For much of its existence, Mexico has had a tumultuous history. It has been a land of contrasts, from the rich colonial villas of Las Lomas to the poverty-stricken majority just trying to make ends meet.
As a result, Mexican cinematographers have found inspiration and beauty to weave intricate stories about the human condition and the nuances of life.
The Three Amigos: Alejandro G. Iñárritu , Guillermo del Toro, and Alfonso Cuarón have played an instrumental role in carving out a name for Mexican movies internationally.
Their distinct cinematography has brought forth some of the best Mexican movies known to the US and beyond.
Due to their excellence, all three have won multiple Oscars for directing films like The Revenant, The Shape of Water, and Gravity.
Furthermore, you will find that the best Mexican TV shows and movies are a stark contrast to American movies. Cultural clash aside, they depict the unapologetic realism of life without the luxuries of suburban America.
Keeping with the theme, the top Mexican movies that are critically acclaimed offer their audiences a glimpse into the vast inequalities, injustices, and frustrations that limit Mexican and Latin American societies, often dealing with complex themes like racism, misogyny, and homophobia.
Crime, drugs, and gang wars can seem somewhat clichéd when talking about Latin American societies. Still, Mexican TV shows and movies have done an excellent job at deconstructing the tropes that we are used to seeing in American pop culture regarding Latin America.
However, Mexican culture is a lot more than the Latin pop we hear from the top Mexican musicians on American Billboard charts and the stories of drugs and fighting we usually see.
In line with tradition, we have decided to list some of the best Mexican movies ever made. Most of these are widely accessible to audiences with English subtitles on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime:
Javier Bardem is known for his versatility as an actor, carving out a niche among Hispanic and Mexican celebrities in Hollywood.
His performance in Alejandro Innaritu's 2010 movie Biutiful won accolades in Latin filmmaking circles and on a global level.
Without giving away spoilers, we'll provide a brief premise of the story. Biutiful captures the final days of a trafficker named Uxbal as he deals with the news of his terminal disease.
He finds himself coming to terms with the reality of his profession and the legacy he wishes to leave behind for his children.
This beautifully concocted storyline allows us to see the flawed criminal through the lens of a protagonist.
The film paints him as more than just his profession as he battles the same worries every father has for their children.
Bardem's evocative performance coupled with Innaritu's cinematic prowess makes Biutiful a movie that will leave a lasting impression on you.
2. Red Dawn (Rojo Amanecer)
Red Dawn, or Rojo Amanecer, is a Silver Ariel-winning movie that narrates the gruesome massacre of protesting students.
It aims an intrusive eye on the events that took place in Mexico City on 2 October 1968, those that have left a lingering blot on Mexican history.
The Tlatelolco massacre proved to be one of the landmark moments in post-revolution Mexican history, exposing the inherent propensity for violence in the state of Mexico.
Perhaps the most shocking element of the attack was that it was conducted by the elected PRI-led forces.
The film is a particularly jarring depiction of the actual events that took place on that fateful day, letting viewers see it unfold through the eyes of a middle-class family from the Tlatelolco area.
The movie includes testimonies and accounts of actual survivors and witnesses of the massacre to add a touch of realism to the experience.
What makes the movie even more remarkable is that the director – Jorge Fons – completed the project on a measly budget, improvising the scenes inside an old warehouse.
The grimy realness of the cinematography brought it international acclaim, and it went on to win 11 awards.
3. You're Missing The Point (Ahí Está El Detalle)
Long considered one of the classics of Mexican cinema, this movie almost evokes similar feelings to Don Ameche and Carmen Miranda's A Night In Rio, albeit with a hint of Vaudeville comedy.
This film has been considered the benchmark for Mexican movies in the comedic genre, and it is bound to have you laughing throughout.
The movie offers a glimpse into the Mexico of the 1940s, and the pattern is vaguely similar to American comedy movies of the same era.
Furthermore, the man cast as the lead, Cantinflas, is a darling of comedy-enthusiasts and holds a special place among Mexican celebrities.
The actors' mannerisms coupled with the subtle irony of the plot make this a staple of Mexican cinema and a genuinely unforgettable cinema experience.
4. Cell 211 (Celda 211)
In line with the themes of police action, militias, and prison culture stereotyped with Mexico, Cell 211 is set inside a jail.
But that's where the clichéd premise ends, and the movie saves itself from the typically expected narrative of the setting.
The story shows us two sides of the prison spectrum through two individuals, one leading a mob rebellion and a security guard trying to survive the uprising by posing as an inmate.
In contrast with conventional prison movies, this film does a brilliant job of depicting the sheer terror and helplessness of the security guard.
It flips the narrative on its head, giving us a welcome surprise in the form of a chilling psychological thriller. The film defies the odds and takes the audience through a roller-coaster of emotions.
5. El Topo
This avant-garde masterpiece takes inspiration from several genres, with elements of fantasy and Western history mixed into one cohesive plot.
Alejandro Jodorowsky's cinematic storytelling skills are the cherry on top of this film. Typical of his filmmaking style, he incorporates surrealism while littering the movie with absurd events to throw the audience off.
In quintessential Jodorowsky style, the movie is more of a cinematic experience than a story. It is wildly provocative at times, taking the viewer on a self-indulgent sensory trip in certain parts.
The in-your-face violence can be jarring for some, but the viewer willing to sit through the roller-coaster ride will undoubtedly come out of the cinema loving the raw feel and the evocative vibe.
This is a movie that is unparalleled in its boldness and philosophical undertones.
For all the Shakespeare fans out there, Macario shares some undertones with Macbeth. If you're a Hispanic movie enthusiast looking to get your fix of supernatural movies, Macario brings it to you.
Set in rural Mexico, portraying the eponymous protagonist Macario as a poor woodcutter, the movie depicts his encounter with three supernatural deities, God, Devil, and Death.
Keep in mind that this Mexican flick is a loose adaptation of The Third Guest by B. Traven.
The plot revolves around Macario's encounter with these guests as he eats the special turkey meal his wife prepared for him.
He staves off God and Death from sharing his meal but offers it to the third guest, Death, to have another chance at life.
The simplicity of the setting and the gruesome undertones of death and the will to survive are contrasted to make one of the most notable masterpieces in Mexican cinema.
7. Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto Del Fauno)
Written, directed, and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, this Spanish-Mexican dark fantasy film is set in Francoist Spain and mixes the real world with the supernatural.
Del Toro is known among Hispanic audiences for weaving mesmerizing stories, and this is one for the ages!
The film shows us the world through the eyes of 10-year old Ofelia, struggling with her mother and stepfather in post-war Spain.
The premise involves Ofelia's encounter with a fairy who informs her that she is a princess.
This fantasy film features dark humor, a coming-of-age narrative, and sinister supernatural imagery that underlies the grim reality of post-war Spain.
8. The Holy Mountain (La Montaña Sagrada)
Adding just one Jodorowsky film to a list containing "the best Mexican movies" would be a massive disservice to said list.
Arguably, one of Jodorowsky's best works, The Holy Mountain, truly captures the ethos behind his cinematic style and vision.
Set in a dystopian world of sorts and drawing parallels to Jesus and his disciples, it follows the protagonist's journey through a corrupt and downright eerie world.
Reminiscent of the grim cinematic style of the 1970s, where filmmakers took a deliberate turn away from rosy settings to venture into dark realities, this film is packed with unimaginable, jarring symbolism and visual motifs.
This movie is a treat for fans of surrealist tales, and behind the absurdist tones, film enthusiasts can find a real cinematic experience that they will cherish long after the movie has ended.
It might not be a film for everyone, but it's a cult classic for its unconventional motifs and philosophical undertones.
9. Y Tu Mama Tambien
This next entry is a coming-of-age movie that has acquired a cult status in the Hispanic world, as well as the English-speaking world.
Y Tu Mama Tambien captures the youth culture of the Y2K generation, just as the new millennium rolls around.
It also stars a slew of now-industry leading celebrities like Diego Luna, who has since gone on to work with Tom Hanks in the Terminal, and Star Wars: Rogue One.
The film follows the journey of two friends on a road trip as they traverse through new adventures, raging hormones, and passions.
Their friendship is tried and rekindled as they meet new people, and the film strikes right at the heart of what it means to be young and full of doubt.
Everyone who has been through growing pains will relate to this movie, and you will be surprised how one film can make you feel so many emotions simultaneously.
It is passionate, funny, stylish, and melancholic, all at the same time, and still resonates in Mexican pop culture.
This is one of the most remarkable movies to come out of Mexico in recent history; Winning three Oscars and being nominated for a further seven!
Roma captures a middle-class family struggling through the Mexican Dirty War, the unofficial name for the intrigues and political instability plaguing the country during the Cold War.
It has a distinct somber tone that drives the home despair of the 1970s experienced by most Mexicans.
The film makes for a contemplative experience, showing just how much stress underlies the middle-class, and resonates with the locals on a personal level.
Watch Mexican Movies Without Subtitles
Now that you know which movies to watch, wouldn't it be awesome if you could watch them without subtitles?
Becoming one with Mexican culture involves studying and learning the language, and if one of these movies inspires you to do that, it's a win-win situation for everyone involved!
Hire a Superprof tutor today and learn how to speak authentic Mexican Spanish! All you have to do is visit Superprof, sign up, and find a tutor in your area!