Multiple creators have talked about Best Movies About American History. We gathered 25 of the best ones.
From Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Sally Field
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American comedy-drama film directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Eric Roth. It stars Tom Hanks as the titular character, a slow-witted but kind-hearted man from Alabama who witnesses, and in some cases influences, some of the defining events of the latter half of the 20th century in the United States. The film follows Forrest as he faces challenges such as bullying, racism, and the Vietnam War, with help from his childhood friend, Lieutenant Dan. He also meets and falls in love with Jenny, and finds himself in a place of prominence despite his intellectual handicaps. The film received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, earning multiple awards and grossing over $677 million worldwide.
From Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns
Saving Private Ryan (1998) is a war drama directed by Steven Spielberg, set during the invasion of Normandy during World War II. The film follows a group of U.S. soldiers on a mission to rescue Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in action. Led by Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks), the squad is sent across enemy lines to bring Private Ryan safely home. Along the way, they must battle the harsh conditions of war, as well as the enemy, in order to succeed in their mission. The film is renowned for its highly realistic and graphic depiction of war, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest war films of all time.
From Stanley Kubrick, starring Matthew Modine, R. Lee Ermey, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Baldwin
Full Metal Jacket is a 1987 war film directed, produced, and co-written by Stanley Kubrick. It follows the story of a group of U.S. Marines in basic training and the subsequent experiences of two of them during the Vietnam War. The film portrays the dehumanizing effects of war on the soldiers, their struggle to maintain their own humanity, and the consequences of their actions. Through its gritty visuals and psychological themes, Kubrick explores the dehumanizing effects of violence and the moral ambiguity of war. It is an uncompromising and thought-provoking account of the Vietnam War, told through the eyes of the Marines.
From Stanley Kramer, starring Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich
Judgment at Nuremberg is a 1961 courtroom drama film directed by Stanley Kramer and written by Abby Mann. It follows a group of Nazi judges at the Nuremberg Trials in the aftermath of World War II, who are charged with crimes against humanity. The film focuses on the proceedings of the trial and the moral conflicts faced by the presiding judges. The film stars Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, and Werner Klemperer. The film is a powerful exploration of the consequences of a totalitarian state, the power of justice, and the struggle for accountability.
From Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds, Martin Stringer
There Will Be Blood is a 2007 American epic drama film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and starring Daniel Day-Lewis. The film is set in the early 20th century, and tells the story of a silver miner-turned-oilman (Day-Lewis) on a ruthless quest for wealth and power. As his fortunes increase, he begins to slowly isolate himself from his family and community as he adopts increasingly megalomaniacal behavior. The film also contains elements of psychological horror, as psychological and physical violence become increasingly prevalent in the protagonist's life. The film won two Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Day-Lewis and Best Cinematography.
From Amir Bar-Lev, starring John Perry Barlow, Tom Constanten, Sam Cutler, Jerry Garcia
Long Strange Trip is a documentary directed by Amir Bar-Lev that chronicles the rise and fall of the iconic rock band the Grateful Dead. Using an extensive array of archival footage and personal testimonies, Bar-Lev examines the band's incredible journey, from their early days in San Francisco to their numerous sold-out stadium shows. The film follows the Dead's cultural and musical evolution, exploring the unique approach they took to their music, the unique bond they had with their fans, and their personal struggles. It also examines their impact on the history of rock-and-roll, their influence on the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, and the legacy they left behind.
From Steve McQueen, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt
12 Years a Slave is a 2013 historical drama film directed by Steve McQueen and written by John Ridley, based on the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup. The film follows the life of Northup, a free African-American man from upstate New York who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841, and sold into slavery. After twelve years of servitude, Northup finally regains his freedom. The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup, with Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'o, and Brad Pitt in supporting roles. It was the first film produced and released by New Regency Productions and Plan B Entertainment, and was distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 12 Years a Slave received critical acclaim and was a commercial success, grossing over $187 million on a production budget of $22 million. It received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won three, for Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong'o), Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley), and Best Picture.
From John Ford, starring Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Charley Grapewin
The Grapes of Wrath is a classic 1940 drama directed by John Ford. Set during the Great Depression, the film follows the Joad family, who are forced to leave their Oklahoma farm due to the Dust Bowl. The family makes their way west to California in search of a better life, but upon their arrival, they soon find that the promised land is plagued with poverty, exploitation, and struggle. Despite their difficult circumstances, the Joad family musters up the strength to persevere and fight for a better future. With deep themes of social injustice, Christian morality, and the strength of family, The Grapes of Wrath remains one of the best films of its era.
From Frank Capra, starring James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a classic 1939 film by director Frank Capra. The film stars James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, a naive and idealistic man from the small town of Valley Forge who is appointed as a senator for his state. Smith is unaware of the political corruption and cronyism that exists in Washington, and his naivety soon puts him in the middle of a heated political battle. Smith's opponents, led by Senator Joseph Paine (played by Claude Rains), attempt to discredit Smith and sabotage his efforts. In the end, Smith triumphs and his moral integrity prevails, restoring faith in the American political system.
From D.A. Pennebaker, starring Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Ravi Shankar, Country Joe McDonald
Rated Not Rated
Monterey Pop is a 1968 documentary film directed by D.A. Pennebaker. It chronicles the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, an influential rock music event that took place in Monterey, California. The film features performances by some of the most iconic bands and musicians of the era, including The Who, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix, who famously lit his guitar on fire during his performance. The film also includes interviews with various musicians and members of the audience, as well as shots of the crowd, capturing the atmosphere of the event. Monterey Pop provides a unique snapshot of the spirit of the time, when hippie culture was reaching its peak.
From Franklin J. Schaffner, starring George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong
Patton is a 1970 American biographical war film about U.S. General George Patton during World War II. It stars George C. Scott as Patton and Karl Malden as General Omar Bradley. The film tells the story of Patton's career in North Africa, Italy, and France, during the Allied invasion of Europe in World War II. The film portrays Patton as a confident, successful, and controversial figure who clashes with both his superiors and subordinates. Through his aggressive and inspiring leadership, he is eventually able to turn the tide of the war in the Allies' favor. The film also features numerous well-known battle scenes, as well as a score by Jerry Goldsmith. Patton won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for George C. Scott.
From Spike Lee, starring Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson
Do the Right Thing is a 1989 American drama film written, produced, and directed by Spike Lee. It stars Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, and Rosie Perez. The film tells the story of a single day in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York City, on the hottest day of the summer. The simmering tension between a variety of individuals living in the neighborhood comes to a head when an Italian-American neighborhood store owner, Sal, refuses to display pictures of African-American celebrities on the walls of his store. In response, the neighborhood erupts into violence, ultimately leading to Sal's store burned down. In the end, the characters learn to appreciate each other's differences and embrace their diversity. Do the Right Thing is an exploration of the racial tensions in inner city neighborhoods and a call for the end of violence and racism.
From Edward Zwick, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman
Glory is a 1989 American epic war drama film directed by Edward Zwick, starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The film tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first African-American regiment in the United States to be made up entirely of free men and commanded by Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The film follows the regiment’s struggles in the American Civil War, focusing on the relationship between Shaw and his regiment and on the soldiers’ courage and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. The film culminates in the 54th's heroic charge on Fort Wagner in July 1863. The film also examines the complexities of race relations in the United States at the time, particularly in the North, and the 54th's place in the changing face of the war.
From Philip Kaufman, starring Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid
The Right Stuff is a 1983 American epic historical drama film directed by Philip Kaufman, and adapted from Tom Wolfe's best-selling 1979 book of the same name. The film follows the first seven American astronauts as they attempt to become a part of the United States space program. It explores the risks they took and the sacrifices they made while they strove to become the first men to break the bonds of Earth and reach the stars. It also examines the social changes that America experienced during the 1950s and 1960s, including Cold War tensions and the civil rights movement. The film stars Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, and Barbara Hershey. It received eight Academy Award nominations, and won four Oscars, including Best Original Music Score and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.
From Alan Parker, starring Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand, Brad Dourif
Mississippi Burning is a 1988 American crime thriller film directed by Alan Parker, and starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. It is set in 1964, during the Civil Rights Movement, and follows two FBI agents who investigate the disappearance and murder of three civil rights activists near a small town in Mississippi. The agents face hostility from local residents and law enforcement, as well as the Ku Klux Klan, and use unorthodox methods in order to uncover the truth. The film was nominated for several awards, and won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Mississippi Burning is considered a classic of the period and a powerful examination of racism and civil rights.
From Michael Mann, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig
The Last of the Mohicans (1992) is an epic adventure movie directed by Michael Mann and based on James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel of the same name. The movie follows the story of Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), an adopted member of the Mohican tribe, and his two adopted brothers as they try to protect their family during the French and Indian War. Along the way they encounter love, danger, and the power of nature. Eventually, they must make a fateful decision that will decide the fate of the Mohican nation. The movie features some of the most iconic and breathtaking shots of nature ever filmed. The action is intense and the romance is compelling. The Last of the Mohicans is a timeless classic that continues to be a favorite among moviegoers.
Darryl F. Zanuck, starring John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Richard Burton, Henry Fonda
The Longest Day is a 1962 epic war drama film depicting the events of D-Day, the allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944 during World War II. Directed by five top directors – Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Gerd Oswald, Bernhard Wicki, and Darryl F. Zanuck – the film chronicles the monumental events of the invasion from both the Allied and the German perspectives. The film follows the planning, preparation, and execution of the invasion by Allied forces, which ultimately resulted in victory for the Allies. Featuring a star-studded cast, The Longest Day is a powerful and unforgettable portrayal of one of the most crucial battles in history.
From Spike Lee, starring Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo, Spike Lee
Malcolm X is a biographical drama film directed by Spike Lee and starring Denzel Washington, who portrays the life of African-American leader Malcolm X. The film follows the life of Malcolm X from his early days as a street hustler to his rise as a powerful and influential leader in the Nation of Islam. Through his soaring oratory, Malcolm X becomes a powerful voice for civil rights, inspiring African-Americans to stand up for their rights and to seek freedom and justice. Through his tireless activism and unwavering commitment to justice, Malcolm X ultimately finds himself at odds with the Nation of Islam and is assassinated in 1965. The film also examines the lasting impact of Malcolm X’s legacy on civil rights and the nation as a whole.
From Ron Howard, starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell
Frost/Nixon is a 2008 biographical drama film directed by Ron Howard, based on the 2006 play of the same name by Peter Morgan. The film tells the story of the legendary 1977 television interviews between British television host David Frost and former president Richard Nixon, following the Watergate scandal. Frost is determined to extract an apology from Nixon for his involvement in the scandal and for the cover-up. Through a series of confrontational conversations, Frost finally manages to get Nixon to admit his guilt and apologize for his involvement. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Frank Langella's portrayal of Nixon.
From Ridley Scott, starring Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore, Eric Bana
Black Hawk Down is a war drama film directed by Ridley Scott that tells the story of the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. The movie follows a group of elite U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers sent to capture two lieutenants of a Somali warlord. During the mission, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters are shot down, stranding the soldiers in the middle of hostile territory. The movie follows their incredible fight for survival as they endure a relentless assault from thousands of Somali militia fighters. With little hope of rescue, the soldiers must rely on each other to stay alive until relief arrives. The film is a gripping account of courage and sacrifice in the face of overwhelming odds.
From Martin Scorsese, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jim Broadbent
Gangs of New York is a 2002 American epic period drama film directed by Martin Scorsese, set in the mid-19th century in the Five Points district of New York City. It tells the story of Amsterdam Vallon, an Irish immigrant who returns to the Five Points seeking revenge against Bill the Butcher, his father's killer. Amsterdam's attempt to avenge his father's death, coupled with the background of the early days of political and ethnic gang warfare in the city, form the basis of the film's narrative. Along the way, Amsterdam is aided by his childhood friend, Johnny Sirocco, and slowly earns a place in the notorious Butcher Gang. The film features an all-star cast, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, and Liam Neeson. The story is based on Herbert Asbury's 1928 non-fiction book, The Gangs of New York.
From Denzel Washington, starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Kimberly Elise, Nate Parker
The Great Debaters is a 2007 drama film directed by Denzel Washington and starring Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Denzel Whitaker. Set in the 1930s, the film follows the story of the Wiley College debate team, led by professor Melvin B. Tolson (Washington). The team, made up of three African-American students, James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker), Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), and Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), travel to the all-white college to compete in a debate tournament against Harvard University. Despite their lack of experience and resources, the team rises to the challenge and ultimately succeeds, becoming the first African-American debate team to win a national championship. The film also focuses on the personal and political struggles the team and their professor face in the then-segregated south. In the end, the team's success serves as a symbol of hope and a turning point in race relations in the United States.
From Steven Spielberg, starring Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConaughey, Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman
From Steven Spielberg, starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
From Roger Donaldson, starring Kevin Costner, Bruce Greenwood, Shawn Driscoll, Drake Cook