Growing up in Mexico and moving to the U.S. at 12 years old gave me the best of both worlds. During my early years, I got to experience watching telenovelas, the Latinx version of Disney Channel, and even Latinx shows on MTV. I was directly exposed to Mexican pop culture, which is sometimes lost in the U.S. To share my knowledge with other people who may not have gotten the same exposure to the Latinx experience I did, I created a list of the best Mexican movies of all time to watch. All produced, directed, and played by Mexican people, these movies have broken barriers and become globally successful. Some of them have even transformed into pop culture staples and popular memes. Whether the movie talks about sex in a candid way or depicts social class division accurately, these movies have made a statement. Read on for my favorites, below.
'Y Tu Mamá También'
The early 2000s brought us several great Mexican movies. This one in particular has to be included in any list because of how iconic it is. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, who now has two Oscars for Best Director under his belt, Y Tu Mamá También (2001) was a breakthrough movie at a time when Mexican cinematography was not getting the recognition it deserved. The film tells the story of two best friends, Tenoch (Diego Luna) and Julio (Gael García Bernal), one more privileged than the other, who go on a road trip to the beach with a woman married to the cousin of Luna’s character. It's graphic, has several sex scenes, and breaks barriers in its depiction of homosexuality amongst Mexican men.
Amores Perros (2000) is also from the 2000s and its protagonist, Gael García Bernal, is from our previously mentioned film as well. Directed by Alejandro González Iñarritu, the film tells three different stories about love, tragedy, communism, and dog fights. Without a direct translation, the title of the movie can be called “Love is a bitch.” It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2001.
Another must-watch movie comes from acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), a Spanish-Mexican dark fantasy, is both magical and mythical. It tells the story of a young girl in a labyrinth who meets different magical creatures. This movie involved special makeup and CGI effects, which is a great example of how fairytale fantasies can be done successfully by Mexican visionaries. If you are someone who is into nonhuman worlds, this movie is for you.
'Amar te Duele'
Amar te Duele (2002) is probably one of if not my favorite Mexican movie of all time. It's a love story, which I have a soft spot for, but it also has great dialogue, an awesome early 2000s soundtrack, and accurately depicts how high-class, privileged families and lower socioeconomic people interact in Mexico. This is the story of Ulises and Renata who meet one day at a mall (very Y2K, if you ask me). Renata is dared by her friends to kiss Ulises and a Romeo and Juliet-esque love story develops. Not only did this movie talk about classism in a raw and forthright way, but it also portrayed teenagers who experience alcoholism well. It's funny, endearing, and shows that true love is more important than social status.
Because classism is a common issue in Mexico, a plot line around it is covered in several great Mexican movies, like Roma (2018). In this movie also directed by Cuarón, which won an Oscar in 2019 and was inspired by Cuarón’s own nanny growing up, we witness the story of a middle-class family and their relationship with their maid. Yalitza Aparicio, who plays the maid named Cleo, had never acted before yet does an amazing job in the movie. We witness the stories of Cleo and her boss Sofía, both struggling and heartbroken, but with different power dynamics, as well as how Aparicio’s character is fundamental for the stability of the family.
'Las Niñas Bien'
Continuing with the classism plot line, Las Niñas Bien (2018) (translated to English as The Good Girls) is centered on a Mexican socialite whose life goes to shambles after the 1982 economic crisis. Adapted from the book of the same title by novelist Guadalupe Loaeza, who loved to make fun of Mexican high-class women, the film is filled with satire and sarcastic dialogue. Beautifully shot with aesthetically pleasing images, we enter Sofía’s world as a mother of three who, instead of taking care of her children, focuses on hosting parties, playing tennis every day, and sharing a smoke with her friends. However, when everything she's used to is suddenly taken away from her, her integrity is challenged. Even though the movie shows us the perspective of someone with “first world problems,” viewers will empathize with Sofía when she loses her money.
Described as a thriller, Perras (2011) came out when I was in high school. I loved to watch it because of the vulgar dialogue, the topics discussed (think: eating disorders, abortions, and swingers), and the relatability I felt to the characters. The movie is centered on a sudden death that occurs at a public high school and different girls are sanctioned to detention until they confess who did it. It has several iconic quotes like, “I don’t know why parents think you cannot have sex during the day.” It might seem too mature for a movie about high schoolers, but the reality is most teenagers are having these conversations. It's like watching a darker version of Mean Girls.
'Nosotros Los Nobles'
Incredibly popular in the Mexican community, Nosotros Los Nobles (2013) is directed by Gary Alazraki—the director from Mexican Netflix series Club De Cuervos. Based on El Gran Calavera, the plot centers on three siblings who come from a high-class Mexican family. They do not know anything about working, budgeting, or limits. Their father becomes tired of their spoiled tactics and pretends they have lost their money to make them work. It is extremely funny, and has the stereotypical millennial characters known in middle-class and high-class Mexican communities. In the end, the movie becomes emotional and has a tender message. It is one of the most profitable Mexican movies to date. Karla Souza, who stars in How to Get Away With Murder, is one of the main characters.
'Perfume De Violetas'
Perfume De Violetas (2001) is not as well known as Nosotros Los Nobles, but it’s another Mexican staple from the early 2000s. Directed by Maryse Sistach, the film tells the story of two low-class Mexican teenage girls. The title translates to “perfume of violets,” which is a repeating theme in the movie. Yessica had never experienced perfume until she became friends with Miriam. Though they both attend public school, Miriam has better commodities than Yessica. They start to become friends, but Yessica becomes a bad influence on Miriam. The plot thickens when Yessica profits off of Miriam while she is struggling after being raped. The ending is tragic, but the movie as a whole talks about important topics, one in particular being the shame around menstruation back in the day.
'Cindy La Regia'
Cindy La Regia (2020) is a refreshing comedy about a stereotypical high-class Mexican woman from the suburbs loosely based on the comics and books of Ricardo Cucamonga. In this version, Cindy, who always thought her destiny was to get married, has an emotional breakdown after being proposed to. She flees to Mexico City and stays with her cousin who teaches her what hard work, independence, and sexual liberation is. It reminds me a lot of Legally Blonde with a highly likable blonde who is effortlessly a ray of sunshine. Cindy is empathetic, not a mean girl, but also can be oblivious to the world around her. Directed by Catalina Aguilar Masttreta, author and daughter of famous writer Ángeles Mastretta, Masttreta has directed episodes of series like HBO Max’s Generation and Netflix’s Ginny and Georgia.
'The Eternal Feminine'
In its English title, The Eternal Feminine (2017) is called The Goodbyes, which seems more fitting for the movie. The semi-autobiographical film focuses on writer and poet Rosario Castellanos. We see the movie interchange between young Rosario, played by Mexican actress Tessa Ía, and the older version of herself played by Karina Gidi. It's both highly romantic and sad when we witness how a proclaimed feminist loses herself to love. We see Rosario struggle between being independent, staying true to her profession, and writing while also desperately wanting to be loved.
Netflix’s Solteras (2019) (translated to English as Ready to Mingle) is definitely worth watching. This rom-com centers on Ana who desperately wants to find her partner for life as she’s nearing her 30s. She decides to enter a program where she will “learn” how to find a husband and meets other women attending the same classes. Ana is a funny character who leads the journey of battling gender roles and finding her own individuality. The movie is peppered with satire, but stays true to comedy that will have you laughing out loud. Though it caves into typical tropes used in rom-coms, it has a great message at the end.
Elsa Cavazos is a Mexican American freelance writer with more than two years of experience. Cavazos also works as a translator and transcriber. At the same time, she enjoys writing both in English and Spanish on a variety of topics, always keen on women's issues and women's interests.
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