What’s the Best History Movie?

By July 3, 2011

For me, the best history movies is Revolution, staring Al Pacino. This movie is a little weird from an artistic point of view; it was majorly panned by the critics. However, from a historical point of view, this movie is awesome. The movie is dark and gritty (I think they used all natural lighting), the people are all dirty and it presents an earthy view of the American Revolution. Pacino plays Tom Dobb, a fir trader who gets his boat stollen by the revolutionaries when he pulls into New York harbor. They hand him a note for payment, but when he tries to get payment for the note, his son signs up to join the army for a few shillings. Tom is told that they won’t release his son and that the only way he’ll be able to see him again is to sign up himself.

They soon fight in the battle of Long Island, where Washington was routed. Neal York showed us the battle scene in his class on the revolution because he said it was so accurate. Tom and his son run for it but Tom is later dragged back into the conflict when his son is captured by the British. With these run ins with the British aristocracy, Tom becomes converted to the cause and after rescuing his son, joins up in the hopes of creating “a better world.” (It kind of sounds cheesy when I put it that way, but Tom makes a moving speech to his son on the subject while he holds him and his Indian friends cauterize his wounds).

The weird part of the movie is the other major character, Daisy, played by Nastassja Kinski. She’s the rich girl who wants to be a patriot and in trying to present her as naive, she comes across as psychotic. But the point of the story is that Daisy and Tom become converted to the cause and are true patriots at the end.

The movie ends with the US government denying Tom payment for his services, telling him all the land has gone to speculators to pay the war debt. The movie ends with scenes of mayhem celebration in Philadelphia, including blacks shouting “what about our freedom!” They replay Tom’s speech about needing to create a better world which I think was in line with the aspirations of many of the poor farmers of the era, including many who would later be the early Mormons. Thus I think the movie brilliantly captures of the mentalities of the era.

What’s your vote for best history movie?

Article filed under Movie Reviews


  1. “The New World” by Terence Malek. The endings weird, but the portrayal of the first pilgrims seems spot on down to me.

    Comment by Jacob M — July 5, 2011 @ 10:56 am

  2. Braveheart! no, just kidding.

    In terms of money made, Gone With The Wind is the best history film. For my money, I enjoyed Gangs of New York. I think it delved well into the historical character and identity of the growth of the United States.

    Comment by Dan — July 5, 2011 @ 9:14 pm

  3. Fievel Goes West. Because of its historicity for sure. 😉 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101329/goofs

    Comment by Liz — July 5, 2011 @ 9:17 pm

  4. The Conspirator.

    Comment by anothernonymous — July 5, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

  5. Do Victorian costume dramas count? They have inspired many of my female graduate school cohort mates to become historians. If so, Downton Abbey recently released is fantastic.

    Comment by Amanda HK — July 6, 2011 @ 3:19 am

  6. Pacino, Plowright_and_Annie! And, directed by the guy who did “Chariot” and “Greystoke”!? Sounds like a hidden gem.
    On the Pacino hook, I’d choose Godfathers I and II.
    #5–Cheers to the Victorian/Edwardian hist. mini-series genre–and “Downton’s” no slouch–but I’d go with “Lark Rise.”

    Comment by bc — July 6, 2011 @ 8:57 am

  7. I’ve always thought The Horse Soldiers with John Wayne and William Holden (1959) to be an excellent historical movie. It seemed to me to capture very accurately the details of civil war cavalry campaigns. Horses get tired and need to be walked, untreated minor wounds become deadly, and other realistic details make it well worth watching.

    Comment by kevinf — July 6, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  8. No love for Glory?

    Comment by Clark — July 6, 2011 @ 11:22 am

  9. Although not technically a “movie,” per se, I thought the “John Adams” HBO series were an excellent history lesson on the founding fathers. My wife and I watch the episodes back to back so it feels like a movie scenario.

    Comment by Jeremy — July 6, 2011 @ 11:24 am

  10. Thanks for the votes, good suggestions. I like the British period dramas as much as anything. It seems hard to top the Middlemarch miniseries (so yeah, count miniseries Jeremy). I only saw parts of John Adams but it looked very good.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 6, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  11. I loved the John Adams miniseries as well. Especially the early ones. I thought Band of Brothers was incredible also.

    Comment by Clark — July 6, 2011 @ 10:31 pm

  12. I, Claudius

    Comment by Zen Mormon — July 15, 2011 @ 11:27 pm


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