The Ultimate List of Movies to Show in Spanish Class

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 / 32 comments
Sometimes movies are just what you need in class. Used appropriately, they can be a perfect way to spark interest when beginning a unit, for subs who don't speak Spanish, or that day when you're getting over the flu and just can't! 

I recommend adding the subtitles in Spanish, regardless of the audio. Unless students are advanced, a bunch of native speakers talking sounds like noise. My students love watching familiar movies like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles in Spanish, but this list focuses on movies originally written in Spanish, or that feature Hispanic culture. 

Let me know what I missed! (And if you stumbled onto this post looking for a younger crowd, check out my post on Shows in Spanish on Netflix, for kids.)

Click on the orange title to see a short description, actors, previews, etc.

A few notes: Often when you show a movie made in Spanish with English subtitles, strong words in Spanish get translated as stronger curse words in English. I mention inappropriate/adult content when I am aware of it, but *please* preview and click on the links for more details.

PANTAYA is a streaming provider (like Netflix) for Spanish-language films. Many of the movies here are available there.)

Middle School and Up

Canela (PG, 1h 40min)
Great for accompanying a food unit, Canela follows Maria, a young girl who reaches out to her grieving grandmother to come back to the family restaurant.
*Update* - this movie is hard to find! You can access it at the new streaming service PANTAYA.
Themes: Mexico, food, family, heartwarming.

Book of Life (PG, 1h 35min)
A colorful and delightful movie, El Libro de Vida introduces viewers to the holiday traditions through a tale of love vs. family expectations.  (Find some amazing activities to go with the movie here from Kara Jacobs.)
Themes: Mexico, Day of the Dead

McFarland, USA (PG, 2h 9min)
McFarland USA has all the makings of a classic sports Disney story, this time about a cross-country team in California. Even better, it explores cultural tensions and life in a predominantly Latino and agricultural community.
Themes: Hispanics in the US, immigration, sports, teens, heartwarming. 

Atlético San Pancho (NR, 1h 41min)
A rag-tag soccer team in Mexico get help from the school janitor to reach their dream of playing a championship game. The characters are appealing and kids can't wait to find out who wins the big game at the end. 
Themes: Mexico, soccer, teens, fun. 

Caídos del mapa (PG, 1h 35min)
Four junior high students hide out while skipping a class, and are interrupted by the schoolmate in this movie, based on the first book of an Argentine Young Adult series by María Inés Falconi. (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Argentina, adventure, friendship.

Casi Casi (PG, 1h 33min)
Emilio, a teenager is Puerto Rico, ends up running for school president against the most popular girl in school-- who also happens to be his crush. Students love the drama, and the plot and characters are familiar and appealing to students.
Themes: Puerto Rico, teens, school life, fun. 

High School and Up Movies

Selena (PG, 2h 7min)
Selena introduces the life of Mexican singer Selena Quintalla-Perez, who eventually made it to the top of Latin and U.S. music charts.  The music and relationships really appeal to students and the ending leaves them wanting to know more about her.
Themes: Mexican-American identity, music, discrimination, family.

Il Postino (PG, 1h 48min)
An Italian film that introduces Pablo Neruda during the time of his exile. A local boy is hired to as a personal postman, discovers Neruda's poetry, and the two form a friendship. Oscar winner for best foreign film.
Themes: Pablo Neruda, poetry, coming-of-age.

Stand and Deliver (PG, 1h 43 min)
A Latino teacher in a Hispanic community uses unconventional methods to reach his tough students and help them pass the AP Calculus exam. You will probably want to research the history behind this story, and be prepared to discuss, as there was an investigation into alleged cheating and some contend that the film distorts the facts.
Themes: School, urban issues, inspirational. 

The Mission (PG, 2h 5min)
A Spanish priest tries to establish a Catholic mission in South America in the 18th century and is joined by a former slave trader. Portugal acquires the territory with the goal of enslaving the natives, and the two men fight to defend the mission. Even though it's PG, this one is probably for mature classes and contains a good bit of nudity (mostly within the native tribes) and violence.
Themes: South America, colonization, religion.

The Way (PG-13, 2h 3min)
A father embarks on a journey on the Camino de Santiago after traveling to France when his son dies attempting the same pilgrimage.  (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Spain, loss, religion, family, inspirational, identity. 

The 33 (PG-13, 2h 7min)
A retelling of the Chilean miners trapped in a collapsed mine for 69 days, in 2010.  (This was made by the same director as Bajo la misma luna.)
Themes: Chile, friendship.

Bajo la misma luna (PG-13, 1h 46min)
A young boy and his mother are separated when she leaves him behind in Mexico to go work in the U.S. He leaves his family and tries to cross the border to find her. This is one of my favorites-- difficult themes, but beautifully done and very touching. This would work as well for most 8th grader.
Themes: Immigration, family, heartwarming/wrenching.

No se aceptan devoluciones (PG-13, 2h, 2min)
In this comedy-turns-to-tearjearker baby gets left on the doorstep of a single man, whose life gets turned upside as he takes her in while pursuing a career as a stuntman. Six years later, the birth mother shows up and wants her daughter back. You might want to skip minutes 3:30-6:10.
Themes: Family, heartwarming/wrenching. 

Spare Parts (PG-13, 1h 54min)
A robotics team of four Hispanic students is pitted against the champion MIT team. (Currently available on Amazon Prime.)
Themes: Coming-of-age, school, immigration.

Goal! The Dream Begins (PG-13, 1h 58min)
Santiago Munez is offered the chance to play professional soccer with Newcastle United, and must navigate his new world of fame and money. There are definitely parts to skip if shown in the classroom so be sure to preview it first.
Themes: Mexican-American life, family, soccer. 

A Better Life (PG-13, 1h 38min)
A single, hardworking Mexican father living in California seeks to keep his son out of gang life. When his truck is stolen, the father and son begin an adventure trying to recover it.
Themes: Immigation, Mexican-American life, urban issues, family. 

Buen día, Ramón (PG-13, 2h)
A Mexican boy who has made various attempts to cross the border, ends up traveling to Germany instead. In his struggle to survive, he meets an elderly woman and begins an unlikely friendship. (Preview for sexual content.)
Themes: Immigration, friendship.

Viva Cuba (NR, 1h 20min)
A tale of friendship between two Cuban children, Malú and Jorgito, separated by class differences, a la Romeo and Juliet. The two friends escape and search for Malu's father in the midst of political tension. There's a scene you'll probably want to skip; make sure to preview. (Currently on Amazon Prime.)
Themes: Cuba, politics, friendship.

Cantinflas (Various movies)
Cantinflas was a legendary figure in Mexican cinema, as an actor, producer, writer, and singer-- click on the link to see a list of movies he was a part of.;postID=4686317450218762942;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=1;src=link

Sweet 15 (NR, 2h)
Sweet 15 tells the story of a girl getting ready for her quinceañera. In the midst of the preparations, she discovers her family is undocumented. It's definitely made-for-TV and dated, but I've found that students have a love-hate relationship with the 90s-riffic style and are very connected to the immigration themes in light of today's political climate.
Themes: Immigration, family, coming-of-age, identity.

Cambio de Ruta (NR, 1h 34min)
Nicte is a fantastic, unconventional tour guide in the Riviera Maya. Through unexpected circumstances has to start her own tour company, and enters a competition to the top tour guide in Mexico.
Themes: Mexico, the environment, nature.

El viaje de Carol (NR, 1h 43min)
A 12-year-old travels with her mother from New York to Spain in 1938 just as the Spanish Civil War is raging. She must navigate her new surroundings and the changing times as a teenager.  (Currently available on Amazon Prime.)
Themes: Spain, Spanish Civil War, coming-of-age, friendship.

La ciudad (NR, 1h 28min)
Four touching stories about living in New York in the Latin American community, and how immigrants make their way there.
Themes: Immigration, employment, social justice.

Vivir intentando (NR, 1h 35min)
Also known as Cinco Amigas, in this fun and light-hearted, movie five very different friends form a band and set off on a journey to fame, for different reasons.
Themes: Friendship, music.

Ixcanul (NR, 1h 33min)
María is set to marry a plantation foreman, arranged by her indigenous parents in the highlands of Guatemala, but she has other plans. Be aware that there is strong sexual content and other very mature themes. Made by Guatemalans--not Hollywood-- Volcano is different from most Spanish language movies you're likely to come across. In fact, Kaqchikel, not Spanish, is spoken by the main characters. (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Guatemala, indigenous life, feminism, social justice, identity.

Entre nos (NR, 1h 20min)
A Colombian mother travels New York with her two children, only to be abandoned by her husband once there. She must improvise and find a way to survive on her own, by collecting cans in the city trash.
Themes: Colombia, immigration, family, inspirational.

Yvy Maraey, Land Without Evil (NR, 1h 47min)
A mix of drama and documentary, a Bolivian filmmaker travels with a Guaraní Indian guide to remote southeastern Bolivia to create a film about the Guaraní people there, while exploring the integration of culture within Bolivian society.
Themes: Bolivia, indigenous people groups, identity. 

For Greater Glory: The True Story of Christiada (R, 2h 25min)
This epic drama details the Cristeros War in early 20th-century Mexico, between the Catholic faithful and the atheistic government. Be sure to preview, as there is quite a bit of violence.
Themes: Mexico, religion, politics. 

Sugar (R, 1h 54min)
The journey of Miguel "Sugar" Santos, who leaves the Dominican Republic to play baseball in the U.S. and adjusts to his new, different life. There are several adult scenes and profanity throughout so be sure to preview.
Themes: Baseball, Dominican Republic, racism, immigration, identity.

Voces Inocentes (R, 2h)
Set during 1980's El Salvador, Innocent Voices follows a young boy and his mother trying to survive violence and war. This film depicts strong scenes of war violence and won't be appropriate for all classrooms.
Themes: El Salvador, family, social justice. 

El laberinto del fauno (R, 1h 58min) 
A young girl in 1940's Spain is sent with her mother to live with her stepfather, a cruel officer in Franco's army. A fairy appears in the middle of night and takes her into a laberinth where she must complete three tasks in order to be reunited with her true father, the king.
Themes: Spanish Civil War, magical realism. 

El orfanato (R, 1h 45min)
A young boy, Simón, is raised by adoptive parents in a former orphanage, and tells his mother about five invisible friends. After they reopen the orphanage, Simón disappears and his mother must search for him outside the purely physical realm. This would go well with the novel La calaca alegre.
Themes: Spain, family, mystery

La lengua de la mariposas (R, 1h 36min)
A boy gets caught up in the complexities of the Spanish civil war, with his Republican father and teacher pitted against the Nationalist rebels. Definitely preview for sexual content.
Themes: Spanish Civil War, coming-of-age.


When the Mountains Tremble (1h 23min)
Narrated by 1982 Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, this film recounts her life as an indigenous Guatemalan during the country's civil war. Her Spanish accent is clear and easy to understand, although the themes are difficult. (Available on YouTube.) This would work well with the novel Esperanza.
Themes: Guatemalan civil war, indigenous people groups, social justice.

Living on One Dollar (56min)
Four friends leave the U.S. and plan to live on $1 per day in Guatemala. Although this film can reinforce the common storyline of interpreting poverty and Latin America only through the eyes of foreigners, it can be a powerful way for students to see outside their everyday lives. (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Central America, travel, social justice, poverty.

Which Way Home (1h 30min)
This documentary follows the lives of several children as they make the dangerous journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. This is a very powerful movie that conveys a difficult reality, and will need to be previewed for sure. (Free lesson plans available here.) This would work well with the novel Esperanza.
Themes: Immigration, poverty, Central America and Mexico.

The Ghosts of Machu Picchu (1h 39min)
The mysteries and history surrounding this famous Incan sacred site. This documentary does a great job of bringing ancient history to life in a way that really engages even middle school students. 
Themes: Peru, Incan history. 

Five days to dance (1h 19min)
A group of high schoolers in Spain have five intense days prepare a choreographed work for a community event. They work with two choreographers, learning to dance and work together. Very well done. (Click on the link to access the show.)
Themes: Spain, dance, friendship, identity.

30 for 30: The Two Escobars (1h 44min)
An investigation of the mysterious death of Andrés Escobar, a Colombian soccer player who was killed nine days after causing his team to lose an important game in 1994. The show also explores possible connections to the cartels of Pablo Escobar, who played an important role in building up the national team.
Themes: Colombia, Pablo Escobar, soccer. 

El pelotero (1h 17min)
The journey of two Dominican baseball players to signing contracts with major league teams, only to find that the organization is rife with corruption.
Themes: Dominican Republic, baseball, social justice.

Landfill Harmonic (1h 24min)
Kids living in a slum in Paraguay form an orchestra made out of recycled trash, with the help of a music teacher. They end up touring the world to play their music.
Themes: Paraguay, poverty, the environment.

Escape from Havana: An American Story (1h)
This documentary tells the story of how more than 14,000 children were secretly flown out of Cuba to the U.S. during Castro's rise to power. This would be good with the novel El escape.
Themes: Immigration, politics, Cuba, Fidel Castro.

Romero  (PG-13, 1h 42min)
A biography of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who fought against oppression from the government of El Salvador during the violence of the 1970's, which eventually cost him his life.
Themes: El Salvador, religion, social justice. 

Llámame Francisco (4 Episodes)
The story of Father Jorge Bergoglio's journey becoming Pope Francis. (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Argentina, religion.

Wildest Latin America (5 Episodes, 44min each)
The people, animals, and beautiful landscapes of Latin America, spotlighting the most famous and dramatic places. (Currently on Netflix.)
Themes: Nature, Latin America

Bizarre Foods (Episodes 21min each)
Andrew Zimmerman explores the signature foods of places around the world. (Currently available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.)
Puerto Rico
Mexico City
Buenos Aires
Themes: Food, local culture.

My top picks are probably The Book of Life, McFarland USA, Canela, Bajo la Misma Luna, and Which Way Home.

Let me know what I missed, and which ones are your favorites!  



  1. I would also recommend Five Days to Dance, an award winning documentary from Spain. Absolutely amazing.

  2. I like "Real Women Have Curves" starring America Ferrera (coming of age) along with George Lopez as her high school teacher trying to help her go to college.

  3. Also, Valentín, about a young boy in Argentina. A cute story.

  4. Also, Caídos del Mapa, currently on Netflix.

    1. I will add this one too-- teachers are always looking for Netflix choices. :)

  5. Amazing! Thank you all for the fantastic ideas!

  6. My Spanish 3 students enjoyed Cambio de Ruta. It has some nice footage of cenotes and other natural aspects of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a fictional story about a tour company being taken over by a larger corporate entity and a guide's efforts to keep the focus on the environment.

  7. but can you obtain Canela? I've not had an luck

    1. It is disappearing and I don't know why. Perhaps at local libraries?

  8. My Spanish 2 students really enjoyed In the Time of the Butterflies when we studied the Dominican Republic and it also coincided with International Women's Day.

    1. It's also available on YouTube with Spanish subtitles

  9. My Spanish 1B 8th graders enjoyed these 2 movies:
    Walk Out based on true story of high school students fighting for their civil rights in the '70's.
    Mariachi High (I'm pretty sure that is the name) documentary about a Texas high school mariachi band. Great music! Great story! One of my student's favorites.

  10. also Buena Vista Social Club for documentaries

  11. La Historia Oficial - Dirty war in Argentina. A history teacher discovers that her adopted daughter is from parents who were arrested for their political views and "disappeared." She searches for the girl's biological family. Some language and one scene of physical violence. A powerful story.

    1. Yes! It used to be required viewing when I taught undergrad Spanish at The University of Texas.

  12. A few others: 3 Bellezas (Venezuelan beauty queens), Diamantes Negros (human trafficking in European soccer), and También la lluvia. All are excellent, especially if you focus on the AP themes.

  13. We also watch El Estudiante. The kids actually really love it

  14. Zipe, Zape y el Club de la Canica is fantastic! It's like a mix between The Goonies and Harry Potter. (Bonus: it's on Netflix)

  15. Also, haven't watched it yet, but there's an Argentine cartoon, Metegol, about foosball that looks like it could be great for a middle school sports unit. Also available on Netflix

  16. Please unsubscribe me.... I have Spanish I students and I thought these would have English subtitles. Thanks

  17. Sugar is rated PG-13, not R.

    I teach Abrazos, a copy of which I obtained when the filmmaker, Luis Argueta, came to my alma mater to speak. I also use Chocolate Country, a documentary about cacao farmers in the Dominican Republic, to teach about fair and direct trade. I believe it is currently available on YouTube. Finally, although it is not about Latin@/Hispanic immigrants, I use the film The Visitor, directed by Tom McCarthy (the same director of Spotlight, but filmed years before he was famous), during a unit on immigration.

  18. I have also shown "El Norte," a powewrful story about young immigrants coming from Guatemala through Mexico to the United States. Only for older students.

  19. Sin Nombre is good, showed it to middle school, its rated R, there is a sexual scene in the beginning so skip that, and there is a lot of swearing, I cover the subtitles, there are stretches where the language is fine. It's definately on the violent side, but again enough stretches of story line to show students.

    Its about illegal migration riding freight trains through Mexico by Central Americans. Heavily themed of the infamous MS-13 gang, great insight into how they work.

  20. I usually show my High School Spanish students the Motorcycle Diaries when we cover our Spanish speaking countries and capitals unit. I do require the students to bring in permission slips due to the strong language and sexual situations(there is no nudity). Some additional immigration related documentaries to add would be The Other Side of Immigration, De Nadie Border Crossings, Maquilapolis: A City of Factories(youtube), and PBS Frontline: Lost in Detention(streamable online).

  21. El Libertador for advanced Spanish classes studying historical heroes units. There’s two parts to cut or skip.


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