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The most accurate, well-done US History films? Lori D, have you a list?

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This would be for a 16yo girl who loves history and period dramas but who has had almost zero exposure to American history. I've got the books and methods chosen for her official studies, but weekend history movies would be so perfect for her.


I'm looking for wholesome, yet emotionally evocative films and documentaries that are as accurate as possible.


This movie idea just came to me today as I was trying to explain the SC ruling concerning that-political-thing-which-shall-not-be-named. It was kind of tricky when she didn't know anything about our government.


So all I've come up with so far is the John Adams mini-series. Is there already a list of the movies I'm looking for floating out in homeschool world?

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Thank you! I hadn't seen that.


Does anyone have a favorite George Washington movie?


We really enjoyed The Crossing and The War that Made America (French & Indian War).


The movie shown at Fort Necessity I think was done as a focused editing of The War that Made America.


Liberty! and The Revolution are both good documentaries (loved Liberty! a few years ago, but went with The Revolution this time around).


Oddly enough, we love 1776. It is of course very modified in order to fit into the framework of a Broadway musical. But it does an admirable job of touching on the disagreements raging in the Continental Congress. The Declaration was not at all a sure thing.

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Last of the Mohicans is not accurate at all as far as the book if that matters. I still love the movie, but my boys hated it.


Yes, I should have clarified. When I said my history professor-husband was picky about accuracy, I should have said picky about historical accuracy, not necessarily faithfulness to the original work of literature. And even so, I can't remember the details of what he liked about the movie.


Not very helpful at all. Sorry!



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I'm okay with finding mostly accurate documentaries, but I'd say for fictional movies, just go ahead and get good movies and don't worry about accuracy.


The one thing you might do, is find some movies that are "contemporary" for the time. So a WWII movie made during WWII, and analyze the underlying view of the war.

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The one thing you might do, is find some movies that are "contemporary" for the time. So a WWII movie made during WWII, and analyze the underlying view of the war.


Don't overlook movies that, while ostensibly about a historical topic, are really addressing more contemporary issues. "The Crucible," for example, is a lot more about the McCarthy era than about the Salem witch trials. You could also look at movies that have been re-made, contrasting the ways in which the contemporary culture changed the presentation. One specific example (but not US, unfortunately) is the difference in Olivier's "Henry V" and Branagh's version, looking at how they approach the representation of war, nationalism, etc. This can also be interesting in terms of the way minorities, women, etc are portrayed in movies from different periods.

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I had a very hard time coming up with a list for you; what I've settled on is a compromise.

First, I'm with Candid on this, in that "wholesome" and "historically accurate" just don't seem to go together when it comes to feature films set in a historical time period. Best to enjoy well-done documentaries, and then completely separately, enjoy feature films with positive messages (without expectations of historical accuracy).

Second, another thing to bear in mind is that many events in US History are actually part of the much larger World History (for example, the World Wars), so it is best to watch a number of documentaries and historical films from both American AND Foreign viewpoints to make sense of the very complex events with many "players". So it's hard to limit a movie list to JUST American history films for some of those really big events…

Finally, I do NOT have personal experience with all of these movies, so I am recommending them based off of many previous threads; where the original poster had a comment, I tried to include it. I also removed titles I knew to be very raw, violent or adult. But, since I haven't seen many of these titles, so please do some research/preview!

Enjoy your movie-watching through American History! Warmest regards, Lori D.


- Teach with the Movies website: US HISTORY
- Movie Lit website (education material for classic literature film versions)
- American History on the Screen -- book by Walch publishers
- Learning with the Movies

- Paula's Archives: Movies to Supplement History =
- homeschooling blog: Historical Movies and Documentaries to supplement SOWTW,  volume 1, and  volume 2
- epinions list: Movies for American and World History -- short list with reviews/comments
- History and Movies

PAST THREADS with HISTORICAL MOVIE IDEAS (focus on American History):
- "Trying to put together a year of US History" - Eliana's large list of books, but then films to supplement American history = http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums/showthread.php?p=1579789#poststop
- "Any worthy World War II films for 4th & 8th graders you would recommend? = http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums/showthread.php?t=83814
- "Movies for 20th Century History?" = http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums/showthread.php?t=95503&highlight=movies
- Movies that go along with Story of the World vol. 4 (Modern) = http://www.welltrainedmind.com/forums/showthread.php?t=123156&highlight=movies

MOVIE TANGENT (lol): websites with Math or Inspirational movie clips or lists:
- Mathematics in Movies = http://www.math.harvard.edu/~knill/mathmovies/
- Finding Inspiration in Literature and Movies = http://www.trulymovingpictures.org/tag/finding-inspiration-in-literature-movies/

Edited by Lori D.
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Again, the vast majority of titles listed are culled from a number of past threads, and where the original poster had a comment, I left it. So, you'll need to preview or research the titles to see if they will be a match for your criteria. BEST of luck! Lori D.

- American Experience -- many can be watched online; a PBS series on US History events, people, movements, etc.
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/ (Wikipedia list of all episodes by topic = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_Experience_episodes)

- documentaries by Ken Burns = http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/

- NOVA episodes on Historical events -- online viewing = http://video.pbs.org/topic/history/


- National Geographic: The New World: Nightmare in Jamestown
- Desperate Crossing: The Untold Story of the Mayflower -- this was excellent
- Conquest of America (History Channel)
- Liberty! The American Revolution (PBS)
- Revolution (History Channel)
- Washington the Warrior (History Channel)
- Ben Franklin (PBS)
- Thomas Jefferson (Ken Burns)
- John Adams (HBO)

- American Presidents (History Channel)
- Ken Burns' Lewis & Clark
- Ken Burns' Civil War -- and other Ken Burns documentaries: Not For Ourselves Alone, The War, The West, Mark Twain
- Gettysburg -- Civil War
- Gods & Generals/Gettysburg -- Civil War
- Andersonville -- prison camp of the Civil War
- The Conspirators -- trial of the woman who ran the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth (assassin of Abraham Lincoln) stayed
- Reconstruction the Second Civil War -- PBS
- American Experience: USS Grant

- The Greatest Auto Race on Earth (NY to Paris 1908)
- NOVA: Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
- The War (Ken Burns)
- World War I in Color
- The First World War: The Complete Series
- The Great War by the BBC
- American Experience - Influenza 1918 from PBS
- An unusual documentary: Brother Can You Spare a Dime
- The World at War -- a classic w/a lot of fascinating documentary footage
- Victory at Sea -- rougher production values, but still fascinating
- The Great Raid -- based on the book Ghost Soldiers and was very good, but deals with the subject of Bataan Death March
- Come See the Paradise -- Japanese internment, which showed a lot without becoming too depressing
- The Manhatten Project
- King: Man of Peace in a Time of War and/or Citizen King -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews
- Gideon's Trumpet (and/or the film)
- We Shall Remain (PBS)
- Assassination of President Kennedy (Primary and Crisis are options for additional Kennedy coverage using contemporary recordings)
- Failure is not an Option - from the Race to the Moon set; one of my favorite documentaries ever... though it doesn't *feel* like a documentary at all
- From the Earth to the Moon

Edited by Lori D.
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PART 3 -- This is a very incomplete list -- all I had time for. Again, the vast majority of titles listed are culled from a number of past threads, and where the original poster had a comment, I left it. So, you'll need to preview or research the titles to see if they will be a match for your criteria. BEST of luck! Lori D.


 Legal System:
- The Supreme Court -- documentary; mutli-dvd collection, interesting background
- 12 Angry Men -- film of the classic play; a jury deliberates
- Gideon's Trumpet -- another Fonda classic
- Inherit the Wind -- the Scopes Monkey Trial; use with Summer for the Gods to provide background and a more historically accurate overview
- To Kill a Mockingbird -- unfair trial of a black man in the 1930s South
- With All Deliberate Speed

History Covering Several Decades:
- Citizen Kane -- rise of newspaper baron from the late 1880s to 1930s
- It's A Wonderful Life -- 1920s through the end of WW2
- Driving Miss Daisy -- 1940s-1970s
- Mr. Holland's Opus -- 1960s-1990s
- Pirates of Silicon Valley - 1970s-1990s
- Forrest Gump -- 1950s-1990s
- Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman -- slavery through Civil Rights (1850s-1960s)

- The New World -- Jamestown
- Last of the Mohicans -- French & Indian War
- Drums Along the Mohawk -- French & Indian War
- Roots (series) -- chronicles a slave family through multiple generations (1750-1870s)

- Johnny Tremain -- American Revolution
- The Crossing -- Washington crossing the Delaware
- 1776 (musical)

- Amistad -- slave uprising on a slave ship and the resulting trial
- The Alamo -- Mexican-American War
- Jeremiah Johnson -- life as a trapper/frontiersman
- Young Mr. Lincoln

1860s -- Civil War
- The General -- Buster Keaton silent comedy, with fabulous backdrops of the Civil Wars
- The Red Badge of Courage
- Glory
- Friendly Persuasion -- Quaker family torn by the Civil War
- Gone With the Wind -- aristocratic South before, during and after the Civil War
- Little Women -- set during the Civil War, but about the small "doings" at home

- Fort Apache - inspired, to some extent, by Custer's Last Stand (though not at all a depiction of it); this film explores a bit of what is duty? heroism? courage?
- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence -- civilization encroaches on the west; great scenes of territory working toward statehood
- Dances with Wolves -- Native Americans and Cavalry; a few s*x scenes, you can fast-forward
- I Will Fight No More Forever -- tragic events of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce

- Meet Me in St. Louis (musical)
- Yankee Doodle Dandy (musical) -- covers several decades of composer George M. Cohen's life (focus on late 1800s-1920)

- The Great Race (comedy film of an auto race from New York to Paris)
- Young Tom Edison

- Sergeant York -- Gary Cooper as the highly decorated US soldier in WW1

- Cheaper By The Dozen -- comedy; rural town, large family, father an early innovator of effeciency methods
- Edison the Man
- The Spirit of St Louis -- Lindberg's famous flight
- The Great Waldo Pepper (1975) -- post-WW1 pilots turn to barnstorming
- The Roaring 20s (1939) -- prohibition and gangsters (fairly tame in the violence)
- The Jazz Singer (1927) -- first "talking picture"; Jewish cantor turns to blackface minstreling and jazz
(the black face minstreling really makes me cringe -- but it is important to see and understand that this racial stereotyping existed)
- Singing in the Rain (1951) -- fun, delightful movie about silent films go to "talkies"
- Some Like it Hot -- comedy; two jazz musicians dress as women to escape mobsters

- My Man Godfrey (1936) -- Depression; really highlights the very rich vs. homeless
- Grapes of Wrath (1940) -- Dust Bowl
- To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) -- racism in the Deep South in the Depression
- Sea Biscuit (2003) -- racehorse that gave hope in the midst of the Depression
- Cinderella Man -- boxing in the Depression
- The Untouchables -- gangsters

- Casablanca -- the situation in North Africa, just before the US enters WW2

1940s -- WW2
- Stalag 17 (1953) -- American POWs in German camp
- The Great Escape (1963) -- British and 2 American POWs in German camp
- The Longest Day (1962) -- D-Day; people either enjoy this one or hate it
- Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) -- US fighting Japanese in the Pacific theater
- Tora! Tora! Tora! (-- ar better than Pearl Harbor, which is a waste of time IMO
- Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) -- Iwo Jima
- Father Goose and Operation Petticoat -- lighter side of WW2 in the Pacific
- Memphis Belle -- outstanding
- Twelve O'Clock High -- about the bombing campaign; can't remember if there is anything objectionable

1940s -- post WW2
- Best Years of Our Lives (1946) -- US vets return home and try to resume their lives
- The Third Man (1949) naive American in war-devastated Europe & black market
- Smith Goes to Washington -- Jimmy Stewart learns how a bill becomes law
- The Chosen -- Jewish young man coming of age; the book is better, and less simplified, but the film is still good
- Giant -- follows two families who strike it rich in the Texas oil fields

- Ruby Bridges -- Disney; first African-American girl to attend a white elementary school
- Quiz Show -- probe into cheating on TV quiz shows
- October Sky -- based on true story, teen boy inspired to take up rocketry after Sputnik (near the beginning the boys are chatting and one begins to describe a method for having extensive physical contact with a date in a movie theater)
- Rebel Without a Cause -- beginnings of the teen rebellion/revolution

- Thirteen Days -- Cuban Missile Crisis
- Raisin in the Sun -- inner city black family trying to achieve their dreams in a time of racism
- In the Heat of the Night -- racism; integration
- Guess who is coming to Dinner -- inter-racial relationship
- Fail Safe -- Cold War nuclear crisis
- Help! -- British; silly early '60s romp with The Beatles
- Hard Day's Night -- British; beautiful B&W Beatles "music video" full-length film
- The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! -- very funny look at US's fear of USSR
- West Side Story -- musical drama; Romeo & Juliet of New York street gangs
- The Right Stuff -- traces the early Mercury space program and first astronauts
- Manchurian Candidate (1962) -- American fear of USSR and brain washing

1960s -- U.S. in Vietnam
(all of these have reviews that indicate them to be either unrealistic and/or highly biased in viewpoint and/or historically inaccurate)

- Operation Dumbo Drop
- Flight of the Intruder
- Bat-21
- The Green Berets

- Patton -- language
- Frost/Nixon
- They Call Me Mister Tibbs -- racism; integration
- Remember the Titans -- racism; integration; first black coach of white football team
- Apollo 13 -- chronicles the near-disastrous moon flight
- All the President's Men -- uncovering the Watergate scandal; NOTE: excessive profanity
- Pirates of Silicon Valley -- history of Apple and Microsoft and their founders, from 1970s-1990s

- The Hunt for Red October-- tensions of the Cold War
- War Games -- adventure film; nuclear crisis due to teen computer hacking
- Miracle -- the 1980 US Olympic hockey team win over the USSR

- The Social Network
- The Blind Side
- Akellah and the Bee

Edited by Lori D.
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I don't know what we'd all do without Lori D. Lori, thank you! I actually know of quite a few in your list but I just was not able to think of anything. And I'm thrilled to see so many Henry Fonda movies. LOVE him, but didn't know these were historical films and never watched 'em.


Thanks to everyone else in this thread, too. I have a big list to work through, previewing. (I love history movies so that will be fun!)


We watched 1776 today. We loved it!


edited to add: I love the 'lori's list' tag b/c it's so appropriate, but there's already a 'lori d. words of wisdom' tag cataloging many of her other list-making posts, so I added that tag.

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  • 6 months later...

I want to second 1776. After watching that, my dd said that she learned more American History than all our previous years of school.


We are doing a year of movies for history this year, and so far I'd have to say that the very best movie we've seen so far was a documentary. It is called One Day in September. It is a documentary about the Israeli hostage taking at the Munich Olympics in 1972. It was fascinating, riveting, heart-breaking, and quite remarkable because they interviewed one of the kidnappers (the only surviving one). Must see!


Other historical movies that we've enjoyed:


The Crucible

The Molly Maguires


Thirteen Days

The Lost Battalion

Apollo 13

Schindler's List (ok, not really US History but WWII which involved the US)

Ironed Jawed Angels

All Quiet on the Western Front (again, not US history but WWI)

Public Enemies

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  • 8 months later...

Just thought I'd update this since we're done with our year of movies. 


9/11 - It's a documentary of 9/11. The fascinating thing about it is the footage. A French team was making a documentary about new firefighters and they just happened to be right there when the FIRST plane went into the towers. It's the only footage I've ever seen of the first plane. We've all seen the second plane, but this is the first one. And then they go inside the burning buildings with cameras. Amazing grueling stuff.


We also liked Something the Lord Made


We saw a lot of bad movies too unfortunately. Two good ones I'll mention are Michael Collins (about Ireland) and Rabbit-Proof Fence (Australia). I know this thread is about US History, but I'm throwing these two in there any way just because we liked them.



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  • 3 weeks later...

Dh is very hard on WWI films. He did like the Lost Battalion and Flyboys. The others he thinks well of aren't about US involvement.

I loved Lost Battalion. Flyboys I did not enjoy - I think it had something to do with the lead actor - he just bothers me and I found the movie just too predictable in general. But Lost Battalion was really good.

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