Home Schools & Teachers 50 Fantastic Historical Movies To Share With Students

50 Fantastic Historical Movies To Share With Students

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Movies can bring history to life for students. As students learn about everything from ancient Egypt to World War II, use movie clips and feature films to show students what life was like in the past, as well as what historical figures looked and sounded like. Here are 50 historical movies to share with your students. We’ve grouped them by grade level based on rating and content, but it’s always best to preview movies first to make sure they’re appropriate for your audience. Feel free to pull from the entire list based on your students’ maturity and curriculum.

Elementary

Elementary schoolers are curious about what life was like “back then,” but they’re not ready for some of the more graphic depictions of historical events. Use historical movies to interest kids in a specific time period or event, and start conversations about what life was like in ancient Egypt or during the Holocaust or Civil Rights Movement.

The Prince of Egypt (1998)

The Prince of Egypt movie cover, a historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient Egypt

This story shows young children what ancient Egypt could have been like (in animated form) through the story of the Book of Exodus when Moses feuds with the Pharaoh to free the Israelites.

Watch it: The Prince of Egypt on Amazon

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

the fiddler on the roof cover, a historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: Modern history, 20th century

This musical is set in the shtetl/village of Anatevka in Russia and depicts how the world changed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Watch it: Fiddler on the Roof on Amazon

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

cover of the boy in the striped pajamas historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: World War II, the Holocaust

The son of a Nazi commander and a Jewish boy in a concentration camp become friends and eventually rely on each other. This movie is a way to introduce students to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Watch it: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas on Amazon

The Sound of Music (1965)

the cover for sound of music, a historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War II

This classic film shows what resistance looked like during the takeover of Austria. It’s also a love story, but you can focus on the sacrifices and risks that resisters took. Of course, the movie’s score is iconic.

Buy it: The Sound of Music on Amazon

Ruby Bridges (1998)

cover for ruby bridges historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Civil rights

The story of Ruby Bridges touches on many topics and issues that are important to kids—fairness, school, bravery. As kids learn about civil rights, it’s helpful to get a sense of what it was like for Ruby to be the first Black child to integrate a New Orleans school.

Watch it: Ruby Bridges on Amazon

Apollo 13 (1995)

apollo 13 movie cover, historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: Modern history, American history

This nail-biting drama tells the story of a mission to the moon that experiences equipment failure. When the capsule starts losing oxygen, the crew has to work together to return to earth.

Watch it: Apollo 13 on Amazon

Hidden Figures (2017)

cover of hidden figures, a historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: Women’s history, civil rights

Hidden Figures is the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three Black women who helped launch the first American into orbit and bring him back in 1962. This story is a good one to pair with articles and texts about these spectacular women, and give students a chance to talk about why it took so long for their story to be told.

Watch it: Hidden Figures on Amazon

The Miracle Worker

cover of the miracle worker, a historical movie
Amazon UK

Teaching topics: Modern history, disability history

This is the story of Helen Keller, a deaf-blind girl, and her teacher Annie Sullivan. The movie shows Helen Keller’s personality and determination.

Watch it: The Miracle Worker on Amazon

Middle School

Middle school students are ready for more mature events in history including relationship dynamics and war. And middle schoolers love the drama that can play out in history, so take advantage of that by showing them movies that will have them on the edge of their seats. (All these movies are rated PG-13 or younger.)

Ben Hur (1959)

scene from ben hur historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

There’s Ben Hur, the story about a Jewish prince betrayed by a friend who becomes a chariot racer. And there’s the Ben Hur with the chariot racing scene that is one of the most famous scenes in Hollywood. Use one of these historical movies alongside other modern portrayals of ancient history to talk about themes in ancient history (epic battles, the conflict between upper and lower classes).

Watch it: Ben Hur on Amazon

Cleopatra (1963)

cleopatra historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

In this depiction, Cleopatra struggles to save Egypt from Roman invasion. And, of course, there’s the love triangle between Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, and Marc Antony. The depiction of Cleopatra is based on fictional characters, so it’s a good chance to talk about where fact and fiction can diverge when re-creating history.

Watch it: Cleopatra on Amazon

Troy (2004)

troy movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

Paris, a Trojan prince, abducts Helen, queen of Sparta, starting a war led by Achilles and Hector that wreaks havoc on the ancient world. Heroes, love, and the fall-out—could there be a more apt middle school story?

Watch it: Troy on Amazon

Becket (1964)

becket movie cover, historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: European history

This is the story of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, and King Henry II during a change in power. Henry II surprises England by naming his valet Thomas Becket as chancellor. Becket is great for teaching about the monarchy as well as the 16th century.

Watch it: Becket on Amazon

The Alamo (2004)

the alamo historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: American history

This movie brings the battle of the Alamo—when 200 Texans defended their small town from an army for 13 days during the 1836 Texas Revolution—to life. This is one of the historical movies that shows why “Remember the Alamo” is still a well-known phrase today.

Watch it: The Alamo on Amazon

Harriet (2019)

harriet movie cover, historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: American history, slavery

This is the most recent depiction of Harriet Tubman, the most famous Underground Railroad conductor. It shows Tubman as a brave, smart, determined hero, and highlights the true dangers that she faced.

Watch it: Harriet on Amazon

Amazing Grace (2007)

scene from amazing grace historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: European history, slavery

This is the love story of parliament member William Wilberforce and Barbara Spooner, who fall in love during the move to abolish the slave trade in England. It’s one way to come at the slave trade and abolition topics.

Watch it: Amazing Grace on Amazon

Wyatt Earp (1994)

wyatt earp movie cover, historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: Western expansion, American history

Wyatt Earp was a legendary lawman in the American West. This story depicts his life in the 1800s, from his crazy teen years to his days as a sheriff in Tombstone and the OK Corral. It’s an introduction to the reality and myths of the Wild West.

Watch it: Wyatt Earp on Amazon

A Night to Remember (1958)

a night to remember movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: Modern history, the Titanic

Sometimes a movie can spark an interest that kids can explore further. This movie, depicting the last hours of the April 1914 Titanic voyage, is a good introduction to the history of the Titanic, which students can pursue further through books and other historical movies.

Watch it: A Night to Remember on Amazon

Unbroken (2014)

unbroken movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: World War II, American history

This is a biopic of Louis Zamperini, an athlete in the 1936 Olympics, survivor of a airplane crash at sea, and prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. It’s an amazing story that spans the first part of the 20th century.

Watch it: Unbroken on Amazon

The Diary of Anne Frank (2010)

cover of anne frank historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: The Holocaust, World War II

This historical movie telling of Anne Frank’s story, captured in her 1942 diary, is always compelling. Frank wrote about hiding from the Nazis and daily life during the start of the war.

Watch it: The Diary of Anne Frank on Amazon

Hidden in Silence (1996)

hidden in silence historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: The Holocaust, World War II

Another Holocaust story of bravery and determination, Hidden in Silence tells the story of Polish sisters who hid 13 Jews in their attic for two and a half years. The topic is intense, so expect some emotional parts.

Watch it: Hidden in Silence on Amazon

The Monuments Men (2014)

monuments men movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War II

In this movie, a group of American soldiers heads into Germany to recover European art stolen by the Nazis. (It’s not 100% accurate as a historical retelling, but it’s a good conversation starter about the various ways that people served during World War II.)

Watch it: The Monuments Men on Amazon

The Imitation Game (2014)

the imitation game historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War II

Alan Turing was a mathematician who gathered Britain’s top code breakers and chess champions to try to glean top secret intelligence from the Nazis’ “unbreakable” code. This is another one of the World War II historical movies that’s not what students would expect and will make them think more deeply about all the ways the war was fought.

Watch it: The Imitation Game on Amazon

Red Tails (2012)

red tails historical movie cover
Disney Plus

Teaching topics: World War II, African American history

This tells a story (not 100% factual) about the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of Black pilots who fought during World War II. It’s a mix of African American, aviation, and World War II history.

Watch it: Red Tails on Amazon or Disney Plus

Gandhi (1983)

ghandi historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: World history

An introduction to nonviolent protests and this iconic figure, the movie shows how Mohandas Gandhi led India out of British rule in 1947.

Watch it: Gandhi on Amazon

The Jackie Robinson Story (1950)

jackie robinson historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: American history

Jackie Robinson stars as himself in this story about how he became the first African American in Major League Baseball. It’s a good film to pair with discussion about how African Americans (and other groups) have had to break down racial barriers. (There are some racial slurs, so prepare students ahead of time for that.)

Watch it: The Jackie Robinson Story on Amazon

A League of Their Own (1992)

a league of their own movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: World War II, women’s history

This classic baseball movie is about the game on the surface, but it’s about the home front during World War II on a deeper level. It’s also about women’s history and the difference that women made during the war.

Watch it: A League of Their Own on Amazon

Selma (2015)

selma historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Civil rights

For three months in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a campaign to secure equal voting rights. This movie shows what a challenge that was and how King led through it.

Watch it: Selma on Amazon

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

mandela historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Modern history

The story of Nelson Mandela, who fought to rebuild South Africa after Apartheid and spent 27 years in prison before becoming president, gives students a glimpse into the life of a famous leader.

Watch it: Mandela on Amazon

High School

By high school, students are well versed in watching movies with more advanced themes. Historical movies give them a sense of what an experience felt like and the complicated dynamics at play. Use historical movies to build background knowledge about historical topics that are more nuanced and complicated than students may have encountered in middle school. (Many of these films are rated R, so be sure to preview them beforehand and follow any needed procedures around informing parents.)

300 (2007)

300 historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

300 shows the battle of Thermopylae in the Greco-Persian wars in 480 B.C.E. in Greece. It’s an underdog story, with 300 Spartans holding back 300,000 Persian troops. (The movie is a comic book adaptation, but it provides a good depiction of this period in time.)

Watch it: 300 on Amazon

Gladiator (2000)

gladiator historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

Gladiator is the story of a Roman general who becomes a gladiator and rises to overthrow the mad emperor Commodus. The movie’s CGI re-creates ancient Rome in a way that could be well paired with lessons on Roman life and impact.

Watch it: Gladiator on Amazon

Apocalypto (2006)

apocalypto historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Ancient history

During the decline of the Mayan civilization in Mesoamerica, a peaceful hunter is captured by an invading group. The hunter’s village is pillaged and he is chosen for human sacrifice, which he has to escape. The cast is made up of Native American and Indigenous Mexican actors, and attention was paid to make sure details like the setting and language spoken were accurate.

Watch it: Apocalypto on Amazon

The Patriot (2000)

the patriot historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: American history, Revolutionary War

While not a true story, The Patriot shows what Revolutionary War fighting was like. The plot centers around a father who joins the Revolutionary arm to avenge his son’s murder by a British officer.

Watch it: The Patriot on Amazon

Hamilton

hamilton movie cover
Disney Plus

Teaching topic: Revolutionary War

Yes, it’s a musical, but it’s also a great way to engage students after they’ve studied Alexander Hamilton and the Revolutionary War. They’ll see King George, Hamilton, Burr, and everyone else come to life, and they’ll understand the storyline and jokes.

Watch it: Hamilton on Disney Plus

Amistad (1997)

amistad movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: World history, slavery

A group of enslaved Africans takes over their captor’s ship and tries to return to their homeland. Amistad is an important historical movie for the perspective it takes.

Watch it: Amistad on Amazon

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

last of the mohicans movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: American history, French and Indian War

Set during the French and Indian War in 1757, this is the story of a Native American tribe that’s dying out. Hawkeye is adopted into the Mohicans. Cora is the daughter of a British colonel. Cue the forbidden romance in the middle of the conflict between the British and French and Native American allies.

Watch it: The Last of the Mohicans on Amazon

12 Years a Slave

12 years a slave historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Slavery

This movie, which tells the story of a free man who was sold into slavery, is based on a true story. Solomon Northrup was born free but then kidnapped and sold. His memoir was published in 1853. This is one of the great historical movies to use as a starting point for talking about the brutality of slavery.

Watch it: 12 Years a Slave on Amazon

Glory (1990)

glory historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: Civil War, African American history

Robert Gould Shaw is the commander of the first all-African-American regiment in the Civil War. The troop faces challenges to be respected from the start, but Shaw fights for his troop to be on the front lines.

Watch it: Glory on Amazon

Gettysburg (1993)

gettysburg movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Civil War

Gettysburg was filmed on the actual battlefield, and this epic production re-creates the pivotal Civil War battle.

Watch it: Gettysburg on Amazon

Lincoln (2012)

lincoln historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topic: Civil War

This epic biopic tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s last four months in office before he was assassinated in April 1865. This would be a good introduction to Lincoln or a wrap-up to a Civil War unit.

Watch it: Lincoln on Amazon

Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

iron jawed angels historical movie cover
Amazon

Teaching topics: Women’s history, voting history

This is the story of Alice Paul, who picketed the White House for the right to vote in the early 20th century. It will show students how hard-won and important the right to vote was for women.

Watch it: Iron Jawed Angels on Amazon

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)

all quiet on the western front historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War I

The novel (written in 1929) is fictional, but the story is based on the author’s personal experiences serving in Wold War I.

Watch it: All Quiet on the Western Front on Amazon

The King’s Speech (2010)

the king's speech historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: World War II, European history

During World War II, King George VI must make a wartime radio broadcast, but he has to work through his stuttering first. The King’s Speech is also a good way to show the British monarchy, behind the scenes, in a way students may not be familiar with.

Watch it: The King’s Speech on Amazon

Fat Man and Little Boy

fat man and little boy historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War II

A story about the Manhattan Project, the secret project to build an atomic bomb. Fat Man and Little Boy focuses on the relationship between General Leslie Grovers and the scientist on the project, Robert Oppenheimer.

Watch it: Fat Man and Little Boy on Amazon

The Longest Day (1962)

the longest day historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: World War II

This is a full account of D-Day, all done in black and white with classic film techniques.

Watch it: The Longest Day on Amazon

Judgement at Nuremberg (1961)

judgement at nuremberg historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: European history, World War II

This shares a fictionalized version of the Nuremberg trials, when Nazis were put on trial for war crimes. It’s fiction but can start conversations about what happened after World War II, and how we should handle war crimes today.

Watch it: Judgement at Nuremberg on Amazon

Mississippi Burning

Mississippi burning historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Civil rights

In 1960s Mississippi, two FBI agents come to investigate the murder of civil rights activists. It’s loosely based on the 1964 murder investigation of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Mississippi.

Watch it: Mississippi Burning on Amazon

The Right Stuff

the right stuff movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Modern American/Cold War

The story of the Space Race and the first astronauts who were attempting to catch up with the Russians by going to the moon.

Watch it: The Right Stuff on Amazon

All the President’s Men (1976)

all the president's men historical movie
Amazon

Teaching topic: Modern American history

All the President’s Men shows the story of the reporters (Woodward and Bernstein) who uncovered the Watergate scandal that eventually lead to President Nixon’s resignation. In addition to the Watergate scandal, this is one of the great historical movies to inspire conversation about journalism and its role in shaping history.

Watch it: All the President’s Men on Amazon

Hotel Rwanda (2005)

hotel rwanda movie
Amazon

Teaching topics: Modern history, Rwandan genocide

Set during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, this story tells of the genocide of the Tutsi population by the Hutus. It happened over 100 days, during which Hutus killed more than 75% of the Tutsi population—around 800,000 people. During the genocide, Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager, saved 1,200 people in his hotel.

Watch it: Hotel Rwanda on Amazon

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