Best salsa movies

Which was the first salsa movie I saw? I can’t remember. But soon I started collecting them and by now I have seen all salsa movies several times. Some became my favorites and could watch them any number of times, others I don’t like that much. But still, as a dancer, teacher and salsa lover, I value every piece of movie that has been made about or is related to this magnificent dance, salsa. Here are the 10 best salsa movies of all times. And one that is terrible 🙂

As you may know, originally the term “salsa” was referring to the music and not the dance as it’s used today. It’s a coincidence that (in my opinion) the two best movies about salsa are also more about the music and musicians than the dance itself. But don’t worry, any film that has great salsa songs will have some great dance scenes as well 😉


1. El Cantante (2006)

This movie ranks pretty low in IMDB with only 5,5 points. Usually good films are somewhere above 6,5. But this film starring Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez is a true classic. It’s about the life of a great singer of his time, Hector Lavoe and takes us to an amazing era, those times when SALSA was born. All songs in this movie are true masterpieces and all concert and dance scenes are magnificent.

Why is it ranked so low then? Probably because it’s not an easy, happy movie. Which, knowing some about the life of Lavoe, is no surprise. He was a great talent who just couldn’t handle the fame and the pressure coming with it. After his early encounter with drugs he became and addict and lived a miserable life behind the scenes with a lot of personal and family tragedies coming his way.

So don’t expect a happy ending, but altogether it’s a great movie about a great singer of a great era. If you dance salsa (either on1, on2 or Cuban), this movie is a must see.



2. Mambo kings (1992)

Antonio Banderas in a salsa movie? Yes! This film tells you the (fictional) story of the Castillo brothers who went to the US from Cuba to fulfill the American dream, to become famous musicians. This movie has great musical and dance scenes and also some world famous Cuban musicians, like Tito Puente who plays himself in a crazy party scene. Also, probably the most well known and famous Cuban singer, Celia Cruz also plays a side role appearing a couple of times during the movie.

It has 6,4 stars on IMDB, and it’s a good movie with a not so stereotipical plot that dance movies usually have. If you like salsa, you have to see this one as well 😉


As I mentioned in the foreword there are not so many great movies about salsa, and I have already described what I think are the best two, but there are some good or decent movies that are fun to watch on a calm Saturday afternoon. Let’s see my number three pick.




3. Streetdance 2 (2012)

The story of this movie is dead simple, like for most of the dance movies. The main character, Ash comes to Europe to put together a hip-hop team for a competition in Paris. He picks the best dancers around the continent and starts making the choreography when he accidentally meets Cuban salsa and a great French salsera, Eva. He decides to incorporate salsa elements into his team’s performance to make it stand out.

This film is mostly like a one and a half hour music video with all the usual clichés that you already know and have seen in other dance films. But actually this movie is quite fun to watch and has one very strong element which some others miss. In every minute of the film it conveys one important message: that Cuban salsa is super cool.

With dance scenes choreographed by Cuban master dancer and teacher Maykel Fonts (who has a small side role as well) it hits all the right points and you will feel that salsa is probably the coolest hobby you can have in your life. The film of course is targeted to the younger crowds, but it has some romance and a very good character, Manu who adds a lot to the film which scored 5,7 points on IMDB.



4. Dirty Dancing – Havana Nights (2004)

This film is the sequel to the legendary movie, Dirty Dancing. Now we are in Havana, Cuba where an 18 years old American girl meets Cuban culture and a young Cuban guy, Javier who is quite willing to introduce her to the hidden world of Cuban underground salsa parties.

The story is nothing new, you have seen it all before. Javier is preparing for a dance contest and he picks Katie as a partner, they have three weeks (of course) to master the dance and win the competition. Parents are protective, the youngsters fell in love, and so on…

But all-in-all it’s a good movie, scoring 6,0 points on IMDB and as a big plus it takes you to a very interesting era as the plot takes place just days before the revolution in Cuba.



5. Dance with me (1998)

This movie is probably already well known by ballroom dancers as the main theme of the film is classical ballroom dancing and (of course) a ballroom contest. But the main character is Rafael who is coming from Cuba to Houston to visit his father who owns a dance studio.

It’s nothing new, you will get the usual clichés, but altogether it’s a good movie that you will enjoy. It has great dancers and great dance scenes, romance, conflicts as Rafael is getting close to the female contestant of the studio, taking her to Cuban places in Houston and introducing her to the freestyle fun of Cuban parties.

It scored 5,9 on IMDB and it’s a light movie that you can watch just about any time when you want to see “a good film about dancing”.

Also, this movie has probably the best salsa/rueda scene of all times when Rafael takes Ruby to her first party and the girl is tossed around (in a gentle way) in a crazy dance scene.




6. The way she moves (2001)

Also getting 5,9 points on IMDB this film is not a bad one, but not a memorable one either. You can watch it many times not remembering that you have already seen it before. It’s about a girl who is enrolled to a salsa class by her girlfriends just before her wedding.

You can guess the story from here, they fall in love with his handsome instructor (who just made a bet with his current partner that he can train any newbies to become a great dancer) and they are preparing for a dance contest just as usual.

It’s nothing new and there is nothing memorable about this movie, but you can watch it on any given Saturday afternoon and not feel bad about it.


As we are getting closer to the end of the list we will have movies that have some controversy to them. Depending on how you watch them they can be fun or be awful. Having some friends and some alcohol around will greatly improve your experience, so I recommend you don’t watch these alone but with some good company (of people and booze ;)).



7. Salsa (2000)

There are two movies with the exact same title, “Salsa”. The one which is better (and by the way one of my favourites) was made in 2000. It’s about a pianist who realizes in the middle of his concert that he likes salsa much more than Chopin. He goes crazy (great scene right at the beginning of the movie) and after he is kicked out of his music school he goes to Paris to immerse into its salsa life.

But soon he realizes that his pale skin color will never allow him into a Cuban band, neither can he successfully compete with Cuban teachers. So he takes on a fake identity, some browning powder and opens a salsa school where he, of course, meets Nathalie, a beautiful local girl.

Opinions are very much divided regarding this movie, but it’s one of my favourites and scoring 6,5 points on IMDB (which is right above all the others) it seems I’m not alone with my opinion.

Having a totally cliché-free plotline and some great music by world famous band Sierra Maestra this film is definitely worth a try.




8. Salsa (1988)

Right below 5 points on IMDB (4,9) it’s a movie that can be either a pain to watch or fun to watch, depending on the quality of the company and the quantity of booze you have gathered for this occasion 🙂

It starts with a crazy scene where Rico, a car mechanic (the main character) dances wildly for like 5 minutes in front of the cars that are waiting there to be repaired. You can immediately feel that this movie will not be remembered by the original plotline or great characters, but for one thing: it’s so bad that it’s actually good. Take on the “fun glasses” of yours and you will laugh a lot watching this film with your friends.

The story of course is nothing unique, there is a contest, there is a new girl and there is love. Everything that is needed for a typical dance movie.

Is it a good one? Well, definitely not. But it’s also not that bad. Depending on the amount of alcohol you drink and your base personality you will either feel that it’s awful or that it’s hilarious.



9. Cuban Fury (2014)

Scoring 6,2 points on IMDB this movie is supposed to outperform most of the other ones on this list. However, this is the only movie on this list that I just cannot recommend watching, because my personal and highly subjective opinion is that it’s just really bad. And not in a lovable way like some of the others, but I think it’s plain bad.

Why do I say that? If you remember, I told you that Streetdance 2 is all about making salsa look cool and make you feel good about your hobby. Well, this movie is quite the opposite. It operates with the kind of humour that implies that salsa is for losers. And you will just feel bad watching this movie. It will hit you in the face with all the worst (and mostly untrue) stereotypes about dancing in general.

But as you will watch in anyway, let’s see what it’s all about. The main character is a fat office worker who used to be a dancer as a kid but had some bad experiences so he quit. But he meets a new colleague, a beautiful girl who happens to dance salsa, so he goes back to his dance studio and childhood master to refresh his knowledge and impress the girl.

There are only two things that are good about this movie, one is the music, which is decent, and the other one is a Cuban salsa goddess, Yanet Fuentes whom they somehow dragged into this project. She appears in a scene and also made some of the choreography. She is truly a Cuban master dancer and a pleasure to watch.



10. La ultima rumba de Papa Montero (1992)

This movie is not at the 10th place because it’s bad, actually, I think it’s very good. But it’s also quite different, nothing that you would expect. I would say, this movie only makes sense if you are very much into Cuban culture and salsa dancing and you have a deep passion for Cuban rumba (or at least you know what it is, how it connects to salsa and already has some knowledge of the movements).

I would describe this film as a “fake documentary”, having all the marks of a documentary movie, but having a plotline and a built up story at the same time. It’s about the life of a great rumbero, Papa Montero who was murdered on the streets of Havana, with lots of folkloric elements and lots of rumba performed by the great dancers of El Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba.

It’s a short (less than an hour) movie that you can find on some video share sites with English subtitles. On IMDB it’s rated 7,0 with  only 6 votes. If you are a Cuban salsa/timba fanatic, it’s a must see, otherwise you can probably just skip this one.



+1 Along came Polly (2004)

This film is a bonus at the end of my list. It’s a typical American comedy with Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, which is not about salsa, but it has some salsa scenes. The main character of the movie is Reuben (Ben Stiller), who falls in love with Polly (Jennifer Aniston). And once it turns out that Polly is into salsa dancing Reuben decides to take some classes to impress the girl.

As I mentioned, salsa is not the main part of the plotline, there is about 10-15 minutes of it, but altogether it’s a fun movie to watch with some great scenes. I would say that in those 10-15 minutes this film achieved what Cuban fury couldn’t do in more than one and a half hours. Salsa parts are cool and funny and even though it has the weirdest salsa solo you have seen, you won’t feel bad about it 😉

Gaining 5,9 points on IMDB it’s a light little movie that is nothing exceptional, but is fun to watch once.


As I mentioned in the first paragraph these are the movies that I could find and watch and tell you my opinion about. Have you seen any others that you would add to this list? Do you have a different opinion or order? Let me know in the comments section below! 😉

2 thoughts on “Best salsa movies

  • October 11, 2019 at 2:33 am

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