History of Philippine Cinema

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In the Philippines, the cinema has a long and fascinating history. As Spain and America's colony at the turn of the century, the Philippines had been exposed to so many cultural and social changes. The arrival of the "moving pictures" in the Philippines in 1897 was, at that time, a thing of curiosity. But the curiosity somewhat developed into fascination, and later obsession. Some of the earliest movies produced anywhere in Asia were made in the Philippines. Since the cinema's inception in the Philippines, the movies had been composed of foreign and locally produced movies. The following is Wikipilipinas' outline to guide us into the interesting history of Philippine cinema.

Early Years(1897-1900)

The first movies in the Philippines were shown during the height of the Filipinos' revolution against the Spaniards. On August 31, 1897, two Swiss businessmen, Messrs. Leibman and Peritz opened a movie house at No.31 Escolta in Manila. They called it Cinematografo which later was shortened into "cine"-a term now generally referred to as movies. The movie strips shown were actually documentary sceneries like The Czar's Carriage Passing Place la Concorde, Snow Games,Card Players, A Train's Arrival, and An Arabian Cortege. These films were shown using the patent film projector of the famous Lumiere brothers. Despite the ambience of revolution hanging in the air, the "moving pictures" became a sensation to Manila residents. Liebman and Peritz eventually made showing the movies regularly--every evening--and charged one Mexican dollar for the front seat and half dollar for the general entrance. In late November of 1897, however, the popularity of the "cine" somewhat waned, due to the inability of Messrs. Leibman and Peritz to import more movies from the United States and Europe. By the end of November, the "Cinematografo" had closed down. No movies were shown in Manila from that time up to 1900.

Pre-war Cinema (1900-1941)


In 1898, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States through the Treaty of Paris. The United States' colonizing forces had to endure three more years battling the Filipino revolutionists before establishing a stronghold in the Philippine Islands. The defeat of the Filipino forces under Emilio Aguinaldo, and their subsequent flight enabled the resumption of peace that normalized businesses in Manila. The "cine" also started to re-operate in 1900, this time under a British businessman named Walgrah. He established Cine Walgrah located at No.60 Calle Santa Rosa, Intramuros.

In 1901, another movie house was established in Manila, this time in Quiapo. It was called Gran Cinematografo Parisien, owned by a Spanish businessman Samuel Rebarber. It was located at No.80 Calle Crespo. The Cine Walgrah and the Gran Cinematografo Pariesien competed with each other, and each tried showing interesting documentary newsreels (as story movies had not yet been produced at that time). For example, in 1901, Cine Walgrah showed the Coronation of Edward VII and to counter it, Gran Parisien showed The Assassination of President McKinley. It is interesting to note that movies then were just that: "moving pictures". They were called silent movies because of the absence of sound. There was, however, a pianist hidden from the viewers who played music in congruence with the action in the films.

It was not until 1903 when the first movie theater owned by a Filipino was established. This was Cinematografo Rizal, named after Dr. Jose Rizal (who was then still to be proclaimed official Philippine National Hero). Cinematografo Rizal was owned by a Manila scenographic painter named Jose Jimenez. The movie house was located at Azcarraga street (now C.M. Recto), in front of the then Tutuban Train Station.

Later on, another movie house was established in Tondo, called Cinematografo Filipino. With the establishment of these movie houses, movies became a regular part of the cultural life of Manilenos during the early 20th century.

In 1909, the quality of film as entertainment began to change, as creative movie-making began to take shape in the United States, particularly in Hollywood. The newsreels have become stale and movie productions on comedy, love story, and adventure started to dominate the cinemas. Many of these early silent movies were imported to the Philippines that led to the establishment of film distributing agencies in Manila. The first to distribute regularly these films in the Philippines was Pathe Freres Cinema. It began distributing films at very low prices, as well as sell and lease cheap cinematograph equipments.

This attracted several investors and almost overnight, there was a whole new slew of movie houses in Manila, like Cine Anda, Cine Paz, Cine Cabildo, Cine Majestic, Cine Ideal, Cine Luz, Cine Comedia, Cine Apollo, and Cine Gaiety. Even the Teatro Zorilla, which until that time was only for zarzuela plays, switched into movie playing in 1909. Manila Grand Opera House also began showing films in between vaudeville acts starting in 1910.

The movie bug had certainly bitten the Filipinos and many even from the far provinces began to stream in Manila to witness these "moving pictures".

The popularity of the cinema, led some Filipinos to produce their own films. Some took newsreels of the Manila Carnivals, and some just sceneries in Manila and the provinces. An antique film reel containing various images in Manila during those early years was recently unearthed showing various sceneries in Manila, showing what it was like then.


It appears that the very first film produced in the Philippines was La Vida de Rizal, a film adapted from a stage play of the same name written by Dr. Meyer Gross. The film was produced by an American named Mr. H. Brown, owner of the Gaiety Theater. An admirer of Rizal, Brown knew that producing the film will not only glorify the hero, it will also be hugely profitable, as Rizal at that time was almost considered a god to the Filipinos. Together, Brown and Gross shelled out the needed capital to shoot the movie. The dramatic zarzuela troupe Molina-Benito Company was hired to act out the various actors and actresses in the movie. Don Honorio Lopez, the writer and author of Kalendariong Tagalog, was chosen to play the Rizal role. The movie was scheduled to be shown in Zorilla Theater on August 24, 1912.

Apparently, a competitor named Albert Yearsly, manager of Oriental Films, Co, (and owner of Empire and Majestic Theaters) heard of the Brown-Gross film production, and he immediately hired the zarzuela actors of the Gran Compania de Severino Reyes, to do a similar movie on Rizal. Yearsly based his movie on a script written by Rizal biographer Austin Craig. While Brown-Gross went on a quiet shooting, Yearsly and company rushed their Rizal movie to show it on August 24, in time with the showing of the Brown-Gross film. It was interesting that Yearsly shot the Rizal execution scene not in Bagumbayan, but inside the Manila North Cemetery. Yearsly showed his Rizal movie -entitled La Pasion Y Muerte de Dr. Rizal- at the Manila Grand Opera House on August 24, the same day the Brown-Gross movie was showing in Teatro Zorilla.

There was disappointment on the part of Brown-Gross as they realized they were duped by competitor Yearsly. Yearsly even attacked the Brown-Gross claim that their movie cost 25,000 to produce while the original cost was only estimated at about 4,500". Brown answered "You can fool all the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but we are getting all the people and they are satisfied". Yearsly's movie ran for 20 minutes and was sometimes entitled El Fusilamiento de Rizal. Eventually, Brown-Gross produced more movies than Yearsly. In time Brown-Gross produced such films as Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, La Conquista de Filipinas, La Fiesta de Obando, Los Milagros de Virgen de Antipolo, Medikong Laway, and Nena Bozcadora. Yearsly on the other hand was the first to produce the movie version of Severino Reyes' Walang Sugat, played by the Gran Compania de Severino Reyes.

José Nepomuceno 2019 stamp. Nepomuceno is the Father of Philippine Cinema

The very first Filipinos filmmakers were Jose Nepomuceno, Vicente Salumbides, Julian Manansala, and Carmen Concha. Later producers include the Silos brothers (Juan, Manuel, Cesar, Octavio), Carlos Vander Tolosa, Jose Domingo Badilla and Rafael Fernandez.

Jose Nepomuceno is widely considered as the Father of Filipino Cinematography, long before the art of film-making was firmly established in the Philippine Islands.

One of the best photographers in Manila in the early 20th century, Nepomuceno owned the Electro-Photo Studio Parhelio in Plaza Goiti (now Plaza Lacson). He evntually sold his photography equipments and studio to concentrate on making movies. As a cinematographer, Nepomuceno shot various newsreels and documentaries produced by his own production company, Malayan Movies(1917). His films were shown in many Manila theaters at that time. In 1919, Nepomuceno produced and directed Dalagang Bukid, the first ever Filipino-made movie. Based on the zarzuela play by Hermogenes Ilagan, Dalagang Bukid starred Honorata Atang dela Rama in the title role. Nepomuceno's other later movies include La Venganza de Don Silvestre (1920), La Mariposa Negra(1920), El Capullo Marchito (1921), and Hoy o Nunca, Besame(1923). In 1930, Nepomuceno produced his masterpiece, Noli Me Tangere, considered one of the greatest films in Philippine cinema history.


The arrival of sound in movies was heralded by the Hollywood movie "Jazz Singer" in 1927. Producers were eager to use the new technology to attract more moviegoers. Some were not so eager, such as the great actor Charlie Chaplin, who even satirized talking movies with his 1931 film "City Lights". However, the era of the silent cinema is already passing. In the Philippines, the sound technology arrived in 1929. The very first Filipino film to use sound technology was Ang Asuwang, a movie starring comedienne Patring Carvajal, and produced by George Musser of Talkatone. In 1932, Jose Nepomuceno produced Punyal na Ginto, a movie based on the novel by Antonio Sempio. It was the very first Filipino-produced sound movie made in the Philippines. Interestingly, though, the movie was partially silent and partially with sound, as Nepomuceno just experimented with sound in the later part of the movie.

Peace Time Cinema (1930-1941)

The popularity of movies with the Filipinos reflected the Filipino character of being a happy and gay people. Early on, movies were made entirely with the story as the main atrraction. Filipinos began to see movies of Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, or of other popular zarzuelas of their time. The success of Jose Nepomuceno led other Filipinos directors follow his path. Some of them were the young Lamberto Avellana and Gerardo de Leon.

The arrival of the star-studio system in the 1930s saw the emergence of the movies stars as main attraction to the movies. Among the popular Filipino actors during the early 1930s were Mary Walter, Rosa del Rosario, Rosita Rivera, Rogelio dela Rosa, Rosa Aguirre, Carmen Rosales, Gregorio Fernandez, Alma Bella, Leopoldo Salcedo, Ely Ramos, Fernando Poe, Corazon Noble, Elsa Oria, Norma Blancaflor and Paquito Villa.

Philippine pre-war cinema consisted of imported Hollywood movies and locally produced movies. Even at that time, Filipino producers were already competing for their share of the movie market. At that time, however, the Philippine-produced movies were also very popular because of the Tagalog language used in the movies.

Cinema During the Japanese Occupation

When the Japanese occupied Manila on January 2, 1942, all the movie production companies ceased production. The Japanese, however, did not confiscate these companies. In fact, during the early months of the Japanese occupation, even Hollywood movies were allowed to be shown in many Manila theaters. It was only in the middle of 1942, when the Japanese had already established a stronghold, when movie censorship began.

Eiga Haikyusa, the film distributor of Japanese films in the Philippines, showed many Japanese movies in the Philippines with the purpose of propaganda. The movies mostly featured Japan culture, sceneries, as well as heroism of Japanese soldiers during the war.

Apparently, there were two Filipino movies produced by the Japanese during the entire occupation: Tatlong Maria and Dawn of Freedom. Tatlong Maria starred Carmen Rosales, Norma Blancaflor, Liwayway Arceo, Fernando Poe, Jose Padilla, Jr., and Ely Ramos. It was produced by Toho films and directed by Gerardo de Leon. The film was distributed by Eiga Haikyusa. It was not a propaganda film, however, but a romance story of three sisters. Dawn of Freedom, on the other hand, was a propaganda movie. It was produced by Toho films and distributed by Eiga Haikyusa. It was co-directed by Gerardo de Leon and Abe Yutaka. The cast include Fernando Poe, Leopoldo Salcedo, Rosa Aguirre, Okochi Denjiro, Kawatsu Seizaburo and Nakamura Tetsu. It was shown in Manila theaters in March 1944, when the Americans were already in its liberation drive to the Philippines.

Post-war Cinema(1946-50)

After the war ended in 1945 and the subsequent independence of the Philippines as a free republic in 1946, the Philippine cinema slowly picked up the pieces of industry. Manila, at that time, was the most war-torn city in the world, and most of the theaters and cinema houses had either been destroyed or closed down.

At around this time, however, Hollywood films prevailed over the Filipino-produced films. The Hollywood movie-making was barely affected by the war while Filipino film-making virtually ceased to exist. The Filipino producers were still gauging the profitability of producing movies.

As early as 1946, however, some Filipino producers began to gamble making movies. Almost all the Filipino movies made in 1946 focused on the war experience of the Filipinos. Several Filipino directors made "war genre" movies in 1946. Prominent among these movies were Manuel Conde's Orasang Ginto, Octavio Silos' Ulila ng Watawat, Manuel Silos' Victory Joe, Dr. Gregorio Fernandez' Garrison 13, Nolasco Brothers' Fort Santiago (movie), Lamberto Avellana's Death March, Oscar del Rosario's Multo ni Yamashita, and Carlos Vander Tolosa's Krus ng Digma. The great Gerardo de Leon, on the other hand directed a movie entitled So Long, America in 1946, a film about the Filipinos' independence from America.

The Golden Age of Philippine Cinema(1950s-60s)

The era of the 50s and the early 60s is generally considered the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. It was at this time that the studio system reached its peak with the emergence of the "Big Three" film studios, Sampaguita, Premiere, and LVN. Although other studios existed, such as Lebran, Filippine, Everlasting, and Royal Productions, only the big three truly dominated movie-production in the Philippines. LVN, Premiere, and Sampaguita each had contract stars of their own, not unlike the big Hollywood studios of that era like MGM, RKO, and 20th Century Fox.

Some of the big names in Philippine movies at this time were carry-overs from the Pre-war cinema years, interrupted in their careers by the Japanese occupation. They were Carmen Rosales, Leopoldo Salcedo, Rogelio dela Rosa, Rosa del Rosario, Oscar Moreno, Rosa Aguirre, Manuel Conde, Mila del Sol, Arsenia Francisco, Norma Blancaflor, and Jose Padilla, Jr.

The fifties also gave way to new-comers destined to become big movie stars of the decade: Pancho Magalona, Tita Duran, Gloria Romero, Ric Rodrigo, Rita Gomez, Nestor de Villa, Nida Blanca, Mario Montenegro, Armando Goyena, Efren Reyes, Leroy Salvador, Dolphy, Jaime dela Rosa(Rogelio's younger brother), Ramon Revilla, Horacio Morelos, Fred Montilla, Eddie Arenas, Alicia Vergel, Cesar Ramirez, Leila Morena, Anita Linda, Van de Leon, Luis Gonzales, and Rosa Rosal.

The fifties also marked the emergence of a variety of genre from which to gather stories from movies. While during the pre-war cinema, Philippine-made movies were mostly adapted from legends, literature (such as Noli and Fili), and zarzuelas, this began to change in the fifties.

Perhaps the main source of stories for films was the komiks. The komiks, being the cheapest form of entertainment in post-war philippines, became very popular with the Filipino masses. The popularity of komiks serialized novels inspired movie producers like LVN, Premiere and Sampaguita (as well as other minor productions studios) to make them into movies.

Illustration of Dyesebel, a Philippine mermaid based on the character of Filipino comic book artist, Mars Ravelo.

Some of the most popular movies adapted from komiks were: Hagibis, Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo, Salabusab, Malvarosa, Darna, Roberta, Darna at Ang Babaing Lawin, Dyesebel, Bondying, Kenkoy, El Indio, Gorio at Tekla, and many others.

Adventure, fantasy, tearjerkers, slapstick comedy, drama-comedy (so-called dramedy), musicals, westerns, were the variety of genre that became very popular with the Filipino audience of the 1950s.

The influence of Hollywood was still strong, proven by the fact that many of the standards in Hollywood filmmaking were being adapted by Filipino directors.

In 1951, the first Philippine movie in full color was produced, Prinsipe Amante, starring Rogelio dela Rosa. Although, black and white movies would still dominate the decade, Prinsipe Amante was a breakthrough in Asian cinema, as it was possibly the earliest Asian movie to be made in full color.

The top Filipino directors of the decade were Gerardo de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Manuel Conde, and Dr. Gregorio Fernandez. other well-known directors were Cesar Gallardo, Eddie Romero, Manuel Silos, and Ramon Estella.

The Sixties

As the Golden Age of Philippine cinema was drawing to a close, the sixties decade was beginning in earnest.

The early sixties saw further enhancement in sound and color technique, but generally, the decade saw the decline of the great studios of the fifties. Premiere did fewer and fewer movie productions (although it ventured in international co-productions). LVN closed shop in 1961 and instead founded a new studio, Dalisay Pictures. Dona Narcisa "Sisang" vda. de Leon, the grand matriarch of LVN died and LVN was never the same again. Eventually, the contract movie stars of Premiere and LVN had to go free-lanced as the studios could no longer maintain their high contract fees. Sampaguita Pictures, however, still continued to thrive in the sixties, thanks to the able management of its owner, Dr. Jose Perez. It was still able to make movies until Dr. Perez' death in 1975.

The Seventies


The early years of the seventies were marked by the emergence of the social protest films, the Bomba, and on a lighter side, Karate films.

The seventies also saw the emergence of a new batch of talented directors that would take the level of protest in the movie screens. Directors such as Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Mike de Leon, would make their mark on this decade as the three greatest Filipino directors of the new generation.


The emergence of Bomba movies was preceded by the Bomba Komiks phenomenon. Indeed, Bomba movies wwere influenced by the Bomba Komiks. Prior to the emergence of Bomba Komiks and Bomba Movies, Bomba meant literally "bomb explosion", or in politics, something that exposed a corrupt practice.

The emergence of the Bomba Komiks in late 1960s led some independent film producers to market pornographic films. The Bomba movie was either softporn or hardcore. Either of them drew large audiences in many Manila theaters especially in the Quiapo and Sta. Cruz area. Apparently, the very first Filipino Bomba film was Uhawin 1970 starring Merle Fernandez.

It was something new, and something fascinating, as the moviegoers see for the first time sex on the big screen portrayed by such lovely nymphets as Merle Fernandez, Rossana Ortiz, Ryzza and Yvonne.

It was surprising that President Marcos tolerated the Bomba movies of the early 1970s. The liberalization of censorship made Bomba producers to make more "bolder' movies. Sociologists speculated that the government allowed these porno films to divert the masses from the economic problems of the day, and ease tensions in politics. Indeed, the period of the Bomba movies, somehow coincided with the rise in student activism, the bombing of Plaza Miranda, and the rising tensions in the political scene.


President Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, and the Bomba films was suppressed, only to resurfaced a year later as "teasing" films, with the likes of Gloria Diaz, Chanda Romero, Amy Austria, Vivian Velez, Elizabeth Oropesa, Pilar Pilapil portraying sexy roles.

The popular "wet look" image of "no bra" -was started by Gloria Diaz in the movie Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa.


The seventies marked the ascendancy of the action film as the most successful genre in Philippine cinema with Fernando Poe, Jr., Ramon Revilla and Joseph Estrada leading the fray.


The seventies also saw the popularity of the "Karate" and "Kung Fu" movies. Only one man was responsible for this popularity, Hongkong superstar Bruce Lee. The legendary Bruce Lee rose like a bright shining star that dimmed even the great Hollywood actors of the 1970s. His death in 1973 was followed by a cult worship that reached even the Philippines. Everywere, imitators of Bruce Lee abound. And it was no different in the Philippines. Filipino actors like Ramon Zamora, Roberto Gonzales, and Rey Malonzo capitalized on the popularity of "Karate" and "Kung Fu" movies. Although most of their films were on the class of "B" movies ("B"adly edited, "B"ad sounds, "B"ad cinematography, "B"adly written), they nevertheless became box-office successes.

The Renaissance of Philippine Cinema

The great directors Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and Mike de Leon paved the way for the so-called "renaissance" in Philippine cinema. Other directors of this era also contributed: Mario O'Hara, Maryo J. delos Reyes, and Celso Ad Castillo. Veteran director Eddie Romero returned big with his masterpiece "Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?"

Lino Brocka began with a series of soap operas for Lea Productions. His first movie was Wanted:Perfect Mother. One of his early masterpieces was Stardoom, a movie adapted from the komiks novel of Orlando Nadres.

In his later films, Brocka concentrated on movies that examined the social ills of Philippine society. His movies Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang, and Bayan Ko:Kapit sa Patalim examined poverty and its adverse effects on Filipino society.

Brocka broke grounds and established new ones in local film-making. He dominated the years 1975-85, and his movies established a cult following, winning major awards in the Philippines and abroad.

Like Brocka, Ishmael Bernal also established himself as a cerebral director. His notable movies were Nunal sa Tubig, Manila by Night (later retitled as City After Dark), Himala, Broken Marriage, and Wating.

Mike de Leon, a scion of the LVN's De Leon clan, completed the triumvirate directors that dominated Philippine cinema in the seventies. His major works are Itim, Kakabakabakaba?, Kisapmata, and Batch '81.


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