10 Best Filipino Movies to Watch Right Now

10 Best Filipino Movies to Watch Right Now

June 14, 2024

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From heart-wrenching socio-economic dramas to heartwarming self-discovery, Filipino cinema offers a rich tapestry of storytelling that reflects the diverse culture and spirit of the Philippines. These twelve exceptional films not only showcase the immense talent of Filipino filmmakers but also provide a window into the country’s unique experiences, traditions, and struggles. If you’re seeking powerful narratives that tug at your heartstrings this curated list will guide you through the very best of Filipino cinema. So grab some popcorn, settle in, and let the magic of these movies transport you to the captivating world of the Philippines.

1. Samsara (2012)

best

9.0

Country

Angola, Brazil, China

Director

Ron Fricke

Actors

Balinese Tari Legong Dancers, Hiroshi Ishiguro, Ni Made Megahadi Pratiwi, Olivier De Sagazan

Moods

Challenging, Mind-blowing, Original

The Sanskrit word Samsara refers to the wheel of life and roughly translates to “continuous flow”. And, indeed, Samsara takes us on an entrancing journey, chronicling the never-ending cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth that life, big and small, goes through—at least according to the religions that were born on the Indian continent. Shot on 70mm film and utilizing computerized camera movements as well as time-lapse photography, this film by American director Ron Fricke delivers absolutely breath-taking visuals. Whether it’s awe-inspiring vastness or the close-up of a human face, its narration-less narrative integrates every aspect of human and natural life regardless of scale or location. The scope of this effort is truly awe-inspiring and the clarity of it has to be seen to be believed. An unusual and magical film!

2. Norte, the End of History (2014)

best

8.8

Country

Philippines

Director

Lav Diaz

Actors

Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Barbie Capacio, Hazel Orencio

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

Clocking in at just over four hours and shot in vivid color, Norte, the End of History stands not only as Filipino auteur Lav Diaz’s best work since his earliest films, but as the easiest entry point into his unique filmography. Told on a sweeping yet intimate scale, the film has all the trademarks of Diaz’s work: slow, lengthy shots; bursts of dense dialogue and philosophizing; and copious amounts of human despair and systemic corruption. As our three protagonists’ souls (who rarely share the screen, if at all) are pushed to the limit after a terrible crime is committed, everything heads toward universal truths—the perseverance of love, and the inevitability of divine justice.

It can be difficult to recommend any film of this length and deliberate pace, but Norte remains a masterful example of how to use time itself to build a monumental story.

3. Cleaners (2019)

best

8.4

Country

Philippines

Director

Glenn Barit

Actors

Carlo Mejia, Gianne Rivera, Ianna Taguinod, Julian Narag

Moods

Character-driven, Original, Quirky

In Letterboxd, Cleaners was once the highest rated film of 2021, and was once in the list of the top 250 narrative features overall before the rating system changed in 2023. To viewers outside the Philippines, this might have been mind-boggling, especially since the film wasn’t yet released internationally the year it premiered, but it shot up the ranks for a reason. The coming-of-age anthology just looks so different, being filmed live, then xeroxed and highlighted, frame by frame, just like print-outs for school. The unique approach evokes a sense of nostalgia in high contrast print and blurred movement, and it’s matched with the classic Filipino coming-of-age moments that has rarely been seen before.

4. Ordinary People (2016)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines, United States of America

Director

Eduardo Roy Jr.

Actors

Alora Mae Sasam, Bon Andrew Lentejas, Erlinda Villalobos, Gold Aceron

Moods

Character-driven, Dark, Depressing

Ordinary People tells the harrowing story of Jane and Aries, two teenage parents struggling to survive the streets of Manila. At the mercy of limited welfare, the two resort to criminal activity to get by. When a woman offers to help them financially (on loan), Jane eventually relents—but is shocked to discover that her baby’s been kidnapped. Trying everything from going to the police to contacting the perpetrator’s mother, the reality becomes unavoidable: no one truly cares for the poor even if they’re children. Interspersed with CCTV footage of the crimes the characters commit or witness, this powerful, heartbreaking portrait of poverty still offers glimmers of hope as they fight the odds to continue their search together. 

5. Metro Manila (2013)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines, United Kingdom

Director

Sean Ellis

Actors

Althea Vega, Ana Abad-Santos, Jake Macapagal, John Arcilla

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Intense

Oscar, his wife Teresa, and their young children move from the rural Philippines to the city, hoping for a better life. Immediately, they struggle to survive in the harsh and unforgiving Metro Manila. Through shaky close-ups, shifting moods, and shots of bustling streets, the film captures the poverty, violence, and desperation in the daily of the city. Actors Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega excellently portray the subtleties of constant suffering, leading the tumultuous journey through a cutthroat metropolis. As the drama shifts to a crime thriller, it never loses its footing highlighting the severe link between poverty and crime. 

6. Third World Romance (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines

Director

Dwein Ruedas Baltazar, Female director

Actors

Ana Abad-Santos, Archie Adamos, Carlo Aquino, Charlie Dizon

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Heart-warming

Third World Romance is what it says in the tin– it’s a love story that blooms in the rundown side of the capital of a developing country. The plot is familiar, especially for people familiar with Filipino rom coms, but writer-director Dwein Baltazar approaches this with a grounded approach. With fancy dinner dates substituted with shared packed rice meals and emotional apologies interrupted by their shifts in the grocery, Bree and Alvin carve out a love that still feels passionate, perhaps made even more so, as they navigate a city where they are disenfranchised. Charlie Dizon and Carlo Aquino’s excellent performances keep their characters’ struggles real, but also make their love feel joyful in spite of that.

7. Aswang (2019)

best

8.2

Country

France, Germany, Norway

Director

Alyx Ayn Arumpac, Female director

Actors

Ciriaco Santiago III, Ezra Acayan, Jomari, Orly Fernandez

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As courageous now as it was when it was first released domestically in the Philippines, Aswang stands as an essential act of bearing witness to a “war on drugs” that the government continues to deny or justify to this day. Director Alyx Arumpac remains firmly by the side of these ordinary people who have to live through the nightmare of their friends, relatives, and neighbors being slaughtered in the streets. There seems to be little editorializing on the part of the filmmakers, as they allow the people to walk us through their own stories—even if larger powers would have us believe that the poor are dangerous, volatile, and in need of disciplining through death. It’s a harrowing watch that presents on-the-ground stories with clarity, tenacity, and a surprising level of polish to boot.

8. Leonor Will Never Die (2022)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines, United States of America

Director

Female director, Martika Ramirez Escobar

Actors

Alemberg Ang, Allan Bautista, Anthony Falcon, Ara Chawdhury

Moods

Mind-blowing, Original, Thought-provoking

At times looking and sounding like a real Filipino action film from 50 years ago, while painstakingly edited to juggle storylines across several realities, Leonor Will Never Die is worth seeing for its originality and ambition alone. Among so many other films that function as sanitized “love letters to cinema,” this one bears the distinction of still feeling charmingly scrappy and improvised even with how meticulously it’s crafted. It doesn’t simply pine for a bygone era of movies, but it actively explores what purpose movies serve to us as individuals and as communities. Where it arrives with regard to healing and acceptance and bringing people together feels entirely earned, even if it might not always be easy to understand.

9. Whether the Weather Is Fine (2021)

best

8.1

Country

France, Germany, Indonesia

Director

Carlo Francisco Manatad

Actors

Charo Santos-Concio, Daniel Padilla, Francis Magundayao, Johnny Manahan

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Character-driven

Though only currently available on Prime Video Philippines, Carlo Francisco Manatad’s critically acclaimed drama boasts the kind of directorial vision and technical brilliance that deservedly kept it on the international festival circuit throughout 2021 and 2022—and that deserves to be seen around the world. Through textured cinematography and sound design, and art direction that situates its story halfway between reality and a dazed state of mind, Whether the Weather Is Fine isn’t so much a factual retelling of life after Typhoon Haiyan but a meditation on what home and freedom mean to those who no longer seem to have it.

Manatad’s background in experimental short filmmaking shines through in how the film seems comprised of so many irregular parts, but the emotional through line is unmistakable. Three incredible performances—from Daniel Padilla, Charo Santos-Concio, and Rans Rifol—illustrate the different ways that people try to escape or cling to hope in the wake of devastation. It’s the furthest thing from “resilience porn,” as the different perspectives of these characters clash and inevitably push each other away. And while that might not sound like the film offers a constructive point of view on disaster management, its intense psychological focus feels like something we haven’t seen on screen before.

10. Rain (2019)

best

8.1

Country

Philippines

Director

Female director, Irene Villamor

Actors

Aj Muhlach, Andrea Del Rosario, Angeli Bayani, Carlo Aquino

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Discussion-sparking

To those unfamiliar with Filipino folklore, some of the scenes in Rain (2019) might feel kooky, with horse heads and giant eggs and the personification of a typhoon popping up occasionally in between Maya’s quest for love. Even fans of Filipino romantic dramas and love teams might be taken aback by the last third of the film, which doesn’t take the usual route in the genre. But these eccentric choices work to characterize Maya as someone who loves being in love, as someone who grew up on mythology and fantasy to cope with the difficulties of life, as someone who nevertheless keeps that belief despite the terribleness of the mundane, the mismanaged inconveniences that pile up, and, of course, the multiple heartbreaks that she faces. It may be strange and unexpected, but Ulan is just one of the most unique Filipino romances ever created.

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