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10 Mexican Movies to Learn Spanish From

Even before The Three Amigos took the world of cinema by storm, Mexican cinema was already a world-famous oddity. We say “oddity” because it’s remarkable that such a small film industry can produce the number of good films and filmmakers it does. From the times of Luis Buñuel to Alejandro G. Iñarritu making heated speeches after winning Best Director at the Oscars, Mexican cinema has nearly always been a fruitful thing.

Consider, as well, that time when Guillermo del Toro won Best Director at the 2018 Golden Globes. A Chinese reporter asked him why it is that he has such an “extraordinary ability to look into the shadow side of human nature” while finding a balance in still being a joyful and loving person. Guillermo’s answer?

“I’m Mexican.”

His reasoning is that, as a culture, we’re very aware of death as the ultimate destination for any living thing, so it makes the time we get here all the more intense and joyful.

Translate that into such a complete art form as film, and you get a pretty good catalogue to choose from. Good news if you’re someone trying to boost your language skills by watching some movies in Spanish, and especially if you’re interested in Mexican Spanish and the culture of that country in general.

This is why we’ve put together a list of ten of the best Mexican films of all time, which we consider good enough options to study Spanish, while trying to showcase a good variety of genres, styles, and time periods. Watch any of our recommend Spanish movies, and you’ll be entertained all the while enhancing your language-learning experience. Here are some tips to improve your pronunciation while watching movies in Spanish.

Ways to improve pronunciation

Table of Contents

  1. A Word About the Mexican Film Industry
  2. List of Mexican Movies
  3. Honorary Mentions
  4. Where Do I Find These Films?
  5. How Can SpanishPod101 Help You Learn Your Spanish Idioms and Expressions?

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1. A Word About the Mexican Film Industry

Movie genres

Now, before we delve into it, there’s something you should know about making films in Mexico.

The number one thing is that…it’s hard! Not many people believe that film making is a great business, which translates into a vicious circle where few people pursue it full-time, so it’s difficult to make new films that go outside the vacuum. There are few investors willing to take some risk, so few people get to make the film they want to make…and so on.

Most Mexican independent films, precisely because of that, are made with the help of government grants, which is why certain themes get censored, while other themes get pushed through a lot.

For the same reason, it’s the dream of most Mexican filmmakers to migrate to another industry, usually Hollywood (biggest and closest) in order to make the films they envision.

And that’s why films like The Revenant, The Shape of Water, and Gravity are made in English-speaking countries, since it would’ve been (and anyone of those directors will affirm this) virtually impossible to make the exact same films with a Mexican budget.

It’s normal, we guess. In the end, they have to cater to an international audience, so that’s why you won’t see those films on this list. That’s also why the pool of Mexican films, made in Mexico and thus in Mexican Spanish, is smaller to pick from.

But anyway, that’s why we’re here. Below you get a list of Mexican films to learn Spanish from, chosen by a Mexican film enthusiast.

Please take into consideration that the list is in alphabetical order, so it doesn’t reflect in any way the order of preference of the author, nor should it reflect the order of preference you give to each film.

Hope you enjoy watching them! Also included is a quote to give you a taste of the Spanish spoken in each film. Here are the most common Spanish vocabulary that you may find in the movies.

Top verbs


2. List of Mexican Movies

1- Amores Perros (2000)

To start you off, here’s Mr. Alejandro Iñarritu’s Opera Prima. Back in the year 2000, in his debut as a director, Iñarritu went ahead and started off with his Trilogía de la Muerte (“Death Trilogy”), which is completed by his subsequent films, 21 Gramos and Babel. All of them were written by his longtime collaborator, Guillermo Arriaga.

Amores Perros follows three sub-stories that take place in Mexico City, all intertwined by a car accident. The first story is about a teenager in the city slums that gets, unwillingly, involved with dogfighting simply because he’s trying to get enough money to run away with his brother’s girlfriend. The second story is about a newly-wed model who breaks her leg, and the third is about a vagabond who’s also a mysterious hitman. None of the characters ever know each other, apart from their shared involvement in the accident.

This film is notorious for having catapulted the career of Gael Garcia Bernal, who’s the teenager from the first story. Also, you should know that the film was released with its Spanish name in the English-speaking world, mainly because the title is hard to translate. Amores is plural for “love,” as in love affairs, or love interests, and Perros is “dogs.” In this context, however, perros is used as slang for “difficult,” “harsh,” or “rough.” Therefore, the title means something like “tough loves,” while being a nice play on words for the film’s canine connotations.

Quote: Tú y tus planes. ¿Sabes que decía mi abuela? Si quieres hacer reír a Dios, cuéntale tus planes.

Translation: “You and your plans. You know what my grandmother used to say? If you want to make God laugh…tell Him your plans.”

2- Ahí Está El Detalle (1940)

On to a jewel from what we call La Época de Oro del Cine Mexicano. This phrase translates to “Mexican Cinema’s Golden Age,” and refers to a period between 1936 and 1959, when the industry achieved high degrees of quality, as well as massive international success, so much so that Mexican films were considered the cusp of Spanish-language films. This is one of the best Spanish classic films you’ll find.

One of the main actors and filmmakers from this period was Mario Moreno, also known as Cantinflas. His style of comedy even spawned the popular Mexican-Spanish colloquialism cantinflear which is pretty much when someone beats around the bush while talking, digressing from the subject in discussion, never really getting to the point.

Anyway, Ahí está el Detalle is considered Cantinflas’ best film since it has one of the most intricate and inventive stories from the period.

In short, Cantinflas is a bum who goes to dine at his girlfriend’s place of employment (she’s the servant of a rich industrialist) just to get a free meal each day. One time, however, his girlfriend informs him that for once he must win his meal by going into the house and killing a dog that has gone mad with rabies. While Cantinflas prepares to do so, the rich industrialist appears, so his girlfriend tells him that Cantinflas is his wife’s brother, who had been missing for years. At this point, the industrialist remembers that his father-in-law’s testament could only be paid when all brothers got together again. He proceeds to treat Cantinflas as a king, and he happily plays along.

Quote: Mira, nomás te voy decir una cosa, ¿trabajan los ricos? A que no, entonces si el trabajo fuera bueno ya lo tendrían acaparado los ricos y entonces nomás ellos trabajarían.

Translation: “Look, I’m only gonna tell you one thing, do rich people work? I bet not! So, if work was so good, they would own all of it, and then only they would work.”

3- El Infierno (2010)

Oh boy, back to darker themes in Mexican film. El Infierno is one of the best films by well-known Mexican filmmaker Luis Estrada (see also La Ley de Herodes and La Dictadura Perfecta), who usually narrates stories about the many social problems within the country.

In this film—perhaps one of the most important Mexican films—he focuses on the problem of narcotrafico, following the story of a man who’s recently been deported after twenty years working and living in the U.S. as an illegal immigrant. Back in his small town in northern Mexico, the man faces a discouraging scenario due to the economic crisis that took place around 2008—2010, and the wave of violence that has been unleashed as a reaction to Felipe Calderon’s (then President of Mexico) War on Drugs. In need of money and with few options, the man quickly sees himself immersed into the world of narcos.

This film is an open critic to the Calderon administration’s management of the country’s drug problem, as well as narco-culture in general. It was one of the most acclaimed Mexican films of 2010, and one of the most accurate portrayals of a social problem that terrorizes Mexican families up to this very day.

Quote: “En este pinche país no haces lo que quieres, si no lo que puedes.”

Translation: “In this f*cking country you don’t do what you want, but what you can.”

4- Güeros (2014)

Since we haven’t yet mentioned the Ariel awards, we guess that now’s as good a time as any. Los Premios Ariel are the Mexican Academy of Film’s yearly awards, given out as a recognition for excellence in motion picture making. As the most prestigious award in the Mexican film industry, one could say that it’s the equivalent to the Academy Awards, or “Oscars” of the United States.

So, we mention this here because Güeros was the last Mexican film to truly make a splash in los Ariel and was well-regarded in the independent art-film circles. Let’s say that, as with the American Oscars, not all Best Picture winners are considered “good films” by film buffs.

Anyway, Güeros is an absolute jewel of modern Mexican cinema. I personally don’t recall any other recent films being so bold, timely, and accurate in argument. In other words, if you want to see a recent story about modern Mexican youth that gets you close to what you would encounter by going into a dive bar in a Mexico City student zone, this is probably it.

The film follows the story of Tomas, an adolescent who gets sent to live with his older brother, who’s a university student in Mexico City, after he becomes too much for his mother to handle. Within his first few days, the two brothers, the older brother’s roommate, and a romantic interest—who’s also an outspoken leader in the student protests that are occurring for the entirety of the film—set out to find an obscure rock musician who’s apparently dying in a hospital bed.

For this film, most of the weird phrases and terms have an explanation by the character’s themselves, but it would also help to get yourself acquainted with the music festival Avándaro, and why the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México—one of Latin America’s largest public research universities—sees constant student protests.

Quote: Estamos en huelga de la huelga.

Translation: “We’re in strike from the strike.”

5- Las Fuerzas Vivas (1975)

Luis Alcoriza, director of Las Fuerzas Vivas

If you’re at all interested in the Mexican War of Revolution, this is a great film to see. Hailed as an all-time greatest classic of Mexican cinema, this film satirizes the whole phenomenon. The interesting thing is that it describes the ins and outs of the Revolution not by following the official story, but by telling a little near-allegorical story that occurs in a little village, far from the places where the actual revolution is taking place at the same time.

While this may be harder to find with subtitles, there are several full-length versions on YouTube.

Quote: Bueno, y los de la junta de gobierno, ¿quiénes la vamos a formar?

Translation: “Well, and the government council, who’s gonna be in it?”

6- La Jaula de Oro (2013)

Now for another deep socioeconomic problem in Mexico, this film deals with the theme of immigration. It’s well-known that many Mexicans looking for better work opportunities and conditions migrate north of the border illegally. It’s not as well-known, however, that lots of Central Americans do so as well. To make their way, they must go all the way through Mexico, usually riding the tops of the old freight trains that still criss-cross the country, facing horrors such as racism and abuse from the local authorities, the risk of literally getting abducted and sold, or just killed due to the dire conditions.

All that is pretty real, and it happens everyday, so it’s good that filmmaker Diego Quemada-Diez took it upon himself to portray what those migrants have to go through in one of his first films. La Jaula de Oro follows the story of two young Guatemalan immigrants, a girl and a boy, and Tzotzil indigenous youth, who try to make their way up to the U.S.

The film is absolutely devastating, but truly moving to watch, especially if one considers that apart from the three protagonists, most of the people one sees in the film aren’t cast actors and actresses, but real migrants who happened to be there when Diego and his crew were rolling.

Finally, talking about the Ariel’s again, La Jaula de Oro won Best Picture in 2014.

Quote: Siento como si tuviera un zoológico en mi estómago, como si un montón de animales estuvieran corriendo por todo mi cuerpo de la emoción de que vamos a llegar al otro lado.

Translate: “I feel as if I had a zoo inside my stomach, as if a bunch of animals were running all over my body, from the emotion that we’re going to make it to the other side.”

7- Los Olvidados (1950)

Named “Memory of the World” by Unesco, probably the only film on this list to hold that distinction (for now), Los Olvidados is also hailed as Luis Buñuel’s best piece of art from his Mexican period.

The film is deeply rooted in Italian Neorealism, with some surreal touches proper of Mr. Buñuel’s former works. Its story follows a brief period in the lives of poor Mexican children within the slums of Mexico City, shortly after one of them escapes from a correctional facility.

Quote: Uno menos, así irán cayendo todos, ¡Ojalá los mataran a todos antes de nacer!

Translation: “One down, that’s how they’ll all fall eventually, wish they killed them all before they were born!”

8- Nosotros Los Nobles (2013)

While this list may give the contrary impression, hopefully by now you don’t think that Mexican Cinema is all about either artsy films or very old movies. There are, as in all industries probably, a fair share of light comedies and chick flicks. I’d even venture to say that these make the better part of the offer, but they don’t usually transcend beyond being box office hits in Mexico; they run for a couple of weeks, the producers cash in, and they’re off to make another one.

There is, nevertheless, a fine exception to that rule, and that is Nosotros Los Nobles. While it’s a light comedy from whichever side you look at it, the story is surprisingly quite good, as well as the acting (it features Luis Gerardo Mendez, of Club de Cuervos fame). The thing is just funny, and it has the advantage of being recent. Thus, it offers a rare and accurate glimpse into current Mexican humor. This is one of the best Mexican comedy films out there.

The story is actually inspired by El Gran Calavera, another of Buñuel’s films, but adapted to our days by Gary Alazraki. It centers on the elaborate lie of a wealthy Mexican businessman, who upon realizing that his three children aren’t doing anything with their lives but to sponge off him, decides to tell them that he’s gone bankrupt, so they all have to find jobs in the “real world.”

Quote: Entraste por influencias pero te vas por pendejo.

Translation: “You got the job because you’re connected but you’re fired because you’re an idiot.”

9- Temporada de Patos (2004)

It’s probably evident by now, largely due to the rant at the beginning of this Mexican movie blog, that Mexican films don’t usually have big budgets. So before Mexican filmmakers can go abroad to make massive blockbuster films, they have to find ways to tell impactful stories with nothing but a few cameras and some people.

This film is a perfect example of that. Temporada de Patos centers around two adolescents in the Tlatelolco habitational units (see the Tlatelolco Massacre for a glimpse of the historical background of that place), who plan on spending a weekend by themselves while their parents are away.

What was supposed to be two days of nothing but pizza and video games, turns into an absurd situation when there’s a power cut in the buildings. The youths are forced to deal with a neighbor who requests to use one of their ovens, and a pizza delivery man who argues with them about the delivery time.

Quote: Las oportunidades en la vida son como los tiros que tiene una escopeta. Yo ya me gasté los míos.

Translation: “Opportunities in life are like the shots in a shotgun. I’m all out.”

10- Y tu Mamá también (2001)

Before going off to make Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban and Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón made this drama road movie that still stands as one of the best Mexican films—even one of the best Spanish-language films—ever made.

Featuring Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, the movie is about two Mexican 18-year-olds who are on vacation from school. While their girlfriends are traveling in Europe, the two are left to rest idle in Mexico City. One day, at a wedding, they meet a Spanish woman ten years older than them who’s married to one of their cousins. In an attempt to flirt with her, they tell her that they’re going to the beach. While the woman first dismisses their efforts, a couple of mishaps in the following days lead her to accept the invitation. At that point, the two teenagers have to follow through on their lie and improvise a roadtrip to Boca del Cielo, a virgin beach in the state of Oaxaca.

Quote: No hay mayor placer que dar placer ¿no?

Translation: “There’s no bigger pleasure than giving pleasure, no?”


3. Honorary Mentions

And those are all the films we have for now! Some honorary mentions, apart from the other works we mentioned here and there by the same directors, would be:

  • Cronos (1993), Guillermo Del Toro’s Opera Prima
  • El Laberinto del Fauno (Mexico-Spain production, but mostly spoken in Spanish from Spain)
  • Sin Nombre (2009), also centers around the theme of migrantes in Mexico
  • Vámonos con Pancho Villa! (1936), another one about the Mexican Revolution, also from the “Golden Age”


4. Where Do I Find These Films?

Many of these recommend Mexican movies may be available on Netflix or other streaming services depending on your region. My recommendation is to give each film a try over each platform, including YouTube. If there’s no luck, you can search for them using a free streaming site such as Cuevana.

My main tip is to be on constant lookout. Maybe you’ll see one of them in a hard copy, or being played in a local theater or even on TV one of these days. I’ve watched most of these across a variety of platforms. Güeros, for example, was super hard to find even being from Mexico, until one day I boarded a flight and you won’t guess what was among the options for the in-flight movie.


5. How Can SpanishPod101 Help You Learn Your Spanish Idioms and Expressions?

If you liked this guide to the best Mexican movies to learn Spanish from, then feel free to find more resources, idiomatic expressions, and fun lessons on our SpanishPod101 website. We have over 1800 audio and video lessons, lively community forums, and a good combination of energetic hosts to help you with your Spanish-learning needs in a fun and easy way!

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