Romance Tropical the first Puerto Rican film with sound and the second Spanish-speaking film in the world
Romance Tropical the first Puerto Rican film with sound and the second Spanish-speaking film in the world

The history of the Cinema industry in Puerto Rico begins with the US invasion of the island in 1898. At that time, the American soldiers brought cameras to record what they saw. It was not until the 1912 that Puerto Ricans would begin to produce their own films.

After this, Puerto Rican cinema has developed at a slow pace. Despite this, the industry has produced several actors and actresses and one Academy Award nominated film (see List of Puerto Rican Academy Award winners and nominees).

Starting in the late 1990s the Puerto Rican film industry saw significant growth and the number of local productions has been on the increase every year.

Early years: 1912-1950

Juan Emilio Viguié Cajas, pioneer in Puerto Rico's film industry
Juan Emilio Viguié Cajas, pioneer in Puerto Rico's film industry

After the early images recorded by the American soldiers in 1898, most of the films produced in the island were documentaries. It wasn't until 1912 that Rafael Colorado D'Assoy recorded the first non-documentary film titled Un drama en Puerto Rico. After that, Colorado and Antonio Capella Martínez created the Film Industrial Society of Puerto Rico in 1916, producing their first film titled Por la hembra y el gallo. Other film companies formed during the time were the Tropical Film Company (1917) and the Porto Rico Photoplays (1919).

The Tropical Film Company was founded by two intellectuals in the National Independence Movement and a veteran filmmaker that immigrated to Puerto Rico from Spain. Even though it is known that this company had produced four films, none of them have been retrieved. This however does not negate the founding base of the Tropical Film Company in Puerto Rican Cinema. It was through Tropical Film Company that the first discourses of educational, cultural, and economic aims were made within the limitations of financial and infrastructural resources that existed then, and still persist, for locally grounded cinematic production, distribution and exhibition in Puerto Rico. [1]

In 1934, Juan Emilio Viguié Cajas produced and directed the first Puerto Rican film with sound titled, Romance Tropical. There is little known of the whereabouts of this film or the ones mentioned above.

The 1950s to 1970s

External video
video icon 1953's movie Los Peloteros on YouTube
video icon Una Gallega en la Habana on YouTube

The first truly Puerto Rican film, Los Peloteros (1953), featured a Puerto Rican cast and was based on a real story. Ramón Rivero (Diplo) starred as the inspirational coach of a children's baseball team. His impoverished team played with old, broken equipment and longed for uniforms. Known as a comedian, the role enabled Rivero to demonstrate his dramatic abilities. The children in the movie were not professional actors; they actually were poor children cast at the shooting locale. Photographer Jack Delano directed the film for the Puerto Rican government's Division of Community Education. Some consider Los Peloteros to be the best Puerto Rican film ever made.

Several films were shot in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. Two were Puerto Rican, the musical drama El Otro Camino (1955), and the drama/romance Maruja (1958). Axel Anderson was a German ex-patriate who became a star in both Puerto Rican television and film. In Maruja, Anderson played opposite leading lady, Marta Romero, and in El Otro Camino he played opposite Rosaura Andreu, future children's television host. A third movie was the American film noir Man With My Face (1951), a thriller centering on Americans living in Puerto Rico. Producer J. Harold Odell shot three films on the island, Machete, Counterplot, and Fiend of Dope Island. In 1956, Modesta, a short film produced within the island's Division of Community Education, won the Best Short Film Award at the Venice Film Festival; in 1998, Modesta became the first Puerto Rican film named to the United States National Film Registry.


Within the 1960s, an explosion of filmmaking aroused on the island. About half of the films shot in this period were co-productions between Puerto Rico and Mexico. Mexico also shot a few stand-alone productions, plus a few co-productions with Spain and Venezuela. Puerto Rico hosted a sizable number of U.S. movies throughout the decade, plus one from Argentina and one from the United Kingdom. Although none of the movies from this period received wide critical acclaim, director Leopoldo Torre Nilsson was nominated for the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work on La Chica del Lunes (1967). Also notable are the Bob Hope comedy The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968) when Hawaii was unavailable for Department of Defense cooperation and a film adaptation of William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies.

Filmmaking in the 1970s, slowed down substantially. Among the handful of Puerto Rican pictures (mostly co-productions), only the Jacobo Morales film Dios los Cría (1979) stands out. Morales had a solid background as an actor and writer, going back to the inception of Puerto Rican television in the 1950s. Dios los Cria marked the beginning of his work writing and directing for the big screen. The collection of five comedic tales earned him acclaim, as well as a slot in the 'Un Certain Regard' section of the 1979 Cannes Film Festival.

The United States produced more films in Puerto Rico in the 1970s than any other country did. Most of them were schlock movies typical of the time, such as producer Sydney W. Pink's last movie The Man from O.R.G.Y. (1970). The Woody Allen film Bananas, of 1971, is the only classic American film of the time to be filmed in Puerto Rico. Jacobo Morales played a supporting role on the film.

The 1980s to present

Following up on his previous success, Morales has continued to write and direct his own films. Nicolas y los Demas (1986) and Lo que le Pasó a Santiago (1989) both won audience appreciation. In addition, the latter received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. In 1994, he directed Linda Sara which didn't earn as much respect as his earlier works, although it's generally considered enjoyable. In 2004, he released a sequel to his 1979 hit, Dios los Cria 2.

During the 1980s, Puerto Rican began submitting films for consideration to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Some of the films submitted were La Gran Fiesta and the above-mentioned Lo que le Pasó a Santiago. Despite these efforts, the industry wasn't booming like before.

Una Aventura Llamada Menudo was a local film that gained international success during 1982, thanks in part to it being starred by Menudo, a teen idol band of the time. Menudo had participated in another film, the Puerto Rican-Venezuelan production Menudo: La Pelicula in 1981, but La Pelicula was filmed entirely in Venezuela

The early to mid-1990s had Paramount Pictures' A Show of Force, whose cast included Amy Irving, Robert Duvall, Andy García, and Kevin Spacey; La Guagua Aérea, the aforementioned Linda Sara, and El Poder del Shakti as theatrical releases on the island. 1997 brought Robert Zemeckis and his team to the island to shoot sequences for Contact and Steven Spielberg for a 2-day shoot for Amistad. 1998 had theatrical releases for the well-received Héroes de Otra Patria and for the not-as-well-received Mi Día de Suerte, as well as a limited release for The Face at the Window. 1999 had the theatrical premiere, but not a general theatrical release, for the English-language Paging Emma.

In the 2000s (decade), another filmmaking boom began. 12 Horas enjoyed a decent, six-week theatrical run in 2001, and ever since then, the number of films made by Puerto Ricans has increased dramatically. So has the variety, including documentaries, short films, and animation. Voces inocentes (2004) co-produced by Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the United States, won several international awards. Both the Puerto Rico Film Commission and the Corporation for the Development of Arts, Science and Film Industry in Puerto Rico promote local and international film making, including loans and financial incentives.

Other recent films that have garnered praise are Celestino y el Vampiro, Ladrones y Mentirosos, Cayo, and Jacobo Morales' Angel. Unfortunately, people in Puerto Rico see most of these films as art house material and they don't get the box office reception as many American mainstream films.[2]

One notable exception to this trend of lukewarm reception at the box office occurred with the film Maldeamores. Starting with its sold-out, one-week Oscar-qualifying run in late 2007, this film became a benchmark in Puerto Rican cinema for its combination of excellent critical reception, decent box office reception, and actual theatrical exhibition in the U.S. Nevertheless, in July 2009 the Puerto Rico Film Commission reported that Maldeamores had only recovered about 50% of its costs.[2]

In 2008, director Steven Soderbergh and actor – producer Benicio del Toro filmed most of the first part of Che on the island; and George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, and Kevin Spacey (working in the island once more) shot The Men Who Stare at Goats. Also in 2008, the film Talento de Barrio, a movie based on the life of "Daddy Yankee", became the first Puerto Rican film to sell more than 300,000 tickets during its theatrical run, even though its critical reception was decidedly on the "rotten" side of the spectrum.

In 2009, Party Time: The Movie, directed by Juan Fernandez-Paris, Miente (Lie), directed and production-designed by Rafi Mercado, and Kabo y Platon directed by Edmundo H. Rodríguez, received theatrical releases. Also, Johnny Depp visited the island to work in The Rum Diary and Joel Silver took advantage of available incentives to shoot most of The Losers.

The year 2010 saw theatrical releases for Que Despelote, directed by Eduardo 'Transfor' Ortiz; Elite, directed by Andres Ramírez Molina, and Caos, directed by Raul García, and also saw the island serve as a production hub for a significant portion of Fast Five.

2011 was a somewhat tumultuous year for the film industry in Puerto Rico. It included a decision from the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences which eliminated Puerto Rico's participation in the race for the Academy Award for Best Film in a Foreign Language.[3] Nevertheless, it did yield two theatrical releases: Que Joyitas, directed by Eduardo 'Transfor' Ortiz, which ultimately grossed over $700,000 at the box office, and Mi verano con Amanda 2, written and directed by Benjamin 'Benji' López. Other releases included The Caller (2011 film) and The Witness (El Testigo).

In 2012, the short film Mi santa mirada, directed by Alvaro Aponte Centeno, became the first Puerto Rican short film to compete for the Short Film Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Locally, 2012 marked the two-week theatrical release of the film Los Condenados and the seven-month theatrical release of Broche de oro, directed by Raul Marchand.

Partial list of Puerto Rican films

Main article: List of Puerto Rican films

Film Year Comment
12 Horas 2001
29 de mayo Short Film
¿Y si Cristóbal despierta? 2001 TV
A life of sin 1979
Actores trabajando 2006
Adiós, New York, adiós 1973
Agua con sal 2005
Al compás de un sentimiento 1996
Alicia Alonso y el Ballet Nacional de Cuba 1979
Amnesia 2006
Amor perdóname 1967
Amores como todos los demás 1999 TV
Ángel 2007
Angelito mío 1998
Angeles perdidos 2005 TV
Antes de las 11 2007
Antesala de la silla eléctrica 1968
Archipiélago 2003
Arocho y Clemente 1970
Ayer amargo 1959
Bala perdida 2003 TV
Barricada 2008
Barrios: El bailao de Julia y Berto 2004 TV
Barrios: El rumbón de Fepe 2004 TV
Barrios: La familia del camello 2004 TV
Bello amanecer 1968
Candido 1975
Cannabis Cannibal II: Exodus 2009
Caña brava 1965
Casi Casi 2006
Cayo 2005
Celestino y el vampiro 2003
Chiquito pero Juguetón: The Muvi 2008
Christian y Cristal 2009
Complot 1999
Con los pies descalzos 1961
Conciencia 2008
Conexión Caribe 1984
Contrabandistas del Caribe 1966
Contraseña 2008
Correa Cotto: ¡Así me llaman! 1968
Cuando lo pequeño se hace grande 2000 Short film
Cuando quiere un borincano 1967
Cuentos de Abelardo 1991
Cuentos para despertar 1998
De espaldas al sol 1975
De la mano de un ángel 2002 TV
Desamores 2004
Después de la muerte 2006
Diario Vietnam 2004
Dios los cría... 1979
Dios los cría 2 2005
Doña Ana 2003
Eco 2008
Encuentros 2003 TV
El alcalde de Machuchal 1964
El anillo 2004 Short film
El beso que me diste 2000
El clown 2007
El cielo de los ratones 2009 Short film [1]
El cimarrón 2007
El cuerpo del delito 2005 TV
El curandero del pueblo 1969
El derecho de comer 1968
El fugitivo de Puerto Rico 1975
El hijo de Ángela Maria 1974
El jibarito Rafael 1967
El jibaro millonario 1966
El lenguaje de la guerra 2009
El milagro de la virgen 1917
El otro 2010 Short Film
El otro camino 1955
El poder del Shakti 1996
El ruiseñor y la rosa 1997
El septimo ángel 2000
El sueño del regreso 2006
El tesoro de Cofresí 1919
En mi viejo San Juan 1966
Elite 2010
Entre Dios y el hombre 1960
Entre el cielo y tú 2007
Entremedio 2006
Flight of Fancy 2000
Fray dollar 1970
Fuego en el alma 2002 TV
Fuera de tinieblas 2009
Hay hombres para todas 2008 TV
Héroe de Guerra 2007 Short Film
Héroes de otra patria 1998
Heroína 1967
Historia de un ganster 1968
Huellas 1961
Ilusión 2001 TV
Iraq en mí 2008
Juventud sin frenos 1965
Kabo y Platón 2009
Kamaleon 2003
La caja de problemas 2004 TV
La criada malcriada 1969
La entrega 2007 Short Film
La fiebre del deseo 1964
La fuga 2010
La gran fiesta 1985
La guagua aérea 1993
La jaula 1999 Short film
La leyenda de Toño bicicleta 1975
La mala 2008
La mujer del cura 1967
La palomilla 1971
La Pandilla en apuros 1977
La piel desnuda 1964
La venganza de Correa Cotto 1969
La virgen de la calle 1965
La viudita se quiere casar 1917
Ladrones y mentirosos 2006
Lamento borincano 1963
Las combatientes 2004 TV
Las pecadoras 1967
Libertad para la juventud 1970
Linda Sara 1994
Lo que le pasó a Santiago 1989
Los Condenados 2012
Los cuentos de Abelardo 1990
Los días de Doris 1998
Los dos mundos de Angelita 1982
Los expatriados 1963
Los misterios de Cofresí 1917
Los panas 2005 Short Film
Los peloteros 1953
Los que nunca amaron 1965
Los unos y los otros 2009 Short Film
Lucía, Ignacio y otras historias 2008
Luisa 1970
Luna de miel en Puerto Rico 1967
Machuchal agente 0 1966
Mafia en puerta de tierra 1917
Maldeamores 2007
Mami 1967
Manuela y Manuel 2008
Maruja 1958
Mas allá del capitolio 1963
Menudo:La Pelicula 1981
Meteoro 2007
Mi Borinquen querída 1965
Mi día de suerte 1998
Mi santa mirada 2012 Short Film
Mi verano con Amanda 2008
Miente 2009
Mientras Puerto Rico duerme 1964
Mio 2010 Short Film
Misión: Incomprensible 2004
Mónica 1994 Short Film
Mr. Dollar 1964
Muerte en el paraíso 2008
Mulato 1967
Naco 2009 Short Film
Natas es Satán 1971
Nicolás y los demás 1986
Not Even the Devil 2008
Nuestro regimiento 1966
Nuestro regimiento 1975
Obsesión 1961
Ocho puertas 2003
Operación alacrán 1976
Operación tiburón 1965
Organización criminal 1968
Paging Emma 1999
Palés y la rumba de esquina 2009
Paloma del monte 1917
Palmer a muerto 1961
Party Time: The Movie 2009
Pasaporte a la fama 2006
Pasiones Infernales 1969
Plaza vacante 2002
Por la hembra y el gallo 1916
Prohibído amar en Nueva York 1982
Punto 45 2006
Que bravas son las solteras 1976
Que Despelote 2010
Que familia mas normal 2004 TV
Que familia mas normal 2 2004 TV
Que familia mas normal 3 2004 TV
Que Joyitas 2011
Raíces 2001
Revolución en el infierno 2005
Romance en Puerto Rico 1961
Romance tropical 1934
Rosa la tequilera 1968
Ruido 2007
Ruptura 1997 Short film
Sabo 2004
Santa Cristal 2004
Seguros de vida 2004 Short film
Seva vive 2008
Sudor amargo 2002 TV
Sueños a precios de descuento 2006
Talento de barrio 2008
Taínos: La última tríbu 2005
Tango Bar 1988
Tesoros 1987
The Absolution 1998 Short film
The disappearance of García Lorca 1997
The face at the window 1997
The machos 1975
The tents of Allah 1922
The Witness (El Testigo) 2011
The woman who fooled herself 1922
Todos tenemos un ángel 2005
Toño bicicleta 1975
Traicioneros 2007 Short Film
Tres puertorriqueñas y un deseo 1961
Tropical love 1921
Tú mi amor 1972
Un amanta anda suelto 1970
Un drama en Puerto Rico 1912
Una aventura llamada Menudo 1983
Una historia común 2004
Una mujer sin precio 1965
Una puertorriqueña en Acapulco 1968
Vampiros 2004
Vendedora de amor 1964
Victoria 2006
Virgenes a go-go 1964
What I tell the wind 2008
Yellow 2007

See also


  1. ^ Company of contradictions: Puerto Rico's Tropical Film Company (1916-1917). Naida Garcia-Crespo. Film History. 23.4 (Oct. 2011) p401. Word Count: 8053. Reading Level (Lexile): 1730.
  2. ^ a b Puerto Rico: The island’s film industry is ready for action! (July 9, 2009)
  3. ^ Puerto Rico queda excluido de la carrera por el Oscar; El Nuevo Día (October 5, 2011)