The 10 Most Filipino Movies of All Time
There’s never a bad time to binge-watch historical films. Whether a national holiday is right around the corner or you need a shortlist of films to keep yourself busy over the weekend, invoking our sense of patriotism is something we should embrace and live by. Historical films have surged in the past decade, and we’ve seen the genre evolve from gritty, melodramatic biopics to slick, action-packed and certified blockbusters. Plus, there is just something about watching real historical events unfold onscreen that makes you beam with pride.
Break away from glossy superhero movies and take a refresher course on history. Here, in no particular order, are the most Filipino movies of all time.
Present-day history books don’t go into much detail on the life and work of Macario Sakay, an ardent revolutionary once vilified as a mere bandit. Despite his vindication, Sakay’s name remains rather obscure among our list of revered heroes. He fought Andres Bonifacio in the Katipunan against the Spaniards throughout the revolution, and continued to resist American rule even after other revolutionaries surrendered. Sakay, directed by Raymon Red in 1993, is one of the few accounts on the patriot. Dare we say, this “Tagalog Republic” founder deserves a new retelling a la Heneral Luna.
When it comes to the most patriotic movies in the Philippines, there's no doubt that Heneral Luna is always a shoo-in. The historical film by Jerrold Tarog on the once-obscure figure, General Antonio Luna, ended up making over P240 million at the box office, with its budget of over P80 million. With stunning cinematography, vivid and sharp dialogue, and gripping performances by an impressive host of actors, led by John Arcilla as the titular mercurial character, it’s an epic that should be watched by every Filipino.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral
The spinoff to the sleeper hit, Heneral Luna, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral benefits from a budget that is said to be triple of its predecessor. The sequel picks up where the film left off, as it tells the story of the Boy General and his internal struggles as a young military leader. With a more somber mood than the brash tone of Luna, Goyo humanizes the young general Gregorio del Pilar, fittingly played by Paulo Avelino, as it poses a message to look for the hero within oneself.
Glossy historical films have taken precedent of late; it’s no surprise, then, that there would be one on the life of Manuel L. Quezon, President of the Philippine Philippine Commonwealth government. Set in 1938, Quezon’s Game focuses on the little-known historical account of President Quezon and other key figures who opened the doors for Jewish refugees escaping the Nazi persecution in Germany. Released in local cinemas in May this year, Quezon’s Game has also won multiple awards in the Cinema World Fest Awards and in the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival.
Millennials in the late ‘90s most likely remember being required to watch Jose Rizal in school. The three-hour picture directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, starring Cesar Montano as the titular hero, was an ambitious undertaking for its time, qualifying as the most expensive Filipino film then with its whopping budget of P80 million. The result was a stunning drama that paid attention to exquisite detail, brought to life by a powerhouse cast that included Gloria Diaz, Gina Alajar, and Chin Chin Gutierrez. While there are other movies on Rizal’s life with commendable effort, this is undoubtedly the most popular. Aside from winning that year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, the movie went on to be screened in international festivals in Berlin, Toronto, and Chicago.
The prominent Katipunan leader Andres Bonifacio likely trails behind Jose Rizal when it comes to the most famous national hero. It’s no surprise, then, that aside from Rizal, there have been considerable efforts to capture the revolutionary’s life on the big screen. Starring Alfred Vargas as the revolutionary, it’s another period piece of grand proportions and heroic moments that retells the hero’s life. The movie covers his early life to his rise as the leader of the revolution and his eventual trial and execution. While otherwise a textbook re-telling of the Bonifacio's life, it’s still a well-crafted piece.
Rizal sa Dapitan
Although several movies have been made on Rizal’s life, something needs to be said about a film that chooses to dedicate its narrative on Rizal’s four-year exile in Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte. Written by Jose F. Lacaba, the film follows Rizal’s life in exile and how he adjusts to life in the small town. As a plus, the movie also focuses on his relationship with Josephine Bracken.
His standing in local history may have some contention, but there’s no denying the prominence of General Emilio Aguinaldo, the first President of the Philippine Republic. A slick period piece, El Presidente stars Jeorge “ER” Estregan as Aguinaldo and is directed by Mark Meily. Visually, it’s a high-sheen blockbuster full of flair, polished cinematography, and gripping battle scenes of epic proportions. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and for some, that could be worth the watch.
Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo
This version of the life and times of the “Father of the Philippine Revolution” jumps between two timelines—the present-day depicting Daniel Padilla and Jasmine Curtis-Smith as classmates working on a history project, and the past where we get into the heat of the action with Robin Padilla as the Supremo. It presents a detailed account, from the time the Bonifacio brothers joined Rizal’s La Liga Filipina to their tragic demise. Vina Morales also stars as Aurora, Andres’ wife.
It's been ages since we’ve seen an epic on the fierce Visayan warrior and ruler of Mactan, Lapu-Lapu. Lito Lapid’s 2002 version is the most recent effort, so far. Historical accuracy and narrative may be remiss in favor of a campier execution. But hey, you’re still treated to some old-school Lapid action, which could still be entertaining.