Tatler Philippines places a spotlight on these Filipino films that have won critical acclaim here and abroad, as well as created a lasting mark in the culture of our country. Browse through our list as curated by Erwin Romulo, writer, creative director and film score composer:

Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag (1975)

Martin Scorsese personally selected this and funded a complete film restoration of a new 35mm print when he was leading The World Cinema Project.

Based on Edgardo Reyes’s novel, the film was directed by Lino Brocka, but other luminaries were involved. Clodualdo del Mundo Jnr adapted it for the screen. Mike de Leon was the producer and cinematographer. Even Tikoy Aguiluz was part of the crew as a stills photographer.

Perfumed Nightmare (1977)

Undoubtedly the quintessential “indie” film and made two decades before the term entered the popular lexicon, this was made on a shoestring budget. It was even shot on expired film stock given to the filmmaker by fellow students while studying the craft in Munich.

Not that it hampered its appeal to audiences at the 1977 Berlinale where critics compared it to the works of Godard, Rivette, and Werner Herzog, one of Germany’s celebrated directors, and called it “one of the most original and poetic works of cinema made anywhere in the seventies.” Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola would later acquire the rights for its distribution, saying he “felt Americans had to see one of my favourite independent films—for its non-Hollywood strengths!” Director Kidlat Tahimik is now a National Artist for Film.

That Thing Called Tadhana (2014)

Another game-changer in Philippine cinema. It cannot be overstated what kind of impact that this movie, also considered to be an “indie” feature, has had on Philippine cinema—in particular on mainstream movies. The critics loved it but audiences did too. It was a big hit. Essentially a love story, but a more intimate one that we’re accustomed to seeing. For one, it’s probably the only one that shows audiences its two protagonists falling in love, almost in realtime. Almost all romantic films since have tried to borrow if not outright steal its magic—certainly, all Jadine, LizQuen, and KathNiel ones have.

Anino (2000)

This is the first and only Filipino film that has ever won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Only 12 minutes long, it’s a homage to one of the greatest films from Philippine cinema’s second Golden Age, Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Liwanag  but it augured in the third Golden Age. Directed by one of the godfathers of independent cinema, Raymond Red, it also stars indie legends John Arcilla and Ronnie Lazaro.

Heneral Luna (2015)

The achievement of Heneral Luna was that it proved all its naysayers wrong. Yes, not only could we do historical epics on this scale (the last one before this being Marilou Diaz Abaya’s Jose Rizal) but audiences would flock to it even without a popular actor in the titular role or a major studio marketing it. At that time, Arcilla was known for his achievements in theatre and independent cinema but not for his box office appeal. Initially floundering in its first week of release, it picked up after getting good reviews and a strong campaign on social media. It was helped that it captured the zeitgeist of the time, anticipating the political upheavals ahead, a year before the 2016 elections.

Norte, Hangganan Ng Kasaysayan (2013)

There are many films by Lav Diaz that could be included here, such as the Silver Bear awarded Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis or Venice International Film Festival best picture Ang Babaeng Humayo. But Norte which premiered in Cannes three years earlier, is still his more definitive work. It was met with universal and worldwide acclaim. Pulitzer winning critic Wesley Morris gave it a standing ovation, writing that when “the lights came up, I stood with tears in my eyes, and clapped as loudly as I ever have for any movie in my life.” He would write later on, after seeing it a second time, that it was more than a cinematic experience for him, it no less than a “call from God.”

On The Job (2013)

The same year as Norte had its premiere at Cannes (alongside two other films, including the newly restored 35mm print of Brocka’s Maynila Sa Mga Kuko Ng Liwanag), Erik Matti’s crime thriller was era-defining for local cinema the way Diaz’s film was for foreign ones. It was nothing less than a game-changer. It opened up what we expected, what mainstream cinema could be—not only for its painstaking production value but the stories we deemed viable for wide commercial release.

  • ImagesGETTY IMAGES (LINO BROCKA AND KIDLAT TAHIMIK)
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