Good Historical Movies

Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 7:00 am

Good historical movies not only entertain, but they also help us learn about people and places from long ago. It’s kind of like taking a 2-hour history class filled with cursing, killing, and maybe even a little nudity. In the following list, I’ll run down some good historical movies and provide an opinion or two on why I recommend them. If you find that you agree (or disagree), make sure to let me know about it in our comments section.

Black Robe (1991) – Based on the novel of the same name, Black Robe centers around a Jesuit missionary named Father LaForque who’s dispatched to find a Catholic mission deep within the wilds of 17th century Canada. The rest of the film follows the tragic and also uplifting events surrounding he and his Algonquin guides. Praised for its depiction of indiginous peoples, you’ll hear Latin, English, Algonquin, Mohawk, and Cree being spoken.

Spartacus (1960) – Kirk Douglas portrays Spartacus, the legendary slave of the Roman Empire who led a rebellion in 73 BC.  Stanley Kubrick already had four films under his belt when he helmed this picture, including another collaboration with Douglas (Paths of Glory). The resulting film is an epic tale of freedom, love, and revenge, and Laurence Olivier is thoroughly unlikable as the cruel and calculating Marcus Licinius Crassus. If you love scenes of gladiators fighting and major land battles, then give Spartacus a try. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of time, as the running time is over three hours long.

The Last Emperor (1987) – Bernardo Bertolucci won a Best Director Oscar for this biopic on the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. The film also captured Best Picture for its portrayal of Puyi’s life from his royal upbringing to capture by the Soviets and his “re-education” at the hands of the Maoist Chinese.

Cleopatra (1963) – Elizabeth Taylor exudes sex appeal as Cleopatra VII, the Queen of Egypt. After bearing a child for Julius Caesar (Rex Harrison), she expects to rule the world by his side. But things spiral downward after his assassination, and she retreats to Egypt to try and resist the advancing Roman legions. A lavish production which was considered a critical and financial bomb, it still managed to snag four Oscars. The director’s cut of the film runs over 5 hours, so you might want to grab the 2006 release (which is only 4 hours and 8 minutes). Also starring Richard Burton, Roddy McDowall, Martin Landau, and Hume Cronyn.

Barry Lyndon (1975) – While not based on actual historial events, this period piece by Stanley Kubrick offers a detailed look at life in 18th century Europe through the eyes of a roguish adventurer named Barry Lydon. Beautiful scenes lit by natural candlelight brought kudos for the filmmakers, and there are plenty of battles, seductions, and duels to keep the audience interested. Ryan O’Neal plays the lead, and he’s joined by Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, and Gay Hamilton. Classical music lovers will also be instantly smitten with the film’s score, as it includes pieces from Vivaldi, Bach, Handel, Mozart, and many more.

Amistad (1997) – An all-star cast beefs up this Steven Spielberg film about African slaves who rebel on a slave ship, kill their captors, and then get put on trial by U.S. authorities. Based on a true story, the film stars Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, Djimoon Hounsou, Stellen Skarsgard, and Nigel Hawthorne. Also keep an eye out for a very young Anna Paquin as the Queen of Spain.

The Mission (1986) – Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), a Spanish Jesuit priest, goes into the jungles of South America to found a mission. He’s eventually joined by Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a penitant man who once profited from capturing and selling the local peoples into slavery. Moved by the beauty around them, both men think they’ve found paradise, but the real world intrudes with tragic results. Also starring Liam Neeson, Ray McAnally, and Aidan Quinn. Nominated for seven Oscars (winning for Best Cinematography).

A Man for All Seasons (1966) – A winner of six Oscars, including the award for Best Picture, A Man for All Seasons stars Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More, a principled man who refuses to give in to the demands of King Henry VIII. Studio execs feared that Scofield wasn’t a big enough name to carry the film, but they were proven wrong when he won the Best Actor Oscar. Brilliant casting, including Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, John Hurt, Wendy Hiller, and Leo McKern.

Reds (1981) – Warren Beatty directs and stars in this tale of John Reed, an American poet and journalist who documented the Russian Revolution in his book entitled Ten Days that Shook the World. Considered one of the all-time best films in the epic genre, Reds also stars Diane Keaton, Paul Sorvino, Gene Hackman, and Jack Nicholson.

Downfall (2004) – Bruno Ganz drew rave reviews for his portayal of a broken and disillusioned Adolph Hitler in the final days of The Third Reich. Much of the events in Hitler’s bunker are seen through the eyes of Traudl Junge (Alexandra Maria Lara), a young woman who serves as one of the Fuhrer’s personal secretaries. Things get more desperate as the Red Army draws closer, and various members of the inner circle contemplate suicide, surrender, or retreat. A nifty treat for history buffs.

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Now that you’ve been educated as to some good historical movies, why not linger around for a bit and read these other fine entries from Only Good Movies:

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 19th, 2009 at 7:00 am and is filed under Good Movies, Thoughts on Film. 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.

6 Responses to “Good Historical Movies”

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October 10, 2010

George Romero

In search of a black and white movie that I don’t know the name of. The scene that I remember is a litte boy in a tree and a man is takeing him away to rest in peace, I think.
The man asked the boy to come down from the tree, but the boy was scared at first, but eventually did come down. I saw the ending once and it has made me very curious for a long time what this movie was about. It would be greatly appreciated if someone could give any feed back on this film. Thank you!

February 20, 2011

Eileen Tubal

I am looking for an old black and white, about a priest in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution. I think it had Henry Fonda as the priest.


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