If you’re planning a trip to South America, you’d better brush up on your Spanish – fast! Knowing a bit of the lingo means that you’re less likely to get ripped off, scammed or find yourself in danger. You’re also going to be able to interact with more local people and have a better time all-round!
Watching Spanish movies and TV series on Netflix or YouTube can definitely help you to pick up the language before you go. And, there are some pretty entertaining flicks that will make learning fun!
From tear-jerking dramas to psychological thrillers, light-hearted rom-coms and fascinating documentaries, you’ll have a great time watching the following movies, as well as pick up a few words along the way! ‘Dos pájaros de un tiro’ (Two birds with one shot!)
Essential Tip for Spanish Movie Lovers
Language Learning with Netflix is a fantastic Google Chrome extension which can help you to learn languages as you watch films and TV series. Once you’ve downloaded the extension, simply head over to your Netflix account and pick out what you want to watch. You can now view any movie or TV series with clickable Spanish/English subtitles. If you click on a word that you don’t know, you will get an instant translation. You can also slow down the speed of the movie that you’re watching (Spanish speakers often talk extremely fast, so this is very helpful!). I have been using this tool for the past few months and it has definitely helped to improve my level of Spanish.
Vamos! Here are the Top 24 Spanish Movies on Netflix
A note on different types of Spanish across the world: Many of the following films have European Spanish dialogue as they were produced in the country of Spain. This shouldn’t be a problem for language learners who want to understand and speak Spanish in South America.
There is a difference in accents between Spanish that’s spoken in Spain and Spanish that’s spoken in each country in South America and different slang words are used in each country (and each region for that matter!). However, those who learn Spanish in Spain will easily be able to converse with people from Latin America and vice versa. Que chevere eh!? (Que chevere is a particularly Latin American way of saying ‘How cool!’ whereas the Spanish would be more likely to say ‘que guay’.)
1. Todo Sobre Mi Madre – 1999 | SPAIN
English translation: All About My Mother
An award-winning film by legendary Spanish film director Pedro Almódovar, this classic comedy-drama won an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in the year 2000.
The film centres on the main character, Manuela, an Argentine nurse working at a hospital in Madrid who is a single mother to a teenage boy, Esteban, a budding writer. After Esteban dies tragically in a road accident, Manuela moves to Barcelona in the hope of finding her son’s estranged father, a transvestite woman who knows nothing of being a father.
The film touches on serious topics such as AIDS, Alzheimers and homosexuality. As with many of Almódovar’s films, gender issues and stereotypes are discussed and challenged. The film is a powerful introduction to the director’s signature style and may be the beginning of an Almódovar movie marathon for you.
2. Roma – 2018 | MEXICO
English translation: Roma
A moving black and white drama that’s set in the neighbourhood of Colonia Roma, Mexico City in the early 1970s. The film focuses on indigenous live-in maid Cleo, who resides with a middle-class family in an affluent household in the barrio.
From the 1970 World Cup in Mexico to the tragedy of the Corpus Christi Massacre, this is a tale of life, love, loss and opportunity. The film won best director (Alfonso Cuarón) and best foreign-language film at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, as well as Best Film Not in the English Language at the 72nd British Academy Film Awards. A must-watch!
3. La Tribu – 2018 | SPAIN
English translation: The Tribe
A funny and easy-to-watch comedy that is set in the beautiful city of Barcelona. The protagonist, Fidel, is an arrogant CEO whose life is turned upside down after a rather embarrassing incident in the office with his secretary! The plot follows the downfall of the character and subsequent soul-searching adventure as he reunites with his birth mother and joins her local Zumba class! The film is a light-hearted, easy to watch flick that will make you laugh, maybe even dance!
4. Toc Toc – 2017 | SPAIN
English translation: Toc Toc (TOC is the abbreviated version of ‘Trastorno Obsesivo Compulsivo’, the word for ‘Obsessive Compulsive Disorder’ in Spanish. The title is a play on the phrase ‘knock knock’.)
A bizarre and wildly politically incorrect comedy film that is set in the waiting room of a psychologist’s office. The protagonists are six patients who all suffer from a different form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. As the patients get to know each other, we learn new things about each character and a twist in the tale at the end makes us question the whole scenario. A funny and enjoyable film that is actually a film adaptation of a French Play by Laurent Baffie.
5. Volver – 2007 | SPAIN
English translation: To Return / To Go Back
Starring Penelope Cruz, this film is the second on this list that was directed by famous Spanish film director, Almodóvar. The film is set in Madrid and centres around two sisters, Raimunda and Sole, who continue to mourn the loss of their mother, Irene, who died a few years ago. The drama begins when a former neighbour tells the sisters that she has seen the ghost of Irene. But do the sisters believe her? An intriguing drama with a sense of humour and some electric scenes (we get to see Penelope sing Flamenco!).
6. Vivir Dos Veces – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: Vivir dos veces literally means ‘to live two times, but the title of this film in English on Netflix is ‘Live Twice, Love Once’.
Warning: this film will have you in tears! A heart-warming tale of love and loss, this film centres around the staunchly independent and grumpy ex-teacher, Emilio who finds out that he has Alzheimer’s.
After the diagnosis, he decides to set out on a quest to find the love of his life much to the frustration of his only daughter, Julia. Along for the ride is Emilio’s streetwise and outspoken granddaughter, Blanca and his daughter’s husband, an online life coach, Felipe. Will the road trip end in Emilio finding his lost love before he loses his memory?
7. Es Por Tu Bien – 2017 | SPAIN
English translation: It’s For Your Own Good
A hilarious film about three Spanish fathers who team together to get rid of their daughter’s boyfriends whom, for various reasons, they have taken a great dislike to! The title of this film ‘It’s for your own good’ is a reference to what the Dads keep saying in justification to their increasingly dramatic actions to get in the way of their daughter’s romantic relationships. The film is a laugh a minute and an amusing insight into Spanish stereotypes and subcultures.
8. Ocho Apellidos Vascos – 2014 | SPAIN
English translation: The title of this film literally translates as ‘Eight Basque Surnames’, but the film’s title in English is rather strangely entitled ‘Spanish Affair’.*
This well-known comedy is another funny introduction to the various stereotypes that exist in different regions of Spain. (Stereotypes are often very exaggerated in Spanish films to the point where someone not familiar with this type of humour may find it a bit offensive!)
When Basque girl (Amaia) meets Sevillan boy (Rafa), a series of misadventures begin which lead Rafa to impersonate a Basque local (with eight surnames as is common in this region of Spain) in order to keep Amaia out of trouble with her father. An easy to watch 90 minutes with some laugh out loud scenes. No wonder it was a huge box office hit when it was released in 2014. The sequel, ‘Ocho Apellidos Catalanes,’ or ‘Spanish Affair 2’ (set in Catalunya) is also worth a watch.
*I have no idea why, but you will often find that a film’s title in English is completely different to the actual translation of the title of the film in Spanish.
9. Thi Mai – 2018 | SPAIN
English translation: Thi Mai is a Vietnamese name
Carmen, a grieving mother, heads to Southeast Asia with her two friends to continue the adoption of a little Vietnamese girl (named Thi Mai) that was originally started by her since deceased daughter. The ladies get themselves in a series of scrapes as they navigate Hanoi’s chaotic streets and get to grips with Vietnamese culture. The film stars the famous Spanish comedian, Danny Rovirez and popular rom-com actress Carmen Machi. An uplifting ‘feel-good’ movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon.
10. Diecisiete – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: Seventeen
Inside the walls of a juvenile delinquent’s centre, a troubled 17-year old boy called Héctor begins an unusual friendship with a shaggy dog that he names ‘Oveja’ (sheep). After the dog is given a new home, Héctor escapes from the centre in an attempt to reunite with his four-legged friend and is helped along the way by his older brother Ismael. The two brothers clash over the past and end up facing some demons as they travel through the pretty countryside of Cantabría in Northern Spain in Ismael’s campervan. A heart-warming tale of brotherhood and companionship.
11. Bajo el Mismo Techo – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: Under The Same Roof
Adrian and Nadia are a married couple in their mid-50s living in the suburbs of Madrid with their teenage daughter. When Adrián forgets his wife’s 50th birthday, Nadia decides enough is enough and files for a divorce. She tries to put their large suburban house on the market so that they can go their separate ways but realises that it isn’t going to sell any time soon. In the meantime, the couple is forced to live ‘bajo el mismo techo’ (under the same roof), which is not without its difficulties. A funny, light-hearted take on marriage problems and mid-life crisis.
12. Yuli – 2018 | SPAIN (FEATURING CUBA)
English translation: Yuli is the name of the son of Ogun, an African God and Warrior.
This inspiring film is based on the true story of renowned Cuban ballet dancer, Carlos Acosta, who was the first black ballet dancer ever to perform at the Royal Ballet in London and take on some of the ballet world’s most prestigious roles.
Growing up on the rough streets of Havana, Yuli (so nicknamed by his father, Pedro), develops a dislike for discipline and order, but his father, spotting his talent, decides that his son is destined to become something great. Against Yuli’s wishes, Pedro encourages his son towards the world of dance. Directed by Iciar Bollain, the film won the best screenplay at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 2018.
13. 100 Metros – 2016 | SPAIN
English translation: 100 Metres
100 Metres is the inspiring story of Ramon, a Spanish man (played by popular actor and comedian Danny Rovira) who, at the age of 44 is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Although Ramon’s doctor tells him that he soon will not be able to walk, he decides to train for the Ironman race, a notoriously challenging triathlon of running, swimming and cycling. He is supported by his wife, Inma, and his grumpy father-in-law, turned trainer, Manolo. The film is based on Ramon’s book ‘100 metres: Giving up is not an option.’ A tear-jerking film with some poignant laugh out loud moments.
14. Ya No Estoy Aqui – 2020 | MEXICO
English translation: I’m No Longer Here
17-year old Ulises is the leader of a small gang in the Mexican city of Monterrey. His life revolves around Cumbia music and dancing. After a dangerous mix-up with a local criminal gang, Ulises is forced to leave his family and friends behind and make a new life across the border in the United States. The narrative of the film skips between Mexico and the USA as the viewer witnesses the struggles of the young boy as he tries to find his path, a long way from his comfort zone. An interesting film that provides an insight into teenage counter-culture in Mexico.
15. Ciudadano Ilustre – 2016 | ARGENTINA
English translation: The Distinguished Citizen
This Argentine comedy-drama provides the viewer with an examination of the similarities and differences between Europe and South America. The protagonist is an Argentinian writer, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature who travels from Barcelona to his hometown in Argentina to receive a prize. This is a story of friendship, ambition and self-discovery.
16. Semana Santa – 2019 | MÉXICO
English translation: Easter Week
During Semana Santa (Easter week) in Mexico, single mother, Dali and her eight-year-old son, Pepe, take their first beach holiday with mum’s new boyfriend, Chavez. When Chavez meets two girls by the swimming pool and takes off with them to a local beach and Pepe finds a wallet full of money and heads off to the sweet shop, Dali finds herself without her son nor her boyfriend. Will a chance encounter with American, Rick, at the poolside bar change everything? A harmless and playful flick that’s an easy watch.
17. Gabo – 2015 | COLOMBIA
English translation: Gabo is the nickname of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This is a fascinating documentary about the life and works of renowned Colombian author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez who was born in the tiny town of Aracataca in Colombia. The documentary examines how the small-town boy was able to become one of the most famous writers in the world, selling millions of books and founding the unique literary technique ‘magic realism’. A must-watch for fans of books and literature.
18. Elisa y Marcela – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: Elisa and Marcela
Inspired by true events, Elisa and Marcela is the amazing story of two women who became the first-ever couple to attempt a same-sex marriage in Spain, more than 100 years before it became legal in the country. In order to get wed, Elisa had to take on the identity of a male, Mario Sánchez, the name which was placed on the marriage certificate. Set in a very conservative Galicia in 1901, the story is one of forbidden love and passion against all odds.
19. La Noche de 12 Años – 2018 | URUGUAY
English translation: A Twelve-Year Night
This is the story (inspired by real events) of three political prisoners who were taken from their cells one Autumn night in 1972 to suffer solitary confinement for a period of 12 years. The slogan of the military operation was ‘If we can’t kill them, we can drive them mad.’ During the imprisonment, the three men suffer great mental anguish as they are deprived of any stimulus whatsoever. One of the prisoners is Pepe Mujica, who later became president of Uruguay. The film is a heart-wrenching story of human survival, endurance and imagination.
20. Carteristas – 2018 | COLOMBIA
English translation: Pickpockets
Carteristas is the tale of three teenage thieves learning the ropes from a master criminal on the streets of Colombia’s capital Bogotá. The film was released at the Cartagena International Film festival in 2018 and has had mixed reviews. For travellers thinking of heading to Colombia, the film has great shots of the city, especially the street art, but it might make you a bit nervous about getting robbed in South America!
21. El Hoyo – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: The Platform
A psychological thriller about imagined prisons of the future where prisoners are housed in vertical cells. The feeding system at the prison means that inmates on the top platforms of the prison are fed first and as the food gradually descends through the tower’s levels, the prisoners at the bottom of the prison receive less. The film acts as a satirical critique of modern society, poverty and class systems. An original Netflix film that has become one of the most-watched films on the ‘platform’ ever. A must-see!
22. El Hombre de Las Mil Caras – 2016 | SPAIN
English translation: Literally meaning ‘The Man With a Thousand Faces’, the film’s title in English on Netflix is actually the more succinct ‘Smoke and Mirrors’.
Based on a true story and non-fiction book ‘Paesa: el espía de las mil caras’, this thriller will have you on the edge of your seat. The main character is Francisco Paesa (played by Eduard Fernandez) a former Spanish spy who faked his own death following a highly publicised corruption scandal. During the 80s, Francisco was integral in an operation to bring down the Basque terrorist group, ETA. One to watch for all spy movie fans!
23. Gente Que Viene y Bah – 2019 | SPAIN
English translation: Again, another film that has a completely different title in English to Spanish. On Netflix, you will find this film entitled ‘In Family I Trust’, whereas the literal translation is ‘People Who Come and Go’. The last word ‘bah’ is a play on the Spanish word ‘Va’ (Go) and is intended to mean ‘whatever’.
Starring Clara Lago, a common face on the Spanish rom-com scene (see: Ocho Apellidos Bascos above), this fun flick is about a career woman (Bea) who heads back to her family home after realising that her boyfriend has cheated on her with a famous TV personality. After several revelations from family members and a new encounter with a local widower, Bea starts to question what she really wants out of life. An easy to watch light-hearted chick-flick* that will make you giggle and maybe shed a little tear.
*We understand that chick-flick is not a woke term for the 2020s, however, if you’re looking for wokeness, we reckon you’d be better off avoiding Spanish rom-coms altogether!
24. Lusers – 2015 | CHILE & PERU
English translation: Losers
You’ve heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman. Well, this one’s about the Peruvian, the Chilean and the Argentinian! This funny film follows three men on their misadventures as they make their way to the final of the FIFA World Cup.
This is a fun film to watch if you want to try to recognise the difference between the various accents in Latin America. It’s a story of friendship, adventure and possibility and there are some stunning scenes of South America thrown in for good measure. Full of cringeworthy stereotypes and slapstick comedic moments.