Top Ten Films Of the Philippines


Manila in the Claws of Neon (1975)

Directed by: Lino Brocka

The movie that shatters any poor soul’s dream of making it big in the country’s capital city, Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag succeeds in being both a love story (Julio Madiaga’s search for the love of his life is one of cinema’s most tragic romantic stories) and a formidable social commentary (on neoliberalism, on exploitation of cheap labor, among others). The film has been restored and will be shown in Cannes soon and in the Philippines in the coming months.


Himala (1982)

Directed by: Ishmael Bernal

Yearly Holy Week TV reruns have made Bernal’s magnum opus thankfully accessible to most Filipinos. Himala’s depiction of a poor people yearning for a miracle is an immense filmmaking triumph.


Kisapmata (1981)

Directed by: Mike de Leon

Arguably de Leon’s best work is a deeply troubling depiction of a dysfunctional family, featuring an imposing performance by Vic Silayan as evil personified.


Manila by Night (1980)

Directed by: Ishmael Bernal

Famously banned by the Marcos government for portraying Manila in a “bad” light, Manila by Night is a profoundly impressive canvas featuring some of the city’s most colorful denizens.


Biyaya ng lupa (1959)

Directed by: Manuel Silos

It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of this 1959 family melodrama that it’s still being appreciated by younger viewers. Rosa Rosal is unforgettable as the matriarch who acts as the bedrock amidst the never-ending tragedies that befall her family.


Oro, Plata, Mata (1982)

Directed by: Peque Gallaga

Gallaga’s grandiose epic on the Second World War’s impact on the country’s landed elite is a powerful commentary on ordinary humans’ capacity for evil.


Insiang (1976)

Directed by: Lino Brocka

Brocka’s searing treatment of a mother-daughter relationship in the slums is a perfect melding of melodrama and Greek tragedy. Features one of the best ensemble performances in the local cinema.


Ganito kami noon... Paano kayo ngayon? (1976)

Directed by: Eddie Romero

Some people have observed that Romero’s majestic picaresque tale was a precursor to Forrest Gump: its protagonist is a simple-minded young man who sets out on a journey from his quiet hometown, gets enmeshed in the country’s historical upheavals, falls in love, gets his heart broken, learns to forgive, and ends up a wiser man. Ganito Kami Noon is the more accomplished work.


Batch '81 (1982)

Directed by: Mike de Leon

Made during the turbulent last few years of the Marcos regime, Batch 81’s exploration of a college fraternity acted as a stand-in for the larger socio-political climate at the time.


The Rites of May (1977)

Directed by: Mike de Leon

De Leon’s debut film marked him as an intelligent filmmaker with an excellent grasp of cinematic language. Itim exposes both the appealing and creepy dimensions of organized religion.