Most Popular Movies for Spanish-Language Students

Box office hits come mostly from Spain and Mexico

Cinema in Bogota
Cine en Bogotá, Colombia. (Movie theater in Bogota, Colombia.).

Noalsilencio/Creative Commons 3.0

If you want to hear Spanish as it's used in real life, there is perhaps no easier nor more enjoyable way than to watch Spanish-language films. This list includes the top Spanish-language films of all time ranked approximately by their U.S. box office receipts. (An exception is Roma, which had only a brief theatrical run, as it was made primarily for streaming.)

The first title in each listing is the one primarily used for U.S. marketing. Although most Spanish-language films marketed for home video are subtitled, not dubbed, check before buying if that's important to you.

01
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Instructions Not Included (No se aceptan devoluciones)

Instructions Not Included

 Amazon 

This 2013 Mexican-American film was that rare Spanish-language movie that was generally shown in the U.S. without subtitles and marketed to Hispanic audiences. It tells of a Mexican playboy who, through a series of unusual events, is forced to raise a daughter in Los Angeles.

This film gives a good look at how Spanish is used in the United States and how it adapts as a second language. You'll hear a share of Spanglish here, but, even though the film showed in U.S. using its English title, not much English.

02
of 14

Roma

Roma

Netflix

This 2018 black-and-white Netflix film by Alfonso Cuarón centers around the life of a Mexico City maid in the 1970s became one of the top streaming Spanish-language films of all time when it was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. It ended up winning the award for best foreign-language film as well as top honors in directing and cinematography.

The story highlights the class distinctions of Mexican society but never comes across as preachy. Advanced Spanish students should pay attention to the class and racial distinctions in the spoken language. Portions of the film are also in Mixtec, an indigenous language, a reminder that Mexico remains a multilingual country.

03
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Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

Pan's Labyrinth (El Laberinto Del Fauno)

 Amazon 

Guillermo del Toro skillfully combines the genres of fantasy, historical fiction, and horror in this 2006 favorite. If you don't know the Spanish words related to fantasy, such as the word for "faun" in the original title, you'll quickly pick them up. Like many movies in the horror genre, key elements of the story are mostly told visually, which can help when your language skills fall short.

04
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Like Water for Chocolate (Como agua por chocolate)

Like Water for Chocolate (Como Agua por Chocolate)

 Amazon 

A visually delightful tale about a rural Mexican woman growing up in a dysfunctional family, this film was nominated for the 1993 Golden Globe for best foreign film. It is based on the novel by Laura Esquivel.

Since much of the film is centered around the main character's love for cooking, this is a good film for picking up vocabulary related to Mexican food. But some of the Spanish in this film is rather literary, as it is set in the early 1900s.

05
of 14

The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de motocicleta)

The Motorcycle Diaries

 Amazon

This 2004 Argentine film tells the based-on-real-life story of a young Che Guevara, who went on a long motorcycle trip across South America with a close friend, Alberto Granado, in the early 1950s while taking a year off from medical school in Argentina. The film is based on memoirs from the trip. It stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal. Guevara is the Cuban revolutionary whose image is well recognized throughout Latin America.

Spanish students should listen to how the Spanish differs among the characters from different parts of Latin America. Argentine Spanish is distinctive for both its pronunciation and use of the pronoun vos.

06
of 14

Y tu mamá también

Y tu mamá también

 Amazon 

This 2001 coming-of-age film set in Mexico was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It was controversial in part for its depiction of sexuality. This film might be more challenging for Spanish students than most because of the abundance of mexicanismos. Teens on road trips tend not to talk in the academic version of their language.

07
of 14

Talk to Her (Hable con ella)

Talk to Her (Hable con ella)

 Amazon 

In this film written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, two men share an unusual friendship while their girlfriends are in comas.

This is one of Almodóvar's most highly acclaimed films. Like many of his films, this one has a complex story line, and the Spanish isn't particularly easy either. But it's a good way to hear how the language is used in talking about complex issues.

08
of 14

All About My Mother (Todo sobre mi madre)

All About My Mother

Amazon  

Pedro Almodóvar's tells the story of Manuela, a 40-ish single mother of a teenage son. The boy never knew his father, and we find out throughout the film how the father's absence has affected both the boy and the mother. A tragedy forces Manuela, played by Cecelia Roth, to leave her home in Madrid and seek the father. The relationships she makes or revives there form the heart of the movie.

Like most Almodóvar films, this one is set in Spain. So the Spanish spoken is of the Peninsular variety.

09
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The Crime of Padre Amaro (El crimen del padre Amaro)

The Crime of Padre Amaro (El crimen del padre Amaro)

 Amazon 

This 2002 Mexican hit starring Gael García Bernal tells the story of a priest who falls into corruption. It received an Oscar nomination for the best foreign-language film.

Padre Amaro doesn't act like a priest should, but he's good at talking like one. Because the film is set in the 19th century, the Spanish is straightforward and absent of modern slang.

10
of 14

Maria Full of Grace (Maria, llena eres de gracia)

Maria Full of Grace (Maria, llena eres de gracia)

Amazon 

This is a 2004 HBO Films release about a 17-year-old Colombian girl who becomes a drug mule, transporting drugs to the United States in her digestive system. It was filmed in both the United States and Colombia, where, you may notice, people address even family members and close friends as usted, the formal form of "you," rather than the more typical . This switch from standard Latin America Spanish is used in only parts of Colombia.

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11
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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres ... ataque de nervios)

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres ... ataque de nervios)

Amazon  

This 1988 Pedro Almodóvar film focuses on the lives of two dubbing actors (played by Carmen Maura and Fernando Guillén) and their increasingly complicated relationships. The same comments made above about the use of Spanish in Almodóvar apply here: His films require plenty of attention to be rewarding.

12
of 14

Casa de mi padre

Casa de Mi Padre

Amazon  

What Spanish popular comedic actor Will Ferrell has learned he learned for this 2012 comedy. Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna also star.

Don't try emulating Ferrell's Spanish accent. You'll be better off learning that from García Bernal and Luna, both Mexican natives well-known in their home country.

13
of 14

Bad Education (La mala educación)

Bad Education (La mala educación)

 Amazon 

Shot in film noir style, tells the story of two Catholic schoolboys growing up in Spain in the 1960s. The boys, Ignacio and Enrique, fall in love and draw the jealous attention of a priest, Padre Manolo. The story weaves its way through the next two decades and includes vaguely autobiographical elements relating to Almodóvar.

Although the film's title has been translated literally for English-speaking audiences, that translation doesn't capture a play on words, since mala education typically refers to bad behavior rather than a bad education.

One of the film's stars, García Bernal, is a native Mexican. He had to train himself to speak Castilian Spanish to portray a resident of Spain.

14
of 14

Amores perros

Amores Perros

 Amazon 

The 2000 film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu tells three distinct stories that have an event in common, a Mexico City car accident. Leading actors are Gael García Bernal, Vanessa Bauche, Álvaro Guerrero, Goya Toledo, and Emilio Echevarría.

This is a good film for hearing the Spanish of Mexico City, which is often considered to be close to standard Latin American Spanish. But plenty of slang could also be a challenge.