Movie review by
Kari Croop, Common Sense Media
Fame Movie Poster Image
Parents recommend
Raw look at teen life more shocking than you might recall.
  • R
  • 1980
  • 134 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Students have positive intentions to succeed. But the film imparts complex lessons about growing up by putting them in a variety of difficult situations. They don't always make the "right" choices, either, and because the plot resists tying up loose ends, it's rare to see what the consequences are.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Some students prove to be generally poor role models (cursing out teachers at school, having unprotected sex, using drugs) but ultimately redeem themselves at the end of the film, while others stay positive from the beginning. The cast is racially and ethnically diverse, but there's also some racial stereotyping, although it's largely a product of its time. Some students are at the mercy of predatory adults and don't always behave well.


A student (who carries knives) has a violent outburst in class in which he storms out and smashes glass doors with a trash can, and there are a handful of fistfights. Other characters describe violent incidents (not shown on screen) that have negatively affected their lives -- including a 5-year-old girl getting attacked by a junkie, a mother having her head put through a wall by her husband, and someone shooting himself in the head. One near suicide.


Several shots of frontal female nudity from the waist up, plus kissing and innuendo that teens are having unprotected sex (it's implied that Doris loses her virginity to Ralph, and another young couple's sexual activities ultimately lead to an abortion). One student becomes pregnant and schedules an appointment to have an abortion without her parents' knowledge. Another meets a stranger who claims to be a filmmaker and agrees to go to his apartment for a screen test, where she's asked to take off her top -- and does, although she cries as she's doing it.


Heavy usage of "f--k" (in all its incarnations, including "motherf--ker" and "absof--kinglutely"), "s--t," "ass," "goddamn," and "hell," plus slurs and sexual terms like "faggot," "fag hag," "bitch," "dick," and "t-ts." Some obscene gesturing.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink occasionally in nightclubs (legal drinking age at the time was 18). Two students smoke marijuana at a movie theater, and a first-time user says, "I got stoned! It was more than incredible; it was fun." Ralph uses unspecified drugs and drinks after his comedy shows.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that, in terms of content, this R-rated 1980 film is much heavier than both the teen-friendly TV drama it spawned and the PG-rated 2009 remake -- consequently, it's only age-appropriate for mature teens. In addition to frequent, unbleeped swearing (including many forms of "f--k," which even pops up in the classroom with no objection from teachers), viewers will see plenty of topless female characters and watch teens grapple with serious situations, including intense competition, abortion, drug use, poverty, sexual identity (one male student comes out), and suicide. Many of the students make iffy choices that aren't always shown to have negative consequences, although at least two are generally positive role models.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTqueen93 June 8, 2012

don't be to harsh

I think that certain people, especially adults shouldn't be to harsh on it. as an 18 year old teen I really, really liked it. No it's not a good movie... Continue reading
Adult Written byoctober1985 May 1, 2010
Teen, 17 years old Written bygingerkiss May 14, 2011

Loved it (:

I liked it! I'm 14 and I watched it with my mum and she thought it was fine. I mean - who hasn't seen breasts before? And the language is used all the... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMissMoonie223 January 26, 2011

Great movie, iffy content

Ok, for one thing, it's rated R, not an issue for some parents but for others.... If it skipped out on some of the nudity and language, it would be a lot m... Continue reading

What's the story?

Blending elements of straight drama, music, and dance, FAME shadows a group of gifted students (including singer Irene Cara, dancer Gene Anthony Ray, and composer Lee Currieri) during their time at New York's prestigious High School of Performing Arts, where they're learning the skills they need to succeed. The film -- which won two Oscars for its music (including a Best Original Song statuette for the title track "Fame" -- spawned a 1980s TV series of the same name that allowed several of its young stars to reprise their roles and gave Debbie Allen a much more prominent role as a no-nonsense dance teacher.

Is it any good?

Fame might not be a parent's dream pick when it comes to take-away messages and role models, but it doesn't pander, either. It's one of the most honest portrayals of what it was like growing up in New York City during a certain time. The film also captures the raw emotions of teens who are grappling with heavy issues -- and, more importantly, casts the right actors to portray them with startling clarity.

Fame is undoubtably heavy. But that doesn't mean it leaves ardent fans of the musical/dance genre out in the cold. On the contrary, it serves up songs that still sound vital decades later and puts the talents of young dancers, musicians, and actors on display for the world to see. Fame isn't slick or glib, like many modern takes on the same topic. And that's ultimately what made it famous.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether these teens' stories are still relevant to today's high schoolers. Teens: Which of these characters, if any, do you relate to? Do any of the characters' problems seem outdated to you?

  • Does it surprise you to see students talking back to their teachers and using curse words like "f--k" in the classroom? Are curse words more often used as a form of expression or as a means to disrespect someone?

  • What messages does this film send about the consequences of premarital sex, acting out in school, and using recreational drugs?

  • This film is a great opportunity to open a dialogue with mature teens about the stresses they face, including pressure to do drugs, drink, and have sex. How do they respond? How do they protect themselves?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love performing

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