Ripstein got his break into movies working as an uncredited assistant Director for Luis Buñuel. In 1965, he directed his first feature, Tiempo de morir. Written by Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez, it began a tradition of making independent films written by high-profile Latin-American authors. His 1981 film Seduction was entered into the 12th Moscow International Film Festival. His 1989 film Love Lies was entered into the 16th Moscow International Film Festival.
In 1997, Ripstein won the National Prize of Arts and Sciences, the second filmmaker after Buñuel to do so.