La Bamba Movie Poster Image

La Bamba



Sweet, sad rock-idol story for mature teens.
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1987
  • Running Time: 109 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Staying true to one's dreams; family loyalty. When a producer asks Ritchie what's more important -- his friends or his music -- Ritchie replies, "My family." Characters are generally good, supportive, and caring people. One character is a violent, alcoholic ex-con who struggles with his behavior throughout the film but appears to be cleaning up his act in the end.


One character in particular has violent, alcohol-fueled flare-ups that include fistfights and brawls with men and violence against his girlfriend -- verbal, physical, and sexual (a rape is implied by not shown). A character has a recurring and increasingly graphic nightmare in which two planes crash in the sky and the fiery wreckage rains down on children in a schoolyard. A main character dies in a plane crash, which takes place off-screen and is handled by radio reports. A folk healer is shown stripping a dead rattlesnake in half.


A couple passionately makes out; they are still wearing most of their clothing and are shown from the chest up when they appear to start having sex. Teens kiss and "neck." A character remarks about his girlfriend, "I almost have to rape her just to have sex." The same character takes his younger brother to Tijuana to get him "laid." Prostitutes at a brothel/dance hall line up to be chosen.


Profanity throughout, including "f--k" and "s--t."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Characters are shown drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and/or smoking pot. One character sells a friend some marijuana; the kilos are shown taped to his torso under his shirt. The same character often becomes drunk and violent. A character wakes up with a hangover.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that a central character dies in this movie, although the death occurs off-screen. Also, there are several scenes involving violence, drunkenness, and/or drug use. While Ritchie's courting of Donna is innocent and sweet, his brother is quite the opposite with women. He's violent and a scene implies that he forces sex on his girlfriend. Both that and Ritchie's recurring (and prophetic) dreams of a plane crash will be disturbing to sensitive and younger viewers.

What's the story?

LA BAMBA chronicles the life story of 1950s Mexican American pop singer Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips), who broke barriers with mainstream hits including "Come on, Let's Go" and "La Bamba." Ritchie is a dutiful son compared to older brother and bad boy Bob (Esai Morales), and the difference causes friction between the two brothers. In high school, Ritchie plays in a band, and falls in love with Donna, but her parents disapprove of her relationship with a Latino from the other side of the tracks. Ritchie continues to hone his skills while struggling with his tempestuous relationship with Bob, and he constantly suffers from a fear of flying. When a record producer (Joe Pantoliano) discovers Ritchie playing at a teen dance, that fateful meeting leads to Valens' biggest hit singles. On a tour in the Midwest, the rising star boards a plane with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. It's February 3, 1959 -- the day the music died.

Is it any good?


LA BAMBA feels like rock 'n' roll in the fabulous '50s: fresh, young, exciting, sentimental, a little bit dangerous, but irresistibly infectious. Lou Diamond Phillips, with his wide-eyed energy and boyish charm, is endearing as the Mexican-American performer whose time in the spotlight was tragically brief. The movie also depicts an intense but loving relationship between two brothers.

The concert sequences are fun and energetic, and Phillips commands the stage in these scenes. Valens' music and vocals are provided by Los Lobos, who also makes an appearance as a Tijuana dance-hall band. Rock musicians Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Setzer also have cameos as Holly and Eddie Cochran.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the dynamics of Ritchie's family: What are the positive and negative aspects of their interactions and what is the distinction between the two brothers? How does the movie portray Mexican-Americans in 1950s California? Why does Ritchie change his name to something less "ethnic"? How accurate is the movie's portrayal of Ritchie?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:July 24, 1987
DVD/Streaming release date:April 6, 1999
Cast:Esai Morales, Joe Pantoliano, Lou Diamond Phillips
Director:Luis Valdez
Studio:Sony Pictures
Run time:109 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byam1408 August 18, 2010


two thumps up !
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great role models
Parent Written bymjquinn April 9, 2008
Kid, 11 years old February 21, 2010

good for kids 11 and up

I like that the main character cares about his family and that he doesn't take drugs. The only thing that I am concerned about is that there is drugs.
What other families should know
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages
Great role models