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28 Noteworthy Movies About the Hispanic American Experience

These films offer a look at how Latinos have enriched U.S. culture and history


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Every year, the Library of Congress and its National Film Registry select 25 films that showcase the depth and diversity of the American experience. These titles are added to an ever-growing list of films recommended for preservation based on their cultural, aesthetic and historical merits. People are invited to nominate recommended titles, and the final list is curated by the librarian of Congress.

Below are the titles in the registry connected to Latino culture, listed by year of release. Films range from Oscar-nominated productions to documentaries and home movies, in both English and Spanish.

“We have so many stories to tell,” says Mexican American filmmaker Gregory Nava, who has two films listed in the registry: El Norte (1983) and Selena (1997). “As Latino filmmakers, our mission is to bring the heart and soul of our culture to the audience, so that people can see who we really are.”

The complete list of films can be found on the National Film Registry’s website.

Latino films in the National Film Registry

1. The Mark of Zorro (1920)

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Only a year after author Johnston McCulley’s Zorro appeared in print for the first time, this enjoyable silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks launched one of pop culture’s most enduring franchises. Added to the registry in 2015.

2. Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920-1930)

With footage of parades, family celebrations and day-to-day activities, the home movies of the Fuentes family in Corpus Christi capture life in Texas’ thriving Mexican American community in the 1920s. Added to the registry in 2017.

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3. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

Featuring a memorable tango sequence, this adaptation of the best-selling novel by Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez cemented Rudolph Valentino’s reputation as a Latin lover. Added to the registry in 1995.

4. The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-1936)

The legend of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa is celebrated by the Texas-based Padilla family in this unusual film that compiles various scenes from fictional movies about Villa, connected using bilingual title cards. Added to the registry in 2009.

5. Dracula (1931)

spinner image scene from the nineteen thirty one film dracula
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Using the same sets as Tod Browning’s horror classic and shot at night once the English production had wrapped for the day, George Melford’s Spanish version boasts intriguing performances by Lupita Tovar and Carlos Villarías as the bloodthirsty count. Added to the registry in 2015.

6. Verbena Trágica (1939)

Helmed by prolific American director Charles Lamont and starring Fernando Soler as a boxer who is released from jail only to discover that his wife is pregnant with another man’s baby, this gritty melodrama, originally a bilingual production, was never made in English due to its controversial subject matter. Added to the registry in 1996.

7. Down Argentine Way (1940)

spinner image promotional poster for the film down argentine way
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A bubbly studio musical starring Don Ameche and Betty Grable, this film set in New York and Argentina boasts actual Buenos Aires footage shot by a second unit, as well as electrifying musical numbers with Brazilian samba queen Carmen Miranda. Added to the registry in 2014.

8. The Mark of Zorro (1940)

spinner image tyrone power in a fighting scene from the film the mark of zorro
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One of the most rousing and suspenseful adventure films made during the golden era of Hollywood, this remake of the 1920 film has wonderful action sequences and a charismatic performance by Tyrone Power. Added to the registry in 2009.

9. The Pearl (1948)

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Boasting textured, gorgeous cinematography by lighting master Gabriel Figueroa and empathetic performances by Pedro Armendáriz and María Elena Marqués, this adaptation of a Steinbeck novella showcased the visionary talent of director Emilio Fernández outside his native Mexico. Added to the registry in 2002.

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10. Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)

spinner image Jose Ferrer in a scene from "Cyrano De Bergerac" in 1951.
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Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1912, José Ferrer became the first Latino to win an Academy Award for best actor for his quaint portrayal of Cyrano de Bergerac, the soldier with a giant nose and a unique talent for writing passionate love letters. Added to the registry in 2022.

11. Salt of the Earth (1954)

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Filmed on a modest budget by blacklisted director Herbert J. Biberman, this drama about the complications stemming from a lengthy mine strike in New Mexico was influenced by neorealism and employed mostly nonprofessional Latino actors. Largely ignored when released, it is now considered a classic. Added to the registry in 1992.

12. Modesta (1956)

A potent feminist manifesto, this black-and-white short film set in Puerto Rico focuses on a peasant woman who breaks free from her husband and, together with other women from her community, forms the Liberated Women’s League. Added to the registry in 1998.

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13. West Side Story (1961)

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Featuring a dazzling score by Leonard Bernstein and transposing Romeo and Juliet to 1950s New York City, this groundbreaking musical won Puerto Rican singer and dancer Rita Moreno an Academy Award for best supporting actress in the role of Anita. Added to the registry in 1997.

14. I Am Joaquin (1969)

Based on a poem by social activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, this short film produced with California-based theater company El Teatro Campesino was the first filmmaking effort by Chicano movement pioneer, playwright and director Luis Valdez. Added to the registry in 2010.

15. Requiem-29 (1970)

On Aug. 29, 1970, a group of Chicano activists was attacked by Los Angeles police officers while protesting the Vietnam War. This incisive half-hour documentary explores the events of that day, including the death of journalist Rubén Salazar, who was struck by a tear gas canister and died at age 42. Added to the registry in 2021.

16. Chulas Fronteras (1976)

The late documentary maestro Les Blank was always drawn to the multicultural sounds of traditional music in the United States. This film about norteño musicians plying their trade on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border is moving and emphatic. Added to the registry in 1993.

17. Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)

Produced independently over the span of four years, the first-ever Chicano feature film was directed by Efraín Gutiérrez, who also stars in it. Considered lost for many years, it was rediscovered and preserved by a UCLA professor. Added to the registry in 2014.

18. Chicana (1979)

Renowned Arizona-born filmmaker Sylvia Morales directed this short film while studying cinematography at UCLA. Using still photos, images of artworks and documentary footage, the 23-minute film traces the history of Chicana women and their fight for dignity and the most basic human rights. Added to the registry in 2021.

19. Zoot Suit (1981)

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Based on the riveting play by Luis Valdez about racial tensions and riots in Los Angeles during the 1940s, the film version combines film concepts with theatrical elements and stars actors Daniel Valdez and Edward James Olmos. Added to the registry in 2019.

20. The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)

Edward James Olmos gives an unforgettable, moving performance as Gregorio Cortez, the folk hero from Tamaulipas who was persecuted in Texas in 1901, wrongly accused of murder. A classic of Chicano cinema. Added to the registry in 2022.

21. El Norte (1983)

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Partially funded by PBS, the Gregory Nava classic sheds light on the harrowing experience of Central American immigrants trying to cross the border in search of a better life. Nominated for an Academy Award in the best original screenplay category. Added to the registry in 1995.

22. La Bamba (1987)

spinner image still from the film la bamba
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Directed by Luis Valdez at the absolute peak of his narrative mastery, this biopic about the short but explosive musical career of Chicano rock innovator Ritchie Valens turned Los Lobos into popular stars. Added to the registry in 2017.

23. Stand and Deliver (1988)

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An inspiring film about the power of hope and motivation to overcome racial profiling, this drama stars an unforgettable Edward James Olmos as real-life Bolivian American math teacher Jaime Escalante, who taught his students in AP Calculus. Added to the registry in 2011.

24. El Mariachi (1992)

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A fun, playful action romp that never takes itself too seriously, this low-budget indie film established Texas-born Robert Rodriguez as one of the most innovative and successful Latino filmmakers in the world. Added to the registry in 2011.

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25. The Devil Never Sleeps (1994)

Helmed by veteran indie director Lourdes Portillo, this darkly hued documentary — part crime drama, part visual memoir — investigates the alleged suicide in Mexico of Portillo’s uncle, who may have been murdered. Added to the registry in 2020.

26. Selena (1997)

spinner image Jennifer Lopez in a scene from "Selena."
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The musical biopic on the life, rise to fame and murder of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez was released in theaters only two years after her death. When he cast Jennifer Lopez in the lead role, director Gregory Nava discovered not only an extraordinarily talented and charismatic actress, but also a future international star. Added to the registry in 2021.

27. Buena Vista Social Club (1999)

spinner image still from the film buena vista social club
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Lush and moving, this documentary by celebrated German director Wim Wenders follows the adventures of the title’s musical collective — an orchestra of seasoned musicians who travel the world celebrating the beauty of Cuban tropical music from decades past. Added to the registry in 2020.

28. Real Women Have Curves (2002)

spinner image scene from the film real women have curves
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Directed by Patricia Cardoso — one of only two Latina directors in the National Film Registry — this coming-of-age tale marked the film debut of 18-year-old America Ferrera playing Ana Garcia, an ambitious Mexican American teen with college aspirations who struggles with the cultural expectations placed on her by her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros). Added to the registry in 2019.

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