81 Best History Movies to Watch (Page 4)

Staff & contributors

The Last Man on the Moon is a documentary about astronaut Eugene Cernan, Commander of the Apollo 17 lunar landing mission in 1972. Chronicled by Cernan himself as he reminisces on his life, the film follows his early career with the Navy, his recruitment and training as an astronaut, and his participation in 3 trips to space: Gemini 9A, Apollo 10 and eventually Apollo 17—the last of NASA’s six expeditions to the Moon. Cern also delves heartfully into his loss of friends as well as his regretfulness for missing out on so much family time while away. It’s a poignant and inspiring account, with Cern providing a fine lesson in the confidence and diligence in takes to pursue and accomplish one’s dreams

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, and Ray Romano star in this true story of a big academic corruption case. Hugh Jackman is (of course) excellent as a successful and dedicated superintendent with a complicated personal life. However, when a curious student with the school journal starts digging around in a project he promotes, she uncovers what will become the largest public school embezzlement in the history of the U.S. 

The performances stretch the story to its full potential, as this movie would be nothing without its incredible cast. It should be watched for the acting. Eventually, it suffers from a problem common to all movies based on newspaper articles: the story can be told in a single article.

Till is a very political film. It’s charged with the kind of rage and electricity that enables thousands to mobilize for a cause. But before it explodes into something grand, it begins with the small details of everyday life. A mother admires her son as he dances to his favorite song. She buys him a new wallet and goes over the things they’ll do over the summer. These things seem trivial, but they reveal the humanity that sometimes goes overlooked in telling epic stories such as these.

To be sure, Till is a necessarily brutal film about grief and justice, but it’s also about how political movements are borne out of small and personal devastation. This nuance, along with a jaw-dropping performance by Danielle Deadwyler, makes Till a standout: a powerful entry in a long line of social-issue dramas.

Polytechnique directed by Denis Villeneuve, is a dramatization of the 1989 Montreal massacre of multiple female engineering students. This film focuses on a male student navigating the massacre for the majority of the film’s run time. The performances and minimal dialogue in this film certainly make this an unnerving film to watch. Littered with the screams of the actors portraying the engineering students, this could be mistaken as a gaudy horror film. However, this is far from a fictionalized horror.

This Villeneuve classic is undoubtedly one of the most emotionally brutal films of the 2000s, yet I appreciate the honesty of the storytelling. Polytechnique encourages its audience to ask itself if it truly understands the truth of misogyny. 

The work of two people stand out here: the actor Christian Bale and the cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, Warrior, The Grey, Spotlight, etc.) Bale plays an Army Captain who agrees to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief and his family through treacherous lands. The general and the chief, being old enemies, embark on a journey where their conflict seems the least of their worries. The cinematography is lush and reminiscent of the classics of the Western genre. It is a harshly stunning film you should watch.

This adaptation of a foundational work in Estonian literature is about an idealistic 19th-century farmer who is determined to turn his piece of land into a fruitful homestead. Things don’t go as expected because once confronted with his neighbor’s antagonistic nature he transforms from a loving family man to a bullying patriarch. 

Directed by the talented Tanel Toom and shot by Rein Kotov (the cinematographer behind the war drama 1944), Truth and Justice is a beautifully made adaptation Combining elements like a classic plot, radiant images, with a modern score from Mihkel Zilmer, this film-mirror of the Estonian's soul is not to be missed.

If you're a fan of musical theater of any kind, Topsy-Turvy pays tribute to that notoriously tricky art form with a stunning attention to detail and a dedication to telling its story without any unnecessary drama whatsoever. It's hard not to get swept up in the humor, entertainment, and simple joy found in the writing process and in rehearsals of entire scenes. Come for the Oscar-winning costumes and makeup, stay for the wonderfully old-timey musical numbers, the brilliantly grounded performance from Jim Broadbent, and the sense of satisfaction of just watching everything finally come together to thunderous applause.

A quiet documentary that was released to celebrate the British Royal Air Force's centenary, Spitfire tells the story of the famous plane that younger audiences might only recognize from movies like Dunkirk or Darkest Hour. It features gorgeous footage of the last remaining planes in service flying over the British coast, testimonies from pilots who are still alive and a reminder of the key role that this plane once served. It feels like an attempt to capture and archive the importance of the plane, but also of its pilots, who for the most part were young kids with little training, but who, with time, learned valuable lessons from warfare. A must for aviation fans and a great option for anyone looking for a quiet movie to watch with their family (grandparents included). 

This crime drama based on a true story is directed by Clint Eastwood and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio among others. It's about a peculiar security guard who finds a bomb at the 1996 Atlanta summer Olympics moments before it exploded. But while first hailed as a hero, the authorities quickly suspect him of being behind the bomb. Just like Eastwood's other creation, Sully: Miracle on the Hudson, Richard Jewell is a simple story that if it wasn't for excellent directing, would not be enough to make a movie out of. But great performances and a great script make this movie not only worthwhile but a timely comment on the trustworthiness of law enforcement.

Film direction—at least in the traditional sense—is all about establishing control. In Even the Rain, however, the crew led by director Sebastian faces a problem larger than what they can manage when they become embroiled in a local conflict over water supply while shooting a period film in Bolivia. The situation escalates into a violent uprising between the residents and the Bolivian state forces, which then endangers the completion of Sebastian’s film.

Even the Rain exposes the hypocrisy of urban filmmaking, questioning its exploitative and selfish tendencies. “Some things are more important than your film,” the actor Daniel bluntly tells Sebastian in one scene. This meta-commentary extends to the audience and encourages us to reevaluate the importance we put into films, especially with regards to the current socio-political context.

If you’ve been paying close attention to Royal Families in general, then get a snack and settle in, because A Royal Affair’s got it all for you: the steamy scenes, dirty, affair-laden hands, the corsets, and a stunning backdrop of 18th Century Europe. Quite literally deranged and mentally incapable King Christian of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) marries the brave Princess Caroline of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), only to find out that he isn’t cut out for the wedded life. Enlightenment comes in the form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physician to the infantile King and true-born reformer. Mostly saddened by her unfortunate fate, the now-Queen Caroline finds herself falling in love with the intellectual; thus, beginning a whirlwind of events that shakes up the entire Kingdom.

This historical drama opens with one of the most thrilling chase scenes in recent memory, as Higinio Blanco, the man at the center of the story, escapes government forces during the Spanish Civil War.

He goes into hiding that, without him realizing, would last 33 years. He would only emerge in a government amnesty in 1969, as would many like him across Spain.

Themes of love (Higinio was confined with his newlywed wife), solitude and fear are at the center of a story that remains thrilling even when it goes through the isolation years.