Seven Hispanic Critics Open Up About Movies that Made a Major Impact On Their Lives

These moving dramas, inventive comedies, nostalgic favorites, and stone-cold classics may just change your life, too.

by | September 15, 2021 | Comments

For Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15), Rotten Tomatoes asked seven Hispanic Tomatometer-approved critics to share a movie they hold dear and tell us why. They run the gamut from classics that continue to inspire (Stand and Deliver) to seminal game-changers (Salt of the Earth) to movies made for little people that had bigger things on their minds (The Book of LifeSpy Kids). Each made an impression with these critics, one that ignited or sustained their passion for movies and gave them a valuable perspective on identity. Check out the films below.

Spy Kids (2001)


Director Robert Rodriguez learned early on in his career about the power of identity and authenticity, so it was a no-brainer to him that his first family-friendly film, Spy Kids, would center around a Latino family. “[When] you’re writing a script, you’re going to write what you know,” Rodriguez told me during an interview for Netflix’s We Can Be Heroes. “I grew up in a Latin family [so] that’s the first thing you write.”

Growing up, Spy Kids was a staple in my house. I loved the multicolored, larger-than-life adventure with Floop and his thumb minions and the idea that two kids could have the power to save their parents and the world. Looking back now, I realize how revolutionary that film was to young me – growing up feeling like I could be a spy, like I could change the world, and it was all centered around a Latino family like mine.

“It’s important to show people that diversity on screen. I’ve been doing it now for 30 years and I always got such great feedback from people when they felt themselves being shown on the screen as not criminals, not cartel members, not the same maids and gardeners as they usually did, but as superheroes, as spies,” Rodriguez said in our interview. “Imaging is so important. It changes your mind of what your potential is.”

The power that has for both kids and kids at heart is extraordinary and the reason why Robert Rodriguez continues to succeed with all of his projects. To see Rodriguez continue to fight to put that representation on screen and garner so much success makes me extra proud to be a kid of the Spy Kids generation and to still be following his career now as an adult. – Kristen Maldonado

Kristen Maldonado is a TV/film critic and host for the digital outlet The Fan Club and the inclusion-based video podcast Pop Culture Planet. She is a Tomatometer-approved critic, member of the Hollywood Critics Association, Latino Entertainment Journalists Association, and the Television Academy, and a two-time Shorty Award winner. Check out her YouTube channel

On Sundays, if we’d behaved, my great uncle took us out for ice cream. My siblings always knew what flavor they wanted; picking something that wouldn’t “seem gay” took me longer.

I felt seen when the “ice cream code” appeared in Tomás Gutiérrez Alea and Juan Carlos Tabío’s Strawberry and Chocolate, a delicate film about the unlikely friendship between an idealistic Cuban student (Vladimir Cruz) who likes chocolate, and a sophisticated gay artist (Jorge Perugorría) who goes for strawberry.

Watching the film when I was 8 gave me permission to grow into the kind of queer man unafraid to add sprinkles to his life and ice cream. With each further visit, its comforts become as easy to slip into as those languorous Sunday afternoons when the promise of sweetness made me believe a kinder world was possible. – Jose Solís

Jose Solís is a Honduran cultural critic. He is the founder/director of the BIPOC Critics Lab and the creator/host of Token Theatre Friends. Follow Jose on Twitter.

Salt of the Earth (1954)


I’ll never forget my initial reaction after watching Salt of the Earth, one of the first films in Hollywood to depict a Mexican-American experience. I had decided to pursue a film degree and was introduced to the film while learning about the commotion that led to blacklisted filmmakers during the ’50s. I was in awe of its progressive premise, and as a Chicana, the female viewpoint spoke to me, considering the era, misogynistic household/culture, and social norms.

In addition, it was making a statement about Mexican-American mine workers and the importance of unions before any civil rights movements. Yet 66 years after its release, these social issues feel more relevant than ever. Its inspiring depiction of feminism, discovering your true self, resilience, and the power of community make this film an essential viewing that highlights the U.S Latino experience. – Rosa Parra

Rosa is co-founder/co-host of Latinx Lens, a podcast dedicated to highlighting Latino representation and contributions in film and TV. They also review films through their unique Latina lens. Check out the website for Latinx Lens.

My routine during the VHS era as a child was cycling through the same movies over and over again. It was mostly The Sound of Music or any given animated Disney musical (primarily Fantasia and Beauty and the Beast). But there was one movie I have vivid memories of, probably the thing that got me hooked on ambitious animation and crushing on Brazilian men: The Three Caballeros.

As dated as it can be at times – very much a travelogue of Mexican and Brazilian culture through an American 1940s gaze – I can’t help myself from being caught up in the energy and musicality of it. The Bahía sections or Donald’s Surreal Reverie are a perfect encapsulation of its beauty and charm, be it in watching cartoons interacting with real people or simply in laughing along at the sound of the Aracuan bird.

It’s not just comfort food; it’s good classic cinema. – Juan Barquin

Juan Barquin is a writer from Miami who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. They aspire to be Bridget Jones. Follow Juan on Twitter

The Book of Life (2014)


With a romantic spin, The Book of Life, from director Jorge Gutiérrez and producer Guillermo del Toro, renders Mexican culture’s relationship with death in exuberant iconography. Watching it at a multiplex was the first time I witnessed the medium of animation harnessed by a fellow Mexican for a feature film explicitly drawing from our traditions and art. Distinct character design, ornate figures that resemble wooden crafts, match the awe-inspiring Land of the Remembered, a colorful afterlife.

Before the plot arrives at that skull-friendly realm, Diego Luna, voicing Manolo, sings an acoustic version of Radiohead’s “Creep” after refusing to follow in his bullfighter father’s steps. That oddly moving track selection embodies the richly bicultural identity of Gutiérrez, a Mexico-born artist with deep ties to the United States, which suffuses the story set across two universes. For me, as someone existing at the junction of cultures and countries, that merging felt indelible. – Carlos Aguilar

Carlos Aguilar is a Los Angeles-based film critic and journalist whose work has appeared in prestigious publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Variety, The New York Times, The Wrap, IndieWire, and, among others. Follow Carlos on Twitter.

Stand and Deliver (1988)


While my mother provided positive reinforcements as a woman of color in the inner city, there were none to emulate from the media. As a child, I fantasized about being Princess Leia, Wonder Woman, or one of Charlie’s Angels, but no one who looked like me or the people in my Latino community. That was until 1988’s Stand and Deliver.

Stand and Deliver tells the story of a true hero. High school teacher Jaime Escalante, played by Academy-nominated actor Edward James Olmos, inspired his underprivileged students at East LA’s Garfield High School to recognize their self worth and strive for better lives by putting in the hard work “con ganas” (with all your might) to pass the Advanced Placement exam in calculus.

“You are the true dreamers,” Olmos’ Escalante tells his students. “And dreams accomplish good things. You are the best.” Escalante’s words are simple but effective, inspiring not just Latinos but every child who should be taught to value themselves and reach for the sky.

Another memorable scene from the 1988 movie stands out. The turning point for the urban youth comes after hearing they are indeed special: “It was your ancestors, the Mayans, who first contemplated the zero. True story. You burós have math in your blood.” Stand and Deliver instills a sense of pride in our rich history and heritage that is still largely ignored in film and television.

It also portrays an accurate representation of urban youth in East Los Angeles. The cast represented my neighbors, cousins, and educators. To see that on the big screen as a young moviegoer was mind-blowing. Someone finally got it right, in part because a Latino filmmaker (Ramón Menéndez) was at the helm.

Thirty-three years since its release, Stand and Deliver still resonates with me in every way. – Lupe Rodriguez Haas

A member of the Hollywood Critics Association and Editor-in-Chief of, Lupe Rodriguez Haas has worked every avenue in film and television from Hollywood studio distribution and marketing to being an entertainment producer and critic. Check out

Selena (1997)


Selena is an iconic biopic. I mean, it put J-Lo on the map and it came out so soon after the death of the Queen of Tejano. But for me and a lot of other Mexican Americans, it’s iconic for more personal reasons.

As a biopic, Selena is and was a visceral representation of the Mexican-American experience. We have to try to be American enough for Americans and Mexican enough for the Mexicans and, to echo Edward James Olmos’ famous line: “It’s tiring.”

A vital piece of music and Mexican-American history, Selena is emotional and vital. To this day it looks at the little brown girls struggling to fit in and says, “I see you.” – Kate Sánchez

Kate Sánchez is a pop-culture critic and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. Follow Kate on Twitter.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

Thumbnail image: Warner Bros. / Everett Collection 

Tag Cloud

critics deadpool cooking suspense aapi TV One NBC Shudder Cartoon Network debate live action video 71st Emmy Awards Schedule reboot Acorn TV DC Universe Star Trek legend Awards Tour facebook 2016 dexter Comics on TV leaderboard latino tv talk adaptation television science fiction MSNBC Kids & Family sequels rt archives Universal Pictures Paramount Plus black comedy football LGBT screen actors guild Rom-Com Tubi 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards 20th Century Fox video on demand Black History Month The Purge historical drama marvel cinematic universe PaleyFest ESPN japan 72 Emmy Awards Winter TV Ellie Kemper doctor who Marvel 73rd Emmy Awards rt labs critics edition dreamworks asian-american Shondaland Sundance fast and furious Bravo Horror Fox Searchlight E3 45 PlayStation Summer women supernatural MCU twilight cinemax comic book movie Sundance Now Stephen King period drama 1990s The Walt Disney Company Calendar Comic-Con@Home 2021 TCA cults Epix RT21 Red Carpet king kong spy thriller Cosplay medical drama mission: impossible obituary Trivia Vudu singing competition monster movies Britbox revenge kong FOX rotten TV Valentine's Day book adaptation Baby Yoda dragons basketball justice league TV Land social media halloween HBO 007 Comic Book Heroines Holidays cartoon 79th Golden Globes Awards a nightmare on elm street Nickelodeon First Look Election Columbia Pictures HBO Max Set visit reviews sag awards zombies BET Awards hidden camera SDCC what to watch sitcom Crackle romantic comedy 21st Century Fox Adult Swim all-time Video Games movies Funimation crossover Premiere Dates Comedy Central Family VOD screenings Holiday SXSW pirates of the caribbean Toys cancelled TV series mockumentary TV movies saw posters satire adventure lord of the rings The Witch Interview BBC America theme song TBS south america jamie lee curtis DC streaming service Hallmark TCA 2017 archives YouTube Premium slasher adenture biopic technology werewolf Logo Trophy Talk 2019 free movies Superheroes crime drama ViacomCBS Hallmark Christmas movies dc parents GLAAD Disney Channel BBC live event HFPA ghosts Pop TV batman films The Walking Dead godzilla AMC Crunchyroll El Rey blockbusters 24 frames zero dark thirty trophy Star Wars Disney Discovery Channel Pacific Islander YouTube Red Prime Video criterion Disney Plus Mary Tyler Moore Year in Review Turner Classic Movies Disney+ Disney Plus Best and Worst IFC WGN jurassic park Amazon Prime Video Apple boxoffice rotten movies we love Legendary target sopranos universal monsters 4/20 San Diego Comic-Con Tags: Comedy Action richard e. Grant black Drama Country Elton John joker disaster BAFTA Mindy Kaling Captain marvel discovery Tarantino Lifetime Christmas movies Film quibi spain Teen animated Lionsgate Musical chucky Sneak Peek Writers Guild of America Broadway Sundance TV cars SundanceTV feel good know your critic harry potter spanish casting Television Critics Association composers Wes Anderson new york Nominations Mystery breaking bad new zealand diversity Lifetime Amazon Prime cancelled television 2020 Spike Pride Month nature TLC Chernobyl fresh Song of Ice and Fire comic Animation serial killer Black Mirror Apple TV Plus Spring TV Rock book Universal YA young adult Watching Series DirecTV superman Box Office thriller travel festivals spanish language OWN TCA Awards scorecard FX on Hulu kids ID mutant police drama Marvel Television CNN Warner Bros. TruTV Classic Film Dark Horse Comics Travel Channel christmas movies stop motion Exclusive Video comiccon biography children's TV 2018 Opinion DGA french ITV CBS All Access indie TV renewals Podcast canceled Fall TV Sony Pictures The Arrangement japanese worst movies Polls and Games Thanksgiving comic books laika spider-man ABC Musicals Amazon anthology NYCC Biopics Marathons ABC Signature Creative Arts Emmys Mary poppins green book Spectrum Originals international golden globes high school Avengers Starz dceu Quiz Pixar docudrama worst hollywood sequel directors Grammys comedies political drama razzies TIFF Tokyo Olympics franchise Film Festival natural history festival vs. psychological thriller VH1 war slashers superhero ratings golden globe awards docuseries Cannes Masterpiece HBO Go FX TCA Winter 2020 nbcuniversal Martial Arts talk show robots action-comedy stand-up comedy 93rd Oscars Amazon Studios james bond remakes toronto gangster witnail Ovation hist Photos trailers Freeform unscripted WarnerMedia heist movie spider-verse National Geographic space Trailer 90s game show Disney streaming service spinoff stoner 99% cops Infographic child's play Sci-Fi NBA Neflix Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Walt Disney Pictures CMT President dogs australia Pirates sports FXX Tumblr mcc First Reviews cats telelvision concert based on movie comics Lucasfilm Super Bowl Character Guide Oscars teaser Pop RT History zombie Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Women's History Month Showtime Academy Awards History rt labs Superheroe Nat Geo genre politics Mudbound elevated horror nfl venice finale versus CW Seed Turner New York Comic Con true crime Emmys USA renewed TV shows hispanic heritage month TCM crime Mary Poppins Returns romance APB cancelled TV shows LGBTQ vampires X-Men mob best DC Comics critic resources The CW blaxploitation Reality Competition Countdown Apple TV+ ABC Family miniseries GoT The Academy Binge Guide comic book movies classics 2015 dark kaiju rom-coms prank indiana jones transformers Esquire Awards king arthur Pet Sematary halloween tv American Society of Cinematographers Syfy BET streaming movies foreign news Food Network crime thriller IMDb TV Netflix Christmas movies scary art house italian psycho aliens Emmy Nominations BBC One scene in color 2021 Fargo popular Music IFC Films Television Academy binge Image Comics USA Network scary movies PBS E! marvel comics Christmas Netflix TNT streaming Reality wonder woman documentaries Brie Larson Marvel Studios A&E Hulu boxing Paramount VICE anime series blockbuster Western Hollywood Foreign Press Association Hear Us Out game of thrones Alien dramedy Endgame Arrowverse MTV strong female leads Instagram Live Fantasy Fox News AMC Plus hispanic Rocketman new star wars movies movie royal family cancelled award winner Paramount Network emmy awards Rocky OneApp Winners Comedy canceled TV shows Tomatazos toy story YouTube independent olympics die hard 2017 CBS Extras name the review A24 See It Skip It documentary Ghostbusters Certified Fresh GIFs Anna Paquin Peacock