17 Must-Watch Movies About South America

South American Movies You Need to Watch Right Now

South America is a vast continent full of great tales and even greater storytellers. Whether you’re nervously planning your first trip, sitting calmly awaiting your next or just looking for some inspiration, these South American films promise to inform, entertain and leave you longing for adventure! 

The following collection of movies is a compilation of films inspired by South America. Some were made on the continent, others were set there. There’s a good mix of serious and lighthearted movies, as well as an interesting collection of new and old.

No matter the cinematic experience you’re looking for, you’ll find a film about South America to get your feet itching! 

What are you waiting for? Grab the popcorn!


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The Best Movies Set in South America

1. Jungle — Based on a true story

  • Year: 2017
  • Language: English
  • Country: Bolivia
  • Director: Greg McLean
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 60%

Jungle

Based on the book of the same name, Jungle follows the story of Yossi Ghinsberg as his once-in-a-lifetime adventure turns into a nightmare of gargantuan proportions.

Check out 👉 Best Books for Travellers to South America

Yossi wanted his South American journey to be an experience he would never forget, and that is exactly what he got. After an unexpected meeting in a Bolivian Market, Yossi and two of his pals follow a guide into the Amazon Rainforest in search of a truly ‘authentic’ South American adventure.

The first few days of hiking through the jungle go well but after an overnight stay in a small village, things start to deteriorate. This tale of survival chronicles Yossi’s harrowing three-week stint, lost and alone, deep in the jungle. 

While not the most critically acclaimed film on this list, Jungle is worth a watch for anyone travelling to or even near the Amazon. If you don’t watch it, you’ll have to spend most of your time listening to Bolivian tour guides telling you about it anyway!


2. Frida — Based on a true story 

  • Year: 2002
  • Language: English
  • Country: Mexico
  • Director: Julie Taymor
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 75%

Frida

So let’s just tackle the elephant in the room here… Mexico is not in South America. So why is Frida, a film produced in the USA, about the Mexican artist and feminist icon, Frida Kahlo, on this list? If you’ve already been to South America, you’ll know and if you haven’t, you’ll see soon enough.

Frida Kahlo is an icon across the entirety of the Americas. She’s revered by travellers and locals for her spirit, determination and willingness to break down social norms and shake up the status quo. 

The film opens with the terrible bus crash that nearly killed Frida at the age of 18. Following this, we see her road to recovery, the beginning of her artistic career and get a glimpse into her complicated love life — including an affair with the legendary Leon Trotsky, played by Geoffrey Rush.

This amazing insight into one of the most influential female figures in the history of the Americas won two Academy Awards from six nominations. 


3. Last Stop 174 — Fictionalised but based on a true story

  • Year: 2008
  • Language: Portuguese 
  • Country: Brazil 
  • Director: Bruno Barreto 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

Last Stop 174 [DVD]

Last Stop 174 is a heavily fictionalised retelling of the events leading up to and revolving around the hijacking of Bus 174 in the year 2000. This violent standoff with the police in Rio echoed through Brazilian society and the aftershocks can still be felt today. 

The film follows Sandro, his survival of the Candelaria Massacre and subsequent struggles within a system built on inequality and injustice. The final half-hour focuses on the hijacking and Sandro’s botched robbery turned nightmare. 

While the retelling of this tale is fictionalised, the message is simple: fix the system and such violent, traumatic events will come to an end. 

For a more detailed and accurate portrayal of what happened during the hijacking, check out the film Bus 174; it’s one of our favourite documentaries about South America.


4. No — Based on a true story 

  • Year: 2012
  • Language: Spanish
  • Country: Chile
  • Director: Pablo Larraín
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%

No

Set during Chile’s 1988 plebiscite, No follows the story of René, an advertising consultant tasked to work for the ‘No’ campaign. 

For 15 years, Chile had been ruled over by military dictator General Augusto Pinochet but facing increasing international pressure, the government put the decision to the people. Let Pinochet rule for another 8 years, or have open and democratic elections — ‘Yes’ to keep the General, ‘No’ to remove him. 

The film offers a darkly comedic take on the plebiscite, with René’s boss, Lucho, a committed conservative, heading up the Yes campaign. What follows is a rollercoaster of threats, attempted bribery and a boat load of political censorship, the likes of which we’ve seen over and over across the world since the 1980s! 

No spoilers but those of you interested in South American history already know how this one turned out!


5. The Emperor’s New Groove — Animated Disney comedy based in Peru

  • Year: 2000
  • Language: English 
  • Country: Peru
  • Director: Mark Dindal
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 86%

The Emperor's New Groove

While it’s never specifically stated, The Emperor’s New Groove is based in ancient Peru. The artwork is the same, the clothing is the same and Machu Picchu is even depicted. You’d have to go a long way to convince someone this film isn’t based in South America! 

Aside from the obvious influences, you won’t see a lot of attention drawn to Peru throughout the film. However, it’s a fun slapstick journey that utilises the country as a fitting backdrop. 

As you’d expect from Disney, the film is about personal growth and change. When the Protagonist, Kuzco, is turned into a llama during a botched assassination attempt, we witness his journey from an egotistical, self-centred emperor to a kind and caring man.

The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and although it doesn’t outwardly acknowledge it’s based in ancient Peruvian society, it’s certainly less culturally offensive than other Disney classics such as Pocahontas, Peter Pan or Lady and The Tramp.


6. The Motorcycle Diaries — Based on a true story

The Motorcycle Diaries (English Subtitled)

Based on the book of the same name, The Motorcycle Diaries follows Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado through their most formative years.

In 1952, what starts as the hedonistic motorcycle trip of a lifetime slowly changes the way Guevara sees the world. Arguably, without this trip and the constant scenes of inequality witnessed across the continent, Che may have never become the fearsome revolutionary we know today. 

The route takes Che and Alberto over the Andes, deep into the Amazon Rainforest and through the treacherous Atacama Desert. The pair witness horrific working conditions in the copper mines, spend time volunteering in a leper colony and even meet people who have been kicked out of their homes and communities for their political beliefs.

The film succeeds where Che’s original book did not: in creating a likeable character out of Guevara himself.

If you want some basic knowledge about one of the world’s most famous revolutionaries or just want to witness a great piece of modern-day cinema, this film is for you!


7. Triple Frontier — An entertaining action film based in South America

  • Year: 2019
  • Language: English
  • Country: Colombia and Peru
  • Director: J.C Chandor 
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 70%

Don’t get excited. This isn’t a true work of cinematic genius. However, Triple Frontier is a fun action-adventure romp with enough explosions and gun fights to keep even the most avid Micheal Bay fans entertained. 

It’s one of those heist films where one last job turns predictably sour and a combination of bad luck, greed and poor people skills, cause mayhem from start to finish. Don’t expect too much from the film in terms of realism but the cast combination of Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam (I’m a sucker for C.H) and Pedro Pascal makes for a wild ride.

The film starts in Colombia, winds its way through dense jungle and over high mountain passes before finishing on the Peruvian coast.


8. Alive — Based on a true story

  • Year: 1993
  • Language: English
  • Country: Argentina
  • Director: Frank Marshall
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%

Alive (1993)

Alive is one of the lowest-rated films on our list but that doesn’t mean you should avoid it. It’s a good, albeit painfully dated, introduction to the tragic events that took place on 13th October 1972

Navigating the Andes has never been easy for pilots, especially those flying almost half a century ago. Alive is the true story of what happened to a Uruguayan university rugby team when their plane crashed down deep within the Andes. While many died upon impact, the surviving passengers were left to endure a harrowing 72-day ordeal. 

This story is famous for the bravery and sheer bloody-mindedness of its survivors. Faced with the hardest of decisions, their willingness to do whatever it took to survive, including resorting to cannibalism, was the only thing that could save them. The obstacles thrown at the victims are almost so unbelievable that no movie producer would’ve dared touch this plot had it not been a real event.


9. 7 boxes — Fictional film set in Paraguay

  • Year: 2012
  • Language: Spanish
  • Country: Paraguay
  • Director: Juan Carlos Maneglia & Tana Schembori
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 97%

7 Boxes

7 Boxes is a story of capitalism and desperation, set against the backdrop of a gigantic Paraguayan market. Our protagonist, a teenager called Victor, works moving goods using his trusty wheelbarrow. Like most working in the market, he’s living well below the poverty line

When approached by a stranger offering him $100USD to move seven boxes on the down low, Viktor quickly loads them into his cart. Throughout the film, the boxes become more and more sought after by police as well as more unscrupulous characters.

A work of fiction, 7 Boxes beautifully displays the frenetic energy that abounds in South American markets and gives an unusual insight into the lives of people who work there.


10. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid – Classic Western

  • Year: 1969
  • Language: English
  • Country: Bolivia
  • Director: George Roy Hill
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Sure, it’s not the first film that jumps to mind when you think of South American cinema but Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid heavily features early 1900s Bolivia.

After a train robbery goes wrong, our protagonists Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid flee an elite squad of lawmen. The chase takes the pair all the way to Bolivia where, with Sundance’s lover, they set up their new lives. During their time in South America, the bandits attempt to give up their criminal activities and go straight…

While this film might not give you much of a sense of South America, it’s a classic western that should be on every film fanatic’s to-watch list! 


11. Up An animated work of genius 

  • Year: 2009
  • Language: English 
  • Country: Not specified
  • Director: Pete Docter
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Up

If you haven’t seen it, go watch it now. Up is a masterpiece of modern cinema. While the film isn’t strictly about South America, the continent features heavily as the backdrop. 

To avoid being forcibly evicted from his home, bitter widower Carl Fredrickson decides to attach thousands of helium balloons to his house, so he’s able to fly away to South America. Specifically, he wants to travel to Paradise Falls, based on Angel Falls in Venezuela, where he’d always intended on visiting with his late wife before life got in the way. 

During his journey, Fredrickson rediscovers his zest for life, befriending a young boy called Russell, a talking dog named Doug and a giant flightless bird called Kevin (who turns out to be a girl)!

Harrowing intro aside, which is sure to leave you an emotional wreck, Up will make you smile for the rest of the day! 

Also read: Incredible waterfalls in South America.


12. Aguirre, the Wrath Of God — Fictional/Loosely based on true events

  • Year: 1972
  • Language: German
  • Country: Peru
  • Director: Werner Herzog
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 98%

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (English Subtitled)

Produced in the 1970s but set over 400 years earlier, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, is the story of a small band of Conquistadors on the hunt for gold. 

A series of nightmare-inducing scenarios see the 40-strong scout party dwindle to just a single member. A combination of illness, malnutrition, lack of local knowledge and the general hubris that comes with European colonialism is to blame for the rising body count. 

The movie is old, the sound sucks and the acting leaves a lot to be desired. However, this is one of the best-rated films ever made. If you are looking for a reasonably accurate portrayal of early European exploration of South America, the brutality portrayed in this film isn’t too far off. However, if you want a nice, easy, feel-good movie, move on to something else on this list. 


13. Machuca — Fictional 

  • Year: 2004
  • Language: Spanish
  • Country: Chile
  • Director: Andrés Wood
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

Machuca [DVD]

Set in the city of Santiago in 1973, Machuca is the South American Kane and Abel story. When our two young protagonists meet at a high-end private school, it’s evident that one of them doesn’t belong. The school operates a social inclusion program which helps a small number of disadvantaged children each year.

As the two boys hit it off, the country falls apart. Chile’s democratically elected, socialist government is under threat from General Pinochet’s military coup. The reaction from the two boy’s families is telling of Chile in the early ‘70s. The wealthy are shown to be welcoming of the dictatorship whilst the poorest are subjugated and oppressed even further.

Their friendship is tested to the limits and the film culminates with dramatic scenes of slums being destroyed and people murdered as Pinochet’s troops get a tighter hold on the city. Machuca is a good introduction for those wanting to know more about General Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship.


14.  The Galápagos Affair — Documentary 

  • Year: 2013
  • Language: English
  • Country: Ecuador
  • Director: Daniel Geller & Dayna Goldfine
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden [DVD]

Described by The New York Times as a “hybrid of a juicy soap opera and Survivor”, this fascinating documentary studies the mysterious events that unfolded on the Galápagos Island of Floreana.

During the late 1920s – early ‘30s, there was a small influx of European settlers to the remote island. First to arrive were two Germans who’d become so disillusioned with society that they moved to Floreana to live off the land. 

It wasn’t long before a second group arrived and then a third… Baroness Eloise Von Wagner, and her two lovers. They arrived with a plan to open a large luxury hotel resort on Floreana.

After just a few months, the Baroness and one of her lovers disappeared. The other was found dead on a neighbouring island. To this day, no one knows what happened to them… 


15. The Year My Parents Went On Vacation — Very loosely based on true events 

  • Year: 2006
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Country: Brazil
  • Director: Cao Hamburger
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Year My Parents Went on Vacation, T

The Year My Parents Went On Vacation follows Mauro, a 12-year-old boy sent to live with his grandfather while his political activist parents flee an oppressive government regime. The tale is fictional but it’s inspired by the director’s experience of seeing his own politically active parents get arrested.

Mauro’s grandfather lives in a predominantly Jewish area of Sāo Paulo, close to 600km from the child’s hometown. Within a day of Mauro’s arrival, his grandfather passes away. He’s left alone in an area he doesn’t know, surrounded by people speaking a language he doesn’t understand — Yiddish. He gets taken in by his grandfather’s neighbour and told to wait until his parents return.

During his wait, Mauro, a football fanatic, forms friendships with an array of the local inhabitants, all of whom have incredible stories to tell. With the 1970 World Cup as the backdrop, this tale is neither heartwarming nor traumatising but straddles a line somewhere in the middle. 


16. City of God – Fiction based loosely on true events

  • Year: 2002
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Country: Brazil
  • Director: Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 91%

City of God

Adapted from the novel of the same name, City of God is a fictionalised interpretation of the rise of organised crime in Ciudad de Deus — a ‘suburb’ within Rio’s favelas. The story spans more than 20 years, from the late 1960s through the early ‘80s. 

Throughout the film, we see the ebb and flow of power within the favela. Control shifts from one gangster to another, each leaving an ocean of blood and destruction in their wake. There are grisly scenes of murder, violent rape and extreme vigilantism. Don’t expect to walk away from this one feeling all warm and fuzzy. The graphic representation of life in Rio’s favelas will stay with you for a long time to come. 

The directors of City of God went on to create the TV series, City of Men. Still based in the favelas and even starring some of the same actors, City of Men is less violent and features a slightly lighter-hearted take on the challenges of living in a favela.

City of Men was also turned into a feature film in 2007.


17. Elite Squad – A fictionalised film about BOPE

  • Year: 2007
  • Language: Portuguese
  • Country: Brazil
  • Director: José Padilha
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score: 53%

The Elite Squad (Tropa De Elite) [DVD]

Despite its low score from international critics, Elite Squad is a firm favourite with South American audiences. The sequel, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within became the most successful Brazilian film ever made and had the fifth-best opening weekend of any film released in Brazil! 

The film is about BOPE, Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, an elite arm of the Rio military police (similar to SWAT) and their battle with gang lords and drug dealers.

The hyper-violent Elite Squad is full of scenes depicting police officers using torture and violence to get what they want from the folks they’re supposed to be protecting. Often criticised for glorifying police brutality, many Brazilians have pointed out that it would be better to prevent police using these tactics in real life instead of worrying about whether they’re censored in films. 


If we have missed your favourite South American film or just an amazing piece of South American cinema, let us know in the comments!

Tim Ashdown Bio Pic
Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

2 thoughts on “17 Must-Watch Movies About South America”

  1. I’m looking for a documentary film I saw several years ago about a small group (2-4) of European (possibly German, not sure) explorers making their way through dense rain forest-jungle to a mountain. It’s probably in black and white and conveys well the hard work, dangers and joys of going into wilderness. Does anyone know the title? Would love to see it again. Thanks!

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