In the second decade of the 21st century, Spanish cinema birthed some of the best modern Spanish films showing progressive growth and renewal of voices. Established authors such as José Luis Garci, Fernando Trueba, Julio Medem and José Luis Cuerda have been giving way to new names such as the Javis, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Carlos Vermut and Carlos Marqués-Marcet.
Throughout the 2010s, Spanish cinema maintained its impressive success that started in the 1980s, with some of the most innovative and exciting Spanish films that amazed audiences. The modern Spanish Films From the 2010s cemented Spain’s place as a major force in the global film industry, with many of these films taking home major awards at prestigious international film festivals.
Many modern Spanish films continued to explore a wide range of complex social issues, presenting a blend of a variety of genres, including drama, thriller, and horror, and showcasing a new generation of influential filmmakers. Also, Netflix had a great impact on the Spanish cinema industry with its investments.
The 2010s were a dynamic and exciting decade for modern Spanish films, with many talented filmmakers and actors delivering outstanding performances and memorable films.
What are the Best Modern Spanish Films?
While we may not be able to list them all, in this article, we remember some of the best modern Spanish films, along with their unique characteristics and contributions to the cinematic heritage.
La Piel Que Habito by Pedro Almodóvar (2011)
What’s a better way to start our list of the best modern Spanish films from the 2010s than with this masterpiece by Pedro Almodóvar? Almodóvar opened his cinematic decade with a shocking plot that generated fascination in one part of the audience and bewilderment in another. Horror and science-fiction, when you mention these two genres, nobody will think that you are talking about a film by Pedro Almodóvar, but La Piel Que Habito is that and much more.
Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, La Piel Que Habito is a psychological thriller following Antonio Banderas as Dr Robert Ledgard, a great plastic surgeon who is eager to develop a brand-new form of synthetic skin that can face any type of harm. His traumatic loss of his wife, who was burnt in a car accident, has fuelled his obsession with this project.
Twelve years later, he managed to create the skin he was looking for, and now he needs a human guinea pig; however, experimenting on humans is against the law. Nevertheless, he finds his human guinea pig, and soon enough, breaking the law becomes the least of worries!
The film is a bold and daring exploration of gender, identity, reprisal, and power relations between men and women. The story of the film swings back and forth in time, gradually exposing the complex chain of relationships between the characters.
Upon its release, La Piel Que Habito was met with positive reviews and accolades for its shocking plot. At its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Almodóvar’s film received a standing ovation and was applauded by international critics. As for the awards, like most of Almodóvar’s films, this one received tons of them, including the Best Film Not in the English Language at the BAFTA Awards, as well as several Goya Awards, to name a few.
El Cuerpo by Oriol Paulo (2012)
Filmmaker Oriol Paulo made his directorial debut with a captivating film that stands out for its intelligent plot and complex characters. In the film, the mystery elements are masterfully handled, creating a suspenseful atmosphere that keeps viewers intrigued until the very end.
El Cuerpo tells the story of detective Jaime Peña as he investigates the disappearance of a body from a mortuary. The body belongs to a wealthy businesswoman named Mayka, who died under puzzling circumstances. As Peña investigates the case, he discovers a web of dishonesty and deception, putting his own life in danger.
The tone of the film is dark and heartbreaking, and the plot twists are tastefully surprising. Also, its suspenseful atmosphere is enhanced by the strong performances of the cast and the effective use of sound and music. El Cuerpo was nominated for several accolades, such as the Gaudí Awards.
Blancanieves by Pablo Berger (2012)
Directed by Pablo Berger, Blancanieves retells a tale told a thousand times, the story of Snow White, but never before, with a Spanish twist and, in silence, quite a feat!
Blancanieves is a silent adaptation of the well-known fairy tale Snow White and takes place in 1920s Spain. The story revolves around Carmen, a well-known bullfighter’s daughter who is raised by her grandma after her mother passes away during childbirth.
After her grandmother’s death, Carmen goes to live with her father and his new wife, who mistreats her. Carmen finally escapes and joins a travelling group of dwarfs who perform bullfights, where she gains fame as Blancanieves and becomes a successful bullfighter.
Although this is a modern Spanish film, it was shot in black-and-white photography, which beautifully intertitles in place of spoken dialogue. The film’s photography and visual style are highly influenced by classic silent films.
The film received accolades for its stunning visual style, standout performances, and heartbreaking narrative. It received Best Spanish Film at the Sant Jordi Awards, and it was nominated in every category except for Best Sound at the Goya Awards, and it went home with ten Goya that night!
Magical Girl by Carlos Vermut (2014)
In the very low-budget film Diamond Flash (2011), director Carlos Vermut’s talent for creating an unsettling atmosphere already stood out, proving that he was different from the norm. Three years later came the director’s second feature, Magical Girl, to confirm that ermut is one of the great filmmakers of modern Spanish cinema!
Magical Girl centres on Luis, a father who is desperately trying to grant his daughter’s dying wish to have a dress like her favourite anime heroine, Magical Girl Yukiko, before she passes away. To get the money to purchase the expensive costume, Luis goes to a wicked extreme length that turns his life upside down!
The narrative aesthetic of Magical Girl is devastating; we are faced with a seamless script that builds characters far from common stereotypes, with complexity free of any moral prejudice. Vermut demonstrated his visual talent by playing with the audience and not showing him the obvious.
The cast’s exceptional performances, complex narrative, and striking visual style set this modern Spanish film apart from the rest. Winner of two awards from the San Sebastián Film Festival, the film also swept awards nationally, like the Goya for Bárbara Lennie for her role, among many others.
La Isla Mínima by Alberto Rodriguez (2014)
Magical Girl was released in the same year as another great modern Spanish film, La Isla Mínima. This one is also based on the creation of a dreamlike and disturbing atmosphere, but in this case, through images of great artistic beauty that transform the marshes of the Guadalquivir into a magical setting with a socio-political background.
La Isla Mínima is set in the early 1980s in a small Spanish town amidst the marshes of the Guadalquivir River. Two homicide detectives with contrasting personalities are sent to investigate the disappearance of two teenage sisters during the town’s annual festival. The detectives come to uncover an intricate web of corruption and long-kept secrets as they investigate deeper into the case.
After scoring ten statuettes at the 2015 Goya Awards, La Isla Mínima was officially crowned as the Spanish film of the year, and its director, Alberto Rodríguez, was one of Spain’s most outstanding filmmakers. The Seville-born director hit audiences with a powerful and unforgettable crime thriller.
The gruesome story with socio-political overtones won over audiences and critics alike for its handling of tension, its enveloping atmosphere and its excellent performances.
Numerous critics have praised the fascinating criminal thriller for how it offers a deep analysis of the social and political environment of Spain in the 1980s. Additionally, it received various honours, including Best Film and Best Director for Alberto Rodriguez at the Premios ACE.
Palmeras en la Nieve by Fernando González Molina (2015)
Shot in the beautiful Las Palmas, Palmeras en la Nieve revolves around Clarence, a young Spanish lady who finds a collection of old letters in her family’s attic.
The letters disclose a dark family secret: her uncle, Killian, had a relationship with a native lady named Bisila while serving as colonial governor in the old African province of Spanish Guinea. To find out more about her family’s history and the truth about her uncle’s relationship with Bisila, Clarence embarks on a thrilling journey to Equatorial Guinea.
This modern Spanish film examines the effects of colonialism and the race conflicts between the indigenous people and the Spanish colonisers. As they face their past, the characters also struggle with issues of identity and belonging, in addition to the main themes of love and sacrifice in the relationship between Killian and Bisila.
Fernando González Molina’s film is one of the good examples of Spanish cinema in its super-production facet bringing a good story well carried out both in its narrative and technical aspects.
Palmeras en la Nieve received much praise for how it treated the subject of Spain’s colonial history with a strong and touching film that mixes an engaging plot with themes that are both universal and particular to Spain’s history. The film won Best Original Song and Best Production Design at the Goya Awards.
Contratiempo by Oriol Paulo (2016)
In his second feature film, director Oriol Paulo presented a Hitchcockian intrigue with a thriller that left the audience on the edge of their seats!
In the film, Adrián Doria, a wealthy and successful businessman, is accused of murder after discovering his lover’s body next to him when he awakens in a hotel room. Adrián retains a renowned attorney called Virginia Goodman to clear his name, and he starts to outline the circumstances leading up to the murder. However, as the plot develops, it becomes apparent that nothing is quite as it seems, and the audience is led on a perilous trip as the truth is slowly exposed.
Contratiempo was quite an international success, especially in China, and it started a list of remakes in different languages, the last of which was in 2023 in India.
Verano 1993 by Carla Simón (2017)
Verano 1993 is a small film by who was then-little-known filmmaker Carla Simón, which managed to attract the attention of the audience and become the most important Catalan film of the decade!
Based on her own life, on the first summer a newly orphaned girl spends with her new family, Carla Simón made her debut behind the camera and with a script she wrote with a deeply personal film that speaks to the audience directly from the soul.
The modern Spanish film focuses on Frida, who, at only six years old, experiences the death of her mother, who is ill with AIDS, and her adoption by a new family made up of her aunt and uncle and cousin. The first summer she has to spend with them will be full of emotions, sometimes conflicting, and will become unforgettable.
The keys to the film’s success lie in a very personal, intimate proposal, as it has a marked autobiographical component, revolving once again around the family and orphanhood, which is the great theme par excellence of modern Spanish films.
Among the mountain of awards that the film has accumulated, Simón won the Goya for Best New Director. The dazzling debut film first conquered Berlin, where it had its world premiere and went home with the GWFF Best First Feature Award.
Quién Te Cantará by Carlos Vermut (2018)
After winning a legion of followers with the disconcerting Magical Girl (2014), Carlos Vermut raised his own bar even higher with his next modern Spanish film, Quién Te Cantará, an enigmatic reconstruction of fame and the relationship between idols and fans that left us with one of the most intense and revealing experiences in recent Spanish cinema.
Based on a script full of twists and turns and masterful performances by Najwa Nimri, Eva Llorach and Natalia de Molina, in this film Vermut delves into the psyche of his characters to carry out a mysterious game of identities and reflections with echoes of the films of great filmmakers like David Lynch and Pedro Almodóvar.
Quién Te Cantará follows the famous retired singer Lila who was working on a new project for her comeback to the spotlight. As fate would have it, Lila suffers an accident and loses her memory! Soon, she teams up with her super fan Violeta, and the two embark on a journey to get Lila to be her old self again!
The film is a cocktail in which the most heartbreaking drama goes hand in hand with unexpected comedy to sing in two voices and immerse us in its rarefied and dreamlike universe. For all these reasons, Quién Te Cantará is one of the bravest and most unique works of our modern cinematography.
Dolor Y Gloria by Pedro Almodóvar (2019)
After a career of almost four decades, Almodóvar is still at the top and at the forefront of Spanish cinema. With Dolor Y Gloria, Almodóvar has delivered the most personal and one of the most emphatic works in his filmography.
The film follows Salvador Mallo, who is a film director in his twilight years. He lives in Madrid and has achieved notable success throughout his career. In solitude and with too many ghosts of his own, he is paralysed by physical pains of various kinds that prevent him from working on something new.
Unable to write and direct again because of his poor physical condition, it seems the ideal moment to look back over his whole life and to reckon with the past.
Pedro Almodóvar presented a rounded work in which he reviews himself without any condescension. A film about life, and the fear of death, in which Antonio Banderas has reached a new peak as an actor. A tremendously anomalous film, with an almost non-existent plot and transparent ideas, but nevertheless genuinely cinematographic; the shot and the colour communicate on their own, for which we should thank the meticulous work of José Luis Alcaine in photography.
Dolor Y Gloria dazzled the critics and the audiences alike. It had its premiere at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 2019, where it went home with two awards, one for Best Actor for Antonio Banderas’s masterful work as Salvador Mallo, and the other was for Best Soundtrack. The film also made it to the Oscars’ nominations that year with two awards, one for Best International Feature Film and one for Best Actor, among many other nominations and awards.
In the end, the modern Spanish films from the 2010s have demonstrated the country’s filmmakers’ ability, creativity, and enthusiasm. These modern Spanish films have shown the world how the Spanish cinema can create some of the most aesthetically stunning and thought-provoking films ever.