the film's feel good aspect.

My final observation on Pay it Forward is that not only is it a more than worthwhile film, it also promotes a truly inspiring and powerful message that really reminds you about the good in the world and the changes just one individual can make. Seeing this kind of message is really something everyone can enjoy so, as can be told, I would certainly recommend this film to anyone. In my humble opinion, watching this great piece of film work truly seems a favor and anyone that takes my recommendation and agrees, please don't pay me back by thanking me for telling you about it, when your done viewing just tell three friends about it and Pay it Forward.

Overall Rating: 8 out of 10

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How can anyone possibly like this movie?? chloen1979
a better ending rutica
now if you got stabbed in the stomach Sensfan1915
Did anyone ever have 7th grade teacher like that? MBasler89
Should be a law... libertess66
from a mother who lost her son goldstalk
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