10 Best Tagalog Drama Movies

Wednesday, August 10 by Elizabeth Stewart

The Philippines has a strong tradition of filmmaking and the ten best Tagalog drama movies hail as far back as the 1960s to the 21st century. The 1970s, however, was hailed as the “Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.” The declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos opened the doors to compelling storytelling encapsulating the social ills, decay and desperation of that era.

  1. “Anak” This Tagalog dramatic film was internationally released with English subtitles as “The Child.” It portrays the life of an Overseas Contract Worker (OCW). OCWs remit millions of dollars each year to the Philippines and “Anak” shows the dark side of this career path. Josie, played by famous actress Vilma Santos, returns home after more than a decade working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong only to find herself loathed by her children, her husband dead and her daughter in the claws of drug dependency.
  2. “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” Written by Mario O’Hara and directed by one of the best directors in the country, Lino Brocka, this 1974 film is a Philippine cinema classic. Re-titled as “Weighed but Found Wanting” for foreign audiences, it is hailed as one of the best Tagalog drama films of all time. It is a landmark film that comments on the hypocrisy of religion and the advantages of wealth and privilege in a small provincial town.
  3. “Jaguar” Another Lino Brocka classic, “Jaguar” shows the dark side of love and obsession. Based on the book by Nick Joaquin, a multi-awarded Filipino writer, “Jaguar” was nominated for a Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won a number of awards in the Philippines.
  4. “Himala” Directed by Ishmael Bernal, “Himala,” translated as “Miracle” in English, boasts of beautiful cinematography and powerful acting. This Tagalog film’s strong dramatic narrative is centered on false prophets and the colonial legacy of religion in the country.
  5. “Manila By Night (City After Dark)” Philippine critics have hailed this as Ishmael Bernal’s greatest work. It is a social commentary on drugs, poverty and prostitution.
  6. “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag” Based on the novel by Edgardo Reyes and a screenplay by talented scriptwriter Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., this is one of Lino Brocka’s best works and occupies a space as one of the best Tagalog films in history. Internationally released as “Manila in the Claws of Neon,” it chronicles the despair and decay of that period in Philippine society.
  7. “Biyaya ng Lupa” This 1959 black and white film by Manuel Silos stars one of the most beautiful and talented actresses in Philippine cinema, Rosa Rosal. Re-titled for foreign audiences as “Blessings of the Land,” this occupies a space in the echelon of best Tagalog drama movies for its powerful narrative on obsession and revenge.
  8. “Tanging Yaman” Released internationally as “A Change of Heart,” this Laurice Guillen film is a commentary on religion and family. It stars Gloria Romero, an icon in Philippine cinema, along with a cast of younger actors.
  9. “Itim” This is a movie of many firsts. It is the debut film of director Mike de Leon and the first film of actress Charo Santos, now a highly respected film producer in the Philippines. “Itim” is the Philippine word for the color “black” and this film explores incest, abortion and love.
  10. “Bayaning Third World” Mike de Leon’s “Third World Hero” combines traditional filmmaking cinematography with a documentary-style narrative and a twist of television commercial style and technique. This Tagalog movie reenacts the love story between Philippine national hero Jose Rizal and Josephine Bracken, whom he met while imprisoned in Dapitan, Zamboanga in the Philippines.

- Elizabeth Stewart