Rahul is a movie addict who can never get enough of good films. His all time favorites are Inception, 12 Angry Men, and Scarface.
What Are Some of The Best Historical Films?
If you are a cinemaholic and fond of historical movies, you will be spoilt for choices. In the past 50 years, several films have stood out in terms of treatment of important historical events that have changed the world. Be it Watergate scandal, The Great Depression or even the political events during the two World Wars, there are several events chronicled on the silver screen.
The films have received tremendous critical acclaim and have also set the cash registers ringing at the box office. The actors have gained immense fame due to the characters they immortalized on the silver screen. Here, let me bring to you an exhaustive list of best historical films you should not miss at any cost. Let's take a look;
Best Historical Movies Ever
- The Post (2017)
- Darkest Hour (2017)
- Lincoln (2012)
- Argo (2012)
- The King's Speech (2010)
- Valkyrie (2008)
- Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
- Downfall (2004)
- Thirteen Days (2000)
- Elizabeth (1998)
- Nixon (1995)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
- JFK (1991)
- All The President’s Men (1976)
1. The Post (2017)
The critically acclaimed historical drama features stalwarts Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in the lead roles. Set in 1971, the film chronicles the investigations of journalists who try to publish Pentagon papers related to the US administration’s involvement in the Vietnam War.
Katherine Graham (Streep) is a publisher of The Washington Post. With assistance from her editor, Bren Bradley (Hanks), she rushes to catch up with the New York Times to expose the cover-ups spanning four decades and tenure of three US presidents.
The Postreceived several accolades owing to its brilliant screenplay and narrative. Streep was praised for her performance and earned an Oscar nomination. This Tom Hanks starrer is definitely up there with some of the best work of Spielberg. Watch his work unfold at the backdrop of the ravaging US-Vietnam war! It's an exhausting but spellbinding film.
2. Darkest Hour (2017)
Gary Oldman played the iconic Winston Churchill in the critically acclaimed film, Darkest Hour. The film chronicles Churchill’s early days as British prime minister during World War II.
As incumbent prime minister, Neville Chamberlain is forced to quit after a major diplomatic blunder that results in Hitler-led Nazi Germany running amok in Europe, a change in leadership prompts Churchill to take over as the premier despite being disliked by the monarch and Parliament.
Britain is in danger as the Nazis have overrun France and have carried out bombings in London, infamously known as the London Blitz. What follows is the new prime minister’s testing times as the whole country looks up to him for protection from German aggression. The film won several accolades including the Oscar for Oldman. Give this gem a shot if you're looking for some good historical movies.
3. Lincoln (2012)
Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Right from science fictions to historical war epics, the filmmaker has aced every genre he tried his hands on. In 2012, Spielberg produced a cinematic marvel through Lincoln, based on the life of 16th U.S President Abraham Lincoln.
Daniel Day-Lewis played the president who faces a daunting task of ending the American Civil War and prevent more casualties. President Lincoln, later on, abolishes slavery through the 13th amendment, a move that angered few people in the society.
The film received tremendous critical acclaim and won several awards at various film events. Lewis won an Oscar in the Best Actor category.
4. Argo (2012)
Directed by Ben Affleck, the film is set against the backdrop of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. In Retaliation against then US President Jimmy Carter granting asylum to Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Iranian revolutionaries storm the US embassy and capture 60 official.
However, six of the employees manage to escape and are based in the official residence of the Canadian ambassador. The CIA asks exfiltration specialist, Tony Mendez (Affleck) to rescue the trapped officials. While watching a movie, Mendez stumbles upon an idea and draws a meticulous plan with the help of two Hollywood producers to stage a fake movie recce in Iran.
The film follows Mendez’s skillful planning and bid to bring back the embassy officials from volatile Iran. While Khomenei’s supporters are gunning for the Americans, Mendez shoulders the responsibility of securing the escape of the embassy officials. Though it starts off slow, everything falls into place by the second half. Don't miss out on this underrated flick.
5. The King’s Speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper, this historical war drama won the Academy Award for Best Film. King George VI (Colin Firth) has a speech impediment and stammers while delivering speeches. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Carter) hires a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose task is to ‘cure’ the king of his speech deficiencies.
Rogue, also known as Bertie, is in a fix as the new Emperor has to address the nation, announcing that Britain has declared war on Nazi Germany. You need to watch this film to ascertain if the speech therapist was successful in his efforts. Overall, The King's Speech is one of the best historical movies you'll ever watch.
6. Valkyrie (2008)
Europe is in the middle of World War II. Hitler’s Germany continues to chart exhaustive plans to reassert control over Europe after a massive setback by the Soviets and advancing threat from the Allied forces.
While the entire German Wehrmacht force obeys the Fuhrer, some officials listen to their conscience. One of them is a one-eyed Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise), who along with other high-ranking army officials hatches a plot to assassinate Hitler and seize control of Germany. The operation is titled Valkyrie, and the ‘conspirators’ need a lot of luck as nothing goes exactly according to the plan.
Released in 2008, the film with the same name drew a lot of controversies owing to the title of the film and Cruise’s belief in Scientology. But upon the release, it received generally positive reviews. The veteran superstar aces the role of Stauffenberg who carried out the mission in a bid to help Germany get rid of Hitler.
7. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007)
Directed by Mike Nichols, the Tom Hanks starrer biographical drama is based on the life of US Congressman, Charlie Wilson. Wilson is a Congressman known for lavish parties and filling his office with attractive young women.
In 1980, he is suggested by his love interest, Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts) to do something for the Afghans. On a trip to Pakistan, he meets then Pakistani president, Zia-ul-Haq (Om Puri), who complains of inadequate U.S support to Pakistan for aiding Afghans against the invading Soviets.
The Pakistani president advises him to visit a refugee camp on the Afghan-Pak border. Wilson is deeply moved after witnessing the plight of the refugees displaced due to the Soviet invasion. What follows his Wilson’s efforts to escalate the efforts to help Afghan mujahideen in driving out the Russians from their territory.
The rest is history. Though we already know how everything transpired, it's still fun (not really) to watch a fictionalized version of the events transpire before your eyes from the comfort of your home.
8. Downfall (2004)
Born in Austria, Adolf Hitler rose to become one of the most controversial world leaders ever. Right from presiding over the most gruesome program to active participation in World War II, Hitler has been portrayed in several films. But not many know about his last years when surrounded by Allied Forces in the Second World War.
Directed by Olivier Hirschbiegel, the German political drama is set against 1942 when Stalin’s Red Army pushes the Germans back. Stationed in Prussia, Hitler (Bruno Ganz) appoints Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara) as his personal secretary.
Three years later, the Fuhrer, as the German dictator was called by his ardent followers, is now helplessly hiding in a bunker. His Wehrmacht has been completely routed right from Warsaw to Moscow and the Allied forces could reach him within no time.
Traudl narrates Hitler’s last days before he committed suicide. It's unnerving yet a moving tale, which is surprising for obvious reasons. Overall, Downfall is one of the most underrated historical movies on this list.
9. Thirteen Days (2000)
In 1962, the US and the Soviet Union almost came on the verge of a full-scale nuclear war. What began as an installation of ballistic missiles by the US in Turkey and Italy was responded with Soviet missiles in Cuba.
The next 13 days witnessed anxiety among the global community as Cold War intensified. Seen from the perspective of the US political leadership, Thirteen Days captures the suspense and chaos during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Directed by Roger Donaldson, the political drama featured Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, and Steven Culp in pivotal roles.
Critics gave mostly positive reviews for the spectacular performance as well as the screenplay, which will keep you glued to your couch from the beginning till the end.
10. Elizabeth (1998)
Directed by Shekhar Kapur, Cate Blanchett starrer Elizabeth is a must-watch for those who are interested in historical biopics. Released in 1998, the film begins with a young Elizabeth being forced to ascend the throne of England upon the death of Catholic Queen Mary.
In a court where nobles rule the roost and intrigue a common order, the new empress has to face several hardships before she can assert her control over the mighty British empire. The queen has an able advisor in William Cecil (Richard Attenborough) who helps her manage the throne while inheriting debt, crumbling infrastructure and dangerous neighbors.
The film traces her journey from being a novice to one of the all-time greatest monarchs Britain has ever been ruled by. For its time, Elizabeth was a visual extravaganza. Critics loved the lavish costumes and rich backgrounds, but the inaccurate storyline was slammed by most. Its inaccuracy notwithstanding, Elizabeth is still one of the best historical movies of the 90s.
11. Nixon (1995)
Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins needs no introduction in terms of his acting prowess. The OBE felicitated icon is considered as an acting institution, owing to his stellar performances.
In 1995, Hopkins essayed the role of Richard Nixon, the most controversial US President. Directed by Oliver Stone, the film chronicles the turbulent life of Nixon, who rose from humble origins as a lawyer and then a navy commander to occupying the Oval Office.
The film largely deals with the sensational Watergate scandal, which began as a botched burglary attempt at the Democratic headquarters and led to Nixon’s resignation. The film was no stranger to controversies as two days before the release, Nixon’s family issued a statement labeling the film as a means to defame the former US president.
Nevertheless, the film turned out to be a major critical and commercial success.
12. Schindler’s List (1993)
Based on Australian novelist Thomas Keneally’s book, Schindler’s Ark, the Steven Spielberg directorial is about a German businessman who saved the lives of more than thousand Polish-Jewish refugees from Holocaust during the World War II.
A Sudeten German businessman, Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Poland’s Krakow as soon as the second War breaks out. With an ambition to start a factory in dealing with enamelware, Schindler bribes several officers of the German armed forces and Secret Service to be able to start a factory. During the course of time, he employes Jewish residents in his factories, who would otherwise be exterminated in the concentration camps of Krakow.
Schindler’s List received widespread critical acclaim and bagged 7 Oscars, including one for Spielberg. Neeson won tremendous acclaim for portraying the role of Schindler who saved countless lives from possible extermination.
13. JFK (1991)
Former US President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963. The daylight assassination of Kennedy has been a subject of intense scrutiny in the past five decades. Several conspiracy theories continue to float even today.
Directed by Oliver Stone, Kevin Costner starrer JFK sparked a massive row over its release. Kevin Costner plays a district attorney Jim Garrison who tries to probe alleged conspiracy behind the killing. The investigator faces extreme government resistance after he starts doubting the conventional theories about the murder.
After the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman) is killed, Garrison shuts the case. Three years later, he reopens the case after claiming to have found glaring inaccuracies in the Warren Commission report, which was tabled after investigating Kennedy’s assassination.
He witnesses a high-ranking official, who reveals himself as Mr. X, suggest a massive controversy implicating the CIA, FBI, Secret Service, and even Kennedy’s Vice-President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who later succeeded him as president.
While we may never get the concrete answer regarding these events, JFK at least attempts to bring closure to the whole facade.
14. All The President’s Men (1976)
The Watergate Scandal shook the entire American political system in the 1970s, forcing then-President Richard Nixon to resign.
Directed by Alan Pakula, the political thriller depicts the high-profile investigation by Washington Post correspondents, Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), who while covering a botched burglary at the Democratic Party headquarters in Washington DC, stumble upon some incriminating clues that would nail the high and mighty in the Oval Office.
The breathtaking pace with which this movie hurtles towards the conclusion might leave you uninmpressed the first time you watch it, especially if you're not paying close attention to everyhting. The second time is the charm, however.
With movies popping left and right everywhere, it's quite possible I might have left out on some essential entries. If you have any suggestions for other good historical movies/s, let me know in the comments section. I'll be more than happy to check them out and update this list.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on April 08, 2019:
I've seen a few of these films. Nixon and Darkest Hour are my favourite from this list. There's certainly a lot of good historical films here to watch. =)