Top 10 Films with Historical Story Lines

Some of my favorite movies include historical themes or those based on historical events. I frequently look up characters to find out the real history or events that took place. Sometimes, things in the film are a little “jumbled” or out of sequence, but the movies are entertaining nonetheless.

Actors and actresses in these movies work extra hard to bring their characters to life. Most will spend untold hours researching documents and historical texts to find out more about the person they will portray. The results can be fantastic if done correctly, disastrous if they are not. These films feature historical events and real people in history. The actors and actresses have all done magnificent jobs. Most of these films have become classics in their own right; there are one or two epic films here as well.

These films may be viewed online at various sites, rented, or purchased at big box stores or online. They are all worthy of becoming part of your DVD collection. Have fun showing them to the family and discussing the events and people portrayed with the children.

Young Guns

This 1988 film was a hit at the box office. Brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, as well as the rest of the cast, turn in incredible performances as the Regulators who become the gang of Billy the Kid during the Lincoln County Wars in the New Mexico Territory. Look for appearances by many Hollywood greats, such as Jack Palance.

The Alamo
The Alamo (2004)

Many movies have been made about the Battle of the Alamo, but in 2004, a different film emerged; this one is based on historical research. Actors such as Texas-born Randy Quaid (Sam Houston), Emilio EchevarrĂ­a, Jordi MollĂ , and Billy Bob Thornton worked long hours researching their characters and the Alamo’s history in order to bring accuracy to the screen. This effort was made by all the extras as well, some of whom are descendants of the actual Defenders.

Long Riders

This movie was unique in a number of ways. It starred the most brother teams of the day, those of Randy and Dennis Quaid, Keith and David Carradine, and James and Stacy Keach. The story follows the James and Younger gang of bank robbers, which formed after the Civil War. There are quite a few factual events in the movie. For example, Pinkerton detectives did toss what they claimed were smoke bombs into the home of Jesse James’s mother, which caused an explosion resulting in the death of James’s youngest brother. It also blew off one of his mother’s arms, but that is not reflected in the show. This is not a watered-down Disney version of the story. It is bloody and violent; you should watch it first before showing it to young children.

Buffalo Girls

The Old West wasn’t just full of tough men; women held their own as well. A quote attributed to Calamity Jane is, “I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.” Angelica Houston portrays one of the West’s toughest females, Reba McIntyre, who takes on the role of Annie Oakley. Look for Buffalo Bill Cody, Queen Victoria, Sitting Bull, and a host of other historical and unforgettable characters.

Gods and Generals

The Civil War was a bloody time in US history. Robert Duval portrays General Robert E. Lee, Stephen Lang portrays Lt. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Chris Conner portrays John Wilkes Booth. The story tells of the days leading up to the war and about the men and women during that awful era. It shows how people changed and how this country changed, and it shows that on both sides, there were men of faith who believed they were fighting for just causes. This is a great film to watch with children; it will help them understand this country’s history and what is truly worth fighting for.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

The prequel to this movie is titled “Elizabeth.” Cate Blanchett portrays the most famous English monarch of all time as a mature woman and skillful ruler. For all her strength, cunning, and statesmanship, she was a lonely woman whom men sought to take advantage of to gain power, land, and money. Clive Owen portrays Sir Walter Raleigh; he does everything so well. Elizabeth faces invasion by Spain, betrayal, and plots from her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, and more in this amazing film.

Kingdom of Heaven

In 2005, director Ridley Scott took us inside the Holy Land and the war that subsequently saw Jerusalem back in Muslim hands. Many of the characters, such as The King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, Saladin, and Balian, were real people. This film gives an insight into the cultures of the day; watch the movie with the annotations to learn about the history behind the film, costumes, customs, and props.

Titanic (1997)

Although the story centers around a young woman who does not want to be married to an abusive aristocrat, the history behind the ill-fated ship is true. The opening scenes show real footage of the ship on the ocean floor. The casting director made every effort to find people who resembled certain passengers and crew. Cathy Bates plays Molly Brown, a surviving passenger. Watching the ship sink will have you in tears; it is especially hard because it really happened. The good news to discuss with children is that sea travel and cruises have been safer as a result.

Tora, Tora, Tora!

December 7, 1941, was a day that will be remembered forever. It was the day the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. This movie is based on the events that led up to the attack and shows blunders made by the attitudes of the time. While the movie is not allowed as research material for history classes, you can discuss with children what is happening and the events that took place afterward.

True Women

Everyone knows about the Battle of the Alamo, which was fought in San Antonio, Texas. There was another battle fought by settlers against marauders, Indians, and the elements. While Santa Anna marched on San Antonio, women loaded children and belongings to make a run for the US border, which was the state of Louisiana. Some of the historical events are out of kilter, such as the fact that the Texas Rangers weren’t formed until after the Republic of Texas was established. It’s a great story that shows how families, cultures, and times changed in the Old West.

Films with historical storylines are a testament to cinema’s power to enlighten and inspire. They offer a unique blend of education and entertainment, allowing us to experience history’s richness and depth. As we immerse ourselves in these films, we gain a deeper appreciation for the events and people that have shaped our world. These cinematic journeys are not just about revisiting the past; they are about understanding the present and shaping our perspective on the future.

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