Culture of the Philippines is one-of-a-kind fusion of traditions that have thrived on this archipelago since the first human set foot on it. History of this country is colorful and somewhat surprising for those who are just starting to learn about it.
The unexpected collision of beauty and tragedy hidden in the past of the Philippines constantly inspires cinematographers, who have managed over the decades to create breathtaking classics and contribute to the global culture. Here, we will present you twelve of the most famous and captivating Filipino history movies.
12 Majestic Movies
The Filipino cinematography, as their culture, is quite rich, and some of its greatest treasures are history movies, which have been made since the 1950s. And, over time, the seventh art produced many masterpieces in this country. Here are 12 of them.
1. Oro, Plata, Mata
Peque Gallaga directed this classic in 1982. With the background depicting World War II together with several important moments in the country’s history, the plot of “Oro, Plata, Mata” develops around two wealthy families that cross paths during the Japanese occupation. A chain of unfortunate events leads protagonists from extreme wealth to unexpected and heartbreaking situations. It is a story brilliantly interpreted by Joel Torre, Sandy Andolong, Cherie Gil, Manny Ojeda, and many other amazing actors.
2. Tirad Pass: The Story of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar
This unusual war movie from 1996 follows Gregorio del Pilar as he joins a secret society, Katipunan, which is planning a revolution against the Spanish colonization. In 1896, he joins the rebellion in Bulacan province, and further events lead him to the Tirad Pass battle against the American government in 1899. In this infamous conflict, the young general leads 60 Filipino soldiers against 500 American men under Major Peyton C. March’s leadership.
This movie is a touching story about bravery and genuine patriotism, beautifully told by director Carlo J. Caparas and excellent actor Romnick Sarmenta.
3. Jose Rizal
Among many historical figures in the Philippines, no one deserves the title of national hero more than Jose Rizal. This man used his knowledge in multiple subjects to help the Filipino nation in the last years of Spanish colonization.
In 1998, Marilou Diaz-Abaya transferred his biography to the silver screen, and the moment the movie was released, its monumental quality was undoubted. “Jose Rizal” mesmerized the audience with exquisite details and massive scale, and it did not take it long to earn a significant role in Filipino education.
4. Bayaning 3rd World
This clever movie from 1999 is a specific response to the previously mentioned “Jose Rizal.” So-called mockumentary was directed by Mike de Leon, and in it, two filmmakers examine the life of a national hero and the problems with the Catholic Church he encounters. Two main characters interview Rizal’s mother, his lovers, and siblings, and even Jose Rizal himself. “Bayaning 3d World” is an interesting and unique cinematographic creation that will present you one historical figure from a new perspective.
5. Dekada ’70
The Martial Law in the 1970s left an imprint on many Filipino lives. “Dekada ’70” is a movie that illustrates the life of one family during this period. Vietnam War, the re-election of Ferdinand Marcos, and the declaration of the mentioned law are in the background. This is an evergreen adaptation of a novel with the same name, written by Lualhati Bautista.
6. Aishite Imasu 1941: Mahal Kita
Yet another story related to Japanese occupation in 1941, this movie is a romance that follows people whose lives are affected by events in WWII. Director Joel Lamangan introduces us with characters such as a young married couple that the war separates and a transgender person that gets into an affair with a soldier from the Japanese army. Still, the unique stories represented here are just the bedrock for grandiose themes such as love for another human compared to love for your country and your right to love whoever you want.
If you are looking for a film with a strong feminine character, the movie made by Albert Martinez in 2010, “Rosario,” will give you just that. This is the adaptation of a true story about the life of Rosario Perriera, whom some compare to Anna Karenina. It questions the themes like intrigue, desire, and adultery during the 1920s. In the leading role of young Filipina that finds her way from New York to Manila, you can see Jennylyn Mercado, who portrayed this character with unusual strength.
8. El Presidente
In the focus of this film is Emilio Aguinaldo, the first president of the Philippines. Director Mark Meily managed to recreate the era of the late 1800s and early 1900s in great details and turned this part of Filipino past into a blockbuster.
Like mentioned general Del Pilar, Aguinaldo also joined Katipunan, where he met his future rival, Andres Bonifacio. “El Presidente” shows his path to the throne and all of the decisions that helped him declare the independence of the Philippines from Spain.
9. Heneral Luna
Now, a Filipino film that is a real historical epopee most certainly is “Heneral Luna.” Released in 2015, it is a visually stunning tale about General Antonio Luna during the war between the U.S. and the Philippines. The second audience laid eyes on the general portrayed by John Arcilla, they fell for his badass mannerism and unusual mental strength. With epic battle scenes and some humorous dialogs, this drama became a classic almost instantly.
10. Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis
If you’re one of those who enjoy movie marathons, this film will be a treat. With eight hours of history mixed with a bit of fantasy, you will have to be patient. Yet the amazing cast and the story that depicts the Philippine Revolution in 1896 and the events presented in books of Jose Rizal make this movie worth your while. And the nomination for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival is a verification of its quality.
11. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
Last year, another film of Jerrold Tarog was released. After “Heneral Luna,” this director decided to turn his attention to Gregorio del Pilar and last months of his life. This young man gets a task to eliminate followers of General Luna during the war of the U.S. and the Philippines and that way to prove he deserves his rank. Somewhat tragic and certainly monumental, “Goyo: The Boy General,” as it is the international title of the movie, is a must-watch for all true fans of Filipino history.
12. The Trial of Andres Bonifacio
“Ang Paglilitis Ni Andres Bonifacio” is another movie that has the member of Katipunan in its focus. This is a story about a rival of Emilio Aguinaldo, Andres Bonifacio, who was tried by the revolutionary government. Just as Aguilado, Bonifacio was fighting for the freedom of the Philippines. However, his path was not victorious. This is an important movie that will give you another perspective of the revolution and war between the Philippines and the U.S.
Final Thoughts and Additional Recommendations
Though all of these movies we mentioned are covering the crucial period during which the Philippines finally gained their independence, there are a few others worth mentioning. For instance, in 1976, “Banaye: Stairway to Sky” was released. It covers the story of the Ifugao tribe and their path to a better life.
“Lapu-Lapu”, one of the oldest historical films in Filipino cinematography, is also a monument of this country’s culture. It is a tale of Magellan’s death and the first national hero of the Philippines, based on Francisco V. Coching’s novel. And “Baler,” a beautiful love story set in the time of the Spanish regime, is also a film that can paint you a picture of rich Filipino history.
With each of these movies, you will get closer to understanding the complex culture of this country, and you will not be disappointed. You will realize that each period had its heroes and that in the time of need, the strong but kind heart is what echoes through centuries.