History might not have been your favorite subject in school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t like historical movies. These films serve many purposes while being massively entertaining. For history nerds, they become a topic of profound discussions- pulling all the threads, pointing out mistakes, and debating the impact of the events. For others, these are the fascinating tales of another time, of a society they don’t live in, and a world they’ll never get to see.
No matter which category you fall in, you can’t deny the importance of historical movies. They are informative, they are entertaining, and most importantly, they are warning signs, alerting us of what the world could be like if we, humans, make the same mistakes again. There’s a reason they say “history repeats itself”. With every passing year, Netflix has been broadening its horizon regarding the genre of stories it tells. Historical movies, fact or fiction, aren’t untouched by it. If you want a history lesson without the boredom of the classroom, the following is the list of really good Historical movies on Netflix.
25. Farha (2021)
‘Farha’ is a historical drama film directed by Darin J. Sallam. Based on a true story, the film is set during the Nakba in 1948 and showcases the poignant coming-of-age experience of a Palestinian girl amidst the tragic displacement of Palestinians from their homeland. The protagonist, Farha, witnesses brutal violence as she’s locked in a pantry for safety when Zionist forces attack her village. With a compelling cast, including Karam Taher as Farha and Ashraf Barhom as Abu Farha, the film presents a poignant account of the cruelty of ethnic cleansing. The film deserves attention for its heart-wrenching portrayal of a historical catastrophe and is an essential watch for those seeking insight into Palestinian history and the human stories therein. You can watch the movie here.
24. Marshall (2017)
‘Marshall’ is a legal drama film directed by Reginald Hudlin. This biopic takes us to the 1940s and throws light on the career beginnings of Thurgood Marshall, the pioneering African-American Supreme Court Justice. Focusing on a particularly challenging case in Connecticut, the film captures Marshall’s relentless pursuit of justice as he defends an African-American chauffeur wrongfully accused of rape. Featuring Chadwick Boseman in a compelling portrayal of Marshall, alongside talents like Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, and Kate Hudson, the film underscores the racial prejudices of the era. Recognized for its engaging storytelling and superb performances, it truly deserves its spot for providing a compelling courtroom drama merged with vital historical lessons. You may watch the film here.
23. My Best Friend Anne Frank (2021)
‘My Best Friend Anne Frank’ is a Dutch-drama film directed by Ben Sombogaart. Drawing inspiration from ‘Memories of Anne Frank: Reflections of a Childhood Friend,’ the plot unfolds from Hanneli Goslar’s perspective, showcasing the deep bond between Hanneli and Anne Frank during WWII. As a fresh perspective on Anne Frank’s life, viewers are taken on an emotional journey from Goslar’s eyes. Aiko Beemsterboer as Anne and Josephine Arendsen as Hannah provide gripping performances, and as the story converges, both end up in concentration camps, tragically separated by a wall. The story’s heart-wrenching narrative serves as a poignant reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. Feel free to check out the movie here.
22. Kartini: Princess of Java (2017)
‘Kartini: Princess of Java’ is a biographical-drama film directed by Hanung Bramantyo. Set against the backdrop of early 1900s Indonesia under Dutch colonial rule, it is a moving tale of a heroine’s fight against gender and social inequalities. In an era where only the nobility received an education, Raden Adjeng Kartini challenges the age-old Javanese traditions and strives for women’s rights and educational equality. With a star-studded cast including Dian Sastrowardoyo, Christine Hakim, Reza Rahadian, and Acha Septriasa, the film provides a poignant look into the life of the iconic Indonesian heroine. Kartini’s battle against oppressive traditions and her strive for equality makes this film an inspiring watch, underlining the essence of women’s emancipation in a bygone era. You can check out the film here.
21. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)
‘Dolemite Is My Name’ (2019) is a comedy film directed by Craig Brewer. This electrifying biopic chronicles the life of Rudy Ray Moore, a 1970s Blaxploitation icon known for his character – Dolemite. Eddie Murphy delivers an unforgettable portrayal of Moore traces and traces his journey from obscurity to stardom against all odds. The ensemble cast, boasting names like Craig Robinson, Keegan-Michael Key, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Mike Epps, Chris Rock, and Snoop Dogg, ensures laughter while also addressing significant societal issues of the time. Capturing the essence of 1970s Blaxploitation cinema and Rudy’s unparalleled determination, this comedic ride is both entertaining and an informative glance into a groundbreaking entertainment era, making it a must-see on Netflix. You can watch ‘Dolemite Is My Name’ here.
20. Operation Finale (2018)
Adolf Eichmann, a mastermind behind the massacre of Jews during the Second World War, disappeared strangely after Germany fell. “Operation Finale’ deals with the aftermath when a group of Israeli agents suddenly get information that Eichmann is hiding in Argentina. Determined to bring the war criminal to justice, the group travels to a foreign country and meticulously plans a kidnapping. However, they are suddenly faced with hidden Nazi sympathizers planning another Reich, threatening their seemingly simple mission. You may watch the film here and find out what follows.
19. The Forgotten Battle (2020)
Set during World War II’s Battle of the Scheldt, ‘The Forgotten Battle’ ties together the lives of three unrelated individuals in the days leading up to the fight. The first of the three, Teuntje Visser, finds herself joining the Dutch resistance after the Nazis execute her brother in cold blood. A Nazi sympathizer, Marinus van Staveren, tries his best to save Teuntje’s brother, but after his request is turned down, Marinus gets increasingly disillusioned and begins questioning his alliances. Around this time, Glider Pilot Regiment Sergeant Will Sinclair crashes into German-occupied Zeeland and begins engaging the German troops leading up to the Battle of Walcheren Causeway. However, fate has much more in store for the three as their lives are interwoven, leaving their futures in the balance. You may watch ‘The Forgotten Battle’ here.
18. The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)
Set during the invasion of Poland, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ revolves around the true story of how Jan and Antonina Żabiński rescued and sheltered hundreds of Jews, saving them from German brutality. When Jan and his wife decide to turn the zoo into a rescue zone, they turn it into a pig farm to keep it hidden from persecution. Moreover, taking the help of local resistance, they begin smuggling Jews out of the ghetto on trucks before giving them a safe haven. The movie is a wonderful commentary on the brutal persecution of Jews and shows how the couple stays strong even in the face of death to stand for what’s right. You can stream the film here.
17. Manto (2018)
‘Manto’ is a biographical film on the Urdu author Saadat Hasan Manto, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as Manto. The film paints the life and works of the author and how it is affected by his life experiences. A country torn into two, India and Pakistan, challenges his sanity and sense of self as he desires to belong somewhere. The film has two clear phases: Manto’s life in Bombay as a thriving scriptwriter, surrounded by friends and well-wishers, and the second is in Lahore, where he finds himself isolated from everyone. His downward spiral makes him hit rock bottom as he checks himself into the Lahore Mental Hospital for his alcohol addiction. You can stream ‘Manto’ here.
16. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)
Set against the backdrop of World War II and the German occupation of Guernsey Island, Juliet Ashton (Lily James), a London-based writer, develops a relationship over time with a book club called ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.’ As the members of the book club share their experience of living on the Nazi-occupied island, Juliet decides to visit the island herself. She has an idea for her next book, and she decides to write about the German occupation; in the bargain, she makes friends for life. The whole experience makes Juliet realize that she cannot leave behind her life in Guernsey and return to London. You can stream the movie here.
15. The Highwaymen (2019)
Revolving around the infamous criminal duo Bonnie and Clyde, ‘The Highwaymen’ follows former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and Benjamin Maney Gault in their efforts to bring the duo to justice. When authorities get specific information about the pair’s whereabouts, Frank and Benjamin are forced to come out of retirement and go on the hunt once again. Although their age initially slows them down, the thrill of being on the road and reminiscing old memories soon gets them on track as the movie takes the audience on a thrilling ride through an incredibly detailed and designed 1930s America. You can watch the movie here.
14. A Twelve-Year Night (2018)
Originally titled ‘La noche de 12 anos,’ ‘A Twelve-Year Night’ is a drama from Uruguay. Based on historical events, the film follows the 12-year- solitary confinement that members of the left-wing urban guerrilla group (Tupamaros) were put through. The order by the military dictatorship was to “drive them mad” if they can’t be killed. One of the nine hostages that are taken includes Pepe Mujica, who will go on to become the 40th President of Uruguay from 2010-2015. The crucially acclaimed film was selected as an entry for the 91st Academy Awards under the category of Best Foreign Language Film. You may watch it here.
13. The Resistance Banker (2018)
Set during the occupation of the Netherlands by Nazi Germany, ‘The Resistance Banker’ tells the story of Walraven “Wally” van Hall, an Amsterdam financier, who is recruited by the underground Dutch resistance to help them with funding. With the help of his brother Gijsbrecht “Gijs,” Wally develops an efficient network to quickly transfer money to the resistance. Their methods prove to be incredibly successful, and Wally becomes known as “van Tuyl” among his fellow resistance members. With Wally serving as their banker, the resistance leaders bring order to their finances. Meanwhile, realizing that someone funneling money to the resistance, Nazi collaborator Rost von Tonningen, the head of the Dutch State Bank, asks SS intelligence for help. Feel free to check out the movie here.
12. Elisa & Marcela (2019)
Based on the first same-sex marriage in Spain, the movie revolves around Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas, who meet and start a wonderful friendship. Nevertheless, things turn dark once their friendship blossoms into romance, as same-sex relationships were banned entirely at that time. However, Elisa and Marcela refuse to give up and, even while carrying on with their death-defying romance, decide to break out of the box and tie the knot. The narrative then takes a thrilling yet suspenseful turn, as in 1901. Elisa decides to adopt the identity of a boy to be one with her soulmate. You can check out the film here.
11. The Angel (2018)
Speaking of historical films always conjures up the image of the times that lie at least a hundred years prior to one’s own era. To be honest, what happened a decade ago is history too, though the most recent one. But let’s not get into that debate. My point is that if I tell you to watch a film that is set in the early 70s, it is historical, too, no matter how different it is from the rest of the films on this list. And this one, you must watch, because it acts as more of a spy-thriller. Based on the book of the same name by Uri Bar-Joseph, it focuses on the story of an Egyptian man who served as a spy for Israeli intelligence. Set in the aftermath of the Six Days War, it shows the Egyptian Prime Minister and his cabinet talking about how they can get back at Israel after their recent loss. Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of the Prime Minister, is let in on the discussion. However, he is harshly rebuked when he makes a substantial suggestion. This throws him towards the Israeli intelligence, and the rest that happened was history! You can watch ‘The Angel’ here.
10. Outlaw King (2018)
The name of Robert Bruce is held in high regard in Scottish history. He is known as one of the fiercest warriors and led the First War of Scottish Independence. ‘Outlaw King’ focuses on the events after the besieging of Stirling Castle, where the Scottish nobles surrendered to the King of England. Acting in subordination to the King continued for some time, but not long after, Robert Bruce led a rebellion against the British, motivated by sensing the unrest among the masses for the regime and the public display of William Wallace’s mutilated body. Chris Pine played the role of the titular king, while Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, Billy Howle, and Tony Curran appeared in other important roles. Like any other Hollywood film, you can expect some historical inaccuracies. But you will get the overall gist of all the events that led him to become a leader and, eventually, the King of Scots. You may watch the film here.
9. Mudbound (2017)
One of the best films of the year, ‘Mudbound,’ is set in the post-Second World War era. Two soldiers return home from the War, but all that they were before is washed away by what they experienced in the War. Jamie McAllan served as an army pilot, while Ronsel Jackson was in the infantry. Back home, Jamie’s elder brother, Henry, shares a loving marriage with Laura. Ronsel’s family, on the other hand, works in the fields of the McAllans. On returning home, Jamie and Ronsel strike a friendship, sharing their experiences of the War. However, the assimilation of blacks and whites wasn’t a common thing yet, not where they lived, and both of them faced trouble because of that. The film focuses on PTSD, which mainly haunts Jamie, and the racism that Ronsel has to bear witness to, something that he isn’t used to after becoming a part of the army. You may watch ‘Mudbound’ here.
8. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
A Netflix original film, ‘The Red Sea Diving Resort,’ is based on how Mossad (Israeli intelligence department) managed to smuggle Ethiopian Jews living in the country to Israel. Mossad agent Ari Levinson suggests to his seniors that they buy a beach resort and use it as a cover to carry out their covert mission. They carry out their mission in Sudan, but it is not long before some secrets are spilled, and the lives of the agents, as well as the people they are protecting, get shrouded in danger. The film had enough elements to make a compelling thriller, but writer-director Gideon Raff completely squanders away the opportunity by coming up with poorly written characters and not giving the actors enough material to work with. The film’s “white savior complex” has also been widely criticized. You can stream it here.
7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny (2016)
While ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ might not be a historical film in the truest sense of the term, it is a brilliant historical fiction that deserves our attention. The film is a sequel to the 2000 film ‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon,’ directed by Ang Lee. Michelle Yeoh reprises her role as warrior-maiden Shu Lien in this film. After being away for around eighteen years, she is now eager to find the magical sword known as Green Destiny, which once belonged to her lover, Li Mu Bai. As a dangerous criminal called Hades Dai gets eager to claim the sword, Shu Lien is hell-bent on saving it. In her quest, she is joined by a young woman and a mysterious warrior called Silent Wolf. ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ is a wuxia film that tells us a lot about the medieval Chinese culture of martial arts. While we get to see some brilliantly choreographed action sequences, we are also made privy to the philosophy of the era. You can stream ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny’ here.
6. The King (2019)
This Netflix original film is based on several plays by Shakespeare and mainly chronicles the early life of English ruler King Henry “Hal” V. The film begins with Hal being completely disinterested in the affairs of the state, and later, when his brother Thomas passes away in a battle, he is suddenly made the King of England. Many people around him presume that he is weak, and his coronation is openly mocked by King Charles VI of France. When Hal comes to know that Charles VI has sent an assassin to kill him, he declares war and marches on toward France to show his enemies his true powers. The boy who was always against politics and violence now gets molded into the image he always despised. Timothée Chalamet has been able to establish himself as a major talent, and this film again reminds us of his ability to do justice to any role he has been given. The production design, costumes, and cinematography of this film also deserve our admiration. You can watch it here.
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5. First They Killed My Father (2017)
Directed by Angelina Jolie and based on the 2000 memoir written by Loung Ung, ‘First They Killed My Father’ is a Cambodian–American Khmer-language film. The narrative is set in 1975 and follows a 7-year-old Loung as she is forced to become a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge regime. Loung is one of the seven children of her father, a Khmer National Armed Forces officer who is referred to in the film as “Pa.” After the Khmer Rouge emerges victorious in the Cambodian Civil War, Loung’s family leaves Phnom Pen as refugees and eventually ends up in a labor camp. Following her father’s death, Loung is recruited as a child soldier in a different camp just as the Vietnamese forces launch an operation to liberate Cambodia. You may watch the film here.
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4. Kardec (2019)
Based on the true story of Allan Kardec, ‘Kardec’ portrays Hippolyte Léon Denizard Rivail’s humble beginnings as an educator in France. While studying Spinning tables, Rivail suddenly realizes that there can be a way to communicate with Spirits. Although society doesn’t seem ready for such a revelation, the educator takes on the pseudonym of Allan Kardec and begins working on his books that now form the backbone of Spiritist studies. Delving especially into Rivail’s discoveries and his struggles to get it across to the general public, the movie does make for an interesting watch. Feel free to check out the movie here.
3. All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
Based on the 1929 novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ is a German film that tells the story of a German soldier named Paul Bäumer, Young and idealistic, Paul enlists in the Imperial German Army three years after the start of World War I along with his friends hoping for glory and fame. But as the film progresses, and Paul becomes closely acquainted with the horrors of war, he realizes that glory is rarely found on the battlefield. The best he can hope for is to survive until the carnage around him stops. Remarque’s book also inspired the classic 1930 namesake film directed by Lewis Milestone. Widely regarded as one of the greatest war films of all time, the American movie depicts the realities of war in harrowing detail and was the first film to win the Academy Awards for both Outstanding Production and Best Director. You can check out the film here.
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2. Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001)
‘Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India’ is a historical sports drama film directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. This epic musical unfolds in a drought-stricken village in colonial India during the late Victorian period of the British Raj. The villagers burdened by drought and taxes (Lagaan) from the British Government are challenged by an arrogant British officer to a cricket match to evade oppressive taxes. The film follows Bhuvan, who rallies a team of villagers and learns about the game of cricket. With Amitabh Bachchan‘s narration and good performances from Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, and British actors Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne, the film encapsulates the struggle, hope, and resilience of the villagers.
Produced amidst multiple challenges, the film was India’s priciest at its release time and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The word ‘Lagaan’ is symbolic of the burden the villagers bear – both the tax and colonial oppression. With its captivating storyline, melodious music, and interplay of culture and sport, the film undoubtedly earns its spot, inviting viewers to witness a unique blend of sportsmanship and resistance against colonialism. You can watch ‘Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India’ here.
1. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
Directed by Aaron Sorkin, ‘The Trail of the Chicago 7’ follows the Chicago Seven, a group of anti-Vietnam War protesters who are held responsible for the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. This historical legal drama follows the unfair trials of seven ringleaders who are associated with the incident and their fight against all odds to stand for what they believe in. Although they do not see eye to eye on their political philosophies, the Chicago 7 realize the significance they have in each other’s lives, especially if they want to win the fight. The ensemble cast features notable names like Sacha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Alex Sharp, Michael Keaton, Daniel Flaherty, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. You may watch the film here.
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