10 Must-Watch Historic Bayani Movies

You don't have to be a revolutionary to enjoy these.
by Nica Jose
June 09, 2023
GMA Pictures / José Rizal (1998), TBA Studios / Heneral Luna, Star Cinema / Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis, Star Cinema / Quezon's Game

(SPOT.ph) From the valiant struggles of national heroes to the vibrant chapters of our nation's past, the silver screen has breathed life into extraordinary tales from our past. Filmmakers have given us a trove of historical films to keep as a reminder of where we come from. Below, we list down a few historic bayani movies that have both enthralled and educated, from classic retellings to more avant garde films, earning a spot on the must-watch list of anybody who calls themselves Filipino.

Also read: 10 Quotable Quotes From Heneral Luna

Historic bayani movies to watch at least once in your life

Sakay (1993)


Starring: Julio Diaz
Directed by: Raymond Red

The Tagalog katipunero got his titular movie despite being painted as an outlaw during the Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards, and later on during the Philippine-American war. This movie is also Leopldo Salcedo’s last appearance before his death in 1998 He portrays Macario Sakay’s father. Salcedo also starred in the 1939 version of the same movie title, where he played Macario Sakay himself.

The 1993 movie received the Gatpuno Antonio Villegas Cultural Award and Lingap ng Inang Maynila during the Manila Film Festival in 1993, while it won Best Art Direction during the 1994 FAMAS Award ceremony.

José Rizal (1998)

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Starring: Cesar Montano
Directed by: Marilou Diaz-Abaya

Having P80 million on hand was practically unfathomable during the ‘90s. And if it’s a budget for a movie of this scale? It definitely has to live up to the expectations of the public, and José Rizal did just that with the massive recall it has long after the 90’s kids watched it. And it should, because the budget for the movie is considered the largest in Philippine film history (at least during its reign).

Like other titular movies of Filipino heroes in this list, this movie depicts the life of our national hero—not just as an ilustrado but also as a lover, doctor, and a humanized version of that someone who made quite a ripple in Philippine history alongside other heroes of the country.

Before this film, there was another movie about Rizal that retold his exile in Dapitan: Rizal sa Dapitan, directed by Tikoy Aguiluz and starring Albert Martinez, which premiered in 1997.


José Rizal bagged multiple awards in award-giving bodies, such as the 1998 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), 1999 FAMAS Awards, 1999 Gawad Urian Awards, and 1999 Star Awards for Movies. It was screened in Berlin, Chicago, and Toronto.

Bayaning 3rd World (1999)

Starring: Ricky Davao, Cris Villanueva, and Joel Torre
Directed by: Mike De Leon


Think of this as a twist on the 1998 Rizal movie. A mockumentary, it features two filmmakers (Ricky Davao and Cris Villanueva) dead-set on unearthing the roots of the national hero, ending up with a plethora of conflicting information based on their interviews with different people who played major roles in the national hero’s life, including Rizal (Joel Torre) himself.

Bayaning 3rd World reigned supreme at the 1999 Gawad Urian Awards, receiving nominations in 11 categories and winning six, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor (Joel Torre). The film also garnered recognition from the Young Critics Circle Film Desk Citations, securing accolades for Best Film, Cinematography and Visual Design, Editing, and Sound and Aural Orchestration.

Lapu-lapu (2002)

PHOTO BY edl productions / lapu-lapu

Starring: Lito Lapid
Directed by: William Mayo

The earliest celebrated figure on our shores, this national hero has a slew of biographies to date,, but this one starring Lito Lapid stands out. Apart from Lapu-lapu leading the charge against the Spaniards who set foot in Mactan, the movie depicts different facets of the Filipino culture—from justice systems to weddings to slavery. Don’t forget to top it all off with the good ol’ Lito Lapid action scenes.

Lapu-lapu was an entry to the 28th MMFF. It won Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Actor (Lito Lapid), Best Screenplay, Best Musical Score, Best Sound, and Best Original Song ("Mabuhay ang Kalayaan" by Coritha/Socorro Avelino) at the Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) awards ceremony.

El Presidente (2012)


Starring: Jeorge Ejercito Estregan
Directed by: Mark Meily

Witness a riveting portrayal of power, ambition, and historical upheaval in this biographical film. The movie delves into the tumultuous life of Emilio Aguinaldo, the first President of the Philippines. With a compelling narrative that spans generations, El Presidente takes audiences on a gripping journey through the tumultuous chapters of Aguinaldo's leadership and the birth of a nation.

El Presidente received widespread acclaim, earning a multitude of accolades and recognition for its remarkable craftsmanship. At the 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival, the film received several awards, including Second Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Cesar Montano), and Best Musical Score. In 2013, the movie also received recognition and multiple awards in award-giving bodies like Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Awards, Film Academy of the Philippines, and Golden Screen Awards.

Supremo (2012)


Starring: Alfred Vargas
Directed by: Richard Somes

This historical gem delves into the life of Andres Bonifacio, the esteemed leader of the Katipunan. With a fervent dedication to capturing the essence of Bonifacio's struggle for freedom, Supremo offers a poignant portrayal of the tumultuous era that shaped the nation.

Unveiled on Bonifacio's 149th birth anniversary (most likely not a coincidence), Supremo premiered on November 30, 2012. Shortly thereafter, on December 5, it ventured into general release, allowing audiences across the nation to immerse themselves in this captivating portrayal of this national hero, and the many narratives that surround him.

Supremo garnered critical acclaim at the 2013 Star Awards for Movies, where Von De Guzman, the man behind the movie’s music, bagged Indie Movie Musical Scorer of the Year.

Heneral Luna (2015)


Starring: John Arcilla
Directed by: Jerrold Tarog

Like other hero movies out there, Heneral Luna delves into the life and untold story of General Antonio Luna, a revered military leader during the Philippine-American War. This historical epic delivers an unflinching portrayal of Luna's indomitable spirit, his unwavering dedication to the nation, and the complex dynamics of his relationships with fellow revolutionaries. The film showcases an exceptional performance by John Arcilla in the titular role, breathing life into Luna's larger-than-life persona with remarkable depth and conviction—so much so that it elicited numerous memes that circulate various socmed sites for quite some time after its release to the public.

Since its debut on September 9, 2015, Heneral Luna has proven its mettle at the box office, amassing a staggering P180 million in gross sales. With only a mere P20 million standing between it and the coveted P200 million break-even point, accounting for cinema's share of ticket sales, the film has emerged as a resounding success. On September 29, 2015, it surpassed the illustrious P160 million milestone, etching its name in the annals of history as the highest-grossing Filipino historical film of all time.


Heneral Luna garnered widespread acclaim and an array of prestigious accolades that showcased its exceptional craftsmanship. At the 2015 32nd PMPC Star Awards for Movies alone, the movie won Movie Editor of the Year (Jerrold Tarog), Movie Musical Scorer of the Year (Jerrold Tarog), and Movie Sound Engineer of the Year (Mikko Quizon and Hit Productions). Aside from this, the movie bagged multiple awards in 2016 in the following awarding ceremonies: Luna Awards, 39th Gawad Urian Awards, Platinum Stallion Media Awards, 14th Gawad Tanglaw Awards, 10th Asian Film Awards, and Box Office Entertainment Awards.

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis (2016)


Starring: John Lloyd Cruz, Piolo Pascual, and Hazel Orencio
Directed by: Lav Diaz

Unlike most of the films in this list, this movie’s production team decided to veer away from the usual biographical format and took on the fantasy route. This sprawling epic from auteur Lav Diaz weaves together a tapestry of historical events and mythical tales, drawing inspiration from Philippine literature and revolution. With a runtime of over eight hours, it challenges the boundaries of conventional storytelling, immersing audiences in a hypnotic exploration of the country's complex past. Notably, the film features a stellar ensemble cast, including Isagani from El Filibusterismo (John Lloyd Cruz), Simoun/Crisostomo Ibarra (Piolo Pascual), and Gregoria De Jesus (Hazel Orencio).

Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis received critical acclaim, celebrating its visionary storytelling and cinematic prowess. At the 66th Berlin International Film Festival, the film triumphed with the prestigious Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize (second prize), a testament to its exceptional artistry and ability to captivate global audiences.


Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018)

Starring: Paulo Avelino
Directed by: Jerrold Tarog

This film serves as a companion piece to Heneral Luna and delves into the enigmatic life of General Gregorio del Pilar during the Philippine-American War. With meticulous attention to detail and a riveting narrative, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral offers a nuanced portrayal of the complexities and sacrifices faced by the youthful leader. Notably, Paulo Avelino delivers a powerful performance in the titular role, infusing General del Pilar with depth and emotional resonance.


The movie won Best Production Design at the 2019 Entertainment Editors' Choice Awards (The EDDYS).

Quezon’s Game (2018)

Starring: Raymond Bagatsing
Directed by: Matthew Rosen

This biographical drama film recounts the lesser-known story of Philippine President Manuel Quezon and his relentless efforts to save Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Set in the backdrop of a tumultuous era, the film showcases Quezon's unwavering compassion and determination as he navigates political challenges and risks everything to provide sanctuary to those in need. Notably, Raymond Bagatsing delivers a powerful performance in the role of President Quezon, capturing the essence of his courage and humanity.


Quezon's Game garnered critical acclaim and earned accolades that celebrate its poignant storytelling and exceptional performances. For the record, it bagged all the categories in award bodies where it was nominated—Cinema World Fest Awards in 2018, WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival in 2019, and 7th Urduja Heritage Film Awards in 2020.