For those who have been to Cuba before, you’ll know – it’s like no where else on Earth. There is so much history to Cuba – complex history – that I think it is helpful for visitors to start to learn more about Cuba beforehand – it will make your experience so much richer and help you understand those complexities when you see them. These are the top movies (and TV series!) I recommend watching before your trip to Cuba that will make your trip even better… enjoy!
Cuatros Estaciones en La Habana – (2016)
This is my personal favorite so I’m putting it first on the list…. I’ll confess that I re-watch this four-part extended miniseries every few months, especially when we’re away from Cuba and I’m particularly missing it. It is just that good.
This crime drama follows detective Mario Conde as he solves four distinct but related crimes in Havana. While the story is great, the show’s greatest value is as visual delight and a window to the sides of Havana you won’t see as a tourist.
The first scenes, filmed in the neighborhood of La Víbora, show the school Jose attended and where he later taught art classes for years. This is Cuba you’ll only see if you break off the well-worn tourist path.
StrawBerry And Chocolate – (1994)
Fresa y Chocolate shows the extremes of Cuba, following two characters who are total opposites, and how their relationship grows despite their differences. Set in 1979, it also offers a peak into the repression that the LGBTQ+ community faced in Cuba following the Revolution.
This is one of the most well-known and beloved Cuban movies for a reason – it is exceptional, and has so much to say to us even nearly thirty years after its release. It was a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in 1994.
If you watch Four Seasons in Havana you’ll recognize the much-younger star of this movie, Jorge Perugorría. He’s one of Cuba’s most recognizable actors… I can’t count how many of his movies I’ve seen.
Diarios de Motocicleta – (2004)
As I share in my article about the best books to read before visiting Cuba – this movie has nothing to do with Cuba and yet everything to do with it.
The Motorcycle Diaries is based on Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s personal diary of a road trip he took across Latin America just prior to meeting Fidel Castro in Havana. In the film as in the book, you’ll see his transformation from doctor from a well-off family in Buenos Aires, Argentina to future revolutionary.
This movie is a fantastic road trip movie with some incredible scenes of Latin America. A must-see from this list due to how well done it is, and the peak inside the mind of Che Guevara you’ll be glad you’ve seen before visiting Cuba and seeing him everywhere.
I stumbled upon this documentary by Jon Alpert on Netflix one evening and now it’s a favorite. It follows Alpert’s decades-long relationship with Cuba through film, from mere moments after the revolution (and spending time with Fidel Castro and the United Nations) to just a few years ago.
This is an incredible story of how much has changed in Cuba over the years, and how much hasn’t. The relationships that Alpert forms with with average Cubans are the absolute best part of the story. You may need a tissue by the end of it.
A Translator – (2018)
This movie peeks behind the curtain of the Cuban healthcare system – known around the world for being fantastic – and Cuba’s relationship with the USSR / Russia. It traces the story of a Russian literature professor from Havana, called upon to translate for children impacted by nuclear fallout in Chernobyl who were brought to Cuba for treatment.
It is both obviously heartbreaking but very inspiring, and an extremely well-done example of Cuban film from the last few years.
This drama is very closely based on the reality of the children of Chernoybl that made their way to Cuba for treatment. Jose remembers meeting some of these sweet kids at a hospital in Havana when he was a boy.
This movie follows the life of one of Cuba’s most famous ballet dancers, Carlos Acosta, and his journey from an extremely humble beginning in a poor neighborhood in Havana to making dance history. It’s a beautifully done, modern movie and weaves together present and past in a way that only a story about Cuba could.
This movie offers a glimpse into Ernest Hemingway’s life and adventures in Havana and the tragic end of his romance with this city, turned upside down by the Cuban Revolution. It is a must-see if you’re planning on visiting his home, Finca Vigía, or any of the other sites on the so-called Hemingway Trail in Cuba.