Telenovelas are a huge part of Latinx pop culture. We remember our abuelitas, moms, and tias watching the latest must-see shows, grew up emulating the actresses’ beauty looks and style, and then adopted our own favorite novelas, full of romance, and most importantly, drama–lots of it. They turned actresses like Thalia, Lucero, and Margarita Rosa de Francisco into household names and gave us unforgettable, entertaining narratives that we remember with nostalgia.
It may be a new year, but we love looking back and remembering. That’s why we’re sharing seven of the most classic telenovelas of all time. These are the originals that defined the genre for decades to come.
Sua Vida Me Pertence (1951)
Sua Vida Me Pertence was Brazil’s very first telenovela, airing from 1951 to 1952, for a total of 15 episodes. It follows the love story between a man and a woman, played by Walter Forster and Vida Alves. In addition to being Brazil’s first novela, Sua Vida Me Pertence also featured Brazil’s first ever televised kiss. We’ve come a long way!
Simplemente Maria (1969)
Another novela to help set up the genre is Simplemente Maria. Starring Saby Kamalich, the Peruvian production tells the story of Maria, an indigenous single mother who moves from her village to the city to better her life. She uses the money she makes to learn how to sew and follows her dream. Simplemente Maria aired from 1969-1971, before being remade several times, including another popular version in 1989 with Victoria Ruffo in the title role.
Los Ricos También Lloran (1979)
A lot of telenovelas revolve around money–those who have it, those who don’t, and how either extreme can change lives. Los Ricos También Lloran, one of the most popular novelas of all time, stars telenovela icon Veronica Castro as Mariana, a Latina Cinderella who loses everything after her evil stepmother kicks her out of the house following her father’s death. Credited as the first global telenovela, Los Ricos Tambien Lloran even became a huge hit in Russia.
Cuna de Lobos (1986)
Is it really a telenovela if there isn’t a crazy villain? Cuna de Lobos, which aired from 1986 to 1987, had one of the most legendary–Catalina Creel, played by Maria Rubio. She plots, she schemes, and she murders, while also wearing an eye patch as part of one of her many lies. All in the interest of protecting the family business, of course.
Maria la del Barrio (1995)
The trifecta of Maria novelas, Maria Mercedes (1992) MariMar (1994), and Maria del Barrio helped make Thalia the it girl of the ‘90s. Maria la del Barrio is a remake of Los Ricos También Lloran. It’s the classic Mexican rags-to-riches formula, starring an endearing character everyone wants to see win. Naturally, there’s also a love story.
La Usurpadora (1998)
Another TV trope we’re here for in classic novelas? The evil twin! 1998’s La Usurpadora starred Gabriela Spanic (herself a real-life twin) in the dual roles of Paola and Paulina. One is good-hearted and poor, the other rich and evil. A plan to have them switch places changes everything. Various versions of this novela, under the name La Usurpadora and La Intrusa have been entertaining Latinxs since 1971 with the latest version in 2019!
Yo Soy Betty, La Fea (1999)
Credited as one the most successful novela of all time, Yo Soy Betty, La Fea captured audiences in its native Colombia, and around the world. Several different remakes have been made in countries including Vietnam, India, the Netherlands, and the United States. Originally portrayed by Ana Maria Orozco, Betty is an intelligent, educated woman who takes a job at fashionable EcoModa, and is judged for being “fea.”