Latin American cinema has a rich history and has produced some of the most captivating and thought-provoking films in world cinema. From the early days of Mexican cinema in the 1930s to the present day, Latin American filmmakers have explored a wide range of themes, from social and political issues to personal struggles and identity.

Some of the most celebrated Latin American movies have won critical acclaim and international recognition, including numerous awards at major film festivals such as Cannes, Venice, and Berlin. These movies offer a unique perspective on the culture and history of the region, as well as the challenges and triumphs of its people.

Best Latin American Movies

In this article, we will highlight some of the best Latin American movies that have made a significant impact on the world of cinema. From iconic classics to recent releases, these films showcase the diverse range of voices and stories that make up Latin American cinema.

1. The Milk of Sorrow (2009)

“The Milk of Sorrow” is a Peruvian film directed by Claudia Llosa and released in 2009. The film tells the story of Fausta, a young woman living in Lima who is afflicted with a rare condition known as “the milk of sorrow,” which she inherited from her mother. According to Peruvian folklore, this condition is caused by the trauma suffered by women during the country’s political violence in the 1980s and 1990s.

Fausta’s condition causes her to be extremely fearful and unable to function in her daily life. She works as a maid for a wealthy family in Lima, where she meets a musician named Noé who becomes her friend and helps her confront her fears.

Through their friendship, Fausta is able to confront the trauma of her past and find the courage to face her fears and move forward.

The film was critically acclaimed and won the Golden Bear at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010.

The Milk of Sorrow
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Magaly Solier, Susi Sanchez, Efrain Solis (Actors)
  • Claudia Llosa (Director) - Claudia Llosa (Writer) - Antonio Chavarrias (Producer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)

2. The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

The Secret in Their Eyes is a 2009 Argentine-Spanish crime drama film directed by Juan José Campanella. The film tells the story of a retired judiciary employee, Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darín), who decides to write a novel about a case he worked on in 1974 involving a brutal rape and murder of a young woman.

Throughout the film, Esposito struggles to come to terms with the case and the impact it has had on his life, as well as his unrequited love for his former boss, Irene (Soledad Villamil). The story weaves between past and present, exploring the themes of love, justice, and redemption.

The film was well-received by audiences and critics alike, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010, as well as numerous other awards at film festivals around the world.

It is widely regarded as one of the greatest Argentine films of all time, and has been praised for its compelling storytelling, strong performances, and beautiful cinematography.

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The Secret in Their Eyes [Blu-ray]
  • Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil (Actors)
  • Juan José Campanella (Director) - Juan José Campanella (Writer) - Juan José Campanella (Producer)
  • French, English (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

3. Machuca (2004)

“Machuca” is a Chilean historical drama film directed by Andrés Wood and released in 2004. The movie is set in Chile in the early 1970s, during the presidency of Salvador Allende, and focuses on the relationship between two boys from different social classes:

Gonzalo Infante, a wealthy boy attending a private school, and Pedro Machuca, a poor boy from a shantytown who is enrolled in Gonzalo’s school as part of a social integration program.

   

The film explores the social and political tensions that existed in Chile at that time, as well as the impact that Allende’s socialist government had on Chilean society.

The story is told from the perspective of Gonzalo, who befriends Pedro despite the opposition of his classmates and family, and witnesses the events leading up to the 1973 military coup that overthrew Allende’s government.

“Machuca” received critical acclaim for its portrayal of the complexities of Chilean society during the 1970s and its exploration of themes such as class, politics, and friendship. The film was also successful commercially and won numerous awards, both in Chile and internationally.

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4. City of God (2002)

“City of God” is a Brazilian crime drama film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund. The movie was released in 2002 and was based on a novel of the same name by Paulo Lins. The film is set in the 1960s and 1970s in the City of God, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The film follows the lives of several characters, including Buscapé, a young aspiring photographer, and Ze Pequeno, a ruthless drug dealer. The story explores the cycle of violence and poverty in the favela, as well as the impact of organized crime on the lives of its inhabitants.

The film was critically acclaimed and won numerous awards, including four Academy Award nominations. It is considered one of the greatest films of Brazilian cinema and has been praised for its raw and authentic depiction of life in the favelas. “City of God” has also been recognized for its innovative cinematography and editing, as well as its powerful soundtrack.

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City of God
  • City of God - DVD Used Like New
  • Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Phellipe Haagensen (Actors)
  • Ktia Lund (Director)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

5. Ratas, ratones, rateros (1999)

“Ratas, ratones, rateros” is a 1999 Ecuadorian movie directed by Sebastian Cordero. The film explores the lives of young people living in poverty in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. The story revolves around the character of Salvador, a young man who becomes involved in a series of criminal activities to make ends meet.

The film delves into the social and economic issues that contribute to the cycle of poverty and violence in the neighborhood, as well as the complex relationships between the characters.

Through its gritty and realistic portrayal of life in Quito’s underbelly, the movie highlights the struggles faced by many in Latin America, including inequality, corruption, and violence.

“Ratas, ratones, rateros” was a critical success and received numerous awards at international film festivals. The movie was also significant in helping to establish the Ecuadorian film industry, which had been struggling for years due to lack of funding and government support.

Ratas, Ratones Rateros [DVD]
  • The world of Salvador, a young na ve petty thief, is about to be shake with the arrival of his...
  • Simn Brauer, Marco Bustos, Cristina Dvila (Actors)
  • Sebastin Cordero (Director) - Sebastin Cordero (Writer)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

6. Wild Tales (2014)

“Wild Tales” is an Argentine-Spanish black comedy anthology film directed by Damián Szifron and released in 2014. The film is composed of six standalone stories that explore themes of revenge, justice, and human behavior.

   

Each of the stories is set in Argentina and revolves around characters who are pushed to their limits and respond with extreme and unpredictable behavior. The first story involves a group of airplane passengers who discover they have a shared connection, leading to a shocking conclusion.

In the second story, a man seeks revenge against a corrupt official who ruined his family’s life. The third story follows a waitress who takes revenge on a customer who ruined her life. The fourth story is about a wealthy man who tries to use his influence to avoid a hit-and-run accident.

The fifth story involves a bride who discovers her new husband has been unfaithful to her. Finally, the last story takes place at a remote roadside diner and involves a showdown between two drivers who have been engaged in a road rage incident.

The film was a critical and commercial success, winning numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015. The film’s success helped to bring attention to Argentine cinema and solidified Szifron’s reputation as one of the country’s leading filmmakers.

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Wild Tales [Blu-ray]
  • Ricardo Darín, Oscar Martínez, Leonardo Sbaraglia (Actors)
  • Damián Szifron (Director) - Agustín Almodóvar (Producer)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

7. Maria Full of Grace (2004)

Maria Full of Grace is a 2004 American-Colombian drama film directed by Joshua Marston. The film follows the story of a young Colombian woman, Maria Alvarez (Catalina Sandino Moreno), who becomes a drug mule to earn money for her family.

Maria works in a flower factory but becomes frustrated with her low-paying job and difficult personal life. When she is offered the opportunity to become a drug mule and transport drugs to the United States, she sees it as a way out of her difficult circumstances.

Along with two other women, she swallows dozens of drug-filled pellets and travels to the United States, but things don’t go as planned, and she finds herself in a dangerous situation.

The film deals with themes of poverty, immigration, and the human cost of the drug trade. It was critically acclaimed and won several awards, including the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Moreno’s performance was particularly praised, and the film is often cited as one of the best films of the 2000s.

   
Maria Full of Grace (DVD)
  • Catalina Sandino Moreno, Yenny Paola Vega, Jhon Alex Toro (Actors)
  • Joshua Marston (Director) - Joshua Marston (Writer) - Paul Mezey (Producer)
  • English, Spanish, French (Subtitles)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

8. Strawberry & Chocolate (1993)

“Strawberry & Chocolate” is a Cuban film directed by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío, and released in 1993. The movie tells the story of the relationship between two men from different backgrounds: David, a young university student who is openly gay, and Diego, an older and more traditional man who initially expresses prejudice towards David’s sexuality.

The film is set in Havana in the early 1990s, a time of economic hardship in Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Against this backdrop, “Strawberry & Chocolate” explores themes such as homosexuality, censorship, and freedom of expression.

The title of the movie comes from the fact that David offers Diego a taste of a strawberry and chocolate ice cream, which becomes a metaphor for their relationship and their different perspectives on life.

The film was a critical and commercial success, both in Cuba and internationally. It won numerous awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, and is considered a landmark in Cuban cinema. “Strawberry & Chocolate” is also noteworthy for its portrayal of homosexuality in a society where it was still largely taboo at the time of its release.

Strawberry and Chocolate
  • Jorge Perugorria, Vladimir Cruz, Mirta Ibarra (Actors)
  • Tomás Gutiérrez Alea (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

9. Amores Perros (2000)

“Amores Perros” is a Mexican drama film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga. The movie was released in 2000 and is set in Mexico City. The film tells three interconnected stories that revolve around a car crash and its aftermath.

The first story follows Octavio, a young man who enters his dog Cofi into dog fights in order to earn money to run away with his sister-in-law. The second story focuses on Valeria, a fashion model whose life is turned upside down after the car accident leaves her disabled. The third story follows El Chivo, a former guerrilla fighter turned hitman, who becomes involved with the other characters in unexpected ways.

“Amores Perros” was praised for its innovative narrative structure, intense performances, and raw depiction of urban life in Mexico City. The film was a critical and commercial success, winning numerous awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. It is widely regarded as a landmark film in Mexican cinema and a masterpiece of world cinema.

10. Whisky (2004)

“Whisky” is a 2004 Uruguayan movie directed by Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll. The film tells the story of Jacobo, a reclusive and lonely owner of a struggling sock factory in Montevideo, Uruguay. When his successful brother, Herman, comes to visit from Brazil, Jacobo enlists his employee, Marta, to pose as his wife in order to impress his brother and avoid the embarrassment of his own unmarried status.

The film is a quiet and introspective examination of family dynamics, loneliness, and the struggle for human connection. Through its subtle and nuanced storytelling, “Whisky” offers a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people in Uruguay and the challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

“Whisky” was a critical success and won numerous awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. The movie is often cited as one of the most important works of Uruguayan cinema and a testament to the talent of its two young directors.

Whisky [2004] [DVD]
  • English (Subtitle)

11. The Young and the Damned (1950)

“The Young and the Damned” (Spanish: “Los Olvidados”) is a Mexican film directed by Luis Buñuel and released in 1950. The film tells the story of a group of impoverished and delinquent teenagers who live in the slums of Mexico City. The film is a stark portrayal of poverty, violence, and despair, and it depicts the harsh realities of life for the marginalized and forgotten youth of the city.

The film follows the story of a young boy named Pedro, who is caught up in a life of crime and violence. He struggles to survive in the brutal and unforgiving world of the slums, where he is constantly exploited and abused by those around him. The film also explores the lives of Pedro’s friends, including a blind boy named Julian, and a girl named Meche, who becomes pregnant and is rejected by her family.

“The Young and the Damned” was a groundbreaking film for its time, as it depicted the harsh realities of life for Mexico City’s impoverished youth in a way that had never been shown before on film.

The film was controversial upon its release, as some criticized it for its portrayal of Mexican society, while others praised it for its unflinching honesty and social critique. The film was later recognized as a classic of Mexican cinema, and it remains a powerful and influential work to this day.

12. Central Station (1998)

Central Station is a 1998 Brazilian-French drama film directed by Walter Salles. The film tells the story of Dora (Fernanda Montenegro), a retired schoolteacher who works as a letter writer in Rio de Janeiro’s Central Station. Dora writes letters for illiterate people who need to communicate with their loved ones, and she often adds her own opinions and feelings to the letters.

One day, a woman named Ana (Viviane Pasmanter) asks Dora to write a letter to her son, who she has not seen in years. Dora reluctantly agrees but then decides to take the boy, Josué (Vinicius de Oliveira), to his mother’s village in the northeast of Brazil. The journey is difficult, and the two strangers develop a bond as they travel across the country.

The film deals with themes of human connection, redemption, and the struggles of people in Brazil. Central Station was critically acclaimed, and Fernanda Montenegro’s performance as Dora received particular praise.

The film was nominated for several awards, including two Academy Awards, and won the Golden Bear at the 1998 Berlin International Film Festival. It is considered one of the greatest Brazilian films of all time.

13. The Liberator (2013)

“The Liberator” is a historical drama film directed by Alberto Arvelo and released in 2013. The movie tells the story of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan military and political leader who played a key role in the Latin American Wars of Independence in the early 19th century.

The film portrays Bolívar’s military campaigns against the Spanish Empire, his struggles with rival factions within his own movement, and his personal life, including his relationships with his wife and mistress.

The movie also explores the broader historical context of the Latin American Wars of Independence, including the social and economic forces that led to the rise of revolutionary movements across the continent.

“The Liberator” received mixed reviews from critics, with some praising its epic scope and historical accuracy, while others criticized its heavy-handed melodrama and uneven pacing. The film was also criticized for its portrayal of women, who are largely relegated to supporting roles in the male-dominated narrative.

However, “The Liberator” was praised for its depiction of Bolívar as a complex and flawed historical figure, rather than a one-dimensional hero.

Overall, “The Liberator” is a sweeping historical epic that attempts to do justice to the complex legacy of Simón Bolívar and the Latin American Wars of Independence.

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14. Undertow (2009)

“Undertow” is a Peruvian drama film directed by Javier Fuentes-León. The movie was released in 2009 and is set in a small fishing village in Peru. The film tells the story of Miguel, a fisherman and father of two, who is forced to confront his suppressed desires when a stranger named Santiago arrives in the village.

Miguel is initially hostile towards Santiago, but the two men soon develop a deep and passionate relationship. However, their love is threatened by the disapproval of the conservative community and Miguel’s own family. When tragedy strikes, Miguel must choose between his obligations to his family and his own desires.

“Undertow” received critical acclaim for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a taboo subject, as well as its stunning cinematography and strong performances.

The film was a box office success in Peru and won numerous awards at international film festivals, including the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. It is widely regarded as a landmark film in Peruvian cinema and a powerful exploration of human relationships and sexuality.

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Undertow
  • Josh Lucas, Jamie Bell, Kristen Stewart (Actors)
  • David Gordon Green (Director)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

15. Nine Queens (2000)

“Nine Queens” (original title: “Nueve reinas”) is a 2000 Argentine crime thriller directed by Fabián Bielinsky. The film follows two con artists, Juan and Marcos, who team up to carry out a major swindle involving a valuable set of counterfeit stamps known as the “Nine Queens”. As they navigate the dangerous world of high-stakes con games, the two men must rely on their wits and cunning to stay one step ahead of their rivals.

The movie is a stylish and intricately plotted heist thriller that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats. It explores themes of trust, loyalty, and deception, as well as the complex dynamics between the two main characters.

The film’s stunning visuals and cleverly crafted narrative twists have earned it critical acclaim and a place as one of the most iconic films in Argentine cinema.

“Nine Queens” was a commercial and critical success, both in Argentina and internationally, and won numerous awards, including the Best Actor award at the 2001 Argentine Academy Awards. The movie was also remade in the United States as “Criminal” in 2004, starring John C. Reilly and Diego Luna.

Nine Queens
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Ricardo Darin, Gaston Pauls, Leticia Bredice (Actors)
  • Fabian Bielinsky (Director) - Cecilia Bossi (Producer)
  • English, French (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

16. Midaq Alley (1995)

“Midaq Alley” (Arabic: زقاق المدق) is an Egyptian film directed by Jorge Fons and released in 1995. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz and tells the story of a diverse group of characters living in a crowded alleyway in Cairo.

The film explores the lives and struggles of the alley’s inhabitants, who come from a variety of backgrounds and social classes. The main characters include Hamida, a beautiful but impoverished young woman who dreams of a better life, and Salim, a greedy and manipulative café owner who becomes obsessed with her.

Other characters include the alley’s wealthy landowner, its religious leader, and various other inhabitants who must navigate the challenges of living in a crowded and impoverished urban setting.

“Midaq Alley” is a powerful and evocative portrait of life in Cairo during the mid-20th century, and it explores themes of poverty, social inequality, and the struggle for survival. The film was well-received by critics and audiences alike.

And it won several awards, including the Best Picture award at the 1995 Cairo International Film Festival. The film is also notable for its stunning cinematography, which captures the vibrant and colorful atmosphere of Cairo’s bustling streets and alleyways.

Midaq Alley [DVD]
  • Ernesto Gmez Cruz, Mara Rojo, Salma Hayek (Actors)
  • Jorge Fons (Director) - Naguib Mahfouz (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

17. The Official Story (1985)

The Official Story (La historia oficial) is a 1985 Argentine drama film directed by Luis Puenzo. The film tells the story of Alicia (Norma Aleandro), a high school teacher in Buenos Aires who becomes increasingly concerned about the true identity of her adopted daughter, Gaby (Analia Castro). As Alicia delves deeper into Gaby’s past, she discovers that her daughter may have been taken from parents who were “disappeared” during Argentina’s Dirty War.

As Alicia grapples with the truth about her daughter’s past and the complicity of her own privileged position in society, she begins to question the government’s official story of the Dirty War. The film deals with themes of memory, truth, and the consequences of political violence.

The Official Story was critically acclaimed and won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1986. It is considered one of the most important films in Argentine cinema history and played a significant role in the country’s reckoning with the atrocities committed during the Dirty War.

The Official Story [1985] [DVD]
  • The Official Story (1985) ( La Historia oficial ) ( The Official History )
  • The Official Story (1985)
  • La Historia oficial
  • The Official History
  • Hector Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Chunchuna Villafañe (Actors)

18. Herod’s Law (1999)

“Herod’s Law” (Spanish: “La Ley de Herodes”) is a Mexican black comedy film directed by Luis Estrada and released in 1999. The movie is set in a fictional rural town in Mexico in the late 1940s, during the era of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for much of the 20th century.

The film tells the story of Juan Vargas, a naive and idealistic politician who is appointed mayor of the town after the previous mayor dies in a mysterious accident. Vargas soon discovers that corruption and nepotism are rampant in the town.

And he must navigate a web of political intrigue and backstabbing in order to survive. The title of the movie refers to the idea that power corrupts, and that those who hold power are often willing to do whatever it takes to maintain their grip on it.

“Herod’s Law” was praised for its sharp satire and its unflinching portrayal of the corruption and violence that characterized Mexican politics during the PRI era. The film was also noteworthy for its use of humor to explore serious political themes, and for its skilled blend of comedy and tragedy.

“Herod’s Law” was a commercial and critical success in Mexico, and it helped to establish Luis Estrada as one of the most important filmmakers in the country.

La Ley de Herodes (Herod's Law) [VHS]
  • Damián Alcázar, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Delia Casanova (Actors)
  • Luis Estrada (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: R (Restricted)

19. Elite Squad (2007)

“Elite Squad” is a Brazilian crime film directed by José Padilha and co-written by Bráulio Mantovani. The movie was released in 2007 and is set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The film follows the story of Captain Nascimento, a member of the Brazilian BOPE, a special police force unit that deals with drug trafficking and organized crime.

The film explores the extreme violence and corruption that exists within the police force, as well as the complex relationship between the police and the favela residents. Captain Nascimento, who is about to become a father, is torn between his dedication to his job and his desire to create a better future for his family and his community.

“Elite Squad” was a commercial and critical success in Brazil and internationally, winning the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival. The film’s depiction of violence and corruption in the police force was controversial.

But it was also praised for its powerful message and strong performances. “Elite Squad” spawned a sequel, “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within,” which was also directed by Padilha and became the highest-grossing film in Brazilian history at the time of its release.

The Elite Squad (Tropa De Elite) [DVD]
  • The Elite Squad (Tropa De Elite) [DVD]
  • English (Subtitle)

3 Characteristics of Latin American Movies

Social and Political Commentary: Latin American movies often explore social and political issues, such as poverty, inequality, corruption, and human rights abuses. These films often provide a critical perspective on the realities of life in the region, and the struggles faced by its people.

Magical Realism: Many Latin American movies feature elements of magical realism, a literary and artistic genre that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy. This style of storytelling often incorporates supernatural or surreal elements, and is a reflection of the region’s rich cultural heritage and mythology.

Cinematic Innovation: Latin American filmmakers have a history of pushing the boundaries of cinematic art, experimenting with new styles and techniques. From the early days of silent cinema to the present day, Latin American movies have been at the forefront of cinematic innovation, utilizing unique storytelling approaches and visual aesthetics to create a distinct and unforgettable viewing experience.

3 Reasons To Watch Latin American Movies

Unique storytelling: Latin American movies often feature unique and distinct storytelling that offers a fresh perspective on familiar themes. These films often draw on the region’s rich history and cultural traditions to create compelling and original stories that can be both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Diverse representation: Latin American movies often showcase diverse perspectives and experiences that are not commonly represented in mainstream cinema. From indigenous communities to marginalized urban populations, these films explore a wide range of social and cultural issues, providing a platform for underrepresented voices to be heard.

Innovative filmmaking: Latin American filmmakers are known for their innovative and daring approach to filmmaking, experimenting with different styles, techniques, and genres to create visually stunning and intellectually stimulating works of art. These films often push the boundaries of traditional filmmaking, challenging audiences to think critically about the medium and its role in shaping our understanding of the world around us.

Best Latin American Movies – Wrap Up

Latin American cinema has produced some of the most acclaimed and influential films in world cinema. From the politically charged dramas of the 1980s and 1990s to the more recent cinematic masterpieces, Latin American movies have made a significant impact on global film culture.

These films represent a wide range of styles, genres, and themes, but they all share a commitment to telling the stories of the diverse people and cultures of Latin America. Whether exploring political violence, social inequality, or personal struggles, these films offer powerful and thought-provoking insights into the human experience.