10 Filipino Drama Movies To Watch Now, Ranked

10 Filipino Drama Movies To Watch Now, Ranked: The Philippines’ thriving nation, that has a long and distinguished history in the film industry. The country’s film industry is usually regarded as among the greatest in Southeast Asia, and its production has helped form its cultural identity. Whether you’re looking for a robust criminal thriller or a warm and fuzzy family comedy, you’ll find it at Manila’s cinemas. If you’re a movie buff or simply looking for a good watch, you won’t want to miss this article, in which we discuss some of the finest films to come out of the Philippines. Come along as we explore the Philippines’ finest, searching for the country’s finest cinematic offerings.

1. Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila In The Claws of Light, 1975)

Manila in the Claws of Light | July 16, 1975 (Philippines) Summary: Júlio Madiaga, a 'provinciano', arrives in Manila to search for his beloved, Ligaya.
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog, English

Director(s): Lino Brocka
Writer(s): Based on In The Claws of Brightness by Edgardo M. Reyes
Cast: Bembol Roco, Hilda Koronel, Lou Salvador Jr., Tommy Abuel, Joonee Gamboa
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
Runtime: 2h 5m
Genre: Drama

Filmmaker Lino Brocka adapted Edgardo M. Reyes’s book Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (In the Claws of Brightness) into the 1975 Filipino drama film Manila in the Claws of Light. It’s widely regarded as the finest example of Filipino cinema ever made. The main character, Julio Madiaga, is an impressionable young man from Marinduque who goes to Manila for his love, Ligaya, who was invited to go to Manila with the prospect of employment and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.

Filming for “Maynila: sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag” took place under Martial Law, a period often regarded as one of the worst in Philippine history. At the same time, the Marcos regime was touting Manila as an imaginary utopia. However, their approach to city renewal did little to address the widespread poverty.

This is why Brocka’s vision proves to be gutsy. The film exposes the reality that the Marcos government tried to cover up: the desperate plight of Manila’s poor, who are shown in the movie as surviving in squalor, working in predatory professions that don’t pay a livable wage, and sometimes turning to prostitution to make ends meet. The sad fact of the matter is that these issues have persisted up until now.

2. Himala (Miracle, 1982)

Miracle | December 25, 1982 (Philippines) Summary: Elsa saw the blessed Virgin Mary who had changed her life and caused a hysteria in a poor isolated village.
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog, English

Director(s): Ishmael Bernal
Writer(s): Ricky Lee
Cast: Nora Aunor, Spanky Manikan, Gigi Dueñas, Laura Centeno
IMDb Rating: 8.1/10
Runtime: 2h 4m
Genre: Drama

Nora Aunor starred in the 1982 film Himala, written by Sir Ricky Lee and directed by Ishmael Bernal. It’s a film that’s been discussed and analyzed for years and considered a national treasure. The impoverished orphan Elsa causes the residents of Cupang, a tiny hamlet in the Philippines, to question their own beliefs and morals when she begins to see glimpses of the Virgin Mary.

The movie isn’t anti-religious in general, but it does criticize religious institutions for being commercialized, unproductive means of societal control.

This becomes especially apparent when the people of Cupang try to better their economic status by taking advantage of Elsa and the town’s unexpected notoriety. Many fanatical items, including bottles of spring water “consecrated” by Elsa herself, were openly manufactured in large quantities and sold to locals and tourists. Orly (Spanky Manikan), a filmmaker with serious doubts, visits the sleepy town to shoot an investigative piece on Elsa. He’ll do everything, to the detriment of others, to acquire the material he wants.

Is Elsa making all of this up? We can’t possibly know for sure. The story’s ambiguity is eloquently emphasized by Lee’s refusal to accept the “seeing is believing” cliche. That the truth is never shown to us is in harmony with the film’s fundamental concepts.

3. Batch ’81 (1982)

Batch '81 | November 18, 1982 (Philippines) Summary: The lives of seven neophytes as they strive to enter a Greek letter fraternity through a difficult hazing process. The entire experience is seen through the eyes of Sid Lucero, one of the ne... Read all
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Tagalog, Filipino

Director(s): Mike De Leon
Writer(s): Mike De Leon, Clodualdo del Mundo Jr., Raquel Villavicencio
Cast: Mark Gil, Sandy Andolong, Ward Luarca, Noel Trinidad
IMDb Rating: 7.8/10
Runtime: 1h 40m
Genre: Drama

Filmmakers have often used graphic violence to provide commentary on a wide range of political, cultural, psychological, and philosophical topics. The film “Batch 81” by filmmaker Mike de Leon, which depicts the secretive practices of college fraternities, represents a high watermark for this strategy. It also serves as an evocation for authoritarianism and the Marcos dictatorship.

The film follows a 26-year-old with medical school aspirations, Sid Lucero seeks to join the Alpha Kappa Omega fraternity. Over six months, he and five other initiates are tortured within and outside the fraternity home.

Batch ’81 is still revered as an enduring classic and genius of Philippine film 35 years after its debut in theaters because of its complex storyline, rich rhetoric, and meticulous attention to detail. The film may be old, but its commentary on toxic masculinity, false brotherhood, and authoritarian regimes is timeless.

The last image of a soulless Sid, his lips moving in a robotic recitation of the frat’s tenets (“Ang simula at wakas ay kapatiran!”, lit. “Brotherhood is the beginning and the end!”), is a plea for us to consider the whole arc of the man’s life. As we stare at this monstrosity, with its sweeping paddles and mechanically moving mouths, we can’t help but pause to lament the absence of something God created that could have been good.

4. Manila by Night (1980)

City After Dark | November 28, 1980 (Philippines) Summary: The hidden nightlife of ordinary people living in Manila unveils. Lovers and families' conflicts are radically pitted against each other as they live in the night streets rampant with drugs ... Read all
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog

Director(s): Ishmael Bernal
Writer(s): Ishmael Bernal, Ricky Lee
Cast: Charito Solis, Alma Moreno, Lorna Tolentino, Cherie Gil
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
Runtime: 2h 30m
Genre: Drama

Gina Alajar and Charito Solis feature in the infamous 1980 Filipino film Manila by Night, helmed by Ishmael Bernal and often referred to by its alternative title, City After Dark. The film, which was made at the peak of the Marcos dictatorship but was barred from exportation by Imelda Marcos herself, shows the less glamorous side of daily existence in Manila, including destitution, joblessness, the world of prostitution, and drug dependency.

It’s a collection of stories about characters with questionable pasts who are struggling to make it in a brutal society, and it’s often regarded as one of Bernal’s greatest works. In this 152-minute marvel, there are just a handful of happenings, yet they shatter hopes, break souls, and flip lives upside down, all while the hope that things will improve in the morning remains barely out of sight.

Clearly, these folks, and by extension, the city, are on a slippery slope. Still, the filmmakers felt compelled to insert a nice conclusion by having a narrator assure us of everyone’s conclusive joyous fate. However, as the brighter visions are listed off the shopping list, Bernal brings us home to the muddled, polluted present.

The scope of Bernal’s criticism and the truth of Manila’s socioeconomic plight is brought home once more when his protagonists are seen walking along the sidewalks of the capital city.

5. Dekada ’70 (The Seventies, 2002)

The Seventies | June 28, 2003 (United States) Summary: A middle-class Filipino family struggles to survive in the era of dictatorship.
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog, English

Director(s): Chito S. Roño
Writer(s): Lualhati Bautista
Cast: Vilma Santos-Recto, Christopher de Leon, Piolo Pascual, Marvin Agustin
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
Runtime: 2h 8m
Genre: Drama

The famous work by Filipino novelist Lualhati Bautista inspired the 2002 Filipino drama film Dekada ’70, directed by Chito S. Roño. The 1970s film Dekada ’70 depicts the struggles of an average Filipino family living under Marcos’s dictatorship.

Amanda and Julian are trying their best to raise their five boys amid Ferdinand Marcos’ oppressive rule. The parents may not be politically active, but most of their boys are unhappy living under martial rule and seek relief via activism or just plain old adolescent defiance. After the family suffers at the hands of extremists, Amanda discovers her power as a fighter for freedom.

Audiences were profoundly influenced by Dekada 70, which vividly depicted the situation in the 1970s when the executive branch was given absolute military authority. The 1970s period heralded yet another chapter in the heroic battle of the Filipino people for independence, and Chito Roño had turned Lualhati’s words into a brilliant cinema masterpiece that depicted this tale.

In addition to discussing political topics, Dekada 70 also addressed women’s rights by focusing on the protagonists’ gradual but steady societal advancement.

6. Sister Stella L. (1984)

Sister Stella L. | July 11, 1984 (Philippines) Summary: A nun becomes involved in an on-going labor strike. She starts out non-politicized, but later learns about the plight of the simple working man and inevitably, the government's neglect of th... Read all
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Tagalog, Filipino

Director(s): Mike De Leon
Writer(s): Jose F. Lacaba, Jose Almojuela, Mike De Leon
Cast: Vilma Santos, Jay Ilagan, Gina Alajar
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Runtime: 1h 43m
Genre: Drama

Sister Stella Legaspi (Vilma Santos) is a nun who, after discovering the government’s disdain for the needs of the poor and working classes, becomes active in labor strike. When her journalist buddy Nick Fajardo (Jay Ilagan) suffers torture and a union leader named Dencio (Tony Santos) is abducted and slain, her sacred mission of fighting for the poor gets challenging.

Her fight against brutality and inequality is heartbreaking and enlightening. In 1984, amid the latter stages of Marcos’ oppression, the film was banned for its vivid depiction of labor battles and extrajudicial executions, which even now eerily mirrored the recent incidents in Philippine society.

Stella L.’s political awakening is mirrored in the filmmakers’ intention that their story serves as a wake-up call to the viewer. Although Stella L. bombed at the box office, its lack of ability to create financial waves at Manilian cinemas does not reflect the film’s profound impact.

In the film’s closing scene, Stella L. demands an impassioned speech with unsettling relevant repercussions. When tyrants and dictators climb to power, we must stop and ask ourselves, “Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino ang kikilos? At kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?” (If we do not act, who will? And if not today, then when?”)

7. Insiang (1976)

Insiang | December 6, 1978 (France) Summary: The life of a young girl living with her mother in the slums of Manila becomes unbearable when her mother's young boyfriend moves in with them.
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog, English

Director(s): Lino Brocka
Writer(s): Mario O’Hara, Lamberto Antonio
Cast: Hilda Koronel, Mona Lisa, Ruel Vernal
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Runtime: 1h 35m
Genre: Drama

The Filipino drama film Insiang was directed by Lino Brocka and released in 1976. The script was co-written by Mario O’Hara and Lamberto E. Antonio. Both authors drew inspiration from O’Hara’s original teleplay of the same name. Hilda Koronel plays the lead role of the film’s titular heroine, a little girl whose mother’s (Mona Lisa) much younger paramour (Ruel Vernal) rapes her in the impoverished neighborhoods of Tondo, Manila. Following her attack and her lover’s (Rez Cortez’s) abandonment, Insiang is out for blood.

Many people consider this picture from 1976 to be a masterpiece. It’s a melodrama set in a crowded shantytown, where people are poor, distressed, and violent. What stands out clearest isn’t Insiang’s explicit narrative twists and turns, but rather the omnipresent feeling of isolated helplessness and retaliatory need to push back versus uncompromising elements and events in every way possible.

The picture becomes a vivid tribute to feminist self-fulfillment thanks to Insiang’s uncompromising stance. Brocka makes sure that whatever little victory his ethically and psychologically twisted heroine may have is offset by an overarching dosage of poignant grief and misery by way of his anguish-wrought ending, with its knotted coil of stubborn, explosive, unrealized sentiments and needs.

8. Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (2011)

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story | December 25, 2011 (Philippines) Summary: Biopic of the notorious late-1940s Manila gangster until his death at 26 in 1951: a legend known to this day who came from Tondo, a town in Manila known during that period as a tough and dan... Read all
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog

Director(s): Tikoy Aguiluz
Writer(s): Roy C. Iglesias, Rey Ventura
Cast: E. R. Ejercito, Carla Abellana, Phillip Salvador
IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
Runtime: 2h 25m
Genre: Drama

A number of films have been made since 1961 on the life of the revered Tondo, Manila gangster boss Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga. In addition to being a return to form for the action movie, it is also the first major Filipino film to be made in black and white in the twenty-first century.

The photography and soundtrack elevate this picture beyond the standard fare of Philippine action movies from the ’90s and ’00s, making it a fine example of the genre. The film’s intense action sequences were thrilling and exciting. They were intense, well-choreographed, and included a wide variety of both original and tried-and-true trappings and the fights kept on coming.

The opinions of individuals from every aspect of daily existence, both supportive and critical, quickly spread, and it became the buzz of the country. The fact is that this movie leaves plenty to be desired, yet despite its flaws, it deserves praise for succeeding against the odds. With the kalesa (horse carriage) chase sequence, Ketchup Eusebio on a bike, and the musical accompaniment from Mad World, this film is well worth your time.

Just seeing almost every Filipino action star in one picture blazing bullets left and right is a step in the right direction towards reviving the Pinoy action film genre. For what it’s worth, seeing the film was a fantastic and strongly recommended pleasure.

9. Bona (1980)

Bona | December 25, 1980 (Philippines) Summary: A female movie fan idolizes a movie bit-player who becomes her obsession. Her unrequited love for him leads to a nightmarish end.
Countries: PhilippinesLanguages: Filipino, Tagalog

Director(s): Lino Brocka
Writer(s): Cenen Ramones
Cast: Nora Aunor, Phillip Salvador, Raquel Monteza
IMDb Rating: 7.6/10
Runtime: 1h 25m
Genre: Drama

Movies like “I Can Fix Him!” are perfect examples of the unrealistic expectations of today’s society.

The protagonist of “Bona” is a fan who becomes obsessed with the point of misery. It explores the factors that lead an apparently level-headed young lady to abandon all sense of decorum in order to please the man she loves. It’s a narrative that demands to be conveyed in the dedicated atmosphere of Philippine cinema.

She puts up with the elements, starvation, the derision of her “proper” loved ones, her father’s passing away, her brother’s coming rage, the trauma of witnessing her idol having sex with random women, the humiliation of arranging an abortion for one of the ladies he’s haphazardly got pregnant, and the humiliation of being forced “to serve” him sex-wise without receiving the slightest affection or respect in return.

Finally, the vile guy declares his intention to leave the nation with his most recent and financially successful mistress. He has nonchalantly tossed so much garbage at Bona that she can no longer tolerate it. She loses her composure and lashes out with boiling water at the ruthless Gardo. By doing so, she has, presumably, ended her unhealthy fixation on him.

As a cinephile, you owe it to yourself to see the quite disturbing film’s devastatingly cathartic conclusion.

10. Anak (The Child, 2000)

Bless the Child | August 11, 2000 (United States) Summary: Cody, a little girl abandoned by her mother and raised by her aunt, a nurse, is kidnapped. The girl's guardian, aided by an F.B.I. agent, learn that Cody has supernatural abilities, and the ... Read all
Countries: United States, Germany, CanadaLanguages: English

Director(s): Rory Quintos
Writer(s): Ricky Lee, Raymond Lee
Cast: Vilma Santos-Recto, Claudine Barretto, Joel Torre, Baron Geisler
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10
Runtime: 2h 15m
Genre: Drama

The protagonist, Josie (Vilma Santos), is a Filipina Overseas Contract Worker. The film portrays her as just one of the thousands of people from the archipelago’s population who are forced to leave the country in the pursuit of greater financial opportunities abroad in Asia; she worked as a household servant in Hong Kong.

Her boss has been hostile toward her, ignoring her pleas for time off and refusing to deliver letters from her family. Because of this, she is completely unaware that her husband died while she was abroad. When she returns to the Philippines, her children greet her with hostility and disrespect. The video also delves into her journey to overcome these feelings and repair relationships with those closest to her, most notably her daughter.

Millions of Filipinos would recognize themselves and their problems in Anak. Parents often worry about their children’s future possibilities. Today’s youth are under intense pressure to succeed academically as a method of pleasing their parents and increasing their social status in the community. The popularity of Anak can be attributed to the movie’s ability to portray the everyday challenges of Filipinos, particularly those from the lower middle class and those working overseas.

Anak is a tribute to the tens of millions of Filipinos who have left the country in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Final Thoughts

Filipino drama films are a treasure trove of cinematic artistry, powerful storytelling, and cultural richness. They offer a unique and authentic glimpse into the Filipino way of life, highlighting the joys and struggles of ordinary people with honesty and compassion.

From the classic works of Lino Brocka to the contemporary masterpieces of Lav Diaz, Filipino drama films have captivated audiences worldwide and earned critical acclaim. They showcase the creative genius of Filipino filmmakers and actors, who have a gift for capturing the nuances of human experience with skill and sensitivity.

If you haven’t explored the world of Filipino drama films, I highly recommend that you do so. You’ll be amazed by the depth and diversity of their storytelling, and you’ll gain a newfound appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines.

Leave a Comment