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The 30 Best Spanish Language Movies of All Time

01 April 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Joao Braga

best spanish language movies

This list focuses on the Spanish-spoken film industry, so all the countries that have Spanish as their main language will enter in “competition”. Argentina, Mexico and Spain are the main countries and greatest contributors to the development of this film industry.

Contrary to the Italian film industry, for example, which “died” after 1980s, Spanish-spoken cinema had, after that period, an increase of quality in their films, with the appearance of more and more people who immensely contributed to the reputation of this film industry.

Although most of these movies are from Spain, it is noticeable that most of the modern films released and featured on this list are from Mexico or Argentina. Not that the Spanish movies aren’t important nowadays, but the talent and importance of Latin American films grew exponentially, providing great releases that became crucial to this industry after the 2000s.

Not only does the Spanish-spoken film industry have amazing classics, it also contains a great deal of recent films that became a landmark in their industry with most of them being recognized worldwide, receiving nominations or wins in important competitions, including the Academy Awards or Cannes Film Festival. Several films were considered, but only 30 could be chosen.

 

30. Los Santos Inocentes (Mario Camus, 1984)

Los Santos Inocentes

This is a movie that deals with poverty and all the problems attached to that issue. It is a release mainly incentivized by its amazing acting, which makes this release a mandatory one to feature on this list. I’m not saying the acting caliber is the only thing it has, but it is so superb that sometimes, the plot comes in second when analyzing the film.

It tells the story of a poor family working for a rich house. The servants aren’t very well treated and are always put in second place, not only regarding their opinions, but also their rights, such as their living conditions or basic welfare. The story is told in a series of flashbacks, from the perspectives of the mother and father.

More than just a movie, “Los Santos Inocentes” is a philosophical study on poverty, focusing on the gap between the rich and the poor and how the poor are treated. Camus’s directorial skills do the rest, with his attention focused on the patriarch of the poor family and his mentally retarded brother-in-law.

Also considered for these last places were “Marcelino pan y vino” (1955) by Ladislao Vadja, “Secretos del corazón” (1997) by Montxo Armendáriz and “Historias de la radio” (1955) by José Luis Sáenz de Heredia.

 

29. La caza (Carlos Saura, 1966)

La caza

The most surprising thing about this movie is its main focus, which is the human condition and how humans react to situations of crisis and difficulty. It’s a thrilling movie and made Carlos Saura one of the most important Spanish directors of his time. The main aspect of this film is its “mystery” and how it hovers above its main theme.

The plot joins four friends, who have some bad blood with each other, in a rabbit hunt on one of the year’s hottest days, a prequel for what might happen in the near future. Although their problems aren’t big and are treatable with time and some willingness to improve, they have a sort of purpose in arguing with each other. After a very hot sunny day of fighting, their inner feelings come out to play with their dislike for one another playing a major role, ending in the most disastrous way possible.

“La Caza” is one of the list’s most underrated movies, and definitely a mandatory presence on a list of underrated movies, despite having earned some great awards. Still, it is seen by many directors as an inspiration for their careers. It’s unfairly placed on this list, but considering the film isn’t well known by most audiences, I think it’s fair to place it in this spot.

 

28. Ensayo de un Crimen (Luis Buñuel, 1955)

Ensayo de un Crimen

I was a bit undecided regarding the choice of film to place in this spot. Both “Él” and “Ensayo de un crimen” deal with psychology from a disturbed perspective. Both films are great, amazingly executed, directed, and written, but I chose this 1955 release for its diversity of styles, presenting drama and comedy, but also a tiny bit of thriller and mystery. For that reason, I decided to talk about both films. Perhaps my favorite of the two would be the one I chose to place on this list.

“Ensayo de un crimen” isn’t as sick as “Él”, despite its comparatively inferior acting overall. The storyline is sometimes considered to be better than the one in “Él”. This latter film deals with obsession and desperation, mainly from the husband’s point of view, while “Ensayo de un crimen” shows a more comedic approach of the mind of a “wannabe” serial killer, who fails constantly in reaching his ultimate goal, which is the perfect murder.

Both are highly admired by Spanish audiences and critics and although I chose “Ensayo de un crimen”, as the better one, I agree that “El” can show a much more complex and “deranged” storyline, mostly due to its great acting and skillfully written plot that exploits the inner soul of a jealous and obsessed husband.

Check also “El” (1953) by Luis Buñuel.

 

27. La Mala Educación (Pedro Almodóvar, 2004)

La Mala Educación

This is definitely one of Pedro Almodóvar’s most controversial films, opening and showing the world of homosexuality, represented by the love between two friends. It’s marked for its amazing performance by one of South America’s top actors, Gael García Bernal, and also for the personal mark it has for the director himself.

“La Mala Educación” tells the tale of two friends who, while attending a religious school, fell in love with each other. The movie experiences and shows the aftermath of sexual abuse in children and the dangerous consequences in their lives. One of the priests becomes heavily involved with one of the boys, with both suffering the consequences of the priest’s acts in the future.

The relationship between the two lovers is shown in a series of flashbacks, going backward and forward in time to tell that story. Yet, the movie contains something of a “mind-bender”, which will catch you off-guard and is only known after the one hour mark. For that reason, I can’t explore the storyline too deeply, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

Regarding the reception of the film, “La Mala Educación” is viewed by many as a classic of modern times, but others may see it as a flop. I’m in the middle, perhaps; I definitely wouldn’t consider it either a classic or a flop. I think it’s one of those movies that is highlighted by the actors’ performances, being the main reason for its success.

Although the plot presents a genial plot twist, it seems the plot could go a bit more overboard with the sexual abuse angle, making it a much more conveniently dramatic release.

 

26. La lengua de las mariposas (José Luis Cuerda, 1999)

BUTTERFLY TONGUES, (aka LA LENGUA DE LAS MARIPOSAS), Manuel Lozano, Fernando Fernán Gómez, 1999. ©Miramax Films/ Colection

“La Lengua de las mariposas” is a film of contrasts; it is sweet and innocent, but also has a certain aura of tragedy that is achieved at the end with the child’s incomprehensible acts. Although I was disappointed with its ending, the film is quite well embellished by its innocence and sweetness, mainly portrayed by the relationship between “el Maestro” and Moncho.

Released in 1999, “La lengua de las mariposas” contains a certain unpolished beauty and sparkling magic that most of the “old” movies have, with a twist that is difficult to bear in the end. It occurs during the rise of the fascist and nationalist forces on Spanish soil. Its people are forced to adopt the “new nationalist” methods, and that is mainly observed in its shocking ending.

Moncho is a kid who wants to learn and improve his studies at school. His parents support him as much as they can, and he quickly builds a strong relationship with his teacher, Don Gregorio, otherwise known as “el Maestro”, who in turn builds a respectful relationship with the rest of Moncho’s family.

The teacher is different from the others, building a seemingly strong relationship with Moncho, teaching him the most important aspects of life and the beauty of nature. This film may also be seen as a movie of contrasts; it is innocent and sweet in most moments, but it also has an aura of cruelty impending the characters’ path, reaching its climax at the end.

It’s a tragic ending, mostly portrayed by Moncho’s tragic acts that despite being tragic, may symbolize the forced nationalist spirit imposed on the people.

 

25. Tesis (Alejandro Amenábar, 1996)

tesis-1996

“Tesis” is another film where director Alejandro Amenábar dissects his characters to such an extreme that it is almost difficult for the viewer to understand. It’s one of his best thrillers and again, Amenábar chooses a wide and strong psychological component to solidify the film’s plot.

At the time of release, the director was actually a film student and made “Tesis” with the intent of not only informing film students, but of awakening the Spanish film industry, which was in need of a boost. The movie explores violence in a shocking manner, picking a disturbing theme and a definite taboo: snuff movies.

It was largely inspired by American horror movies and filmed with that intent of inspiration. Violence is natural in human beings, and it’s described as a natural emotion toward others and toward life. Although I agree this film takes a completely different turn and deviates from the norm, “Tesis” describes violence as an inner emotion that is desperate to get out of human’s inner soul, even if those humans have a normal life, like many of the characters dissected in this release.

Despite its violence and strong content, the film received high praise and is a definite must-watch movie for any cinema fan. It features Ana Torrent, one of the best European actresses of her time, and although the rest of the actors aren’t on her level, the performances overall are quite good.

Torrent plays a film student at university named Angela, who is writing a thesis on violence and is interested on violent films for the sole purpose of her thesis. She asks her professor-adviser to rent some violent movies from the university’s video club. Alone and frightened at what he might find, he chooses one hidden film, and what he sees shocks him so much that he ends up dying, beginning a series of frightening events that Angela will have to bear in order to survive.

 

24. Nueve Reinas (Fabián Bielinsky, 2000)

Nine Queens

As you will soon see, Ricardo Darín will be featured several times on this list, due to his influence on the modern Spanish-spoken film industry and a clear “landmark” to the film industry after the 90s. He plays Marcos, an experienced con artist who has stopped committing petty crimes.

One day, he catches Juan doing one of those petty crimes, which is proper for beginners, but Marcos sees talent in him and convinces him to join him on his masterpiece of a con. Juan is skeptical at first, but is convinced after Marcos impresses him with some sophisticated and elaborate cons.

The title, “Nueve Reinas”, translates in English to “The Nine Queens”, and it comes from the con itself. The object of their con is an extremely rare collection of stamps, which will be used to con their victims. Soon, other suspicious characters enter the scene and what seemed to be a simple but elaborate con transforms into a sophisticated coup d’état between thieves, heavily motivated by deceit and personal mistrust.

 

 

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  • Toni Beißkammer

    wow, “Y tu mama tambien” is not even on there?? Come the fuck on! it’s my fav film of ALL time, so i’m kinda biased, but not even including it is just an affront !!!

    • Hector E Menchaca

      “Y Tu Mama Tambien” is one of the most spanish language overrated films of all time is not so good and the fact that was directed by Alfonso Cuaron not makes it good.

      • Toni Beißkammer

        Yeah, well, different strokes for different folks, tho. I don’t go out of my way to tell you your fav film is “overrated” (which is the most annoying word on the planet), dood, “Y tu mama tambien” may seem shoal on first watch, but to me it was something profound.

        I agree, Cuaron never got back to old glory after “Children of Men”, “Gravity” was quite shitty, if you ask me.

        But to get back on topic, what exactly do you not like about “Y tu mama tambien”??

        • Jasper Superior

          Shit it’s a list of made by a person. It reflects their opinions and tastes. If they don’t match with your opinions and tastes, thats ok…

          • Toni Beißkammer

            No problem, man, I’m not half serious about this either..

          • Jasper Superior

            No worries, it’s always hard to tell real feelings on an online thing like this.

      • HLLH

        Relatos Salvajes is here, and that movie is overrated af

    • Debb Morgan

      I agre.

  • Rui

    grande lista!

  • Stephus

    I would add Pan’s labyrinth and take out la mala educacion which is overrated. i thought this was a Spanish movie list but there are Mexican movies here also. So I would add some other movies from Spanish language countries like The Secret In their Eyes, love in times of hysteria, la vendedora de rosas, city of God, strawberry and chocolate, holy blood, cronos, our lady of the assassins,xxy, plata quemada.

    • Jasper Superior

      Yes. Spanish language.

      • Stephus

        Omg you’re right lol I turned my thought from Spanish to latinamerican because it’s a Brazilian movie

    • Rui

      city of god it’s portuguese, not spanish…

      • Stephus

        Oops my reply went to another comment >.<

        • Rui

          haha! no worries 😉

    • Andreas P.

      The Secret In Their Eyes is number 2 on the list.

      • Debb Morgan

        Should be #1. That’s a he’ll of a movie.

    • Debb Morgan

      Spanish, means in Spanish language in this case, not from Spain.

    • Tobias Palma

      Fresa y Chocolate is fantastic.

  • Anton Chigurh

    Solid list overall.
    I’d definitely add “La Historia Oficial” (1985) by Luis Puenzo and probably “El Topo” (1970) by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

  • Unless this is a list of Spain- born directors and productions, the ignorance on the latinamerican films shot entirely in spanish language is pathetic to say the least.

    • HLLH

      What?

  • Bielsa Widow

    Machuca.

  • Sucio Anacoreta

    Some good choices and some not. Arrebato (1979) should be number 1

  • Sucio Anacoreta

    You missed Almodovar best movie: Talk to her

    • Arnaldo Fernandez

      No 7: Talk to her = Hable con ella.

      • Sucio Anacoreta

        sorry 🙂

  • Arnaldo Fernandez

    “Relatos Salvajes” is overrated!

    • Paesito “Martin Paez” Paez

      No way its an amazing film

    • Monchie Horror

      Tu comentario está overrated.

  • disqus_Gk6cN2OisR

    y Alex de la iglesia? ni nada de Colombia para resaltar?

    • Gines Velazquez

      El día de la bestia / La estrategia del caracol

  • Arbait Arbaits

    Acción mutante (1993) a Spanish science fiction black comedy film co-written and directed by Álex de la Iglesia.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrSfAz8aljw

    • HLLH

      Dia de la bestia?

    • Tobias Palma

      My favourite Alex De la Iglesia’s is 800 Bullets. What a western!

  • Juan Miguel Carvajal

    Great list, thanks for your sharing.

  • Analia Solier

    “Alatriste” is missing….

  • Deweb

    How about Yo, Tambien?

  • Gines Velazquez

    May be is just for argentinians spectators, but Leonardo Favio is a great director…

    • Gines Velazquez

      *was…

    • After Luis Buñuel, Leonardo Favio is the best cinematographic artist and poet that Latin America has given to the world.

  • Gabriel

    Just a correction: Gael García Bernal is Mexican, so he’s North American, instead of South American.

  • invaderzim

    El Abrazo de la Serpiente Dir. Ciro Guerra (Colombia), it’s a newer one but by far one of the most brilliant films i’ve seen 🙂

  • HLLH

    El Topo, Pan’s Labyrinth, Y Tu Mamá También, Nazarín.

  • Luli Doro

    “Machuca” – Andres Wood and “La historia oficial” – Luis Puenzo!

  • Mytian Ticas

    Obviously this is a subjective selection, because the best spanish spoken film ever made is Luis Buñuel’s “El Angel Exterminador”.

    • For me it would be Los olvidados!

  • ¿Pero cuán seria puede ser una lista de mejores películas latinoamericanas sin ninguna obra de Leopoldo Torre Nilsson, Mario Soffici, Adolfo Aristarain, Lucrecia Martel y sobre todo… ¿ninguna película de Leonardo Favio? ¡¿en serio?!

    • Camilo Ordoñez

      Pero la lista no es es películas latinoamericanas sino en idioma Español…

  • Peter

    I’d put María Llena de Gracia, Y Tú Mamá También, Pan’s Labyrinth, La Teta Asustada, La Vendedora de Rosas, Fresa y Chocolate, and El Abrazo de la Serpiente. Solid list but it looks more like it’s a Spanish/Argentinean list.

  • Diego Riera

    campanella is sooooo overrated
    2 movies in top ten ?????? where´s favio or torres nilson. wild tales over lucrecia martel??? the spanish movies are ok, but the argentinean movies on this list are too mainstream and comercial. you have the film taste of a teenager.

  • Marc Miralles

    It lacks a lot of great films, some of them much better than other films on this list. Martin Hache is fantastic. El laberinto del fauno, equally brilliant and soul-crushing, and also a very critic film. Magical Girl is a recent film which I find it absolutely sublime, also incredibly soul-crushing as well, but it was the winner of the Golden Shell in the San Sebastian film festival. Etc, etc… This list needs a deep review.

  • Debb Morgan

    I would add Sin Noticias de Dios (Don’t Tempt Me) 2001 and Y Tu Mamá También 2001.

  • Alfred

    I agree with some films, but there are some innovative and universal-themed films that dominate the world lists and here are unfairly missing. When we say Spanish language films we mean Spain and the 19 Spanish speaking countries of the American continent. This list consists only of Spain, Argentina and Mexico. I would add Cuban cinema with 4 masterpieces: “I am Cuba”, “Memories of underdevelopment”, “A successful man” and “Lucia” and Chilean cinema with “Jackal of Nahueltoro” and “Machuca”. As for Agentinean cinema I would add “Night of the pencils” instead of the conventional and predictable “Son of the bride” and the Tarantino Hollywood wannabe “9 Queens”. As for Mexico the absence of “The exterminating angel” is more than obvious, plus I would also add, next to the films of Bunuel you chose, “El” as well. Also, from the Mexican cinema I would add Alejandro Jodorowsky’s masterpieces “El topo” and “Holy motors” along with Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s labyrith”. As for Spain I would add two more films of Almodovar (along with the 3 you chose): “High Heels” and “Kika” and at last but not least an emergency film of Iciar Bollain “Even the rain” with Gael Garcia Bernal.

    • Alfred

      I meant Holy Mountain not Holy motors!!

    • Tobias Palma

      Agree. It is a good list overall, but very centred in Spanish, Argentinian and Mexican films. Thanks for mentioning Cuban and Chilean cinema.

      On the other hand, why do you say 9 Queens is a Tarantino wannabe when it was made in 2000? At that point Tarantino had only made it to Pulp Fiction and wasn’t the star he is now. And 9 Queens’ script is just superb, and it is very, very argentinian.

      • Alfred

        Until then Tarantino had made 3 films (Reservoir dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown). I mean that 9 Queens resembles this style of gangster films with black humour and cool guys (whereas in reality the underworld isn’t so cool, but there is a socio-political context on it and the characters have more depth and social analysis of their acts). Of course, I do prefer Nine Queens over the hype of Tarantino, but 9 Queens has this same concept, in my opinion. It started too realistic, like the thieves were you or a next door guy, later it became too stereotypical Hollywood style. I guess you are Argentinian for writing “it is very Argentinian” and maybe it didn’t appeal to me.

      • i guess it´s because those three countries have comparatively much bigger movie INDUSTRIES than the others.
        That doesn´t mean that they always do better movies than the rest of the continent, just that they do MORE movies, have a bigger market and puts enough money in marketing to make them a bit known abroad.

  • Johnny Rojazo

    “El Espíritu de la Colmena”

    Por dios. Cómo te dejas EL Espíritu y El Sur fuera? Qué te has fumao?

  • Allister Cooper

    REC, REC 3, and El Mariachi.

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