Top Ten Historical Movies Of All Time

From ancient Rome to World War II - there is something for everybody in our historical movies selection! - 8 years ago by

History can be so tragic, epic or dramatic that it only needs to be retold in order to grasp the imagination of people. It is easy to understand, then, why the movies of this genre have proved to be so successful. The ten movies on this list can easily be called legendary and each of them remains a must-watch for the fans of cinema.

For this list we have picked up only movies based on historic events, so the likes of King Arthur or Odyssey had to be excluded from the selection.


10. 1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Historical events depicted: Christopher Columbus journeys and the conquering of the New World.

One of the greatest stories of all time, and a particularly inspiring one, is the life of Christopher Columbus – a sailor, a visionary and a dreamer, an outsider who finally convinced the Queen of Castilla Isabel to finance his journey west to find a passage to India. Gerard Depardieu portrays the great man with vigor and subtlety of a great master, while Sigourney Weaver is his royal benefactor. The movie remains to a large extent truthful to historical events and offers a lavish insight to the palace intrigue of 15th-century Spain, the trials of a nearly impossible journey through the Atlantic and then breathtaking vistas on the virgin coasts of South America, which Columbus recognized as Indochina.

Add the monumental, inspiring soundtrack by Vangelis and you get a movie classic that remains highly entertaining and even educational.



9. Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Historical events depicted: The battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187.

Riddle Scott, the great master of the historical epos, took on one of the best known and decisive episodes in medieval history – the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Saladin after the massacre at Hattin. While Kingdom of Heaven is hugely entertaining, pulsating with romantic undertones and just the right amount of violence and bloodshed, the plotline is very far from historically accurate. Still, the presence of Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and a handful of other gifted actors turn the film into arguably the best example of its genre of the last decade.



8. Stalingrad (1993)

Historical events depicted: The crucial battle of Stalingrad during the World War II.

The battle of Stalingrad – arguably the best known clash of World War II alongside Pearl Harbor – has provoked the attention of at least a dozen film makers throughout the years. But while many of the created movies are heavily influenced by political undertones, the classic 1993 German version of the epos is by far the best of them. Brutal, dark and pessimistic, showing in graphic details the insanity and futility of war in one of the most inhuman military clashes of all time, Stalingrad is the type of cinematic experience you need to endure to understand yourself as a human being.



7. A Bridge Too Far (1977)

Historical events depicted: Operation “Market Garden”, World War II

Another classic war movie, though much lighter and more enjoyable to watch that Stalingrad. A Bridge Too Far depicts one of the most ambitious yet failed attempts of the Allies to shorten the war by capturing the bridges on the Rhine behind enemy lines with the largest airborne action in history. The bridge at Arnhem however proved impossible to hold against the superior panzer groups, hastily gathered in the Netherlands – it became the eponymous “bridge too far”.

The movie is shot in the best Western tradition of the genre and features some of the biggest acting legends of Hollywood – including Michael Caine, Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Gene Heckman and even Laurence Olivier in a short supporting appearance. Despite its excessive length (almost three hours), A Bridge Too Far is a delight to watch with its massive fighting scenes, brilliant acting and epic proportions. To make it even better, it is so close to the actual events that you can use it as a textbook in history.



6. Waterloo (1970)

Historical events depicted: The 100 days between Napoleon’s return from exile to his loss at Waterloo.

A monumental cinematic masterpiece, Waterloo is marked by the masterful acting display of Rod Steiger and Christopher Plummer as Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington respectively. Rich in detail, truthful, sublime in production design, the movie is a pure delight to watch. The depiction of the eponymous battle remains one of the most impressive and naturalistic we have ever seen on the big screen, and the attack of the British heavy cavalry is a pure gem of movie-making perfection.



5. Becket (1964)

Historical events depicted: The conflict between King Henry II of England and the archbishop of Canterbury St. Thomas Becket.

Most historical movies rely on the sheer scale of the story they depict, on the grandeur of battles and glory of characters to bedazzle the audience. But there are those rare introvert examples of delving deeper into the human conflict behind the epochal struggles, and there can hardly be a better example than Becket. The movie is a subtle study of the personal conflict between power and friendship, between duty and conviction, between two legendary figures, each a titan of his own. Incomparable performances by both Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton as Henry the Lion and Archbishop Becket respectively. If you have not watched the movie we strongly suggest you should – because the Hollywood of today simply cannot produce a material of such depth and quality.



4. Braveheart (1995)

Historical events depicted: The Scottish Wars of Independence.

Though hugely inaccurate historically, Braveheart remains one of the most influential and widely loved historical movies of the last twenty years. Mel Gibson delivers a larger than life performance as the iconic Scottish national hero sir William Wallace. Epic battles, perfect screenplay, a memorable love story and one of the most inspiring movie ends of all time!



3. Schindler’s List (1993)

Historical events depicted: The saving of the Krakow Jews from the Plaszow concentration camp.

By far the most tragic film on the list, deliver with singular mastery from one of the greatest directors of our age Steven Spielberg. Amid the blood-chilling scenes of violence and inhumanity hope reigns supreme, embodied by the flamboyant factory owner Oscar Schindler.

While Liam Neeson delivered a career-defining performance as the eponymous protagonist of the movie, it is Ralph Fiennes’ mesmerizing and equally abominable performance as Amon Goeth that would truly haunt you after you have watched this masterpiece. Schindler’s List is rightfully considered one of the greatest movies ever created, having won seven Oscars and standing tall as number 6 in the IMDB Top 250 movies of all time.



2. Gladiator (2000)

Historical events depicted: The reign and fall of Emperor Commodus (180-192 AD)

It is no coincidence that Ridley Scott appears once again on the list, this time with his greatest masterpiece Gladiator. The movie depicts the tumultuous reign of the wayward emperor Commodus, son of the great Marcus Aurelius. While the movie freely flirts with historical facts, it manages to capture the spirit of the epoch and delivers a story of grandest scale and deep, human emotions.

Russell Crowe is simply incomparable as the honorable general Maximus – “the general, who became slave; the slave who became a gladiator; the gladiator who defied the Emperor”. Joaquin Phoenix is equally remarkable as the ruthless and psychotic Commodus.



1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Historical events depicted: The Arab Rebellion during the World War I.

An iconic movie highlighted by one iconic actor, a true cinematic masterpiece, an epos more than three and a half hours long in which every single shot is worth watching – this is what Lawrence of Arabia stands for. You can watch it as a war movie, as a biopic for one of the most enigmatic figures of the century or as a lyrical tribute to the beauty and relentless power of the desert. Director David Lynch manages to capture the frantic, single-minded drive of Colonel Lawrence, his idiosyncratic, intellectual persona, his all-encompassing charisma.

With a cast including Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn and Alec Guinness it is easy to understand why the movie became an almost instant classic and remains such even today.