Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
Pavarotti Movie Poster Image
Docu traces opera icon's rise; some swearing, war images.
  • PG-13
  • 2019
  • 114 minutes

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Positive Messages

Pavarotti's success started with his drive, ambition, charismatic personality, but he worked as a team with his wife, his managers, and concert producers to create a brand and an image, becoming one of the world's biggest stars. Humility and compassion lead him to greater heights.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Depicts the maestro as an inspiring, likable, relatable figure: He was a school teacher with a dream who surpassed his goal to become greatest tenor of all time. Yet he still was a bundle of nerves before every performance. Once successful, he became committed to philanthropy, especially causes that helped children. He demonstrates how to work with your rivals instead of against them to bring even greater success to all. He defied traditional thinking to experiment with his craft and create a new bar of accomplishment. But he did also have affairs and had an unhealthy lifestyle.


Historical footage of World War II includes bombings and a haunting image of several dead men who'd been hanged. Images of performance of Tosca include Pavarotti covered in fake blood, stage rifles shooting at Pavarotti's character, who falls as if dead.


Discussion of Pavarotti's marriage includes a nonjudgmental inclusion about his infidelities and brief mention of the upsetting impact to his children when one affair became public.


Bono says "pisses," and "f---ing" a couple of times.


Pavarotti himself is a known brand.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Wine bottle label with Pavarotti's name on it is featured. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that in the documentary Pavarotti, director Ron Howard uses the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti's life story to demonstrate how a great talent in a niche music genre built his brand to become one of the world's biggest superstars. Many kids may turn up their nose at an opera film, but, in our fame-seeking world, some may spark to the idea of how out-of-the-box thinking and teamwork allowed Pavarotti to become a household name. The film also makes it clear that the singer's perseverance, humility, and compassion led him to greater heights, and it implies that his friendship with Princess Diana influenced him to turn his life's work into a vehicle for noble and charitable efforts. It also serves as an opera primer, with lessons that are applicable beyond that community -- such as why opera is designed to create an emotional connection with the audience. While Pavarotti is mostly made out to be a saint, it does acknowledge he had affairs that brought pain and estrangement to his family. Expect a couple of swear words (including "f---ing") and historical footage from World War II that includes bombings and a haunting image of several dead men who'd been hanged.

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What's the story?

Directed by Ron Howard, the documentary PAVAROTTI looks at the personal and professional life of the legendary opera tenor. The film details how the combination of prodigious talent, charisma, ambition, and willingness to step outside the norm buoyed an elementary school teacher from Modena, Italy, to become one of the most famous people in the world. 

Is it any good?

Howard deftly lays out how an elementary school teacher created thunder loud enough to make the world take notice as he flashed across the sky. In doing so, Pavarotti becomes much more appealing to mainstream audiences than you might think for a heavily subtitled movie about an Italian opera singer. Howard starts by making him human, revealing "Luciano" before he becomes "Pavarotti." Viewers see his goofy sense of humor, his insecurities, his loneliness, and his beginnings as a boy who wanted to be like his father. The audience gets a feel for his terrific ambition, and credit is given to those he trusted to get him to the top. (Future marketing geniuses should take notes.)

But for opera fans, the film lacks depth. The audience doesn't really get a feel for the man himself. The interview footage with Pavarotti is limited, and the blanks are filled in by wives and lovers, managers and colleagues. He still feels like he's up on a pedestal, untouchable; perhaps that's because all of the interview subjects, including his wives and children, have put him there. As a mainstream reveal of what made opera icon Luciano Pavarotti surpass "good" to become one of the greats, Pavarotti satisfies the itch, but for opera fans, this film on the tenor's life only scratches the surface.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Pavarotti cultivated his career to become the most significant opera singer of the modern age. How did he use teamwork and perseverance to enhance his career? How did he "bring opera to the people"?

  • Pavarotti says, "Am I successful or am I famous? I don't know, and I don't care." What do you think he means? Would you care? Do success and fame always go hand in hand?

  • How does Pavarotti demonstrate compassion? How do you think Princess Diana ignited that character strength in him? Why is it a valuable trait to possess?

  • Did it surprise you to know that Pavarotti was nervous before every performance? What does he mean when he says, "I go to die" before performing? Knowing this, does it give you confidence in an aspect of your life?

  • Do you think this film provides a full, accurate portrait of Pavarotti? Are there other aspects of his life you'd want to know more about?

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