100 Films Reviewed by Historians

Can you learn history through movies?

Just last week on the blog, AHA Executive Director Jim Grossman examined the new film The Conspirator and discussed how movies can be used to generate questions, start discussions, and in the end, teach history.

This idea, that movies can be a teaching tool, has been the theme of the “Masters at the Movies” article series in Perspectives on History since it began in 2006. Over the past 5 years, 17 historians have reviewed or noted over 100 films, applauding some while questioning the accuracy of others. Today, presented below, we’ve put together a list of the movies they’ve mentioned, and the articles they’ve written.

So get your Netflix queues ready, read these historians’ thoughts on which films to check out (and which to avoid), and start watching.

Movies Related Articles

Wall Street

Wall Street (1987)
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

Wall Street 1987




Mining-town Movies

Billy Elliot (2000)
How Green Was My Valley (1941)

How Green Was My Valley and Billy Elliot



The Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers (1966)

United 93 (2006)
The Hurt Locker (2008)

The Battle of Algiers



Within Our Gates

Within Our Gates (1920)

The Birth of a Nation (1915)



Flawed Films

Nowhere in Africa (2001)
A Passage to India (1984)
Australia (2008)
Amazing Grace (2006)

Australia reviewed by Phillippa Levine




Recent War Films

The Hurt Locker (2008)

In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Lions for Lambs (2007)
The Lucky Ones (2008)
Stop-Loss (2008)
Triumph of the Will (1935)

The Hurt Locker reviewed by Marilyn B. Young






Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954–1965 (1987)





Period Pieces

“The Tudors” (TV series 2007)

The Tudors

By the Sword Divided (TV Series 1983)
Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall (1924)
The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots (1895)
Fire Over England (1937)
The First Churchills (TV Series 1969)
Forever Amber (1947)
Lady Jane (1986)
“The Last King” (TV Series 2003)The Libertine (2004)
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008)
A Man for All Seasons (1966)
Mary of Scotland (1936)
The Prince and the Pauper (1937)
Restoration (1995)
The Sea Hawk (1940)
Shakespeare in Love (1998)
V for Vendetta (2006)
The Virgin Queen (1955)
Winstanley (1976)





The Women

The Women (1939)
The Women (2008)



WWII Antiwar Films

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Battleground (1949)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
The Big Red One (1980)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Home of the Brave (1949)
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Longest Day (1962)
The Men (1950)
No Down Payment (1957)
Patton (1970)
Story of G.I. Joe (1945)
Suddenly (1954)
The Thin Red Line (1998)
The Victors (1963)
The War Lover (1962)
The Young Lions (1958)

The Thin Red Line



Historical Imagination

The 400 Blows (1959)
La Dolce Vita (1960)

Also mentioned:
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Blow-Up (1966)
Breathless (1960)
Formaggio e I vermi (1976)
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
I benandanti (1966)
La Strada (1954)
Le Notti di Cabiria (1957)
My Life to Live (1962)
My Night at Maud’s (1969)
Touch of Evil (1958)



Movies and Nuclear War

The Atomic Cafe (1982)
The Beginning or the End (1947)
The China Syndrome (1979)
The Day After (1983) (TV movie)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Fail-Safe (1964)
Godzilla (1954)
Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)
Them! (1954)
On the Beach (1959)
Rhapsody in August (1991)
WarGames (1983)

Also mentioned:
Broken Arrow (1996)
Casablanca (1942)
Independence Day (1996)
Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1996)
Night and Fog (1955)
Quo Vadis (1951)
Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
The Peacemaker (1997)
True Lies (1994)
Wild Strawberries (1957)




The Holocaust (2)

Paper Clips (2004)

Paper clips

Also mentioned:
Night and Fog (1955)
The Pianist (2002)
Shoah (1985)
Schindler’s List (1993)



The Civil War

Glory (1989)

Also mentioned:
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Birth of a Nation (1915)
Casualties of War (1989)
Cold Mountain (2003)
Dances with Wolves (1990)
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Gangs of New York (2002)
Gettysburg (1993)
Gods and Generals (2003)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
Pharaoh’s Army (1995)
Platoon (1986)
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Seraphim Falls (2006)
Sommersby (1993)



La Grande Illusion

La Grande Illusion (1937)

Also mentioned:
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
La Marseillaise (1938)
Platoon (1986)
The Rules of the Game (1939)
Westfront 1918 (1930)



The Holocaust (1)

The Pawnbroker (1964)

Also mentioned:
Die Wannseekonferenz (1984)
The Eternal Jew (1940)
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)
The Pianist (2002)
Schindler’s List (1993)



Iwo Jima

Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Letters from Iwo Jima

Also mentioned:
Bataan (1943)
Guadalcanal Diary (1943)
The Naked and the Dead (1958)
Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)
Sophie’s Choice (1982)



Before the “Masters at the Movies” series, the April 1999 issue of Perspectives on History contained nearly a dozen articles on film (including an introduction from Robert Brent Toplin, Kathryn Helgesen Fuller ‘s thoughts on film in the classroom, and Kenneth Jackson’s concerns with The Thin Red Line). See David Darlington’s blog post “From the Archives: Reel History” for a closer look at the 1999 issue.

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  1. Susu

    While “Letters from Iwo Jima” is truly a great achievement is several ways, the script is powerful, the production is superb, all the technical departments almost perfected their jobs, there is some really good acting as well, and Eastwood’s touch as a director is very visible, and its beautiful, it flaws almost flawlessly in this regard.

    Well, what’s wrong then? It simply lacks what makes it a really interesting movie. “Letters” starts with a present day scene of excavators digging up remains of the war in Iwo Jima, and finding letters in a cave that were written by Japanese soldiers and officers during the war on Iwo Jima island, it then travels back in time to WWII and story revolves around those whom their letters were found during the dawn of the American invasion on that island. Slowly, the movie loses its grip over its audience, becoming something closer to an audio book, and survival becomes a repetitive process!!!

    Everyone seem to be praising the film for being told from the other side, and its true you don’t see that many American film makers do that, and although the film didn’t just speak Japanese, it lived and breathed Japanese, it couldn’t escape the limited framework of Hollywood, this is very visible through the “good” characters, all the good, honest or lovable Japanese characters were either American sympathizers who lived in the US for a while and kept saying how a great nation the US is, or are Japanese people that do not care for the Imperial system and would not mind handing over the island to their rival Americans. On the other hand, all Japanese loyalists were mean American haters. Even the resolution of the strict Imperial soldiers was that the Americans were not as evil as they were told. But still, everyone was very fond of the fact that the movie was told completely from a Japanese point of view. However, just because Eastwood is an American film maker making a Japanese-point-of-view movie, doesn’t make the film any better than what it really is, the film’s ratings seem to be getting higher just because there is an American film maker behind it and I disagree, it is what it is regardless who the people behind it were.

    The film was also highly praised as a companion film to “Flags”, and while together they form a great duo, on its own, “Letters” does not achieve greatness.

    Why did Eastwood and Spielberg decide to make “Letters from Iwo Jima” this calm instead of making an adrenaline-pumping film? My guess is that they did not care about the average audience and the commercial success as much as they did care for the story’s integrity.