Hola, amigos! In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we’ve put together a cinematic tour of Mexico. Get a plate of your favorite Mexican food, pour yourself a shot of tequila, and use our handy map of Mexico to rediscover your favorite movies set south of the border!
Let’s start in the Federal District. Here you’ll find Mexico City, the country’s capital and its most vital source for arts,
culture, and economy. Though it probably benefited little from Man on Fire being set
there. The film starred Denzel Washington as an ex-CIA agent determined to
save a young kidnapped girl (Dakota Fanning), focusing on Mexico City’s
criminal gangs, gritty architecture, and the fiery explosions that regularly
of the major Mexican destinations to lose (and re-discover) yourself. And
since it stands just a stone’s throw across the border, Tijuana-set movies
are also about the road trip that lead into the city. Case in point: Losin’
It, an early Curtis Hanson-directed movie, starring Tom Cruise as part of a
pack of boys driving south for some wild nights down Mexico way.
But peel away Tijuana’s sun-dried gloss and you can find some dark stories,
like in Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye,
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Babel, and Steven
is a border city in the Coahuila state, just on the other side of Del Rio,
Texas. City residents are especially careful of its street warfare and
Mexican standoffs, as seen in El Mariachi and Desperado, the first two
installments of Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy. And in No Country for Old
Men, Llewelyn Moss crosses into Ciudad Acuna for some much-needed medical
attention. Keep that in mind next time you’re being chased by a psychopath
whilst carrying a satchel of money in West Texas.
But Ciudad Acuna isn’t completely about outlaws. Alfonso Arau’s sensitive
drama, Like Water for Chocolate, also took place here.
or Cancun, Guerrero is the real party destination in Mexico. The state is
home to Acapulco, which was graced by Elvis Presley in the 1963 beach romp Fun in Acapulco, where he tussled with lifeguards and took a job as a hotel
And about 100 miles up Guerrero’s coast, you’ll come across the seaside town
of Zihuatanejo. Sound familiar? It’s the symbolism-heavy place Andy Dufrense
dreamt about for nearly two decades in The Shawshank Redemption.
Durango isn’t just the name of a rather large SUV that a young Florida boy
took for a joyride recently. It also happens to be the name of a Mexican
state situated in the heart of the country, and it’s the setting for one of
the greatest and most notorious films, Western or otherwise, ever to be
made: The Wild Bunch.
its violence and groundbreaking action cinematography, The Wild Bunch is Sam Peckinpah’s classic tale of betrayal and opportunism, focusing on a gang of
bandits being hunted by one of their own from Texas to Mexico. During an
era when the popularity of Westerns was waning, Peckinpah made certain the
genre went out with a resounding BANG, employing the kind of realism he felt
had been missing from other similar films. Filmed on location in Mexico, The Wild Bunch offers a gritty glimpse at what life may have been like south
of the border in 1913.
Quintana Roo is famous for its beautiful historical sites and ugly American
behavior, much of it concentrated in the tourist town of Cancun. No film
embodies the party-hearty atmosphere of the costal city like the “reality
film” The Real Cancun, a document of pervasive drunken debauchery and
promiscuity so depraved it would make the principals in Satyricon
in The Ruins show more interest in Mayan architecture than beer
bongs, but they find the out skirts of Cancun to be loaded with hazards as
well — particularly ancient curses. Neither of these films paint Mexico’s
youngest state in the best light, but Quintana Roo is a place of rich
history and ecological diversity.
John Huston’s Treasure of Sierra Madre, the city of Tampico is a place
with as much disregard for the sanctity of law (“I don’t have to show you
any stinking badges”) as for the sanctity of land (“We’ve wounded this
mountain”). At the tail end of the Mexican Revolution, some
down-on-their-luck-prospectors (Bogey and Walter Huston among them) go
searching for gold under the nose of a war-torn government. As if spurned by
the future ghosts of eco-tourism, the men face their comeuppance at the
hands of Banditos, Federales and their own clawing greed.
follow-up to smash hit Napoleon Dynamite, writer/director Jared Hess left
the ‘burbs of America and headed down south into the hills and towns of
Oaxaca. His film, Nacho Libre, stars Jack Black as a monk named Nacho who
finally works up the courage to become a Luchador.
The final act of Alfonso Cuaron’s Y tu Mama Tambien was filmed in Puerto
Escondido, Oaxaca. A bold road film of sexual discovery and politics, Mama
revolves around two young men who take a trip south of Mexico City with an
attractive older woman, in search of a beach they made up to impress her.
Fitting for a city whose name translates to “hidden port.”
Morelos is the
second-smallest state in Mexico, but it’s been host to some major motion
pictures. In the Morelos town of Cuernavca specifically, John Huston shot
the desert scenes of The Magnificent Seven, his remake of The Seven Samurai starring Yul Brenner as leader of a ragtag group protecting a farming
village from bandits.
Under the Volcano was also shot in Cuernavca. A 1984 John Huston drama about
an alcoholic and his eventful Day of the Dead in 1939, Volcano was nominated
for three Oscars and was recently released on DVD for the first time by
With its achievements in architecture, science, mathematics, art, and
written language, the Mayans established one of the most culturally dynamic
societies on earth. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto tells the fictional story
of the Mayans fall and in doing so, guides viewers on a tour of ancient
Yucatan, including its vibrant cities, its jungles, and its wildlife.
The ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza were used as a backdrop for
Alejandro Jodorowsky’s cult classic The Holy Mountain, at one time
the most expensive movie ever made in Mexico. At the ruins, Jodorowsky
dispenses wisdom to a group of powerful people seeking immortality.
In most films set in unnamed Mexican locales, the country is a wasteland
full of perilous, abandoned bodies (left for dead like Michael Douglas in The
Game) and men with ready guns (or fangs if you’re thinking of Rodriguez
and Tarantino’s pre-Grindhouse grindhouse satire From Dusk
Dawn). Often times, the unspecified terrains are located disturbingly
close to “home”; close enough, in fact, we might see our safe little houses
from the view on the hill…if only we could see past the border patrol.
Orson Welles had a particular fascination with hot, sexy Mexico and so set
both Mr. Arkadin and the now infamous Touch of Evil in the
tenuous clutches of her broad, unchecked borders.
than any other literal point on the map, the unspecified Mexico demonstrates
America’s fascination with our border nation and the burning, unbridled
frontier we believed in once and no longer. Poignant that we have to go to
another country to see the Wild West.
Afraid your stereotype-laden comedy might offend the more sensitive natives
of Mexico? Simply take liberties and make up a new town!
Amigos is set in the fabled land of Santo Paco, the townspeople are
terrorized by a bandit named El Guapo until they call upon three washed-up
actors (Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Martin Short) whom they believe to be
real gunslingers. And the three actors arrive in Santo Poco under the
impression Santo Poco’s plea for help is actually a plot outline for a new
movie. For the three lead actors, comedies rarely topped this fun flick.
Larry the Cable Guy takes his sophisticated comedy internationally in Delta Farce, playing an army reservists en route to Iraq but inadvertently
gets dropped in the peasant village of La Miranda. Leaning on both Middle
Eastern and Latin American ethnic jokes, it’s two comedy bits for the price