It’s movie night and you want to forget about today’s political division and escape to another era — perhaps one when times were simpler or maybe one where life’s struggles were more pronounced as a reminder that things aren’t so bad after all.
Enter the historical film genre. A historical film is a film depicting past events or set within a historical period. Interested in the wild West? We got it. How about the antebellum South? We got you covered. We also included America’s earliest beginnings and world events in the more recent past.
Although people often complain that films aren’t what they used to be back in Hollywood’s golden era, the 21st century has nonetheless offered the moviegoing public some great choices — some blockbuster, others little known gems.
Here are Newsmax’s favorite historical films, listed by release date. Scan the list, make your choice, pop some corn, pull it up on your streaming service and enjoy.
1. "Black Hawk Down," 2001, was directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma and Louise, Gladiator) and is based on the ill-fated 1993 raid in Mogadishu, Somalia to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid. What began as a "snatch and grab: turned horrifyingly wrong when two Army Blackhawk helicopters were shot down over the city. The film received two Academy Awards — for film editing and sound.
Said Roger Ebert, films like this "help audiences understand and sympathize with the actual experiences of combat troops, instead of trivializing them into entertainments.:
2. "Munich," 2005, is a Steven Spielberg film based on the book, "Vengeance,: portraying Israel’s Operation Wrath of God. This was a secret response against the Palestinian Liberation Organization for their massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games.
"Munich: received five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Writes Ian Nathan for Empire, "This is Spielberg operating at his peak — an exceptionally made, provocative and vital film for our times."
3. "The New World," 2006, depicts the founding of the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia and the personal stories of Pocahontas and her tribe and Captain John Smith and the English settlers.
How strange, exotic, and wondrous each group must have appeared to the other, like extraterrestrial beings.
Says Roger Ebert, "We are surprised to see how makeshift and vulnerable the English forts are, how evolved the Indian culture is, how these two civilizations could have built something new together — but could not, because what both societies knew at that time did not permit it."
4. "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford," 2007, is a revisionist Western film, with the two title characters played by Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck, respectively.
The film is set in 1881, after Jesse's exploits are already legend and depicts him as haunted by feelings on an impending death — but not imagining it could from Ford, the gang’s nominal member.
"An extraordinary and visionary study of a legendary murderer’s famous fate, within touching distance of Oscars,:writes Ian Nathan, reviewing for Empire.
5. "There Will Be Blood,"2007, takes place at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries during the California oil boom, and depicts a ruthless silver miner-turned-oilman, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis.
The film received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.
Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wrote that the film "hits with hurricane force. Lovers of formula and sugarcoating will hate it. Screw them. In terms of excitement, imagination and rule-busting experimentation, it's a gusher."
6. "The Hurt Locker," 2008, follows an Explosives Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team targeted by insurgents during the Iraq War. It depicts the differing ways team members use to deal with the stress of combat and their job: Some find it unbearable; others find it addictive.
"The Hurt Locker" captures the drama, suspense and raw emotion of a job that very few people survive,: writes Paul Young for Screen Rant. "It may possibly be the best movie of the summer."
7. "Lincoln," 2012, is a Steven Spielberg film depicting the last four months of Lincoln's life, focusing on his efforts in 1865 to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.
Lincoln, portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis, was arguably the greatest president in U.S. history, and at the time of his assassination was both the most beloved and hated figure in the United States.
Writes Ian Nathan for Empire, "As unexpected as it is intelligent, thanks to virtuoso work from Spielberg and Kushner, Lincoln is landmark filmmaking, while Day-Lewis is so authentic he pulls off that stovepipe."
8. "12 Years a Slave," 2013, was adapted from an 1853 slave memoir of the same name, depicting the horrors of slavery during America’s early years.
"12 Years" makes slavery personal, depicting the years that the protagonist was held in bondage at a Louisiana plantation after he was kidnapped while a free man in Washington, D.C.
Says film critic Roger Ebert, by the time the film is over, viewers "will be filled with one thought: That they have actually witnessed American slavery in all its appalling horror for the very first time."
9. "Son of Saul," 2015, follows 36 hours in the life of Saul Ausländer at an Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Ausländer is a Hungarian Sonderkommando — a prisoner, generally Jewish, forced, under the threat of their own deaths, to aid with the disposal of gas chamber victims.
The film won a string of accolades, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw said the film "dramatises the concentration camps with great intelligence, seriousness and audacity."
10. "Dunkirk," 2017, portrays the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. Short on dialogue and long on visuals, "Dunkirk: received numerous U.S. and international awards.
Says Roger Ebert, "This is a movie of vision and integrity made on an epic scale, a series of propositions dramatized with machines, bodies, seawater and fire. It deserves to be seen and argued about. They don't make them like this anymore. Never did, really."
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