The Decline of Western Civilization (1981) - Rotten Tomatoes

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

The Decline of Western Civilization Videos

The Decline of Western Civilization Photos

Movie Info

An intimate look at the punk subculture of the 1980s, this Penelope Spheeris documentary captures more of the ambiance of the time than outstanding examples of the music subculture itself. The music of X, Circle Jerks, Fear and Black Flag are featured, however.

Watch it now


Show More Cast

News & Interviews for The Decline of Western Civilization

Critic Reviews for The Decline of Western Civilization

All Critics (16) | Top Critics (4)

A bracing, stimulating and technically superb close-up look at the LA punk scene, pic is pitched at a perfect distance to allow for simultaneous engagement in the music and spectacle, and for rueful contemplation of what it all might mean.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

The interviews are mostly very funny, probably not always intentionally so. It's far from unmissable, but it's valuable rock history with some great noise.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The Decline of Western Civilization' is a shrewd and engrossing documentary even for audiences who have absolutely no patience for the music it includes.

Full Review… | August 30, 2004
New York Times
Top Critic

[A] still potent 1981 documentary about Los Angeles punk rock.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

This is the first in a trilogy of rock documentaries made by Spheeris that, viewed today, seem like valuable cultural documents. But your granny won't like it.

Full Review… | July 18, 2016
Radio Times

This often-fascinating slice of rock history wisely avoids high-profile punk groups, and instead opts for bands who are still struggling to pay their rent.

Full Review… | July 18, 2016
TV Guide

Audience Reviews for The Decline of Western Civilization

Perfectly captures the self destructive nihilism of the late 70s punk movement through interviews and great performances by X, Fear, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, Alice Bag Band, Catholic Discipline, and the Germs. Especially fascinating is watching interview and performances with Darby Crash of The Germs, in the months prior to his suicide. A powerful document of a moment in time.

Anthony Valletta
Anthony Valletta

Super Reviewer


Anger. Teen angst and frustration. Chaos. And of course X, Black Flag, Germs and others provide the perfect soundtrack. Penelope Spheeris introduces us common and peace-loving folk to the world of the punks. Some of us are well on our way there, but we have yet to know the music to accompany us. However, the negative stigma around punks is there as always, but Spheeris uses Decline to blow that stigma away. Wonderfully and masterfully planned and executed, the L.A punk scene in the 80s is both terrifying and exhilarating. And no, I'm not some chaos loving anarchist; I just like punk music.

Buffythemoviepopcornslayer KJ
Buffythemoviepopcornslayer KJ

It was interesting, but I guess because I was alive for the end of this era of music, I don't really appreciate it

Remi Logan
Remi Logan

Super Reviewer

The Decline of Western Civilization Quotes

There are no approved quotes yet for this movie.

Discussion Forum

Discuss The Decline of Western Civilization on our Movie forum!

News & Features