History might not have been your favorite subject in school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like historical movies. These films serve many purposes while being massively entertaining. For history nerds, they become a topic of profound discussions- pulling all the threads, pointing out mistakes, and debating the impact of the events. There is a lot of fodder there. For some people, who are more invested in the story than the hi-story(!) these are the fascinating tales of another time, of a society they don’t live in, and a world they’ll never get to see (unless the time machine is invented!). For another section, these could very well be the films in the fantasy genre. No matter which category you fall in, you can’t deny the importance of historical movies. They are informative, they are entertaining, and most importantly, they are the warning signs, alerting us of what the world could be like if we, humans, make the same mistakes again. There’s a reason they say “history repeats itself”.
With every passing year, Netflix has been broadening its horizon regarding the genre of stories it tells. Historical movies, fact or fiction, aren’t untouched by it. If you want a history lesson, without the boredom of the classroom, the following is the list of really good Historical movies on Netflix. The list also includes historical war movies, historical drama films, and historical fiction movies.
20. Kon-Tiki (2012)
This international co-production is about the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition. Thor Heyerdahl (Pal Sverre Hagen), an ethnographer and adventurer, set sail from Peru to the Polynesian Islands on a handmade balsa wood raft. He cannot swim or sail himself, but with help from five crew members, set out to prove his theory that people from South America settled the Polynesian Islands in the pre-Columbian era. The film was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film as well as the Golden Globe Awards. Heyerdahl filmed the expedition which was then later made into an award-winning documentary.
19. War Horse (2011)
Set against the First World War, ‘War Horse’ is directed by Steven Spielberg and was nominated for six Academy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards, and five BAFTAs. It follows the story of Joey, a horse cared for by young Albert (Jeremy Irvine). Bought by the British Army, Joey goes through many wars and many owners in a world of violence and unrest. Albert enlists in the British Army, and after facing many difficulties, Joey and Albert make their way back to each other and finally return home together. The film is based on the 1982 novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo.
18. The Queen (2006)
‘The Queen’ is a biographical film directed by Stephen Frears and surrounds the death of Princess Diana, who was also known as the “People’s Princess.” After the sudden and shocking news of her death, people seek answers as the Royal family tries to treat her death as a family matter. Tony Blair, the newly elected Prime Minister, constantly urges the Queen to address the public. Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth remarkably, for which she won the Academy Award, BAFTA award, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture- Drama.
17. Manto (2018)
‘Manto’ is a biographical film on the Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manto. The film paints the life and works of the author and how it is affected by his life experiences. A country torn into two, India and Pakistan, challenge his sanity and sense of self as he desires to belong somewhere. The film has two clear phases; Manto’s life in Bombay as a thriving scriptwriter, surrounded by friends and well-wishers, and the second being in Lahore, where he finds himself getting isolated from everyone. His downward spiral makes him hit rock bottom as he checks himself into the Lahore Mental Hospital for his alcohol addiction.
16. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Set against the backdrop of World War II and the German occupation of the Guernsey Island, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a London-based writer, develops a relationship over time with a book club called ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.’ As the members of the book club share their experience of living on the Nazi-occupied island, Juliet decides to visit the island herself. She has an idea for her next book, as she decides to write about the German occupation; in the bargain, she makes friends for life. The whole experience makes Juliet realize that she cannot leave behind her life at Guernsey and return to London.
15. Trumbo (2015)
Directed by Jay Roach, ‘Trumbo’ is a biographical film on Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), one of the most famous scriptwriters in Hollywood. He and a few of his artist friends get arrested and blacklisted for their political beliefs and supposedly propagating Communist propaganda in Hollywood films. As the list of blacklisted individuals in the industry keeps growing, producers refuse to work with them. As a desperate means, Trumbo started to write screenplays and give to his friend Ian McLellan Hunter, to take credit and share the money specifically for ‘Roman Holiday’. Over the years, his ghostwriting is ultimately a big topic of discussion, but he is careful and never confirms.
14. A Twelve-Year Night (2018)
Originally titled ‘La noche de 12 anos,’ ‘A Twelve-Year Night’ is a drama from Uruguay. Based on historical events, the film follows the 12-year- solitary confinement that members of the left-wing urban guerrilla group (Tupamaros) were put through. The order by the military dictatorship was to “drive them mad” if they can’t be killed. One of the nine hostages that are taken includes Pepe Mujica, who will go on to become the 40th President of Uruguay from 2010-2015. The crucially acclaimed film was selected as an entry for the 91st Academy Awards under the category of Best Foreign Language Film.
13. A Little Chaos (2014)
Starring and directed by Alan Rickman, this film follows the story of two people who are tasked with designing the famous Garden of Versailles. Kate Winslet played the role of Sabine De Barra, a commoner who is selected to assist with the designing of the gardens. She is picked by Andre Le Notre, who was a famous landscape artist. The film also takes into account the political struggle in the court and presents the lifestyle of the French aristocracy. However, its main focus lies on the relationship between the married Andre, whose wife has been cheating on him, and Sabine, who is haunted by something in her past. The film is not close to being historically accurate, neither does it bother to do so. However, the strong performances from the cast, especially the lead pair make it worth a watch.
12. Frost/Nixon (2008)
This Oscar-nominated historical drama, directed by Ron Howard, throws light on the 1977 interview of Richard Nixon with David Frost. The disgraced President was forced out of his office and remains silent on the matter for three years. But in 1977, he chooses to be a part of an all-inclusive televised interview, much to everyone’s surprise. Nixon probably did not expect Frost to be able to hold his own and saw it as an opportunity to reconnect with the people of America. But what follows when the camera starts filming, no one was prepared for, not even Frost’s team members.
11. The Angel (2018)
Speaking of historical films always conjures up the image of the times that lie at least a hundred years prior to one’s own era. To be honest, what happened a decade ago is history too, though the most recent one. But, let’s not get into that debate. My point is that if I tell you to watch a film that is set in the early 70s, it is historical too, no matter how different it is from the rest of the films on this list. And this one, you must watch, because it acts as more of a spy-thriller. Based on the book of the same name by Uri Bar-Joseph, it focuses on the story of an Egyptian man who served as a spy for Israeli intelligence. Set in the aftermath of the Six Days War, it shows the Egyptian Prime Minister and his cabinet talking about how they can get back at Israel after their recent loss. Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, is let in on the discussion, however, he is harshly rebuked when he makes a substantial suggestion. This throws him towards the Israeli intelligence and the rest that happened was history!
10. Outlaw King (2018)
The name of Robert Bruce is held in high regard in Scottish history. He is known as one of the fiercest warriors and led the First War of Scottish Independence. ‘Outlaw King’ focuses on the events after the besieging of Stirling Castle where the Scottish nobles surrendered to the King of England. Acting in subordination to the King continued for some time, but not long after, Robert Bruce led a rebellion against the British, motivated by sensing the unrest among the masses for the regime and the public display of William Wallace’s mutilated body. Chris Pine played the role of the titular king, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, and Tony Curran appeared in other important roles. Like any other Hollywood film, you can expect some historical inaccuracies. But you will get the overall gist of all the events that led him to become a leader and, eventually, the King of Scots.
9. Mudbound (2017)
One of the best films of the year, ‘Mudbound’ is set in the post-Second World War era. Two soldiers return home from the War, but all that they were before is washed away by what they experience in the War. Jamie McAllan served as an army pilot, while Ronsel Jackson was in the infantry. Back home, Jamie’s elder brother, Henry shares a loving marriage with Laura. Ronsel’s family, on the other hand, works in the fields of the McAllans. On returning home, Jamie and Ronsel strike a friendship sharing their experiences of the War. However, the assimilation of blacks and whites wasn’t a common thing yet, not where they lived, and both of them face trouble because of that. The film focuses on PTSD, which mainly haunts Jamie, and the racism that Ronsel has to bear witness to, something that he isn’t used to after becoming a part of the army.
8. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
A Netflix original film, ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort‘ is based on how Mossad (Israeli intelligence department) managed to smuggle out Ethiopian Jews living in the country to Israel. Mossad agent Ari Levinson suggests to his seniors that they can buy a beach resort and use it as a cover to carry out their covert mission. They carry out their mission in Sudan, but it is not long before some secrets are spilled and the lives of the agents, as well as the people they are protecting, get shrouded in danger. The film had enough elements to make a compelling thriller, but writer-director Gideon Raff completely squanders away the opportunity by coming up with poorly-written characters and not giving the actors enough material to work with. The film’s “white savior complex” has also been widely criticized.
7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)
While ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ might not be a historical film in the truest sense of the term, it is definitely a brilliant historical fiction that deserves our attention. The film is a sequel to the 2000 film ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon‘, directed by Ang Lee. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as warrior-maiden Shu Lien for this film. After being away for around eighteen years, she is now eager to find the magical sword known as Green Destiny, which once belonged to her lover Li Mu Bai. As a dangerous criminal called Hades Dai gets eager to claim the sword, Shu Lien is hell-bent on saving it. In her quest, she is joined by a young woman and a mysterious warrior called Silent Wolf. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ is a wuxia film that tells us a lot about the medieval Chinese culture of martial arts. While we get to see some brilliantly choreographed action sequences, we are also made privy to the philosophy of the era.
6. The King (2019)
This Netflix original film is based on a number of plays by Shakespeare and mainly chronicles the early life of English ruler King Henry “Hal” V. The film begins with Hal being completely disinterested in the affairs of the state and later when his brother Thomas passes away in a battle, he is suddenly made the King of England. Many people around him presume that he is weak, and his coronation is openly mocked by King Charles VI of France. When Hal comes to know that Charles VI has sent an assassin to kill him, he declares war and marches on towards France to show his enemies his true powers. The boy who was always against politics and violence now gets molded in the image he always despised. Timothée Chalamet has been able to establish himself as a major talent, and this film again reminds us of his ability to do justice to any role he has been given. The production design, costumes, and cinematography of this film also deserve our admiration.
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5. Troy (2004)
2004’s ‘Troy‘ is one of the best historical films you can watch on Netflix. The movie depicts the entire saga of how Paris, the youngest son of King Priam, falls in love with Helen, the wife of Menelaus, (who is the king of Sparta), and secretly takes her away to Troy without even informing his elder brother Hector. The Greeks soon attack Troy with a huge army led by the greatest warrior of the time, Achilles. Though Achilles does not like his king Agamemnon, he knows this war can help cement his legacy as the greatest warrior of all time. Brad Pitt put in his heart and soul into the performance and gave us one of the most authentic versions of Achilles we have ever seen. The action sequences of the film are brilliantly shot and choreographed. One fight scene between Achilles and Hector (Eric Bana), has now gained a cult status among film fans all over the world.
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4. Glory (1989)
‘Glory’ is the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first African-American regiment of the Union Army in the American Civil War. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the 54th Regiment’s contribution is remembered in American history; Abraham Lincoln also credited them for turning things around during the war. While Colonel Shaw not only tries to gain the trust of his men, he also has to worry about the enemies, who have orders to kill the commanding officers of the African-Americans. History not only remembers battles fought on the ground but the more significant victories for a better society.
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3. Suffragette (2015)
The Suffragette movement is one of the most important events of England in the 20th century since this was the first time when women began fighting for their voting rights in the country. The central character of the film is a woman called Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who gets inspired by the female leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) and joins the movement to fight against the oppressions of patriarchy. However, as it always happens, the women who speak of change are targeted by the police and the establishment. They suffer serious consequences even in their personal sphere, but they willingly risk everything to give their future generations a more just society than the one they were born in. The film is rather inspiring, and despite having some structural inadequacies, makes it all up using the powerful performances by its glittering star cast.
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2. Django Unchained (2012)
‘Django Unchained’ is written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and features Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, and Christoph Waltz. Set in 1858, it follows Django (Foxx) as he is sought out by a bounty hunter, Dr. Schultz (Waltz) who needs him to find some men. After accomplishing that, Django wants to search for his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who was sold separately from Django by their former owner for trying to escape. When they find out that Broomhilda is sold to a plantation in Mississippi, Schultz and Django devise a plan to get her back.
1. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, ‘The Trail of the Chicago 7’ follows the Chicago Seven, a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters who are held responsible for the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This historical legal drama follows the unfair trials of seven ringleaders who are associated with the incident and their fight against all odds to stand for what they believe in. Although they do not see eye to eye on their political philosophies, the Chicago 7 realize the significance they have in each other’s lives, especially if they want to win the fight. The ensemble cast features notable names like Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Daniel Flaherty, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.
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