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La Bamba is a 1987 American biographical film written and directed by Luis Valdez that follows the life and career of Chicano rock 'n' roll star Ritchie Valens. The film stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, and Joe Pantoliano. The film depicts the impact Valens' career had on the lives of his half-brother Bob Morales, his girlfriend Donna Ludwig and the rest of his family.

La Bamba
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLuis Valdez
Produced byBill Borden
Taylor Hackford
Written byLuis Valdez
Music byLos Lobos
Miles Goodman
Carlos Santana
CinematographyAdam Greenberg
Edited bySheldon Kahn
Don Brochu
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • July 24, 1987 (1987-07-24)
Running time
108 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6.5 million
Box office$54.2 million[1]

In 2017, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[2]



Ricardo Valenzuela is a normal teenage boy who becomes a rock 'n' roll superstar under the stage name Ritchie Valens. He meets and falls in love with high school classmate Donna Ludwig, for whom he writes a song that becomes a number two hit, ("Donna"). However, Donna's father has issues with his daughter dating a Mexican-American, which causes friction between Ritchie and Donna. Ritchie's relationship with his mother Connie and half-brother Bob Morales, and the jealousy Bob feels toward Ritchie's success are also depicted.

Bob wins an important art contest that helps promising cartoonists, only to throw away his prize because, in his mind, his mother does not care enough. Bob resorts to drinking heavily and, at one point, yells in a drunken rage in front of his mother's door, "I want to see my daughter!" in reference to the child he sired with Ritchie's first girlfriend Rosie. However, when they get an opportunity, Ritchie and Bob sneak out for a good time. On one occasion, they take a road trip to Tijuana, visiting one of the local clubs where Ritchie discovers what will become his signature song, "La Bamba".

Ritchie has a fear of flying, triggered by a recurring dream resulting from a midair collision between two planes over Ritchie's school which killed his best friend. Ritchie initially manages to avoid flying to his concerts and appearances, but has to conquer his fear when invited to perform "Donna" on American Bandstand. Ritchie's record producer and manager, Bob Keane, helps him by giving him a little vodka to calm his nerves during the flight to Philadelphia.

As Ritchie becomes more famous, his responsibilities change, and he eventually joins the ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour with Buddy Holly and "The Big Bopper" after "La Bamba" and "Donna" reach the top of the Billboard charts. Ritchie, Holly, and Bopper take off in an airplane during a snowstorm for their fateful flight on February 3, 1959. Before the flight, Ritchie makes a call to his brother, wherein they patch up their differences. He even invites Bob to fly out to Chicago to join the tour for family support.

The next day, while Bob is fixing his mother's car, he hears the news bulletin on the radio that his brother's plane crashed without any survivors. Bob darts out of his driveway in an attempt to get to his mother before she hears the news, only to find her standing immobile. The news of Ritchie's death hits the Valenzuela family, Bob, and Donna very hard. After Ritchie's funeral at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, Bob walks across a bridge and screams out Ritchie's name, remembering the good times they had together, accompanied by the Santo & Johnny instrumental "Sleep Walk".

During the end credits, Lou Diamond Phillips, as Ritchie, is shown in footage from an earlier scene performing Valens' version of "La Bamba".


Also featured are several members of the Valenzuela family and director Luis Valdez's family, including:

  • Concepcion Valenzuela (the real Connie Valenzuela, Ritchie's mother) as the elderly woman sitting next to Lou Diamond Phillips (as Ritchie) at a party
  • Daniel Valdez (Luis' brother) as Ritchie's Uncle Lelo


The film opened in wide release in the United States on July 24, 1987. In Australia it opened on September 17, 1987.

In its opening weekend, the film grossed a total of $5,698,884. La Bamba eventually grossed $52,678,820 in the United States in 12 weeks.[3]


Roger Ebert liked the film and the screenplay, writing, "This is a good small movie, sweet and sentimental, about a kid who never really got a chance to show his stuff. The best things in it are the most unexpected things: the portraits of everyday life, of a loving mother, of a brother who loves and resents him, of a kid growing up and tasting fame and leaving everyone standing around at his funeral shocked that his life ended just as it seemed to be beginning."[4]

Janet Maslin, writing for The New York Times, was impressed with Lou Diamond Phillips' performance, and wrote, "A film like this is quite naturally a showcase for its star, and as Valens, Lou Diamond Phillips has a sweetness and sincerity that in no way diminish the toughness of his onstage persona. The role is blandly written, but Mr. Phillips gives Valens backbone."[5]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 28 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10.[6]





La Bamba Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Various artists
ReleasedJune 30, 1987
GenreRock and roll, rockabilly
LabelSlash, Warner Bros.

Because the movie is a celebration of 1950s rock and roller Ritchie Valens, his music and the music of his contemporaries play a central part in the film.

An original motion picture soundtrack album was released on June 30, 1987 on Warner Bros. Records. The album contained 12 tracks. The first six songs consist of Los Lobos covers of Ritchie Valens' songs: "La Bamba", "Come On Let's Go", "Ooh My Head", "We Belong Together", "Framed", and "Donna".

Other performers include: Howard Huntsberry, Marshall Crenshaw, Brian Setzer, and Bo Diddley performing a new version of his blues classic "Who Do You Love?".

Some songs like The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace" were omitted from the release. Other omitted songs were "Oh Boy", "Rip It Up", "The Paddi Wack Song" (written by Valens), and "Sleep Walk" by Santo & Johnny (used in the final and initial scenes).

Track listingEdit

Side A.
  1. "La Bamba" - Los Lobos
  2. "Come On, Let's Go!" - Los Lobos
  3. "Ooh My Head" - Los Lobos
  4. "We Belong Together" - Los Lobos
  5. "Framed" - Los Lobos
  6. "Donna" - Los Lobos
Side B.
  1. "Lonely Teardrops" - Howard Huntsberry
  2. "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" - Marshall Crenshaw
  3. "Summertime Blues" - Brian Setzer
  4. "Who Do You Love?" - Bo Diddley
  5. "Charlena" - Los Lobos
  6. "Goodnight, My Love" - Los Lobos


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
France (SNEP)[7] Gold 0*
United States (RIAA)[8] 2× Platinum 2,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


  1. ^ La Bamba at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Cannady, Sheryl (December 13, 2017). "2017 National Film Registry Is More Than a 'Field of Dreams'". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  3. ^ "La Bamba (1987)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved November 27, 2007.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (July 24, 1987). "La Bamba". Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  5. ^ Maslin, Janet (July 24, 1987). "FILM: 'LA BAMBA,' A MUSICAL BIOGRAPHY". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  6. ^ "La Bamba (1987)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved April 10, 2018.
  7. ^ "Les Certifications (Albums) du SNEP (Bilan par Artiste) > "Los Lobos" > "Ok". Archived from the original on September 22, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2015.[not in citation given]
  8. ^ "American album certifications – Los Lobos – LA BAMBA (SOUNDTRACK)". Recording Industry Association of America. If necessary, click Advanced, then click Format, then select Album, then click SEARCH. 

External linksEdit