10 Entertaining History Movies

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 11:30 am

Great Historical Movies

History movies provide plenty of opportunities to learn, not to mention sweeping romance and violence galore. The films listed below are among my favorites, as they cover a wide range of historical events that impacted multiple nations. So if you’re looking to be entertained and educated at the same time, give these 10 entertaining history movies a try.

Red Cliff (2008, 2009) – One of my favorite films in recent years, this John Woo project was released in two parts in its native China, while the rest of the globe got an abbreviated version that ran under three hours. The two-parter is far superior, and I urge you to set aside the 4 hours and 40 minutes needed to watch it. Set during the Han Dynasty in 208, this epic movie stars Tony Leung, Takeshi Kaneshiro, and Chang Chen as noble warriors and rulers in defiance of aggressive imperial chancellor Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi). Filled with Asian beauties, massive battle sequences, and the expected amount of John Woo slo-mo, it’s the perfect remedy for anyone who wants to know more about the history of China and some of their most beloved figures.

The Battleship Potemkin (1925) – Considered one of the most important films ever made, this Sergei Eisenstein piece of propaganda depicts the historical events surrounding the 1905 mutiny of a Russian naval crew against their cruel Tsarist officers. The Odessa Steps sequence is the most famous product of this Soviet film, despite the fact that it never happened.


Waterloo features some of the best battle scenes of all the historical movies on this list.

Waterloo (1970) – Rod Steiger takes on the role of Napoleon Bonaparte, and this Russian/Italian co-production follows the legendary military leader as he escapes from his exile on the isle of Elba, returns to Paris, and then prepares to face the combined might of Prussia and Britain. Christopher Plummer co-stars as the Duke of Wellington, and Orson Welles shows up in the role of France’s Louis XVIII. The battle sequences are extraordinary, with over 17,000 extras and a host of stunt riders. Fans of military history or Napoleon in general are urged to take a look.

Earth (1998) – Around 300,000 people died in the partition of India back in 1947, and this Deepa Mehta masterpiece focuses on a diverse group of friends who are torn apart during the country’s historical and needlessly turbulent events. Iconic Indian actor Aamir Khan is a notable standout as the Ice Candy Man.

The Longest Day (1962) – Want to learn more about the D-Day invasion of WWII and see all your favorite stars from the era in the process? This black-and-white epic features everyone from John Wayne and Robert Redford to Sean Connery and Henry Fonda. Soldiers from both sides served as technical advisors, and the result was an authentic film that captured all the drama and horror of the largest amphibious invasion in the history of the world.

The Alamo (1960) – John Wayne starred in and directed this rousing look at one of the turning points in the Texas war for independence against Mexico. Set in 1836, the action takes place in a former Spanish mission that’s under siege by thousands of Mexican troops led by General Santa Anna (Ruben Padilla) Inside, a few hundred rebels hold out as best they can, despite the growing realization that it’s a battle they cannot win. Sure, the historical accuracy is suspect, but it does manage to hit the high points. Besides, watching the iconic Wayne fight to the death against bayonet-wielding Mexican will manage to rouse the spirits of any Texas native (myself included). Co-starring Richard Widmark, Richard Boone, Laurence Harvey, and Frankie Avalon.

United 93 (2006) – Shot in real time and made as authentic as possible, this critically-acclaimed film from Paul Greengrass details the fateful events aboard United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11th, 2001. But don’t expect any big-name stars, as the emphasis here is on the power of group cooperation.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – While the focus of this classic British epic is on T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) and his adventures among the Bedouin people, history buffs will be thrilled to see the inner workings of the desert tribesmen, as well as some of the more pivotal events of World War I. Clocking in at over 3 ½ hours, it provides action, personal conflict, self-doubt, and often uneasy brotherhood. But don’t go looking for any romantic subplots, as not a single woman has a speaking line in the film.

Battle of Algiers

A fascinating and nail-biting look at both sides of terrorism.

The Battle of Algiers (1966) – You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more even-handed look at guerilla warfare than in this groundbreaking film from Gillo Pontecorvo. Depicting the struggle of native Algerians to oust the French leadership, The Battle of Algiers pushes the tension into overdrive when bombs begin to detonate and French paratroopers are called in to put down the rebellion. Admired by both politicians and terrorists, it provides equal parts historical information and white-knuckle entertainment (thanks in part to the tense soundtrack by Ennio Morricone).

All the President’s Men (1976) – While this Oscar-winning film is presented as a political thriller, it also provides a look at one of the major events in American history: the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Dustin Hoffman (Bernstein) and Robert Redford (Woodward) are the intrepid Washington Post reporters on the trail of the story of the century, and they’re supported by Jason Robards (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Hal Holbrook (as the mysterious Deep Throat), and Jack Warden. If you’d like to know more about the complexities of American politics and the dirty deeds that sometimes occur behind the scenes, All the President’s Men is an eye-opener.

Whether you need to write a school report on a historical event or just want to kick back and see how people lived a few centuries ago, the above history movies will do the trick. And while certain facts may have been changed or glossed over in the interest of ticket sales, a trip online or to your local library will provide an even greater–and more accurate–perspective.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 5th, 2011 at 11:30 am and is filed under Good Movies. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “10 Entertaining History Movies”

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February 28, 2012

John Clifton

I loved the guy with the hand fan in Red Cliff–classic stuff. I’ve been reading a book on the partition of India recently, so I’m going to take the recommendation on Earth. And I’ve absolutely got to see Rod Steiger as Napoleon. Seeing Orson Welles flee France when Napoleon returns from Elba will be a hoot, too. I didn’t even know this movie existed, so it’s about to go in my queue.

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