Puerto Rico's film industry hits its mark

Photo credit: © Ana Guzmán |

Puerto Rico's magnificent locations entice movie-makers from all over the world. The northern coast is a favorite area, with its beaches, caves, historic towns, and the radio telescope in Arecibo. Another popular film-making location, El Yunque rain forest to the east, provides lush mountains, dramatic waterfalls, and tropical wildlife. And the south side's arid vegetation creates a different look from the rest of the island.

Perhaps because of its status as a U.S. Commonwealth, Puerto Rico's film history stretches back to the days of silent movies. Although the first films to shoot there were U.S. productions, the local movie industry is well-established, too.

One of the earliest films to feature local actors, Maruja (1959), depicted life in Puerto Rico at the time. The movie rocketed its stars to fame. Many of them went on to highly successful careers on Puerto Rican television programs.

Jacobo Morales, Puerto Rico's best-known filmmaker, began acting on television as a teenager in the 1950s. His success landed him roles in American films, such as Woody Allen's Bananas and Up the Sandbox with Barbra Streisand.

In the 1980s, Morales began writing and directing. His film Dios los Cea, a collection of five short stories, received several international awards. He followed it up with Nicholas and the Women (1985), a critically acclaimed film that delved into a love triangle. In 1990, he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film for Lo que le Paso a Santiago. The movie told the story of a lonely widower whose life is impacted by a mysterious woman. It remains the only Puerto Rican film to be nominated for an Oscar.

Puerto Rican films run the gamut. Over the years, short films, documentaries, dramas, musicals, comedies, thrillers, and even an animated film have all been created by the island's pool of talent. The 2004 film Las Combatientes, about several women fighting breast cancer, won the Spirit of Moondance award at the Moondance Film Festival in Colorado. But with the industry's size, not all Puerto Rican films live up to higher standards.

Of course, the quality of American films shot in Puerto Rico varies just as widely. From the campy Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster (1965), in which Martians land on Puerto Rico and kidnap go-go dancers, to Steven Spielberg's Oscar-nominated Amistad (1997), every type of movie you can imagine has been made here. While there are far too many to list them all, these are just a few of the U.S. films shot in Puerto Rico:

  • After Twenty Years – Porto Rico (1918)

  • Aloma of the South Seas (1926)

  • Assassins (1994)

  • Bananas (1971)

  • Captain Ron (1992)

  • Contact (1997)

  • Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)

  • Golden Eye (1995)

  • Heartbreak Ridge (1986)

  • Jacob's Ladder (1990)

  • Last Woman on Earth (1960)

  • Man with My Face (1951)

  • The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968)

  • Q&A (1990)

  • Ruby (1992)

  • Under Suspicion (2000)

Most American films shot in Puerto Rico aren't actually set there. The island often substitutes for Cuba, Vietnam, or other exotic locales, sometimes fictional. But there are a few exceptions.

The earliest film, After Twenty Years – Porto Rico, was a silent documentary about the island. Roger Corman's B-movie Last Woman on Earth focuses on three Americans vacationing in Puerto Rico, who become the sole survivors of an apocalypse. And in the film noir Man with My Face, an American businessman living in Puerto Rico comes home one night to discover a doppelganger in his place – and his double turns out to be a criminal.

In addition to the United States, many other countries have filmed in Puerto Rico. Mexico began shooting films here in the 1960s, often as co-productions with Puerto Rico. Spain, the United Kingdom, Venezuela, Argentina, Germany, France, and Sweden have all shot here.

Aside from its locations, Puerto Rico appeals to filmmakers because its experienced crew members and eager film commission make shooting here a pleasure. Of course, its 40 percent tax break for film productions also serves as a huge incentive. Local productions have also been boosted by financial incentives, loans, and grants.

Although making movies won't be on most vacationers agendas while in Puerto Rico, fluent Spanish speakers may want to take in a film. You may just discover a cinematic gem.


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