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The 13 Best Brazilian and Portuguese Movies

Luzes, câmera, ação!

That’s the Brazilian Portuguese version of “lights, camera, action!” and you’re about to need it.

You won’t just be watching amazing flicks that might just become your new favorites—you’ll be learning Portuguese by watching movies.

Contents

Brazilian and Portuguese Movies

Let’s start with some hits from Brazil, followed by must-watch films from Portugal.

1. “Cidade de Deus” (City of God)

If you click on any list of the best Portuguese-language movies and this isn’t number one, turn back immediately. This legend of Brazilian cinema is intense, dark and violent—but if you embrace the darkness, prepare for a heart-pounding ride that’s equal parts thrilling and sentimental.

There’s love, funk, hippies, drug wars, art and dreams of a better life in the favelas. It also prominently features the musical legend Seu Jorge, who has an emotional stake in the film since he’s originally from a favela.

A tight-knit group of young boys start out in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s. While some grow into the culture of crime and violence, the protagonist, Buscapé, tries to escape—and expose—the madness with photography.

When they’re not spitting strings of slang, the characters are relatively easy to understand, so it’s a good film for learners at any level. You’ll mainly hear the Carioca dialect of Portuguese, which is what’s spoken in Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding regions.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime | Google Play | iTunes

2. “Central do Brasil” (Central Station)

This one’s an Academy Award winner with a whole lot of heart. The movie follows a former schoolteacher, Dora, who writes personal letters to make just enough money to survive.

Her main clientele are illiterate train passengers who pass through the station and need to communicate with friends and loved ones, but don’t have the writing skills to do so. Follow Dora’s story as she starts to shed some hard layers of bitterness while becoming entangled in the personal life of a young letter-writing client.

This film is based in Rio de Janeiro, so you’ll again be exposed to the Carioca dialect of Portuguese. It’s also a slightly less slang-heavy option for learners who are looking to learn more standard Portuguese.

Watch it on: Internet Archive | iTunes

3. “O Lobo Atrás da Porta” (A Wolf at the Door)

This is a dramatic Brazilian thriller that revolves around the kidnapping of an innocent child.

A mother goes to pick up her child at school as usual, but the child goes missing. As the police individually interrogate the abducted girl’s parents, it’s revealed that the father has a lover, who is also brought in for questioning.

Slowly, a web of lies, vengeance, love and deceit begins to unravel. The film is purposely confusing at first, since each of the three characters has their own version of the story, but it eventually shows you the explosive truth of what really happened. 

Watch it on: Amazon DVD | Google Play

4. “Paraisos Artificiais” (Artificial Paradises)

When you think of traveling to Brazil, do you imagine visiting a dreamy, seaside paradise? Then party on with this colorful explosion of a film.

A DJ and her close friend travel to one of Brazil’s premiere beaches to party hard during a major electronic music festival. As you might imagine, they have some extremely memorable experiences along the way.

Follow these girls as an intense week-long rave imprints itself on their lives for the long-term, and learn plenty of casual language and youthful Brazilian Portuguese expressions along the way.

Watch it on: Google Play

5. “O Homem do Futuro” (The Man from the Future)

Looking for some campy, science fiction fun? This movie has everything you could want: a more-awkward-than-mad scientist, time travel, particle accelerators, romance and an exploration of being granted one big do-over to change your life.

This rom-com is guaranteed to make you smile with its special brand of silliness. Plus, it was shot beautifully around Rio de Janeiro (which is astounding considering its relatively low budget).

Watch it on: Amazon DVD

6. “Astral City: A Spiritual Journey”

Chico Xavier was a famous Brazilian mystic who channeled almost 500 books. The main premise of this movie is that it was communicated to Xavier long ago by a spirit who told tales of his journey through the afterlife.

This spiritual fantasy involves the passage of the ghostly protagonist from life to limbo and the hereafter, while resolving loose ends with loved ones along the way. Of course, it’s all imaginary, but it touches on some spiritualistic teachings of Xavier’s and other schools of thought.

The film makes some big statements on life and death, subtly asking you to envision what sort of life may exist after death.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime | Google Play | iTunes

7. “Moro no Brasil” (The Sounds of Brazil)

Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki goes on a musical journey across Brazil, the country he considers his second home. The documentary taps into the diversity and uniqueness of each region’s musical styles—from the renowned genres like samba and bossa nova, to the hidden treasures that are mostly unknown to the public.

The emphasis is on music as part of regular life and a means of self-expression, and it features more than 50 performances and interviews across diverse places like Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco. 

Watch it on: Amazon DVD

8. “Era Uma Vez…” (Once Upon a Time in Rio)

Meet Dé, a poor boy from the Cantagalo favela of Rio de Janeiro, and Nina, a wealthy girl from a glitzy oceanside neighborhood. This is your classic, Shakespearean tale of star-crossed lovers, so prepare for a dose of childhood trauma, coming of age, forbidden rendezvous and tragedy.

As you may have gleaned from the title, this film is all about Rio and the associated regional language, but there’s plenty of linguistic variety to enjoy here.

Pay close attention to how all of the different characters speak, starting with the language usage and accents of the two main lovebirds, and following through to the supporting characters you’ll meet in both Dé and Nina’s families and communities.

Watch it on: Amazon DVD

9. “Carnaval Atlântida”

The film’s title is both an ode to the Brazilian Carnival as well as a celebration of the historic studio that produced it—Atlântida Cinematográfica—which was the most successful film production company in Brazil from the 1940s to the 1960s.

It’s a satirical musical comedy that follows a producer as he tries to make a movie about Helen of Troy. Tensions arise as the cast decides they would rather do a comedic take on the story despite the fact the producer hired a historian to help him write the script.

Watch it on: YouTube

10. “Mistérios de Lisboa” (Mysteries of Lisbon)

This costume drama from Portugal seems to be about an orphan trying to uncover his mysterious past at first, but then branches out into several plot interconnected lines, narrations and stories.

You’ll get to know some very vivid characters, including a priest with a mysterious past and a count and countess who are unhappily married to each other.

An award-winning film, it’s based on a novel with the same name by Camilo Castelo Branco and is a notable 272 minutes long. In some countries, the movie was screened as a mini-series because of its length.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime | Google Play | iTunes

11. “As Mil e Uma Noites” (Arabian Nights) Vol. I, II and III

In this three-part film, chapters from the original “Arabian Nights” have been taken and adapted to tell historically important Portuguese stories.

Yes, this epic cinematic undertaking from Portugal lasts three long volumes, and it’s worth watching every dramatic minute. This is especially true if you’re interested in learning European Portuguese and even more so if you’re seeking to expand your knowledge about the modern history of Portugal.

The evenly paced, exaggerated Portuguese that’s spoken is a godsend to learners of the language, as it’s exceptionally easy to understand.

Watch it on: Amazon DVD

12. “Fados” 

Led by the Spanish director Carlos Saura, “Fados” is a documentary that fuses cinema, song, dance and instrumental performances to tell the history behind the fado. Portugal’s most emblematic musical genre has been around for over 200 years, and it usually features themes of sadness, love and the harsh realities of life.

The movie uses Lisbon as a backdrop to capture the style’s origins and melancholic undertones. It’ll introduce you to modern musicians as well as legends, with plenty of historical background. In fact, it’s part of a trilogy that also covers tango and flamenco.

Watch it on: Amazon DVD

13. “A Menina da Rádio” (The Radio Girl)

This classic musical from Portugal tells the story of two rival shopkeepers and their children who are madly in love. However, the shopkeepers don’t approve of their children getting together.

As one of the shopkeepers decides to pursue his dream of creating his own radio station, he relies on the musical talents of his daughter and son-in-law to fulfill his vision. This was released in 1944, but there are a lot of enjoyable comedic scenes here!

Watch it on: YouTube

How to Learn by Watching Portuguese Movies

Watching movies is a great way to learn Portuguese! You’ll learn about Portuguese culture while being exposed to a wider variety of vocabulary and accents, including the two major Portuguese dialects (European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese) and a whole range of regional ones.

There are several methods for learning Portuguese by watching movies, and each of these is both entertaining and educational:

Passive Learning

This happens when you’re not really paying attention to the language use itself—just watching casually and letting your brain soak up the language.

This only works to a certain extent—and it’s most valuable for high-intermediate, advanced and near-fluent students who can understand at least 70% of what’s going. At lower levels, you should only attempt passive learning with either English or Portuguese subtitles.

Active Learning

This means watching carefully while paying close attention to vocabulary and grammar use. Keep track of any unfamiliar words so that you can look them up later and add them to your notes.

Once you’ve watched a movie passively and gotten the gist of the story, you can revisit it with an “active” watch and start to fill in the blanks.

Interactive Learning

Talking back to the film makes for a much more interactive learning experience! You can respond to the characters by shouting out Portuguese exclamations like “legal!” (“cool!” in Brazilian Portuguese), “nossa!” (essentially “oh my God!”) and “que gostoso!” (“how delicious!”—perfect for dining scenes).

If you want to improve your speaking skills, try muting the sound and repeating the subtitles out loud to challenge yourself.

Before jumping right into movies, you might want to start with shorter Brazilian and Portuguese videos. These provide valuable authentic studying material in more manageable chunks.

There’s also the language learning platform FluentU, which has a collection of bite-sized Portuguese clips equipped with interactive subtitles. These captions provide in-context explanations of the words you hear, which you can then review with multimedia flashcards and personalized quizzes.

 

Once you feel ready, go ahead and dive into these great flicks.

It’s finally time to pop that popcorn, prop up some comfy pillows on your sofa and start watching!

And if you make it through all of them, check out some of the best Portuguese movies on Netflix next.
 

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