Just for fun I decided to compile a list of 13 historical films I like, in rough historical order. To be included on the list, it had to substantially involve people widely believed to have existed, and to use real events as a framework. However, a high degree of historical accuracy is not needed to count on this list (history had proven to be highly malleable and sceptics tend to question widely accepted events). Conversely, documentaries are not included below. While some may dismiss Michael Moore’s films as fiction, they purport to be true or mostly true and are thus beyond the scope of this particular list. Also, I like what I like, so if three out of 13 films below take place during World War II, it just means I tend to enjoy films set during then. Also, I have an admitted bias towards the 20th century. While I did try to come up with more than two films set before 1900 that I love, the only ones I could think of weren’t really historical because the characters were all original. Don’t get me wrong: I like Shakespeare in Love and have it in my collection. I just don’t get super-excited thinking about it.
The Last Temptation of Christ: depicts Jesus growing into the role of saviour and undergoing one final temptation. It is a very human look at Jesus. In recent times more and more people have questioned whether Jesus even existed, let alone was the Saviour. Conversely some religious people were offended by his portrayal. I’ve included this film anyway because many of the broad events, if not the specific details, are accepted by a large number of people.
Cannibal! The Musical: An ill-fated gold rush expedition leads to a man being convicted of cannibalism. Almost for sure the least historically accurate film on this list, but enough of the broadest details are correct, and it’s a lot of fun.
The Aviator: the life of tortured genius aviator Howard Hughes.
The Pianist: a talented Jewish piano player tries to hide from the Nazis during World War II, moving from place to place.
Schindler’s List: A wealthy German businessman puts Jews to work for him during World War II, giving him free labour but saving many lives.
Downfall: A powerful film looking at the last days of the 3rd Reich, with Nazis soul searching whether to keep fighting to the bitter end or recognize their cause as hopeless and cut a deal. Hitler is shown as human but stubborn to the point of costing people their lives.
The Motorcycle Diaries: examines the formative yeasrs of revolutionary Che Guevara, starting out quite funny and becoming more serious as Che years more things.
Hollywoodland: examines the question of whether Superman actor Georges Reeves was murdered or committed suicide
JFK: A bit dry, but this film about the assassination of Kennedy is very detailed and feels a bit like a murder mystery, albeit one where the killer’s identity isn’t quite certain.
The Doors: Examines the rise and downfall of talented, haunting musician Jim Morrison. While not update it’s quite fascinating.
All the President’s Men: Only barely historical when it was made, this is another quasi-detective story, as two reporters begin to suspect the truth about Nixon’s Presidency.
Monster: I have a number of films in my collection about serial killers. This one might not have any mysterious figure, but that’s what makes this film so compelling: Aileen Wournov, while insane, is quite a human serial killer.
United 93: My favourite film about a more recent historical event, this film depicts the initially mundane flight that turned into an attempt to take control of a plane from terrorists during 9/11. Wisely low key rather than sensational.