Do you remember the Bomba films shown in PH movie houses back in the 70s? It was every adolescent male’s dream to watch one.
Because if you remember, then you should be all ears. Bomba films are currently on the rise again, and it’s not stopping anytime soon.
The “bombas”, as they were known, were a mix of soft-core and hard-core, sexually explicit movies. These were inspired by ‘bomba komiks’, adult-oriented comics featuring nudity and sex.
Their female stars became famous celebrities and frequently starred on the covers of newspapers and magazines. Although bomba films became increasingly explicit, they were a mainstream phenomenon. They regularly attracted male students, as well as men in search of a cheap thrill.
It all started during the 1970s, and a number of factors were behind this explosion of screen sexuality. Firstly, the ‘sexual revolution’ of the decade prior played a part. It opened people’s minds to the possibilities of film as a medium to portray such scenes and tell such stories. The relaxation of censorship rules in the Philippines back in 1967 opened the floodgates.
The first bomba film is thought to have been ‘Uhaw’ (1970). It is a soft-core R-18 movie about a woman who becomes promiscuous after her husband was made impotent by an accident.
Meanwhile, the storylines were usually abusive to women. Bomba films’ narratives had rape and sexual harassment as regular motifs. The female characters were usually portrayed as victims, or if not that, as predatory nymphomaniacs.
Surprisingly, however, bomba films also often represented the hardships and misery of Filipino women. It may have been intended at times, or could have been simply collateral due to the explicit themes they tackled.
All we know is that some were actually artistically tasteful.
Bomba komiks were suppressed when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972. At the same time, bomba movies disappeared and were replaced by softer “bold” films. These were produced under the guise of “art films” with financial assistance from the government.
These movies often featured “the wet look” of females bathing or swimming in flimsy suits. Former Miss Universe Gloria Diaz was often seen in these films, and actor Ernie Garcia became the “bold king” of Philippine cinema. These “softer bomba films” are more familiar to the current generations of Filipinos. Bomba movies returned when martial law was lifted in 1981, but never had the same impact.
Somewhere along the line, SM came to dominate the movie market. They owned just about 90% of theaters in the Philippines for a time. So if they didn’t show your film, it could very well fall flat.
This was directly tied to MTRCB ratings. If your movie was rated as “X”, then that means it can’t be shown in SM cinemas. The industry was pretty much held hostage. So instead of missing out on 90% of Philippine theaters, they chose the safer route. Which, of course, are the corny ‘mainstream movies’ we see in theaters today.
A somehow positive by-product of the pandemic is that theaters were forcibly closed. At first, it was scary. Because how will our film industry survive?
Well, fortunately for us, we’re now in the digital age. If the pandemic were to happen ten years ago, the Philippine movie industry would’ve easily crashed almost instantly
Today in 2022, many Filipinos are choosing to stay at home, pop up a streaming app, and lounge around for the entire night. Enjoying films used to be an event you had to prepare for. You had to budget your money for transportation, food, and tickets. We’ve come a long way.
This is the reason why our film industry has survived. We have embraced streaming.
Now, with more lax guidelines, bomba films are on the rise again. But now, it’s not just about sex – they’re getting good. Headed by the likes of A Girl and A Guy (2021) that recently trended on Netflix, it’s looking like we’re headed for another Golden Age of Bomba Films!