4 Historical Filipino Films To Watch This Independence Day

Revisit the country’s journey to freedom through these compelling historical Filipino films that breathe new life into the nation’s heroes and narratives. 

For those who plan to take a cozy vacation within the comfort of their own homes this Independence Day, unwinding with some great movies is an experience to look forward to. Yet rather than the usual binge-able dramas and Hollywood action films, why not celebrate the spirit of the occasion with historical Filipino films? More specifically those that masterfully depict the nation’s journey to freedom through the lives of its heroes and everyday people.

READ ALSO: Freedom Around The World: How Filipinos Are Celebrating Independence Day In Other Countries

There’s an impressive roster of great Philippine films, both classic and contemporary, to add to one’s list. Though not all of them are directly related to Independence Day itself, most tell stories of events that played a significant role in forging the country’s identity and autonomy. Here are six particular ones that have met critical-acclaim for breathing new life into history: 

Oro, Plata, Mata (1982)

Many cinephiles consider Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata [Gold, Silver, Death] to be a truly classic, must-watch Filipino film. Set in the harrowing period of World War II, the movie focuses on two wealthy families whose lives take a turn for the worse during the Japanese invasion of the country. 

An official poster for "Oro, Plata, Mata"
An official poster for “Oro, Plata, Mata”/Photo from IMDb

Granted, their status gives them some comfort and mobility during these trying times. However, they eventually seek refuge deep in the mountains as the conflict escalates. Besides depicting a somber yet integral part of Philippine history through the eyes of its upper-class citizens, the film offers a nuanced story that doesn’t feel didactic, exploring the desires, flaws, and in many cases, patriotism of its characters amid the harsh realities of war. 

screencap from ora plata mata
Photo from IMDb

The film features the talents of Cherie Gil, Liza Lorena, and Sandy Andolong, and won numerous accolades, including Gawad Urian Awards for Best Picture and Best Direction. Audiences can now enjoy it on various streaming services, including Netflix and Apple TV. 

Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (2014)

No list of historical Filipino films for Independence Day is complete without one on national hero Andres Bonifacio. He led the Philippine revolution against Spain as the father of the secret society, Katipunan. Though Emilio Aguinaldo is officially the first president of the country (and had a deep rivalry with Bonifacio), some historians like Xiao Chua believe that Bonifiacio deserves the title of “first president,” even if it’s not on paper.  

poster of bonifacio: ang unang pangulo
An official poster for Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo/Photo from the TBA Studios website

Enzo Williams’ Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo [Bonifacio: The First President] takes a similar stance by title alone, bringing to light aspects of Bonifacio and his leadership that aren’t often discussed in regular history classes (including his love life). Interestingly, the film switches between the past and present, with the hero’s story running parallel to the coming-of-age journey of a high school boy (played by Daniel Padilla). 

screenshot of bonifacio: ang unang pangulo
Photo from the TBA Studios YouTube channel

It stars Robin Padilla, Vina Morales, and the inimitable Eddie Garcia, and is available on YouTube for free, courtesy of TBA Studios. 

Heneral Luna (2015)

In a sense, Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna—a 2015 biographical film of General Antonio Luna—brought in a renaissance for Filipino period films. With stunning effects, shots, and direction, Tarog’s film reinvigorated history with a fast-paced story that didn’t hold back its punches. Audiences were pleasantly surprised to find that someone could transpose a story as old as Luna’s into a film that felt at once true to the past and fresh. 

poster for heneral luna
An official poster for “Heneral Luna”/Photo from IMDb

Heneral Luna chronicles the rise and fall of Luna as he tried to fight back against the country’s colonization during the Philippine-American war. Those who remember their history might remember depictions of the general as a hot-headed yet brilliant military strategist who died in the hands of fellow Filipinos rather than the Americans he tried hard to ward off. The film reveals the deeper layers of Luna’s character, delving into his weaknesses as much as his strengths, yet ultimately reminding audiences of his strong sense of patriotism.

screenshot from heneral luna
Photo from IMDb

The film won several Gawad Urian Awards, including Best Direction and Best Cinematography). It features the talents of John Arcilla, Arron Villaflor, and Mon Confiado. TBA Studios has made the full movie available on YouTube for those looking to take a deep dive into the complex general’s story and fight for freedom. 

GomBurZa (2023)

Pepe Diokno’s GomBurZa is the most recent Filipino historical film to have made waves. It took home the most awards in 2023’s Metro Manila Film Festival. Audiences also spoke highly of the film, going to theaters after early viewers praised it for its beautiful visuals and equally-compelling narrative on the Filipino Catholic priests Mariano Gómes, José Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora. 

poster from gomburza 2023
An official poster for “GomBurZa”/Photo from IMDb

Most Filipinos know the trio as GomBurZa [the combined first syllables of their surnames]. They were three martyrs who died via garrote [a method of strangulation] by Spanish colonial authorities. The men had led a campaign against the abuses of Spanish friars, calling for equality and a stop to the injustices. They’ve long been pivotal figures in the history of Philippine liberation, serving as inspirations to national hero José Rizal (who dedicated El Filibusterismo to them). 

screenshot from gomburza 2023
Photo from IMDb

Diokno’s film portrays the three priests in full, vibrant color with piercing and beautifully-written dialogue, as well as captivating cinematography. The performances of the actors who played GomBurZa—Cedrick Juan, Piolo Pascual, and Dante Rivero—were also the beating heart of the film, bringing a deeper humanity to figures most people have only seen in grainy, black-and-white portraits. 

More importantly, like the other films on this list, GomBurZa is an effective and poignant reminder of the country’s fight for freedom—and how crucial it is to preserve this sense of national identity and independence at all costs. The film is currently available to watch on Netflix.

Banner photo from the TBA Studios website.

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