118 Best History Movies to Watch (Page 3)

Staff & contributors

This is a hilarious political comedy starring the ever-great Steve Buscemi. Set in the last days before Stalin's death and the chaos that followed, it portrays the lack of trust and the random assassinations that characterized the Stalinist Soviet Union. Think of it as Veep meets Sacha Baron Cohen's The Dictator. Although to be fair, its dark comedy props are very different from the comedy that comes out today: where there are jokes they're really smart, but what's actually funny is the atmosphere and absurd situations that end up developing.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, History

Actor: Adam Ewan, Adam Shaw, Adrian McLoughlin, Andrea Riseborough, Andrey Korzhenevskiy, Andy Gathergood, Cara Horgan, Dan Mersh, Daniel Booroff, Daniel Chapple, Daniel Fearn, Daniel Tatarsky, Daniel Tuite, Dave Wong, David Crow, Dermot Crowley, Diana Quick, Elaine Caxton, Ellen Evans, Emilio Iannucci, Eva Sayer, Ewan Bailey, George Potts, Gerald Lepkowski, Henry Helm, James Barriscale, Jason Isaacs, Jeffrey Tambor, Jonathan Aris, Jonny Phillips, June Watson, Justin Edwards, Karl Johnson, Leeroy Murray, Luke D'Silva, Michael Ballard, Michael Palin, Nicholas Sidi, Nicholas Woodeson, Oleg Drach, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Paul Chahidi, Paul Ready, Paul Whitehouse, Phil Deguara, Richard Brake, Ricky Gabriellini, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Rupert Friend, Sebastian Anton, Sheng-Chien Tsai, Simon Russell Beale, Steve Buscemi, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Tim Steed, Tom Brooke, Yulya Muhrygina

Director: Armando Iannucci

Rating: R

The Swimmers tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini (played by fellow sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa), Syrian swimmers trained to compete at the Olympics. When their athletic goals and overall safety are threatened by the increasing presence of war, the girls decide to take a chance and migrate to Europe, where they hope to live out their dreams and reunite with their family someday.

The Swimmers is a touching family drama that does right to center on the love and tension between the siblings. Yusra and Sara’s relationship perfectly encapsulates the envy and resentment but also the deep love and loyalty that are present in every sister bond. It’s tender in these moments, but it can also be equally searing—as a refugee drama, it chillingly tracks the complicated and inhumane processes of fleeing one’s country for a safer future.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Ahmed Malek, Alfredo Tavares, Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Daniel Eghan, Dritan Kastrati, James Floyd, Kinda Alloush, Manal Issa, Matthias Schweighöfer, Nathalie Issa, Roderick Hill

Director: Sally El Hosaini

Rating: PG-13

Focusing squarely on two families and a select few health workers, The First Wave gets intimate access to the fears and anxieties of individuals trying to contend with the effects of the initial outbreak of the coronavirus in New York. That these characters also tend to belong to already vulnerable sectors in the United States isn't a superfluous detail—as director Matthew Heineman illustrates (without the use of detached talking heads interviews) how proper responses to a global pandemic like this one are still hampered by capitalist interests, and racist and xenophobic institutions built into American society. All of these obstacles make every setback and every moment of progress in these characters' lives feel absolutely crucial, making for an emotionally overwhelming experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Al Sharpton

Director: Matthew Heineman

Striking, epic, and occasionally gruesome, Sword of the Stranger is an excellent film about ronin redemption. From the title alone, the film promises and delivers thrilling sword-fighting sequences from the titular stranger Nanashi (or “no name” in Japanese). His bouts with Ming Chinese warriors, as well as the Caucasian Luo-Lang, are so graceful, yet at times, so brutal that it ends with wrecked buildings, copious bleeding, and (on occasion) amputated limbs. However, the gore isn’t what makes these fight scenes work. Nanashi’s will to preserve his honor and self-determination drives the film. It’s the reason why his fight against these invaders feels so compelling. It’s the reason why he reluctantly guards the orphan Kotaro and his cute shiba inu. And when the film finally reveals the cause of that will, rooting for him is inevitable.

Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, History

Actor: Ai Orikasa, Akio Otsuka, Cho, Fumie Mizusawa, Hirofumi Nojima, Hiroshi Shirokuma, Jun Hazumi, Junko Minagawa, Katsuhisa Houki, Koichi Yamadera, Maaya Sakamoto, Makoto Yasumura, Mamoru Miyano, Masaki Aizawa, Naoto Takenaka, Noboru Yamaguchi, Tomoya Nagase, Tomoyuki Shimura, Unsho Ishizuka, Yasuhiko Kawazu, Yuki Masuda, Yuri Chinen

Director: Masahiro Ando

Rating: TV-MA

In 2017, the New York Times published a groundbreaking report by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey that detailed, for the first time, Harvey Weinstein’s atrocious history of sexual abuse. The New Yorker would release Ronan Farrow’s report five days after, prompting multiple survivors to share their own stories—and the rest, as you know, is history. Following Kantor and Twohey (played by Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan, respectively), She Said sheds light on how this pivotal moment in the establishment of the #MeToo movement came to be.

Based on Kantor and Twohey’s book of the same name, the film reveals the specific journalistic processes involved in writing this expose—a seemingly impossible feat, considering Weinstein’s hold over multiple industries, including the press. Because it’s a newsroom drama, there’s a lot of talking, but there’s also a lot of listening. Gripping, empathetic, and (even now) necessary, She Said makes for a thrilling watch.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Adam Shapiro, Alex Hurt, Anastasia Barzee, Andre Braugher, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd, Carey Mulligan, Celia Au, Dalya Knapp, Davram Stiefler, Elle Graham, Frank Wood, Gregg Edelman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Harvey Friedman, Hilary Greer, Jennifer Ehle, John Mazurek, Judith Godrèche, Katherine Kendall, Keilly McQuail, Lola Petticrew, Makia Martin, Marceline Hugot, Mike Houston, Molly Windsor, Patricia Clarkson, Peter Friedman, Roxanna Hope, Ruby Thomas, Safia Oakley-Green, Samantha Morton, Seán Cullen, Shirley Rumierk, Tom Pelphrey, Traci Wolfe, Zabryna Guevara, Zach Grenier, Zoe Kazan

Director: Maria Schrader

Rating: R

Long before we became accustomed to oxymorons like “scripted reality” shows, there was a time when viewers could expect to trust what they saw on TV. One of the pivotal events shattering that illusion in the US was the 1950s quiz show scandal, in which producers of popular broadcasts like Twenty-One were revealed to be feeding contestants the answers in advance in order to manipulate audience ratings. 

Robert Redford’s Quiz Show is an engrossing chronicle of the investigation that blew the lid on Twenty-One's fixing, revealed when disgruntled champion Herb Stempel became a whistleblower. Stempel (played with nervous brilliance by John Turturro) was pressured to flunk a no-brainer question to make way for golden boy Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes), a ratings-friendly photogenic academic from a prominent WASP-ish family. What’s so sharp about Quiz Show is that it doesn’t just recreate the scandal for drama’s sake: it needles in on the greed and privilege that drove the fraud, paying particular attention to Van Doren’s angle of the morality play, the influence of his class and ethnicity, and the secret hand the show’s studio and sponsor had in the whole affair. In an era when practically anything goes in the name of entertainment, this interrogation of TV’s corrupt origins feels ever-relevant.

Genre: Drama, History, Mystery

Actor: Allan Rich, Anthony Fusco, Barry Levinson, Barry Snider, Ben Shenkman, Bernie Sheredy, Bill Moor, Bruce Altman, Byron Jennings, Calista Flockhart, Carole Shelley, Christopher McDonald, Chuck Adamson, Dan Wakefield, Dave Wilson, David Paymer, Debra Monk, Douglas McGrath, Eddie Korbich, Elizabeth Wilson, Ernie Sabella, Ethan Hawke, George Martin, Gina Rice, Grace Phillips, Gretchen Egolf, Griffin Dunne, Hank Azaria, Harriet Sansom Harris, Illeana Douglas, Jack Gilpin, Jeffrey Nordling, Jerry Grayson, Jerry Griffin, Joe Lisi, Johann Carlo, John Turturro, Joseph Attanasio, Joseph Blaire, Kelly Coffield Park, Le Clanché du Rand, Mario Cantone, Martin Scorsese, Mary Shultz, Matt Keeslar, Merwin Goldsmith, Michael Mantell, Mira Sorvino, Nicholas Kepros, Paul Guilfoyle, Paul Scofield, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Council, Richard Seff, Rob Morrow, Robert Caminiti, Scott Lucy, Shawn Batten, Stephen Pearlman, Timothy Britten Parker, Timothy Busfield, Vince O'Brien, Vincent J. Burns, William Fichtner

Director: Robert Redford

Keira Knightley stars in this incredible true story of an Iraq War whistleblower who remains relatively little-known in the U.S. Katharine Gun was working for the communications office for the British government when she received a memo in the months leading to the war that showed that the U.S. requested illegal wiretapping assistance from the U.K. on U.N. diplomats. In a heroic act, she chooses to share this memo, hoping that it would stop her government (then led by Tony Blair) from going to war. Spoiler alert: didn't happen, but this decision, which first seemed like a personal sacrifice, has severe implications on her family as the government finds out that she was behind the leak. A compelling political mystery of a case that deserves much more attention than it once got.

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Adam Bakri, Andrew Marr, Angus Wright, Brett Allen, Chris Larkin, Chris Reilly, Clive Francis, Conleth Hill, David Maybrick, Fiona Skinner, George W. Bush, Hanako Footman, Hattie Morahan, Indira Varma, Jack Farthing, Janie Dee, Jeremy Northam, Jessica Fostekew, Jodie McNee, John Heffernan, Katherine Kelly, Keira Knightley, Kenneth Cranham, Lindy Whiteford, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Monica Dolan, MyAnna Buring, Niccy Lin, Peter Guinness, Raad Rawi, Ralph Fiennes, Raquel Cassidy, Ray Panthaki, Rhys Ifans, Shaun Dooley, Sophie Duval, Tamsin Greig, Tony Blair, Vinta Morgan, Will Barton

Director: Gavin Hood

Rating: R

How to Change the World is an insightful and candid documentary about the formation of Greenpeace in 1971 by a small group of environmentalists and activists in Vancouver, British Columbia. Beginning with their attempt to disrupt U.S. nuclear testing in Amchitka, Alaska, the film follows their subsequent efforts to thwart commercial whaling in the Pacific, their anti-sealing campaign in Newfoundland, and their ongoing efforts to defend the natural world against what they perceive as excessive human intervention and abuse. How to Change the World is as much a poignant tale of inspired activism as it is an interesting study of the organization’s early tribulations: idealism vs. anarchy, social movement vs. organizational structure (or lack thereof) and leadership vs. disunity. The voice of co-founder Robert Hunter (de facto leader of Greenpeace from inception) is heard posthumously throughout via narrator Barry Pepper, and it adds an impassioned air of gravitas to the film, detailing the many complexities Greenpeace experienced over the course of its early years of growth and development. A compelling and educational viewing experience.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Bill Darnell, Bobbi Hunter, David Garrick, Emily Hunter, Jerry Rothwell, Rex Weyler

Director: Jerry Rothwell

Rating: Not Rated

It’s always fun to watch something that makes you second guess each move, that shifts seamlessly from one thing to another. Frantz is that kind of film, and as the deceptively simple premise unfolds—a widow befriends her late husband’s friend—you’re never really sure if what you’re watching is a romance, a mystery, or a sly combination of both. 

It helps that Frantz is also more than just a period piece, packed as it is with tiny but thoughtful details. When it is filled with color, for example, it does so in the muted palette of 1900s portraits, making each shot look like a picture come to life. When it talks about love, it goes beyond heterosexual norms and hints at something more potent and, at times, political. And when it takes a swing at melodrama, its actors ground the moment with enough restraint and reserve so that it never teeters on excess. All this results in a well-executed, gripping, and overall lovely film to watch.

 

Genre: Drama, History, Romance, War

Actor: Alice de Lencquesaing, Anton von Lucke, Axel Wandtke, Camille Grandville, Cyrielle Clair, Eliott Margueron, Elizabeth Mazev, Ernst Stötzner, Jean-Claude Bolle-Reddat, Jean-Paul Dubois, Jean-Pol Brissart, Johann von Bülow, Johannes Silberschneider, Laurent Borel, Louis-Charles Sirjacq, Lutz Blochberger, Marie Gruber, Merlin Rose, Michael Witte, Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ralf Dittrich, Torsten Michaelis, Zimsky

Director: François Ozon

Rating: PG-13

, 2022

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home - having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

Genre: Drama, History, War

Actor: Ali Soliman, Ashraf Barhom

Director: Darin J. Sallam

Rating: TV-14

Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins star in this well-executed and eye-opening drama based on a true story. Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is a successful corporate lawyer in New York. He is visited by a distressed farmer from his hometown in Cincinnati whose cows have been developing strange behaviors and diseases. Robert decides to take on this case in what will become one of the biggest class-action lawsuits in the country: the use of cancerous chemicals by the company that commercializes Teflon (the stuff in pans). Excellent acting in an incredibly frustrating but necessary story that will trouble you more than any other legal thriller you have watched in the past: prepare to be outraged (and throw away your pans).

Genre: Drama, History, Thriller

Actor: Abi Van Andel, Aidan Brogan, Amy Morse, Amy Warner, Angel Kerns, Anita Farmer Bergman, Anne Hathaway, Barry G. Bernson, Barry Mulholland, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Bret Aaron Knower, Brian Gallagher, Buz Davis, Caleb Dwayne Tucker, Carly Tamborski, Chaney Morrow, Clara Harris, Daniel R. Hill, David Fultz, David Myers Gregory, Denise Dal Vera, Elizabeth Marvel, Geoff Falk, Glen Yrigoyen, Greg Violand, Jason M. Griggs, Jeffrey Grover, Jim Laprelle, Joanne Popolin, John Newberg, John W. Harden, Jon Osbeck, Karen Koester, Kathleen Ellerman, Keating P. Sharp, Kelly Mengelkoch, Kevin Crowley, Lea Hutton Beasmore, Louisa Krause, Lyman Chen, Marcia Dangerfield, Mare Winningham, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Hudson, Michael Joseph Thomas Ward, Michael King, Mike Seely, Ming Wang, Ramona Schwalbach, Richard Hagerman, Robert Gerding, Scarlett Hicks, Sheryl Annette Colley, Steven Schraub, Teri Clark, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William "Bucky" Bailey, William Jackson Harper, Wynn Reichert

Director: Todd Haynes

Rating: PG-13

Shia Laboeuf and Stellan Skarsgård star in this true story about one of the greatest tennis matches in history: the 1980 Wimbledon final. The movie dissects what drives both competitors (one played by Laboeuf and the other by Sverrir Gudnason). Their personalities, considered opposites, are studied through their paths and how they got into tennis. All this leads to that one match, in this beautiful story of dealing with competition and fear of failure. Don’t stop watching when the credits roll, read what they say!

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Anders Berg, Bjorn Granath, Bob Boudreaux, Colin Stinton, Dag Malmberg, David Bamber, Ian Blackman, Iva Šindelková, Jackson Gann, James Sobol Kelly, Jamie Marshall, Jane Perry, Janis Ahern, Leo Borg, Marcus Mossberg, Mats Blomgren, Robert Emms, Roy McCrerey, Scott Arthur, Shia LaBeouf, Stellan Skarsgård, Sverrir Gudnason, Thomas Hedengran, Tuva Novotny, Wille Glyt, Zuzana Geislerová

Director: Janus Metz, Janus Metz Pedersen

Rating: R

What makes Apollo 11 stand out is its sharp minimalist approach, allowing the archival footage of the mission to the moon to speak for itself. It’s stunning to think that at one point or another we had collectively seen a bulk of the footage in this film, and yet somehow let it lay dormant until the moon landing had been reduced to black and white stills in our collective imaginations. Not only does this film reinvigorate the moon landing with the power that it once held, but it does so in a way that is more thrilling than anything the Marvel CGI wizards could muster. The vibrant score adds a layer of ferocious tension, while the breakneck pace gives the feel of a rollercoaster ride. If there is any fault to find here, it is most definitely with the film’s MAGA style yearning for a time and place that never existed. Spare us the teary-eyed patriotism and the clips of Nixon, a disgraceful criminal, and vile racist, yammering on about the world becoming one. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic example of why most biopics should just be documentaries and why the fanatical fear of spoilers is a tad silly. Spoiler alert: they land on the moon.

Genre: Documentary, History

Actor: Andy Aldrin, Bruce McCandless II, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, Deke Slayton, Gene Kranz, Jim Lovell, John F. Kennedy, Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong, Patricia Mary Finnegan, Todd Douglas Miller, Walter Cronkite

Director: Todd Douglas Miller

Rating: G