From the beginning of time, we’ve seen Spanish movies evolve and adapt to the viewers’ expectations, right from their budget, production design, genres, the acting talent, growing presence in the Academy and the number of cult classics they’ve had so far. It won’t be a folly to state here that Spanish language movies are among the most widely watched films across the world, as it is also one of the most spoken and understood languages in the world.
24. It’s Now or Never (2015) [Ahora o nunca]
‘It’s Now or Never’ is a Spanish romantic comedy that tells the story of couple Alex and Eva. After dating for several years, they decide to tie the knot in the English country village where they first met. However, when all flights to England are cancelled, the rest of the movie is all about how will Alex’s extended family arrive in time for the wedding. Directed by Maria Ripoli, “It’s Now or Never” is an entertaining comedy that will leave you with a smile at the end. If you want to relax and laugh, this is it!
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23. Toro (2016)
”Toro’ is a gangster movie about the importance of family. We follow Toro (Spanish for “bull”), a former con man who has to save his brother and niece by going back to his old habits. But going back to the past has severe consequences. If you enjoy action and crime thrillers, this film is a great choice. It not only has interesting characters but also great action scenes. Although it may be predictable at times, it has a lot of surprises along the way that will keep you entertained.
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22. Boy Missing (2016) [Secuestro]
‘Boy Missing’ is a crime thriller centred around a boy named Victor, who is found roaming on the streets by the law enforcement agencies, and who is deaf and mute. Turns out, he’s the son of one of the leading attorneys named Patricia. Victor then tells the police that he was kidnapped by a man while going to school but he divulges no other details. The police detain a man who is the prime suspect, with an eight months pregnant wife, but has to release him citing lack of evidence. Patricia has to pull some strings by uniting with her ex-lover in order to bring the culprit to justice. ‘Boy Missing’ was widely appreciated for its dark undertone and the edge-of-the-seat experience.
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21. The Invisible Guardian (2017) [El guardián invisible]
Yet another thriller on this list, ‘The Invisible Guardian’ is the story of Amaia Salazar, a police inspector in Navarra, Spain, who was a former FBI agent. Despite her reluctance, she has to return to her hometown of Baztan, where the body of a 13-year-old girl has been found, with pieces of evidence that look similar to another murder that had taken place a few weeks ago. Apparently, Amaia’s place of birth has forever been riddled with superstitious rituals, cult practices and amid her fear that there might be a serial killer at it because a few more bodies are found. Her past is of no comfort either, as she had faced similar trauma as a child and her suspicion lies too close to her than she realizes. Not a nail-biting experience, however, ‘The Invisible Guardian’ somewhat appears like ‘Hannibal’ – the TV series at the very outset. Watch it to find out more.
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20. Seventeen (2019)
‘Seventeen’ is a film directed by Daniel Sánchez Arévalo, and is about a boy who lives in a youth detention centre. This boy in question, Hector, falls in love with a dog he sees at an animal rescue centre, and in order to locate it, he decides to escape from his confinement. We follow Hector as he goes through several obstacles on his way to locating this dog, all the while being accompanied by his brother Ismael. The visual effects of this film, along with the inherent warmth that it exudes, makes it a rather compelling watch.
19. 1898: Our Last Men in The Philippines (2016) [1898: Los últimos de Filipinas]
This film is set in the year 1898, when parts of The Philippines which were under Spanish occupation started falling into the locals’ control, owing to many factors. In one such attempt to save their failing territory, Spain sends a small troop of soldiers led by Captain Morenas and his deputy Lt. Cerezo to Baler, one of the last towns still under Spanish control. The local belligerents mostly attack during the night, which gives the troop their time to set up the local Church as their stronghold and lead the fight from there. Turns out, apart from the belligerents, the Spaniards also have to fight the harsh environmental conditions and heat, which they seemingly fail at.
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18. Retribution (2015) [El desconocido]
Carlos is a bank executive, who’s driving his kids to school. The entire family is in the car when Carlos gets a call on a phone that was planted in the car, unbeknownst to him. The stranger who had called him demands a sum of money unless Carlos wants the car to blow up. As he reaches the school and doesn’t let Marcos, his son, to disembark the car owing to the looming threat, he discusses the situation with a friend on the way, and his car gets blown into pieces as soon as their conversation ends. Carlos must find a way out to protect his family and remit the amount or to face the consequences. More or less, ‘Retribution’ doesn’t have a unique premise and we’ve seen this very rendition in many Hollywood flicks. Still, it makes for a thrilling affair as far as Spanish cinema is concerned.
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17. Elisa And Marcela (2019)
One of the most important original films by Netflix, ‘Elisa And Marcela’ tells the story of the first-ever same-sex marriage of Spain. The two leading characters are women who first meet as friends, but soon realize that their relationship cannot be confined to mere friendship and that they are in love with each other. They manage to keep their emotions for each other a secret for 15 long years before finally one of the women dresses as a man, marries the other person, and gets the necessary documents for the same. The major problem of the film is its writing. It does not offer us emotionally engaging scenes which will make us fall in love with the protagonists. Because this is a true story, it has to be told in a way that audiences find it interesting to watch.
16. Who Would You Take to a Deserted Island? (2019)
When you are living among friends, you feel like you are at the top of the world and can achieve anything. However, the reality out there is not as nice, and will often put you in your right place. This is exactly what happens to the four friends, who are the central characters of this film. They have all been living together, but when they are about to face the world outside, they wonder what are the challenges that await them. The film boasts of fine performances from the actors, along with an interesting approach to the cinematography by director Jota Linares. He uses handheld cameras so that there is a certain level of intimacy which we can form with the characters, thus helping us to get lost in their stories in the process.
15. Toc Toc (2017)
“Toc” here stands for “Trastorno Obsessivo Compulsivo” in Spanish, commonly called the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. A funny premise at the outside, ‘Toc Toc’ begins in a waiting room of a renowned doctor’s clinic, where a group of random people have been given an appointment at the exact same time. Piling up on that, it is revealed that all of them have been suffering from the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in one form or another – like Tourette syndrome, Diogenes Syndrome, mysophobia etc. Turns out, the doctor’s flight has been delayed, thus increasing the level of panic among the patients. Together, they must find common ground as they wait for their appointment.
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14. Roma (2018)
‘Roma’ is the film which helped establish Netflix as one of the most important film production houses in the world today. Director Alfonso Cuaron has made a lot of movies till date, but none of them is as personal and as emotionally engaging as this one. The story of the film is set around a middle-class Mexican family living in Mexico City who has a rather dedicated maid called Cleo. When the father of this family leaves suddenly one day, the mother has to bear the responsibility of raising the children on her own. We follow the lives of the family as the children learn to grow in the hostile political landscape of Mexico. Besides this family, the filmmaker also makes us understand the condition of the working-class woman with the character of Cleo. The one thing which will make you go back to this film is the wonderful love which is shared between this family and Cleo. The camerawork in this film, also done by Cuaron, is masterful.
13. The Chosen Ones (2015) [Las elegidas]
A tale of troubled relationships, in a weird way, ‘The Chosen One’ shows Ulysis and Sofia in a relationship as the movie begins. Turns out, Ulysis’ family business is to get girls into flesh trade using Ulysis as a bait. Before knowing much about the family, Sofia finds herself deep into the prostitution business and feels cheated. Ulysis’ father agrees to let go of Sofia only on one condition — that Ulysis will have to get another girl to replace her. Ulysis then honeytraps Marta and sets Sofia free feigning his love for her. Things aren’t as they were before and Sofia finds herself between a rock and a hard place.
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12. The Fury of a Patient Man (2016) [Tarde para la ira]
A thrilling drama at the outset, ‘The Fury of a Patient Man’ begins with Ana, a single mother who lives with her son, working as a bartender in very mundane life. Her boyfriend Curro had been incarcerated eight years ago for robbing a jewellery store and is about to be released from prison. Of late, a strange yet gentle and friendly man named Jose has been visiting her cafe and has befriended her, thus making her feel safe even though Curro is not alongside her. She’s stuck with two choices – make amends with Curro and lead a new life or to move in with Jose. She decides upon doing the latter, not realizing what deep dark secrets Jose keeps in his closet.
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11. 7 Anos (2016)
Picture this — a highly successful company, four founders with similar credentials, all four of them are blind, and massive tax fraud has been detected. ‘7 Anos’ deals with the dilemma of the right vs. the wrong and who should turn themselves in and save the other three. Flabbergasted by the lack of choice and an increasing conflict of interest, the four friends decide to hire a mediator who would assess who should take the fall out of the four of them and save the other three. Perhaps ‘7 Anos’ is the movie equivalent of how to correct a wrong with another wrong. Thoughts?
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10. Our Lovers (2016) [Nuestros Amantes]
Carlos and Irene accidentally meet each other at a coffee library. They begin a close friendship and start having small conversations and walks together, without falling in love. The conditions for their so-called “friendship” are simple – they won’t talk about their pasts; they won’t ask each other their birth names; they won’t contact each other by modern means of communication; and they won’t fall for each other. However, later, Irene finds out that Carlos is the husband of Maria, who was in love with Jorge, Irene’s boyfriend. Interestingly, Jorge has recently split with Irene citing his newfound love. Both Carlos and Irene have two choices – either save their existing relationships or form a new one together.
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9. Sexo, Pudor y lágrimas (1999)
A really complicated battle of the sexes, this epic movie has many characters and depicts the entangled relationships among one another. Tomas has recently moved to Mexico and is currently visiting his friends Carlos and Ana who’re having marital problems. Incidentally, Tomas used to date Ana and he tries to get closer to her when Carlos kicks Tomas out. Instead, Ana leaves and goes to her friends Miguel and Andrea’s house, who are also having the same marital problems. Meanwhile, Miguel is kicked out by Andrea and after some time, two opposing houses in the same street are having people of opposite sexes stationed together. A funny and serious affair, ‘Sexo, Pudor y lágrimas’ is a road less travelled.
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8. The Man with Thousand Faces (2016) [El hombre de las mil caras]
One of the highly rated and widely appreciated Spanish movies out there, ‘The Man with Thousand Faces’ is the telltale of Francisco Paesa, an ex-secret agent of the Spanish government who was also a banker, an arms dealer before he was hired by the ex-police commissioner Luis to hide 12 million pesetas which he had embezzled wrongfully. Paesa then, in cahoots with some of his old buddies, devises an evil plan to take the cash out and make a fool of the entire nation. Although a blend of fact and fiction, ‘The Man with Thousand Faces’ is an enjoyable thriller biopic which gives us chilling accounts of one of the biggest scams of the country.
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7. Like Water for Chocolate (1992) [Como agua para chocolate]
In the 1900s in countryside Mexico, a girl named Tita is born in a family. After her birth, her father dies, thus leaving Mama Elena, her mother, and Tita is the youngest daughter of the family of four. As per a tradition, the youngest girl of the family never marries and takes care of her mother until her death. As Tita grows older, she falls for a man named Pedro, but because of the tradition, they can’t marry. Pedro then gets married to Tita’s elder sister and comes to stay in their house to stay closer to Tita. Her sister gives birth to Roberto, who is nursed by Tita as her own, but Tita is devastated when Roberto is sent away along with the family and he dies in her absence. Tita then falls for one Dr Brown, but later reunites with Pedro after the accidental death of Mama Elena. ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ is regarded as one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies of Spanish cinema.
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6. The Perfect Dictatorship (2014) [La Dictadura Perfecta]
Depicting a power struggle in Mexico between the current President and Governor Vargas, ‘The Perfect Dictatorship’ uses dark humour, with satirical references and somewhat real-life antecedents, which are mostly subjective in nature. The movie begins with an unintended remark made by the Mexican President on national television while welcoming the US Ambassador. Television Mexicana, who had aired the remark, seek to cover it up by showing another sensational story featuring Governor Vargas and his alleged involvement in an embezzlement scandal. Vargas then bribes Television Mexicana and asks them to improve his image in front of the public. ‘The Perfect Dictatorship’ is a must-watch Spanish movie and you can stream it on Netflix right now.
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5. Palm Trees in the Snow (2015)
Based on the novel of the same name by the author Luz Gabás, this film follows Killian, a young man who arrives in Equatorial Guinea in 1958 with his older brother. They both arrive to work on a cacao plantation but life (and love) happen. “Palm Trees in the Snow” is an incredible movie about Spanish colonialism and its impact. Besides having great camera work and sound effects, this film has a beautiful story supported by a great cast. If you choose this one, prepare yourself for a heartbreaking story.
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4. 100 Meters (2016)
An awe-inspiring true story that will move you to the core, ‘100 Meters’ is the story of a man named Ramon who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As his condition worsens, he finds it difficult even to complete mundane walks across the street. He is duly informed that soon, he won’t be able to walk even a 100-meter distance. His wife Inma seeks the help of Manolo, who slowly and steadily motivates Ramon to start walking and soon, Ramon joins the gym and makes good progress. As Ramon expresses his desire to participate in the prestigious Iron Man contest — 3.8 KM of swimming, 180 KM of cycling, and 42 KM of running — Manolo takes it upon himself to train him, despite Ramon’s reluctance but out of Inma’s request. He then goes on to complete the contest, thus becoming the very first person with Multiple Sclerosis to do so.
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3. Y Tu Mamá También (2001)
In Mexico City, two friends, Tenoch and Julio, meet a vivacious woman named Luisa, the wife of Tenoch’s cousin, Jano. When the three of them embark on a road trip, they learn a lot about life, friendship and each other. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, ‘Y Tu Mamá También’ is masterfully directed by Alfonso Cuaron (director and writer of ‘Gravity’ and ‘Children of Men’). Besides being a frank and open story about teenage discovery, the script has a good sense of comedy. It is an intelligent take on the teen comedy genre.
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2. The Invisible Guest (2016) [ Contratiempo]
When Adrian, an affluent businessman, is arrested for the murder of his lover, whose body was found by his side in a hotel room, Virginia, a veteran attorney, is hired to make Adrian’s case – an impregnable defence to get him out of trouble. Laura, his now-deceased lover, was a photographer and they were involved in a car crash resulting in a death, which, too, was evaded by Adrian at the behest of Laura. As Vanessa starts digging deeper, she finds out that apparently, Adrian might not be completely innocent after all, as opposed to what he claims to be. Skeletons from the closet often crop up in the movie and in this layered premise, trusts are broken and hidden secrets are revealed, one at a time. Easily one of the best Spanish language films on Netflix US.
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1. Coco (2017)
I have said this before and I’ll say it again: ‘Coco’ is by far one of the greatest Spanish movies ever made. In fact, the Spanish version is a lot better than its English counterpart, owing to better-localized lyrics, dialogues and ample fun moments the film is rather known for. Regarded as one of Pixar’s best animation works till date, the movie revolves around Coco, a kid who has a penchant for music and who accidentally strums his great-great-grandfather’s guitar, owing to which he is “banished” to the Land of the Dead, where the spirits of his ancestors now live.
Each year, on the very day of his disappearance, people on the Land of the Living summon their loved ones with a blessing. To head back home, Coco needs a blessing and he’ll have to meet his great-great-grandfather before venturing into Land of the Living again. ‘Coco’ has a high emotional quotient and has the tenderness and love one seldom hopes for while watching an animated flick. If you haven’t watched the film yet, now would be a good time.
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