There is such a focus on Anglo actors, actresses, and narratives in Hollywood, and such a low representation of Latinxs, that we often feel there was no real historical presence from our people on the main screen. While there is a long way to go for us to get the screen time we truly deserve, there are many Latinx actors and actresses who have paved the way for today and tomorrow’s big Latinx stars. They may not get the shine they warrant, but they were there.
We want to bring to light 25 Old Hollywood Mexican and Golden Age Cinema Films that every Latinx should watch so that we can all learn about important Latinx stars and the pivotal roles in their careers. Along with each entry, we also included either the full movie to watch or the film’s trailer. It’s time to discover our Hollywood power and potential, one movie at a time. Check it out and share the knowledge!
Around the World in 80 Days
Around the World in 80 Days is an adventure-comedy film based on the novel of the same name by Jules Verne. The 1954 version of the movie starred Mexican comedian and actor Cantinflas as Passepartout, a role that won him a Golden Globe for Best Motion Actor in a Comedy/Musical Film. Around the World in 80 Days also won the Best Picture Oscar (as well as four other Oscars).
Hollywood has always had a problem putting Latinxs in major roles, even if it is to portray other Latinxs. In 1952’s Viva Zapata!, Marlon Brando plays the lead role of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. But, thankfully, Mexicano Anthony Quinn was cast to play the role of his brother, Eufemio. The role won Quinn a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.
The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema was from 1933 to 1964, and during it, many iconic films were made, and many legendary stars were created. One important film is Tizoc. Released in 1957, it stars two Mexican superstars — Maria Felix, and Pedro Infante, and tells the love story of Tizoc, an Indigenous trapper, and Maria, a Criolla woman.
Cyrano de Bergerac
You may have heard the classic story of Cyrano de Bergerac, but you have to watch the 1950 film interpretation. It stars Puerto Rican actor Jose Ferrer, who won the Best Actor Oscar for the movie. This was a huge moment for Latinxs in Hollywood history — Ferrer became the first Latinx and Hispanic actor to ever receive an Academy Award.
West Side Story
An important film in Latinxs and Latinx film history you may already know is West Side Story. One of the few actual Puerto Ricans who was allowed to play a Puerto Rican role in the 1961 Romeo and Juliet-style musical was the iconic Rita Moreno. She portrayed Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend, and Maria’s friend; the role allowed Moreno to make history. She became the first Latina, and Hispanic, to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress).
Another important film from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema worth watching is Maria Candelaria. Starring Dolores del Rio (the first big Latinx crossover actress in Hollywood) and Pedro Armendariz, the 1943 production centers around Maria Candelaria, and the man she loves, Lorenzo Rafael. It became the first film to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, and the first Latin American film to win its Palme D’or (then called the Grand Prix).
Flying Down to Rio
The 1933 classic Flying Down to Rio is one of Mexicana Dolores del Rio’s biggest films. She was one of the first and biggest Latinx faces on the silver screen and stars in this musical rom-com movie, with an aviation theme, alongside Gene Raymond, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers. Del Rio was given top billing in Flying Down to Rio and became the first big actress to appear in a two-piece bathing suit in a film.
The 1932 film, Santa, marks a milestone for Mexican cinema, credited as their first movie with sound. It also stars the iconic actress Lupita Tovar (who many remember in the Spanish-language version of Dracula). She plays Santa, a woman who is deserted by her soldier husband, rejected by her family and friends, and is forced to turn to a life of prostitution.
Katy Jurado is another Latinx actress who was a big star, both in Hollywood and during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema. The Mexicana was the first Latinx and Hispanic woman to be nominated for an Academy Award (for Broken Lance), and the first to win a Golden Globe (for High Noon). The 1952 Western High Noon stars Jurado as Helen Ramirez, a role Katy learned English for.
Another Latinx production worth seeing that stars Dolores del Rio is Flor Silvestre. This is one of her Mexican films, released in 1943, and also starring Mexican star Pedro Armendariz. It is their first movie together, as well as del Rio’s first in Mexican cinema, after her initial work in Hollywood. Flor Silvestre made Dolores a star in Mexico and is considered one of the most iconic movies from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.
Beatriz Michelena, whose father was born in Venezuela, was another Latinx actress who was starring in films during Hollywood’s silent film era. She was also a singer in musical theatre, wrote newspaper articles, co-founded her own production company with her husband, and produced four of her own films. Her 1914 film, Salomy Jane, was re-released in 2008 and can be watched online here.
Ahi esta el detalle
Another Cantinflas film you need to check out is Ahi esta el detalle (released as You’re Missing The Point, in the U.S.). The comedy dates to 1940 and is considered one of the Mexican icon’s best movies.
El automovil gris
El automovil gris takes us all the way back to 1919. The silent Mexican film, which was originally released as a 12-chapter serial, follows a police detective named Cabrera, who is set on bringing down the dangerous, criminal Grey Car Gang.
Mexican actress Lupe Velez was another face of Latinxs in Old Hollywood, known as The Mexican Spitfire. One of the films she appeared in that we think you should watch is the silent film The Gaucho (1927). Although it has Douglas Fairbanks playing the Argentinian gaucho, Velez held it down for the Latinxs in the film, in her role of The Mountain Girl.
Mexicano Ramon Novarro was one of the “Latin lovers” of Old Hollywood, and we have already talked about how Lupe Velez was one of the major Latinx stars of the golden era of film. So we were happy to discover that the two actors starred in the same film in 1934. Laughing Boy is a tragic love story between a Navajo man and woman (Laughing Boy and Slim Girl), based on the novel by Oliver La Farge.
Calabacitas Tiernas is a 1948 film which starred the legendary Mexican comedian and actor Tin-Tan, alongside Nelly Montiel, and Rosita Quintana. In it, he puts together a musical show to make money to pay off his debts.
The Bad and the Beautiful
Mexicano Gilbert Roland was one of the first Latinx actors to become a big star in Hollywood and one of its legendary “Latin lovers.” A role he is known for is that of Victor “Gaucho” Ribera in the 1952 film, The Bad and the Beautiful. It wasn’t that far of a stretch — Gilbert plays a Latino Hollywood actor, the “Latin lover” type.
Zorba the Greek
Mexicano Anthony Quinn is another actor who was such a talent and source of orgullo for so many Latinxs. There are so many classic films of his that you should watch, including Zorba the Greek, Lust for Life, and Viva Zapata! The last two of these films won Quinn Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (he was nominated for Best Actor for Zorba the Greek).
At the very beginning of Hollywood, Latinxs were there. Myrtle Gonzalez, of Mexican descent, was one of those Latinas. Making her mark before both Dolores del Rio and Lupe Velez, Gonzalez is regarded as Hollywood’s first Latina and Hispanic actress. Between 1913 and 1917, she starred in at least 78 silent films, including The Kiss.
Aventurera is an example of the rumbera films that were part of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. It was released in 1950 and stars Cuban actress and singer Ninón Sevilla, and Mexican actress Andrea Palma. Sevilla plays Elena Tejero, whose life changes when she unexpectedly becomes a cabaret dancer.
Next on our list of Latinx films you should know about and watch, is Scaramouche. Released in 1923, it is a silent swashbuckler movie, starring Ramon Novarro as André-Louis Moreau. Like Ben-Hur, this film was later remade with an Anglo actor in the lead (although the 1952 movie also starred Cubano Mel Ferrer).
The Girl from Mexico
From 1939 to 1943, in eight films, Mexican actress Lupe Velez played Carmelita in the Mexican Spitfire series of films — starting with The Girl from Mexico. Some found the role to be stereotypical of Latinas and a caricature, but the fact is that she was a groundbreaker. Through these films you were able to hear her pronounced Mexican accent with her speaking in Spanish and connecting with her Latinx audience. She was also practicing slapstick comedy in sound films, something not seen at that time other than by Lucille Ball (who really showcased it later in television).
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
Before Charlton Heston played the iconic role of Ben-Hur, it was portrayed by Mexicano Ramon Novarro. The 1925 silent adventure-drama film is an adaptation of the 1880 novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and was added to the Library of Congress in 1997.
Before she passed away at the young age of 39, Dominicana Maria Montez made her mark in Hollywood. In fact, she was called The Queen of Technicolor and appeared in several films including Arabian Nights, The Mystery of Marie Roget, Cobra Woman, and Siren of Atlantis. The 1942 film Arabian Nights stars Montez as Sherazade, a dancer in a wandering circus who becomes queen.
Vámonos con Pancho Villa
Vamanos con Pancho Villa! may be the last movie on our Latinx films to watch list, but it is definitely one of the most important. The 1936 production, which is considered one of the best Mexican films of all time (voted the best in 1994 by Somos Magazine) stars Domingo Soler as Pancho Villa.