latino movies

The Best Latin American Films of the 21st Century (So Far)

Watching movies is a great way to feed your wanderlust when you can’t travel. Latin America has been known for some amazing films with beautiful scenery and powerful plots.

Here, in no particular order, are the best Latino movies of the 21st century (so far):


Country: Mexico
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Plot: Two friends from different socioeconomic classes (Julio and Tenoch) go on a road trip with an older Spanish woman (Luisa). The goal of the trip is to go to the secluded beach “Heaven’s Mouth”, which they’re not even sure exists. There is plenty of romantic drama along the way, as Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa discover themselves and each other. I can’t write anymore without spoiling the movie for you, but it won’t disappoint you. Trust me.
Why It’s Worth Watching: The movie provides insight into the different socioeconomic classes and political issues within Mexico. Additionally, the film’s scenery is so beautiful it will make you want to pack your bags and discover Heaven’s Mouth for yourself.
Favorite Quote: “Life is like the foam of the sea. You must dive into it.”

Country: Brazil
Director: Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund
Plot: Taking place in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Cidade de Deus (City of God) shows the differences in the lives of two boys as they grow older. Rocket becomes a skilled photographer trying to make it big, while Li’l Zé becomes a drug lord searching for fame. The newspaper that Rocket interns for publish some private photos that he took of the drug lord. Rocket believes his life is over, but Li’l Zé asks him to take more photos to make him famous. The film is hard to watch at times, but shows the harsh reality of living in Brazil’s slums.
Why It’s Worth Watching: This is one of the realest Latino movies. Many of the actors in the film are not professional actors, but residents of the favelas where the movie was filmed. (Side note: If you’re interested I also recommend watching “City of God: 10 Years Later”, which shows how the film changed, or didn’t change, the actors’ lives). The characters are very complex and the film does an excellent job of showing their individual stories.
Favorite Quote: “You need more than guns to be a good gangster, you need ideas.”

Country: Mexico/United States
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Plot: The film begins by telling two different stories that eventually come together. One story is of a Honduran girl, Sayra. She begins the dangerous journey from Honduras to the United States on foot (and by train) with her uncle and father. The other story is about El Casper, a member of the infamous Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang. Sayra happens to be on the same train that a few members of the MS-13, including Casper, decide to rob. From then on, the lives of Sayra and Casper are connected. (Note: this is not a love story). Casper needs to decide between loyalty to his gang or loyalty to himself.
Why It’s Worth Watching: The film does an excellent job of showing why many young men join gangs in underprivileged neighborhoods. It also shows how dangerous and terrifying the journey through Central America to the United States can be. This movie helps show the struggle that thousands of people face every year trying to find a better life.
Favorite Quote: “Back home, my friend Clarissa made me see this crazy neighbor, Doña Eleanor, you know, like witchcraft? She smoked this puro, then told me with her freaky voice that I’d make it to the U.S., but not in God’s hands, perhaps in the Devil’s.”

Country: Chile
Director: Andrés Wood
Plot: The film is from the perspective of an upper-class, white boy (Gonzalo) during the presidency of Salvador Allende. Gonzalo attends a private school. The priest in charge of the school allows five lower-class students to study there. While the other boys bully these students, Gonzalo doesn’t, and he becomes friends with one of them, Pedro Machuca. The film shows the harsh differences between the two boys lives and the political beliefs of their families. The end of the film shows the changes that began under the military dictatorship of Pinochet.
Why It’s Worth Watching: By showing the film from the perspective of children, we can see just how confusing and intense the political situation was in Chile during the early 1970s. This Latino movie accurately shows the differences between the upper and lower classes and the reality of life was during this time.
Favorite Quote: “I won’t ask myself anymore, When will they do things differently? When will they dare to do something different?”

Country: Mexico
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Plot: The movie shows the life of three different groups of people whose lives come together after a car accident. The first couple is Octavio and Susana. Susana is Octavio’s sister-in-law, but he’s in love with her. To to get her to run away with him, Octavio becomes involved in dog fighting. The second couple is Daniel and Valeria. Daniel moves to Spain, after leaving his family, to live with Valeria, a Spanish supermodel. She loses a leg in the car accident and her dog becomes trapped under the floorboards for days. These two events strain the couple’s relationship. The third couple is El Chivo and Maru. El Chivo is a hitman with a rough past. His daughter, Maru, believes he his dead. At the end, he leaves her money and a message explaining the past.
Why It’s Worth Watching: While difficult to watch at times, the film shows how one small event can change a person’s life forever. The characters are interesting and complex and challenge our preconceptions.
Favorite quote: “Because we also are what we have lost.”

Country: Brazil
Director: José Padilha
Plot: This is the sequel to Tropa de Elite (in English: Elite Squad), which is also a movie worth watching. The movie is from the perspective of Captain Nascimento, a high ranking officer working in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The film shows the corruption and the ties between politics and crime that often happen in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.
Why It’s Worth Watching: It’s not just your typical action movie. It also touches on the complex political relationships in Brazil (and many other countries). The acting is great and you won’t be disappointed!
Favorite Quote: “Mr. 02, you’ll never make it through this course, you know why? It’s not because you are fucking weak and have no fiber. It’s because you’re a crooked cop, Mr. 02, and to wear this badge you gotta have character.”

Country: Colombia
Director: Andrés Baiz
Plot: Based on a real massacre, Satanas follows the lives of three different characters in Bogotá: a middle-aged English teacher (Eliseo), a woman involved in a gang of robbers (Paola), and a troubled priest (Father Ernesto).  Eliseo becomes fascinated with one of his 15-year-old students. Once he realises she has a boyfriend he goes crazy and goes on a killing spree. Paola is part of a gang of robbers and her job is to seduce and drug rich men. But after two taxi drivers violently rape her, she decides to leave her life of crime and become a waitress. Father Ernesto is involved in an affair with his housekeeper and is troubled by his sexual urges. When a woman comes to him after murdering her children, he decides not to continue his life as a priest.
Why It’s Worth Watching: The film shows that each person has his or her own complex life and that all our lives intersect in some way. The film does an excellent job of showing the dark side of humanity.
Favorite quote: “I pray to God that you cease to torment me.”

Country: Argentina 
Director: Damián Szifron
Plot: The film has six short films within it, all of them joined by the same themes.
The first is titled “Pasternak”, in which all passengers on a plane find that they somehow know a man named “Pasternak”. It turns out that he is also the pilot on the flight.
The second is “Las Ratas”. A man arrives to a lonely restaurant and the waitress recognises him as the man who caused her father’s death. The cook poisons the food without the waitress knowing and the waitress tries to stop it.
The third is titled “El más fuerte”. After a road rage incident in the desert, two men are trying to kill each other in a car. One throws a lit piece of a t-shirt into the gas tank and then tries to escape but is unable.
The fourth is “Bombita”. A man’s car is towed and he loses his job and family from trying to fight the fees. He loads his car with explosives and the next time his car is towed he blows up the towing office (with no casualties). He becomes a local hero and his family goes to visit him in prison.
The fifth short film is titled “La Propuesta”. A young man escapes from a hit-and-run after killing a pregnant woman and her baby. The father swears to get revenge. The young man’s family makes a deal with their groundskeeper in which they’ll pay him to take the blame. In the end, the young man confesses.
The sixth and final story is titled “Hasta que la muerte nos separe”. At their wedding, a bride finds out that the groom cheated on her with one of the guests. She then has sex with a kitchen worker on the roof and a series of events continue at the wedding.
Why It’s Worth Watching: This is probably one of the most popular Latino movies of this century. This film is different because it has six completely independent shorter films within it. All the films are still connected by themes of violence and revenge. It’s still easy to become completely invested in the characters’ lives even though they’re short films.
Favorite Quote: “Good evening, a table for one?” “I see you’re good at math.”

Country: Argentina/Spain
Director: Juan José Campanella
Plot: Officer Benjamín Espósito tries to make sense of his past by writing a novel. As a law enforcement officer, he was in charge of a case in which a newlywed woman was raped and murdered in her home. His coworker, Judge Irene Menéndez Hastings helps him recount his past memories.
Why It’s Worth Watching: Not only is the topic of the film interesting, but it’s tied into the world of Argentinean politics at the time. Argentina’s “Dirty War” sets the background for the film.
Favorite Quote: “How do you manage to live an empty life, how do you live a life full of nothing?

Special Mention: Which Way Home (2010)

Country: United States
Director: Rebecca Cammisa
Plot: This film is technically from the United States, but I included it as an honorable mention because it takes place in Central America and brings to light an important issue. This is a documentary film that follows children who leave their families and try to enter the United States alone. Some of the children are as young as eight years old. They come from very poor families and think that they will be able to enter the United States, be adopted by a family, and work and support their families back home. This is not a unique situation. Thousands of children set off on this dangerous journey each year, several without telling their families first.
Why It’s Worth Watching: This documentary shows a different side to the controversial issue of immigration. For those who want to learn more about the issue, it’s a must-see.
Latin American movies: the best of our century so far
Are there any movies you would add to this list? Leave a comment! 🙂

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Brittany Mailhot is a freelance writer, blogger, and personal freedom advocate. She began living a location independent lifestyle shortly after graduating from college and continues to share her experiences to inspire others to say f*ck it to the 9-5 and live their dreams! She's always available to answer questions by email or on social media so don't be afraid to reach out!