The Five Heartbeats

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Five Heartbeats Movie Poster Image
The rise and fall of a flashy, fictional 1960s rock group.
  • R
  • 1991
  • 121 minutes

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Positive Messages

Loyalty, trust, and friendship enable people to overcome adversity and find redemption. Drug addiction and alcoholism lead to failure and unhappiness.  Substance abusers can benefit from 12-step programs.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Most of the men in this film are portrayed as being intensely loyal to their friends, having strong family values, and exhibiting strong moral behavior. The few negative stereotypical characters are corrupt, greedy, and murderous, or susceptible to addictions. The women are mostly supportive helpmates to the men and have no other defining identity.


Several victims of a poker scam chase the perpetrators through the streets and gunshots are fired. One man is hit, but not seriously injured. A brutal fight with fists and violent kicking ends with one participant held dangling out of a high window and threatened with death. In retaliation for a leading character's courage in standing up to a villainous record executive, the man is killed by a truck (on camera).


Some seductive dancing, sexually-provocative musical performances and lots of leering glances -- along with female legs and low-cut costumes. One character is a self-proclaimed sex addict and womanizer. Couples are seen in bed together, but other than some kissing and embracing there is no actual sexual activity and no nudity.


Frequent cursing and vulgar language, including "screw," "whore," "ass," "willy," "bulls--t," "s--t," "asshole," "d--k," as well as multiple instances of  "f--k," and "motherf----r." Characters use the "N" word on numerous occasions.


Rolling Stone, Ebony, Jet, Esquire magazines; Myers Rum, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The lead singer of the group becomes a hardcore alcoholic and cocaine abuser. He snorts cocaine on camera. Nightclub scenes and bars show people drinking. Several characters are cigarette smokers. One man is introduced while drunk, slurring his speech and having difficulty with his balance.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that vulgar language is pervasive in this film, including multiple forms of  "f--k," "s--t," and several instances of the "N" word. Though there are many musical numbers and comic scenes, from time to time the tone changes drastically  and becomes intensely dramatic with self-destructive behavior, on-camera substance abuse (cocaine), and sequences depicting murderous rages. A man is severely beaten and held dangling through a window high over a city street. A very sympathetic character is killed when a truck purposefully careens into him. While there are several sequences in which characters kiss, embrace passionately and/or are seen in bed together, there is no actual sexual activity and no nudity. There is some seductive dancing and scantily dressed females engaging in teasing provocative behavior while they are being leered at by eager young men. A promiscuous character talks openly about his sexual addiction, and in one scene an abortion is considered.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCoiacoy July 9, 2020

A Classic

This movie is a black classic. I recommend everyone watch to see themes and issues that pervaded the Motown era of music for black artists. Issues include racis... Continue reading
Adult Written bymaijad September 2, 2018

The Five Heartbeats

One of the best films of all time.
Teen, 14 years old Written byD.B.. May 29, 2020

What's the story?

Five good friends from an urban neighborhood come together to make music. With Motown at its prime and the country clamoring for more rock, more glitz, and more explosive performances, THE FIVE HEARTBEATS emerge from obscurity to reach the top of the pop charts. On their way, they face corruption in the music industry, racial injustice, and self-destructive behavior in their ranks. Loyal sweethearts urge them on; relationships are broken and mended, and greedy maniacal record producers will stop at nothing to control their destiny.

Is it any good?

Despite the spirited and exuberant direction by an ambitious Robert Townsend, THE FIVE HEARTBEATS suffers from an inconsistent tone. Comedy and romance awkwardly co-exist with tragedy and murder, plus there's the corny script with way too many hackneyed complications, and some hammy, overripe acting from usually solid performers. Though the musical numbers are staged with gusto, great costumes, and terrific moves, the songs themselves are forgettable and derivative. The result is a shallow, one-dimensional look at stock African-American characters involved in a rags-to-riches story we've seen many times before.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Eddie's gradual descent into alcoholism and drug addiction. What early scenes did the filmmakers create that warned of Eddie's susceptibility to that kind of behavior? What messages about substance abuse do you take away from this movie?

  • The two brothers, J.T. and Duck, had a fiery and changeable relationship. How real did it seem? How do you deal with similar conflicts in your own family?

  • A character's change from the beginning to the end of  a movie is called a "character arc." Talk about the "arc" each of the Heartbeats. What did each one learn? What events changed them?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

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