Viva Zapata!
Theatrical release poster
Directed byElia Kazan
Written byJohn Steinbeck
Produced byDarryl F. Zanuck
StarringMarlon Brando
Jean Peters
Anthony Quinn
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
Edited byBarbara McLean
Music byAlex North
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • February 13, 1952 (1952-02-13)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.8 million[1]
Box office$1,900,000 (US rentals)[2]

Viva Zapata! is a 1952 American Western film directed by Elia Kazan and starring Marlon Brando. The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck, using Edgcomb Pinchon's 1941 book Zapata the Unconquerable as a guide. The cast includes Jean Peters, and in an Academy Award-winning performance, Anthony Quinn.

The film is a fictionalized account of the life of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata from his peasant upbringing through his rise to power in the early 1900s and his death in 1919.

To make the film as authentic as possible, Kazan and producer Darryl F. Zanuck studied the numerous photographs that were taken during the revolutionary years, the period between 1909 and 1919, when Zapata led the fight to restore land taken from common people during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

Kazan was especially impressed with the Agustín Casasola collection of photographs, and he attempted to duplicate their visual style in the film. Kazan also acknowledged the influence of Roberto Rossellini's Paisan (1946).[3]


Emiliano Zapata is part of a delegation sent to complain about injustices to corrupt longtime president Porfirio Díaz, but Díaz dismisses their concerns, driving Zapata to open rebellion, along with his brother Eufemio. He unites with Pancho Villa under the leadership of naive reformer Francisco Madero.

Díaz is finally toppled and Madero takes his place, but Zapata is dismayed to find that nothing is changing. Madero offers Zapata land of his own while failing to take action to distribute land to the campesinos who fought to end the dictatorship and break up the estates of the elites. Zapata rejects the offer and seeks no personal gain. Meanwhile, the ineffectual but well-meaning Madero puts his trust in treacherous general Victoriano Huerta. Huerta first takes Madero captive and then has him murdered.

As it becomes clear that each new regime is no less corrupt and self-serving than the one it replaced, Zapata remains guided by his desire to return to the peasants their recently robbed lands while forsaking his personal interests. His brother sets himself up as a petty dictator, taking what he wants without regard for the law, but Zapata remains a rebel leader of high integrity. Although he is able to defeat Huerta after Madero's assassination, as a result of his integrity, Zapata loses his brother and his position.

Although in the end Zapata himself is lured into an ambush and killed, the film suggests that the resistance of the campesinos does not end. Rumors begin that Zapata never died, but is instead continuing to fight from the hills, feeding the campesinos a sense of hope. As several scenes suggest, over the years, the campesinos have learned to lead themselves rather than looking to others to lead them.


Anthony Quinn as Eufemio Zapata (standing), and Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata in a publicity photo for the film


Filming and casting

Filming took place in locations including Durango, Colorado, Roma, Texas, San Ygnacio, Texas in Zapata County, and New Mexico.

The screenplay was written by John Steinbeck based on Edgcomb Pinchon's 1941 book Zapata the Unconquerable. Steinbeck's screenplay has been published as a book along with a narrative of Zapata's life that Steinbeck also wrote.[citation needed]

Barbara Leaming writes in her biography of Marilyn Monroe that Monroe tried to obtain a part in the film, but failed, presumably because of Darryl F. Zanuck's lack of faith in her ability, both as an actress and as a box-office draw.[citation needed]  


Viva Zapata! received generally positive to mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that of 19 reviews, 58% of critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 6.2/10.

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote a highly favorable review and commented that the film "... throbs with a rare vitality, and a masterful picture of a nation in revolutionary torment has been got by Director Elia Kazan."[4] Variety, however, criticized the direction and script: "Elia Kazan's direction strives for a personal intimacy but neither he nor the John Steinbeck scripting achieves in enough measure."[citation needed]

Senator John McCain listed Viva Zapata! as his favorite film of all time.[5]

Awards and nominations

Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Actor Marlon Brando Nominated [6]
Best Supporting Actor Anthony Quinn Won
Best Story and Screenplay John Steinbeck Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler and Leland Fuller;
Set Decoration: Thomas Little and Claude E. Carpenter
Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture Alex North Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film from any Source Nominated [7]
Best Foreign Actor Marlon Brando Won
Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix Elia Kazan Nominated [8]
Best Actor Marlon Brando Won
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Elia Kazan Nominated [9]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Mildred Dunnock Nominated [10]
International Film Music Critics Association Awards Best New Recording of a Previously Existing Score Alex North, Jerry Goldsmith and Royal Scottish National Orchestra Nominated [11]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (January 1, 1988). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 247. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  2. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  3. ^ Thomas, Tony (November 6, 1975). The Films of Marlon Brando (second ed.). Citidel Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0806504810.
  4. ^ Crowther, Bosley (February 8, 1952). "THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Marlon Brando Plays Mexican Rebel Leader in 'Viva Zapata!' New Feature at the Rivoli". The New York Times.
  5. ^ McCain, John. "FAQ - United States Senator John McCain".
  6. ^ "The 25th Academy Awards (1953) Nominees and Winners". (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Archived from the original on July 6, 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-20.
  7. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1953". BAFTA. 1953. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Viva Zapata!". Retrieved 2009-01-18.
  9. ^ "5th DGA Awards". Directors Guild of America Awards. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  10. ^ "Viva Zapata! – Golden Globes". HFPA. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  11. ^ IFMCA (1999). "1998 FMCJ Awards". IFMCA. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  12. ^ "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.