Why watch movies in Spanish?
By focusing on vocabulary with Lingvist, you can quickly acquire the tools to deepen your Spanish communication skills naturally. Each encounter with the language, be it a conversation or a piece of media, exposes you to a combination of familiar and unfamiliar components of Spanish, allowing you to understand from context and thus learn almost automatically.
Besides vocabulary growth, improving listening comprehension is another major catalyst for this process. Not only can it improve your confidence when having conversations in your target language, it also unlocks access to a larger range of encounters, from overhearing conversations to catching song lyrics.
Watching Spanish videos is not just one of the best activities for listening skills, it’s also a great source of cultural context, which can help you immerse yourself further in a language and pick up some of the subtle social gestures typical of its speakers. On top of all that, a movie is likely to hold your attention and might even leave a lasting emotional impression.
Thanks to visual context, the possibility of pausing or rewinding, and the option of using subtitles, Spanish videos can be a learning tool suitable for all levels. The combination of these factors makes enjoying Spanish-language films one of the most useful activities for learners.
What about subtitles?
Advanced learners might feel comfortable watching movies in their target language without subtitles. Perhaps there are advantages to this – nudging the brain to pay close attention to auditory information alone. But misunderstandings are also more likely, and that could mean the learner misses out on opportunities to absorb bits of tricky or unusual grammar.
There is probably some benefit for beginners to experience media in their target language with subtitles in their native language. It’s unlikely to be an efficient learning tool, but it might help the learner get familiar with how the phonemes sound. In the absence of any fluent Spanish speakers to have conversations with, movies can offer an alternative. But in that case, it’s probably more worthwhile to spend some time building vocabulary with Lingvist’s Spanish course first.
When you can make sense of most texts but can’t understand everything you hear, that’s when watching Spanish films would be likely to have the biggest impact. By enabling subtitles in Spanish, your brain will get an opportunity to associate the lexical information it already recognizes with a variety of sounds, some of which might be unfamiliar, characteristic of particular dialects, or otherwise difficult for a typical learner to pick up without prior exposure.
So which are the best Spanish movies to learn from?
We suggest watching a few films that have had a big impact on Spanish-speaking audiences around the world. That gives you a good chance of having a new conversation topic with your interlocutors, an insight into cultural and linguistic similarities and differences between different Spanish-speaking countries, and some exposure to older modes of speech that can help contribute to an intuitive understanding of the language.
We’ll take a crash course in the history of Spanish-language cinema since 1960. Names like Pedro Almodóvar and Guillermo del Toro tend to come up again and again on lists of the most popular movies in Spanish, but we’ll limit ourselves to highlighting just one film from each director.
As a bonus round, we’ll take a tour of the Spanish-speaking world and look at the most famous movie from each country. As Spanish audio lessons go, this would be a particularly great way to hear the full variety of accents and regional variations.
A crash course in the history of Spanish-language cinema
Hay que tener más consideraciones con los muertos porque pasamos mucho más tiempo muertos que vivos. Total, todos nacemos para morirnos.
There ought to be more consideration toward the dead, because we spend much more time dead than alive. We’re all born to die.
Does Lana Del Rey’s breakthrough second album owe its name to this quote from Macario? It’s possible – perhaps indirectly.
Latin American storytelling – whether it be novels, movies, music – frequently deals with the magical or spiritual. Mexican filmmakers in particular are tenacious in approaching the subject of death.
Mexico started to submit films for consideration at the Oscars in 1957, and in 1960 received its first nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (today known as the Best International Feature Film category). It also competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, losing out to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita.
In many ways, this movie marks the start of Mexican movies’ global ascendancy.
Macario is based on a fairy tale, The Healer, written in 1950 by B. Traven, an enigmatic author who lived most of his life in Mexico. The Healer in turn is often considered to be an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story Der Gevatter Tod (“Godfather Death”).
Runtime: 1 hour and 31 minutes Genre: Magical Realism, Drama Director: Roberto Gavaldón Country: Mexico
How to watch it: The entire movie is available with Spanish subtitles on YouTube (and English, Italian, or Turkish, if you want to check your understanding). If you’re so far along with Spanish that you don’t need subtitles at all, there are also a number of modern restorations on YouTube, including a colorized version and a more faithful representation preserved by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
1964: Soy Cuba
Tus manos están acostumbradas a los útiles agrícolas. Pero ahora tienes un rifle en las manos. Disparas no para matar. Disparas contra el pasado.
Your hands are used to farming tools. But now they hold a rifle. You’re shooting, not to kill. You’re shooting at the past.
Intended as a communist propaganda piece exposing the injustices of life in Cuba during the Batista regime in the run-up to the revolution, Soy Cuba ended up being considered too sympathetic to the Americans and not revolutionary enough by the Russian intelligentsia, while Cuban audiences disliked being portrayed so desperately.
Thirty years later, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola “rediscovered” the movie and led a campaign to restore and re-release the film at festivals across the USA and Europe. Filmmakers were blown away by the camera techniques, and it continues to be a reference piece in modern film schools.
Runtime: 2 hours and 21 minutes Genre: History, Anthology Director: Mikhail Kalatozov Country: Cuba and USSR
How to watch it: Unfortunately, Soy Cuba is not currently available with the original audio and Spanish subtitles. Advanced learners located in Spain might consider renting it from Filmin, whose version does not include subtitles.
1965: Simón del Desierto
Créeme, hermano, como y bebo suficientemente para satisfacer mis necesidades. No soy un espíritu desencarnado, sino un hombre que lleva dolorosamente su envoltura carnal. Y en lo que concierne a la otra necesidad, la de evacuar mis excrementos son como los de tus cabras, a causa de mi gran sequedad.
Believe me, brother, I eat and drink quite enough to fulfill my needs. I’m not a discarnate spirit, but a man whose flesh weighs heavily upon him. As for the other need, that of evacuating my bowels, my excrement is like your goats’ because I’m so withered up.
Runtime: 43 minutes Genre: Comedy, Fantasy Director: Luis Buñuel Country: Mexico
How to watch it: There are DVD copies of Simón del Desierto available, but these generally do not include Spanish subtitles. The community of archive.org preserves the film under a Creative Commons license, making it available for download in several formats, including H.264 MP4. Once the file is on your device, you can download subtitles from Subscene or opensubtitles. Your video player should be able to add the subtitle file to the video file.
1976: Cría Cuervos
Lo único que sí recuerdo perfectamente es que entonces me parecía el culpable de toda la tristeza que había embargado a mi madre en los últimos años de su vida. Yo estaba convencida de que él, y sólo él, había provocado su enfermedad y su muerte.
The only thing that I do remember clearly, is that at the time, he seemed responsible for all the sadness that had embittered the last years of my mother’s life. I was convinced that it was he and he alone that had caused her illness, and her death.
Runtime: 1 hour and 45 minutes Genre: Drama Director: Carlos Saura Country: Spain
How to watch it:
1983: El sur
Durante todo el tiempo esperé que me llamara, pero no lo hizo. A mi silencio, él respondía con el suyo. Fue así como de pronto comprendí que él seguía mi juego, aceptando mi reto, para demostrarme que su dolor era mucho más grande que el mío.
I waited the whole time for him to call me, but he never did. He responded to my silence with his own. And I suddenly understood that he was playing my game, accepting my challenge, to show me that his pain was much greater than mine.
Runtime: 1 hour and 35 minutes Genre: Romance Director: Víctor Erice Country: Spain
How to watch it:
1985: La historia oficial
Algunos vecinos vieron cuando se los llevaban. Destrozaron todo. No queda nada. Sólo quedan estas cuatro fotos y nuestra memoria.
Some neighbors saw when they were taken. They obliterated everything. Nothing remains. All that’s left are these four photos and our memory.
Runtime: 1 hour and 52 minutes Genre: History Director: Luis Puenzo Country: Argentina
How to watch it: Maintained by the community of archive.org, available for download in several formats including H.264 MP4. Once the file is on your device you can download subtitles from opensubtitles and add subtitles from within your media player. Also available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including Netflix in Latin America, and HBO Max, Google, Microsoft, and Kanopy in the USA.
1992: Belle Époque
El puñetero seminarista, no ha cogido el tren, y se ha venido aquí, al olor del coño de mis hijas.
That’s the damned seminarian who missed his train and came here once he caught a whiff of my daughters.
Runtime: 1 hour and 49 minutes Genre: Romantic Comedy Director: Fernando Trueba Country: Spain
How to watch it: Belle Époque is not currently available on any of the major streaming or download platforms. It is also not easy to find a DVD or Blu-ray with Spanish subtitles. One solution is to stream it for free on moviexk, click on CC, and upload your own subtitles.
1999: Todo sobre mi madre
Anoche mamá me enseñó una foto de cuando era joven. Le faltaba la mitad. No quise decírselo pero a mi vida también le falta ese mismo trozo.
Last night mama showed me a photo from when I was young. Half was missing. I didn’t want to tell her but my life is also missing that same piece.
Runtime: 1 hour and 41 minutes Genre: Comedy-drama Director: Pedro Almodóvar Country: Spain & France
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including Netflix in Spain. Also available on Blu-ray with Spanish subtitles.
2000: Amores perros
En ese momento, pensé que había cosas más importantes que estar contigo y tu mamá. Quería arreglar el mundo, y luego compartirlo contigo. Fallé, como puedes ver.
At the time, I thought there were more important things than being with you and your mama. I wanted to set the world right, and then share it with you. I failed, as you can see.
Amores Perros (alongside Y tu mamá también) is commonly accepted as the starting point of the “Nuevo Cine Mexicano” film movement, representing a rebirth for the Mexican film industry.
Runtime: 2 hours and 34 minutes Genre: Thriller Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu Country: Mexico
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including Netflix in most of Latin America. Also available on DVD and Blu-ray with Spanish subtitles.
2006: El laberinto del fauno
Hace mucho tiempo, en el reino subterráneo, donde no hay mentiras ni dolor, vivía una Princesa que soñaba con el mundo humano. Soñaba con cielos azules, brisa suave y el sol. Un dia elude a sus cuidadores, la Princesa había escapado. Una vez afuera, el brillo la cegó y borró todo rastro del pasado de su memoria. Olvidó quién era y de dónde venía. Su cuerpo sufrió el frío, enfermedad e incluso dolor. Eventualmente, se murió. Sin embargo, su padre, el Rey, siempre supo que el alma de la Princesa volvería, quizás en otro cuerpo, en otro lugar, en otro tiempo. Y que la esperaría, hasta el último aliento, hasta que el mundo deje de girar.
A long time ago, in the underground realm, where there are no lies or pain, there lived a Princess who dreamed of the human world. She dreamed of blue skies, soft breeze, and sunshine. One day, eluding her keepers, the Princess escaped. Once outside, the brightness blinded her and erased every trace of the past from her memory. She forgot who she was and where she came from. Her body suffered cold, sickness, and pain. Eventually, she died. However, her father, the King, always knew that the Princess’ soul would return, perhaps in another body, in another place, at another time. And he would wait for her, until he drew his last breath, until the world stopped turning.
Runtime: 1 hour and 58 minutes Genre: Dark Fantasy, War Director: Guillermo del Toro Country: Spain & Mexico
2009: El secreto de sus ojos
El tipo puede cambiar de todo. De cara, de casa, de familia, de novia, de religión, de dios… Pero hay una cosa que no puede cambiar: no puede cambiar de pasión.
A man can change anything: his face, his home, his family, his girlfriend, his religion, his God. But there’s one thing he can’t change. A man can’t change his passion.
Runtime: 2 hours and 9 minutes Genre: Mystery Director: Juan José Campanella Country: Argentina
How to watch it: Although it is not available everywhere, El secreto de sus ojos is available on a variety of streaming and download platforms in the USA, Canada, Spain, France, and many Latin American countries.
2009: Celda 211
Lo importante es que no te confíes, no olvides nunca de dónde estás.
The important thing is not to let your guard down, don’t ever forget about where you are.
2009 was a standout year for Spanish-language cinema.
Although the followup to 2007’s award-winning horror blockbuster Rec disappointed plenty of moviegoers, international collaborations like Sin nombre (Mexico-United States) and Contracorriente (Peru-Colombia, with financing from Europe) gave fans a lot to get excited about.
This was also the year of Almodovar’s romantic thriller, Los abrazos rotos, with Penélope Cruz, and breakout successes from smaller filmmakers, like the Chilean emotional comedy La Nana and Colombia’s musician-drama Los viajes del viento.
Celda 211 stands out despite all that. It’s a gritty prison drama with both ambitious storytelling and intense thrills.
Runtime: 1 hour and 53 minutes Genre: Action, Thriller, Crime Director: Daniel Monzón Country: Spain
2010: Nostalgia de la luz
Yo creo que la memoria tiene fuerza de gravedad, siempre nos atrae. Los que tienen memoria son capaces de vivir en el frágil tiempo presente. Los que no la tienen, no viven en ninguna parte.
I believe memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those with memory are capable of living in the fragile present. Those without it don’t live anywhere.
Runtime: 1 hour and 30 minutes Genre: Documentary Director: Patricio Guzmán Country: France & Chile
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country.
Si ustedes creen que voy a plantar ahi en frente toda la gente de los partidos de la conceptuación, hablando de una idea de una campaña basada en chistes… de una campaña basada en la alegría, sois locos.
If you think I’m going to stand there in front of all the people of the Coalition’s parties to tell them that our campaign is going to be based on jokes, that our campaign is going to be based on happiness, you’re out of your mind.
Runtime: 1 hour and 58 minutes Genre: History Director: Pablo Larraín Country: Chile
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including Netflix in most of Latin America.
Si me doy cuenta. ¿Cómo no me voy a dar cuenta si te estoy mirando? Pero no sólo es malo para ellas que dependan tanto de ti, sino para ti es malo. Mi amor, tú tienes derecho a tener una vida.
Yes I can tell. How can I fail to notice when I’m looking at you? But it’s not just bad for them to depend so much on you, it’s also bad for you. My love, you have the right to have a life.
Runtime: 1 hour and 50 minutes Genre: Romance Director: Sebastián Lelio Country: Chile
2014: Relatos salvajes
Dejemos que la gente se vaya haciendo. No es una pavada lo que estás haciendo. Para que te des una idea, el abogado de mi familia recomendó que te fuera a hacer una denuncia por amenazas.
Let’s leave the people alone. It’s not just a game, what you’re doing. To give you an idea, my family’s lawyer even suggested I press charges for the threats you made.
Runtime: 2 hours and 2 minutes Genre: Black Comedy, Thriller, Anthology Director: Damián Szifron Country: Argentina
2015: El abrazo de la serpiente
La selva es frágil, y si se le ataca, ella se venga. Nos deja marchar, si la respetamos. No hay que comer carne ni pescado. Hasta llueva de nuevo. Y pedir permiso a los dueños de los animales. No podemos cortar ningún árbol de raíz. Si encuentras una mujer, no tenga relaciones sexuales hasta que cambie la luna. ¿Entendido?
The jungle is sensitive, and if attacked she takes revenge. She will let us pass if we show respect. We are not to eat meat, nor fish, until it rains again and we ask the masters of the animals for permission. We cannot cut any roots. If you meet a woman, don’t have sexual relations until the moon changes. Understood?
Runtime: 2 hours and 5 minutes Genre: Adventure Director: Ciro Guerra Country: Colombia (co-produced with Venezuela and Argentina)
¡La música es lo único que me hace feliz y tú quieres quitarme eso! ¡Nunca vas a entender!
Music’s the only thing that makes me happy, and you wanna take that away! You’ll never understand!
Runtime: 1 hour and 45 minutes Genre: Animation, Musical Adventure, Fantasy Director: Adrian Molina & Lee Unkrich Country: United States & Mexico
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including on Disney Plus almost everywhere in the world. Most Blu-ray releases also have multiple audio options and Spanish subtitles, including the most common USA edition.
Era un hombre muy rico que tenía muchos animales salvajes. Tenía tigres, leones, pumas, panteras, jaguares… Un día llegaron Los Huascas. Y lo mataron. El Caco y los demás Huascas mataron a todos los animales. Pero cuando llegaron a la jaula del tigre, había escapado. Y ahora anda rondando por todas las calles. Enojado. Y hambriento. Come perros, gatos… y niños que no tienen papas.
There was a rich man who owned many wild animals. He had tigers, lions, pumas, panthers, jaguars… One day the Huascas came. And they killed him. Caco and the other Huascas killed all the animals. But when they came to the tiger’s cage, it had escaped. And now it prowls the streets. Angry. And hungry. He eats dogs, cats… and children who don’t have parents.
Runtime: 1 hour and 23 minutes Genre: Horror Director: Issa López Country: Mexico
2018: Las herederas
Cuando yo era chica estudiaba pintura, y mis amigas pintaban príncipes, princesas, palacios. Y yo pintaba vacas… Vacas. Se reían de mí. Y mi papá me decía: no le hagas caso mija, esas nenas creen en el príncipe azul, y a vos ya le está esperando un ganadero. Extraño a papá. Mi chiqui. Mi chiqui me decía.
When I was little I studied painting, and my friends used to paint princes, princesses, palaces. And I painted cows… cows. They laughed at me. And my papa said to me: don’t pay attention to that Mija, those girls believe in prince charming, whereas you already have a rancher waiting. I miss my papa. My Chiqui. My Chiqui, he called me.
Runtime: 1 hour and 38 minutes Genre: Drama Director: Marcelo Martinessi Country: Paraguay
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country, including Netflix in most of Latin America. The movie has yet to receive a Blu-ray release, but is available on DVD with Spanish subtitles in The USA and Spain.
2019: La llorona
A mi no me da vergüenza contarles lo que viví, espero que a ustedes no les de vergüenza hacer justicia.
As I am not ashamed to tell you what I experienced, I hope that you are not ashamed to do justice.
Runtime: 1 hour and 37 minutes Genre: Horror, Historical Director: Jayro Bustamante Country: Guatemala
How to watch it: Available on a variety of streaming and download platforms depending on your country. Not to be confused with the US movie also from 2019 called The Curse of La Llorona.
Watch the most famous movie from each Spanish-speaking country
Bolivia: Yawar Mallku (1969)
Tu me manques (2019)
Chile: Diarios de motocicleta (2004)
Colombia: Maria Full of Grace (2004), El abrazo de la serpiente (2015)
La cara oculta (2011)
Costa Rica: El despertar de las hormigas (2019)
Del amor y otros demonios (2009 unsettling drama) Maikol Yordan de Viaje Perdido (2014 comedy)
Cuba: Soy Cuba (1964) & Fresa y Chocolate (1993)
Dominican Republic: Perico Ripiao (2003)
Ecuador: Ratas, ratones, rateros (1999)
El Salvador: La vida loca (2008)
Equatorial Guinea: El escritor de un país sin librerías (2019)
Guatemala: La llorona (2019)
Honduras: Un lugar en el Caribe (2017)
Nicaragua: La Yuma (2009)
¡Las Sandinistas! (2018)
Panamá: Más que hermanos (2017)
Paraguay: Las Herededas (2018)
Perú: Contracorriente (2019)
When Two Worlds Collide (2016 environmental documentary) La boca del lobo (1988 war movie) La ciudad y los perros (1985 drama)
Uruguay: El baño del Papa (2007)
La noche de 12 años (2018)
Venezuela: Lejos de casa (2020)
Hermano (2010 sport drama) Pelo malo (2013) Azul y no tan rosa (2012)