Romance, scandal, war, politics... These are all important elements in any movie that deals with royalty, but especially when that royalty is rooted in monarchy and inheritance.
Here are my picks for the best movies about royalty and monarchy, ranging from fantasy movies about fictional kings and queens to period dramas about the very real British royal family.
18. The Duchess (2008)
Directed by Saul Dibb
Starring Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper
Biography, Drama, History (1h 50m)
Georgiana Cavendish (née Georgiana Spencer) was the Duchess of Devonshire and fashion icon of the 18th century—something The Duchess captured so brilliantly it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Costume Design!
Despite her reputation of riches and beauty, Georgiana's personal life and marriage was a private hell. At just 17 years old, Georgiana was wed to the cold-hearted Duke of Devonshire, played by the usual English baddie Ralph Fiennes.
Saul Dibb's historical biopic shows us the truth of what it meant to be a female debutante in Georgian high society, back when—despite her politics and activism—Georgiana was valued solely for her ability to produce a male heir.
The Duchess may be flawed here and there, but it's really one of the best biographical movies about real royalty.
17. The Young Victoria (2009)
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany
Biography, Drama, History (1h 45m)
In The Young Victoria, Emily Blunt strikes a keen balance between strength and sympathy; power and humanity. Her portrayal of the young Queen Victoria depicts a teenager who's made into the fiercely independent Queen of England that history remembers her as.
It's a well-known fact that Victoria wore black for 40 years, mourning her late husband Prince Albert. Jean-Marc Vallée's heartfelt drama sows the seeds of this love, where Albert took a bullet for Victoria claiming "I am replaceable, you are not."
It's rare for a politically arranged marriage to involve any true love, making The Young Victoria such a touching story and one of the most iconic movies about royalty, romance, and falling in love.
16. Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Directed by Josie Rourke
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie, Jack Lowden
Biography, Drama, History (2h 4m)
Despite the historical inaccuracies, Mary Queen of Scots was praised for its compelling lead performances by Margot Robbie and Saoirse Ronan.
Margot Robbie is unrecognizable by the end of the movie as she embodies the aging Queen Elizabeth I of England. Saoirse Ronan, on the other hand, plays the young Mary Stuart, who was Queen of Scotland until forced to abdicate in 1567.
For her directorial debut, Josie Rourke's Mary Queen of Scots is an enjoyable watch that retells the infamous story of two powerful female rivals—both in reign and love.
15. Victoria & Abdul (2017)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Tim Pigott-Smith
Biography, Comedy, Drama (1h 51m)
Queen Victoria is remembered for a lot of things during her lengthy reign. She oversaw great cultural and industrial advancements, and has the reputation of a stubbornly headstrong personality.
It was unlikely for her to strike up a friendship with a young Indian prison clerk, but alas, Victoria and Abdul Karim became quite the pair. Stephen Frears shows us how this unique relationship began, anchored by a magisterial performance by Judi Dench.
The light-heartedness of Victoria & Abdul may gloss over the historical complexities of colonial oppression, but so long as you keep in mind Frears' artistic license, you're in for an endearing movie.
14. A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Directed by Fred Zinnemann
Starring Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, Robert Shaw
Biography, Drama, History (2h)
Four hundred years after his death, Sir Thomas More was ordained a saint, canonized for his loyalty to Catholicism.
Back in those days, Henry VIII was notorious for (needlessly) executing people. His reason for beheading Lord High Chancellor Thomas More? More wouldn't annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
In A Man for All Seasons, Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw play the famously feuding members of the royal court from 1529 to 1535, directed by Fred Zinnemann. Adapted from the stage play, it went on to win Best Picture at the 39th Academy Awards.
13. Marie Antoinette (2006)
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn
Biography, Drama, History (2h 3m)
Marie Antoinette isn't concerned with historical details and political jargon so much as the mise-en-scène of everything.
Director Sofia Coppola focuses on capturing the vibe of France's last queen—who was both feminine and overindulgent—and how her behaviors contributed to the mood of a very angry population.
Kirsten Dunst plays the childish archduchess-turned-queen as she marries into the crown and dons herself in pink and glitter.
Beautifully iced cakes adorn each frame in reference to Antoinette's famously naïve (mis)quote: "Let them eat cake."
To be clear, Marie Antoinette does have several inaccuracies, but anyone who gets hung up on them has completely missed the point of this film. Coppola herself said it's "not a history lesson." Rather, Marie Antoinette is an auteur's stylish examination of history's impact.
12. The King and I (1956)
Directed by Walter Lang
Starring Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr, Rita Moreno
Biography, Drama, Musical (2h 13m)
The 1951 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical—which itself was an adaptation of a novel by Margaret Landon—became an immediate hit that went on to win Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Actress, and Best Featured Actor.
Of course, 20th Century Fox saw this as the perfect opportunity to promote their new Cinemascope 55 system, and so they adapted the play into a musical movie.
The King and I is inspired by the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who taught the numerous children of King Mongkut of Siam (modern-day Thailand) back in the 1860s.
The iconic Yul Brynner portrayed the king, both on stage and on screen, in a musical that's perfect for any fan of The Sound of Music! Not only that, it's one of the best movies about a monarch who's neither British, French, nor Russian.
11. Mrs. Brown (1997)
Directed by John Madden
Starring Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Geoffrey Palmer
Biography, Drama, History (1h 41m)
Victoria & Abdul wasn't the first time Judi Dench appeared as the hot-headed, all-black-wearing Queen of England—which is great since she's so good at it! Back in the 90s, Dench was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a younger Victoria in Mrs. Brown.
Recently widowed, Victoria fell into a life of seclusion. In an attempt to draw Victoria back into public life, Scottish servant John Brown (played by Billy Connolly) angers the Royal Family, press, and politicians by taking considerable liberties with court protocol.
Although John Madden never directly addresses the suspected romance between Brown and the Queen, it's heavily implied.
10. The Queen (2006)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
Biography, Drama (1h 43m)
Queen Victoria was the longest-reigning monarch in British history up until 2015, when the title shifted over to Queen Elizabeth II. The latter is the queen of focus in The Queen, played here by Helen Mirren under the direction of Stephen Frears.
Mirren received a five-minute standing ovation when The Queen premiered, followed by an Oscar for Best Actress. Both were well-deserved after her extensive preparation to faithfully embody the British monarch around the time of Princess Diana's death.
While there's always been a lot of conspiracy talk around the premature death of Diana, The Queen doesn't really touch on them. Instead, Frears examines public and private reactions to the event while exploring topics of protocol and republicanism with surprising wit.
In light of the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II in 2022, if you're looking for some really good movies about the monarch, The Queen should definitely be added to your watchlist.
9. Elizabeth (1998)
Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Starring Cate Blanchett, Liz Giles, Rod Culbertson
Biography, Drama, History (2h 4m)
In Elizabeth, Cate Blanchett plays the regal and forward-thinking Queen Elizabeth I of England as she's crowned in 1558.
Like Queen Victoria, Elizabeth was a headstrong leader and prone to temper tantrums. Director Shekhar Kapur takes us through the ups and downs of this key figure's reign, packed with suspense and energy.
The success of Elizabeth led Kapur to make a sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, in 2007 that follows a similar tone.
Whether you're a Tudor fanatic or you simply like political drama done well, you should watch both of these films before the potential third installment, Elizabeth: The Dark Age, is made.
8. Becket (1964)
Directed by Peter Glenville
Starring Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole, John Gielgud
Biography, Drama, History (2h 28m)
If you enjoyed the aforementioned A Man for All Seasons, you'll probably like Becket even more. This British historical drama from the 1960s takes place all the way back in the 12th century when Henry II was in charge.
Back then, it was Thomas Becket who served as Lord Chancellor to Henry II, who then became the devout Archbishop of Canterbury and fell into conflict with the Henry he once served.
And what was the source of their conflict? Religion. More specifically, the rights and privileges of the Church under the king's rule. All of this gives rise to one of the OG friends-to-enemies plotlines.
Henry II was speculated to be behind Saint Thomas Becket's mysterious death, which director Peter Glenville takes us through in Becket, starring the prestigious Richard Burton and Peter O'Toole.
7. Macbeth (2015)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jack Madigan
Drama, History, War (1h 53m)
Hamlet (the guy with the skull and drowning girlfriend) and Macbeth (the guy with the dagger and three creepy witches) are the subjects of William Shakespeare's most well-known tragedies.
And given that cinema is no stranger to Shakespeare adaptations, we're spoiled for choice when it comes to film adaptations of The Tragedy of Hamlet and The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Of them all, one of our absolute favorites is Justin Kurzel's Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, the Thane of Cawdor and future King of Scotland.
We're not sure how much money went to all the smoke machines and intense color grading, but it was worth every penny!
If you like this highly stylized version of Shakespeare's Macbeth, then you should also check out Joel Coen's even-more-stylized The Tragedy of Macbeth that's reminiscent of German Expressionism.
6. The King (2019)
Directed by David Michôd
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson
Biography, Drama, History (2h 20m)
Robert Pattinson's French accent may not be the best in The King, but Timothée Chalamet had a great stab at the British one!
The King documents the journey of young Henry V (Timothée Chalamet) in 15th century England, who starts as a drunken layabout, becomes a brave leader on the field, and is then crowned at 26.
Despite his short reign, Henry V is remembered for his exceptional military success during the Hundred Years' War against France, which is something David Michôd celebrates with grit and drama.
Loosely based on Henry IV: Part 1, Henry IV: Part 2, and Henry V by William Shakespeare, The King might not be 100% accurate, but it sure is engrossing! And it also happens to be one of the best movies about royalty on Netflix right now.
5. Cleopatra (1963)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison
Biography, Drama, History (3h 12m)
It's a good thing Cleopatra ended up being such a good movie, considering the fact it was so expensive to make that it nearly destroyed 20th Century Fox in the process!
And that wasn't the only controversial aspect of this film. At release, news headlines cared more about the love affair between stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor than promoting the movie.
Not to mention that Cleopatra went far over budget, took much longer to film than scheduled, churned through two different directors and cast lists, and Elizabeth Taylor was constantly on leave for illness.
Despite all that, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz managed to climb out the other side intact with this epic historical drama that went on to get nine Academy Award nominations.
Elizabeth Taylor stars as the young Queen of Egypt, who becomes the mistress of Julius Caeser as a power move.
4. Henry V (1989)
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Starring Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Simon Shepherd
Biography, Drama, History (2h 17m)
Henry V is a more old-school version of The King, starring the Shakespearean pro Kenneth Branagh as Britain's Henry of Monmouth. He also wrote and directed the film, based on the circa-1599 play.
We open to Derek Jacobi delivering a hearty prologue as he strolls through a movie studio to present the "play," which soon morphs into the actual movie.
Henry V is full of the elegant speeches and tense, bloody battles that William Shakespeare is famous for. Despite its age, Henry V remains one of the greatest movies about British monarchs.
3. The King's Speech (2010)
Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
Biography, Drama, History (1h 58m)
Taking a unique approach from your usual movies about royalty, The King's Speech gives us a peek into the private life of King George VI as he prepares to make a crucial wartime radio broadcast.
Public speaking is part and parcel of being in the British royal family—especially as a ruler—but it was nothing short of a nightmare for George, whose speech suffered from stuttering.
When his speech therapists fail to cure his stammer, George (Colin Firth) must turn to the unusual practices of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Not only is Logue much too informal for George's liking, he also has no formal training for what he does.
But he gets the job done! Tom Hooper's subtly cinematic drama was a critically acclaimed hit that won four Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay.
2. Spencer (2021)
Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins
Biography, Drama (1h 57m)
Kristen Stewart absolutely smashed it in her recent embodiment of Princess Diana, fine-tuning her mannerisms and expressions to perfectly match the late princess' own.
Pablo Larraín's psychological drama uses the Christmas period of 1991 as a microcosm for Diana's tragic experience in the Royal Family.
Talking almost at a whisper for the entire movie, Diana is constantly watched, controlled, and hated by the Royals. She's stalked by the equerry major, has her curtains sewn together, and is mocked for her eating disorder.
Spencer is just as heartbreaking as it is visually stunning, filmed in a boxy vintage ratio with postcard-like imagery. Larraín makes delicate but clear hints to the conspiracy surrounding Diana's death, haunting her every move with the ghost of Anne Boleyn.
1. The Favourite (2018)
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Biography, Comedy, Drama (1h 59m)
Yorgos Lanthimos has a searingly unique style when it comes to his movies: outlandish and oftentimes disturbing storylines told through polished monochrome cinematography. The Favourite is no exception to this, set in a Gothic-looking 18th century England.
Queen Anne (played so exceptionally by Olivia Coleman that she won an Oscar) is unstable, immature, and in poor health.
Her advisor and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) takes on most of her duties, until her impoverished little cousin Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) arrives on the scene.
Involving a darkly comic game of power and politics, The Favourite is a fiery, fun, and utterly original watch worth checking out.