44 Of The Best Historical Movies All History Buffs Need To Watch

Published November 2, 2017
Updated March 27, 2024

From wartime epics to period romances, any true history lover needs to add the best historical movies ever made to their watch list.

While documentaries may be the most accurate way to understand history through film, often the best way to capture the true emotional weight of historical events is to portray them dramatically.

For millennia, humans have been setting their dramas in the past in order to show people how past events shape their lives in the present. And, from the dramas of Shakespeare to the best historical movies of the modern era, most of us feel truly connected to the past by immersing ourselves in fictionalized stories more so than straightforward factual reports.

Today, many of the greatest history movies become major blockbusters and/or critics’ favorites. Whether they depict real historical figures and events or present fictional stories set against the backdrop of certain historical moments, these movies speak to audiences the world over like few others.

From war movies to biopics and beyond, you’ll find some of the best historical movies ever made in the gallery below.

Hidden Figures
Killers Of The Flower Moon
The Zone Of Interest
Twelve Years A Slave
44 Of The Best Historical Movies All History Buffs Need To Watch
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The True Story Behind Schindler's List

Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is one of the most impactful films ever created. Starring Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes, Schindler's List tells the story of a German industrialist named Oskar Schindler — and how he saved more than 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.

Initially moving to Krakow to profit from the war, Schindler was a member of the Nazi Party and sought to exploit cheap Jewish labor for his enamelware and munitions factories. Initially, Schindler's allegiance with the Nazi Party and his hiring of Jewish workers was simply a practical maneuver. That changed, however, when the Nazis began exterminating Jews en masse.

"I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of Nazism," Schindler said. "I just couldn't stand by and see people destroyed."

Oskar Schindler

Wikimedia CommonsOskar Schindler was arrested multiple times but managed to avoid serious punishment.

Schindler used his wealth, connections within the Nazi Party, and sheer ingenuity to shield his Jewish workers from deportation and death. He compiled a list of over 1,200 men, women, and children — referred to as "Schindler's Jews" — whom he deemed essential to his factory's operations.

Schindler's list effectively saved them from the gas chambers of Auschwitz and other death camps. Schindler spent vast sums of money bribing Nazi officials to keep his workers safe and to ensure the safety of additional Jews by adding them to his list.

By the war's end, Schindler had exhausted his fortune on bribes and the care of his Jewish workers. The Jews he saved, in turn, never forgot his altruism. After the war, Schindler was supported by grateful survivors and honored for his humanitarian efforts.

He was recognized by Yad Vashem in Israel as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, an honorific used to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

The Manhattan Project And The Inspiration Behind Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer is a tour de force, an impressive feat of cinema that, rightfully, took home multiple Academy Awards. Inspired by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin's American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Cillian Murphy-led film recounts the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project, and the creation of the atomic bomb.

J. Robert Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist, now often called the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project — the United States' World War II endeavor to develop the first nuclear weapons.

J Robert Oppenheimer

Wikimedia CommonsJ. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father of the atomic bomb."

During World War II, with the threat of Nazi Germany developing its own atomic weapons, the U.S. government initiated the Manhattan Project, and Oppenheimer was appointed as the scientific director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. There, he oversaw the research and development of atomic bombs.

Under Oppenheimer's leadership, the project successfully tested the first nuclear weapon — "Trinity" — in July 1945.

The ethical and moral implications of this monumental achievement weighed heavily on Oppenheimer. Despite his crucial role in developing the atomic bomb, he became a vocal opponent of nuclear proliferation in the post-war years. Oppenheimer advocated for international control of nuclear power and opposed the development of the even more destructive hydrogen bomb.

However, during the Cold War, his past associations and outspoken political views led to suspicions of disloyalty.

In 1954, during the height of anti-Communist sentiment in the United States, Oppenheimer's security clearance was revoked in a highly publicized hearing, effectively ending his government advisory career.

The Real Lawrence Of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia is a classic, epic film based on the life of T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer whose experiences during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I were popularized in his own work, Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Lawrence played a significant role in supporting the Arab tribes in their rebellion against the Ottoman Turks from 1916 to 1918. Fluent in Arabic and deeply versed in Arab culture, Lawrence acted as a liaison between the Arab forces, led by Prince Faisal, and the British military.

TE Lawrence

Wikimedia CommonsT.E. Lawrence (center) stood next to an early Hittite carving.

Lawrence's strategy primarily included the introduction of unconventional guerrilla warfare tactics, which proved to be highly effective against the much more conventional Ottoman forces. His strategies were likewise instrumental in organizing the Arab tribes and coordinating attacks on the Ottoman supply lines — particularly the capture of Aqaba in 1917.

Despite his successes on the battlefield, Lawrence was deeply troubled by the post-war political arrangements. He felt that British promises made to the Arab leaders regarding their independence were not fully honored, leading to a sense of betrayal.

After the war, Lawrence sought to escape his fame and the political implications of his actions by enlisting in the Royal Air Force under assumed names. His life was marked by his extraordinary achievements during the war and his subsequent disillusionment with the political aftermath.

After this look at the best historical movies, check out these fantastic behind-the-scenes photos from some of the world's most iconic films and learn the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman and The Pianist.

Gabe Paoletti
Gabe Paoletti is a New York City-based writer and a former Editorial Intern at All That's Interesting. He holds a Bachelor's in English from Fordham University.
Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cite This Article
Paoletti, Gabe. "44 Of The Best Historical Movies All History Buffs Need To Watch." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 2, 2017, https://allthatsinteresting.com/best-historical-movies. Accessed April 23, 2024.