History has been a great subject for many films, featuring the rich cultures of countries or even the hardships of citizens caught in various historical events (wars, plagues, etc).
Some films have plots based on real records of history that were kept and preserved by historians and museums, and some films go further by accurately depicting true-to-life stories of real people who played real roles in real historical events.
Of course, in these biopics, creative license can be taken to spice up the narrative and tighten things up for the audience. But even so, such movies help shed light on lesser-known things that have happened.
Other times, films only use historical events as settings for their stories, with filmmakers creatively inserting and incorporating unique plots in accordance with what actually happened.
Such films may not be completely accurate to history, but the fact that they incorporate real-world events can spur viewers to look into it and actually learn more about the actual historical event.
Here are our picks for the best movies about real historical events, ranging from stories of love and heroism to full-blown, hair-raising, action-packed thrillers.
6. Titanic (1997)
Everyone loved James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, featuring a love story that crossed the boundaries of social class. The film centers on Jack (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose (played by Kate Winslet) who must navigate their romance aboard the legendary ship.
Titanic, as expected, also featured the ill fate of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. On its way across the Atlantic Ocean, the Titanic struck an iceberg that pierced its hull, causing it to capsize to the deaths of nearly 1,500 passengers on board.
The RMS Titanic served as the setting for Jack and Rose’s love story, making its development truly tragic at the end. Today, the ship’s wreckage and artifacts are protected from pillaging and exploitation, thus preserving it even at the bottom of the ocean.
5. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
It’s common to see characters with guns and cannons in war scenes, but Hacksaw Ridge proved that you can be a legendary soldier even without carrying a gun.
Hacksaw Ridge is based on a 2004 documentary called The Conscientious Objector, about a soldier named Desmond Doss who refused to wield a gun (due to his religion). He later received a Medal of Honor for his service in World War II.
Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Andrew Garfield as Desmond Doss, the soldiers battle against the Japanese Army on Hacksaw Ridge. As a combat medic, Doss never raised arms against the enemy but saved his comrades by bringing them to safety, one by one.
While gunfire can make a scene exciting, in this case, it’s Doss’s determination to save his fellow soldiers that thrilled us. With every soldier he saves, he prays to save one more.
4. Pearl Harbor (2001)
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Pearl Harbor is another film that features a love story fitted against the backdrop of a war. This one features the surprise attack conducted by the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, a naval base in Honolulu, Hawaii.
This battle marked the start of America’s formal engagement against the Japanese Empire during World War II.
Directed by Michael Bay, this romantic war drama centers on the love story between Rafe (played by Ben Affleck) and Evelyn (played by Kate Beckinsale). When Evelyn believes Rafe has died, she begins dating Rafe’s friend, Danny (played by Josh Hartnett).
While the main story here is entirely fictional, the film features characters who are real and historically significant, like the leaders of nations and high-ranking military officials.
3. Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Tora! Tora! Tora! is another film that centers on the battle of Pearl Harbor. However, unlike the aforementioned Pearl Harbor, this film places more emphasis on the actual event itself instead of focusing on a very particular set of fictional characters.
What’s most interesting about Tora! Tora! Tora! is that it was produced by both sides as a collaboration between American and Japanese directors. It’s noted as being historically accurate as it depicts the tension between the opposing countries.
2. The Hunley (1999)
If you’re interested in watching films that are “the first of its kind,” then the war drama The Hunley might interest you.
The Hunley is a film about the first combat submarine CSS H.L. Hunley, which sank the warship USS Housatonic in the midst of the American Civil War on February 17, 1864. It was its first and only victim.
Around this event, The Hunley builds tension and deeply heartbreaking drama that elevates the historical event to new levels, like showing the crew’s final moments before their deaths.
The titular submarine was far smaller than modern-day submarines, and it was operated by crews fitted inside a small cabin who manually turned the propellers. With its sneak attack on the warship, the Hunley sank along with its crew.
1. Hidden Figures (2016)
Hidden Figures centers on the stories of three women who, despite their skin color and the discrimination they experienced, proved that they could excel in their fields as geniuses.
The film is set during the Space Race era, when the US and the USSR both built and deployed manned and unmanned vehicles into space.
It also features the launch of John Glenn to space and his retrieval upon reentry, for which Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) and her calculations played a crucial role.
John Glenn was the first American who orbited the Earth aboard Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962. (The first Soviet to do so was Yuri Gagarin aboard Vostok 1 on April 12, 1961.)