The sport of Lucha Libre (Mexican professional wrestling) became so popular in Mexico, that it spawned a genre of Luchador films (wrestling/action/science-fiction/horror films) starring some of the most popular masked luchadores in the sport. These masked superheroes engaged in battles against a range of characters from spies, to vampires and martians. Luchador films were produced quickly on a modest budget and were reminiscent of American B-films. Nearly all lucha films included fist-fighting and wrestling action sequences which were choreographed and performed by the stars themselves without the aid of stunt doubles. The genre's popularity peaked during the mid-60s to early-70s. At least 150 luchador films were produced starting with the 1952 film "Huracán Ramírez", which is considered to be the first true luchador film.
The most famous luchador action film star was El Santo, who is also the most famous luchador in the history of the sport. He would star in a total of fifty-two lucha films. Enrique Vergara, the producer of the then-successful Santo movies, decided to diversify by offering luchador Blue Demon a series of his own. Blue Demon would star in twenty-five lucha films. In 1965, Santo walked out on producer Vergara over a contractual dispute and his other star, Blue Demon, had been injured. This led Vergara to approach a young judo martial artist with an offer to star in a lucha film. Mil Máscaras (A Thousand Masks) was the first lucha libre personality created specifically for the movies. Máscaras has starred in twenty lucha films, including Las Vampiras with John Carradine and Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy with El Hijo del Santo, Blue Demon Jr, and Huracan Ramirez Jr. Mil Máscaras has had a legendary career as a professional luchador and has been the most internationally influential Mexican wrestler of all time, but El Santo is the most revered undisputed icon of the lucha film genre.
Lucha films also starred other masked luchadores including Tinieblas (The Darkness), Rayo de Jalisco, Sr. (Lightning from Jalisco), El Medico Asesino (The Killer Doctor), El Fantasma Blanco (The White Ghost) and Superzan. The most successful luchador film in Mexico was Las Momias de Guanajuato ("The Mummies of Guanajuato"). In that 1970 film, El Santo, Blue Demon, and Mil Mascaras team up to battle a group of re-animated mummies. The real-life existence of a mummy display in the city of Guanajuato most likely contributed to the success of the film. When American producer K. Gordon Murray bought the rights to three of Santo’s lucha libre films, he dubbed them into English for domestic release and changed the name of the wrestling hero to "Samson". The best known luchador film outside of Mexico is 1962s' Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro ("Samson vs. the Vampire Women"), which was featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The production values in this film were excellent and it was very successful at the box office. El Santo en el Museo de Cera (aka "Samson in the Wax Museum") is also considered to be one of the better films in the genre. Not all Mexican wrestlers were male. Las Luchadoras ("The Wrestling Women") appeared in six films, the most famous being The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964) and Doctor of Doom (1962). The popularity of lucha films started to decline by the mid-70s and essentially came to the end by 1976. However, such films are still being created including 2007's Mil Mascaras vs. the Aztec Mummy which met with critical praise upon release.