Every historical drama, series, or film seems to take creative liberties when it comes to the content being shown. It’s rare to see a truly historically accurate picture. However, that doesn’t mean it never happens. A couple of films are actually pretty darn close. They may not be the most beloved historical films, but they’re correct. Here are some of the most historically accurate movies there are.
12 Years A Slave
Films about slavery aren’t new to the United States, but there aren’t many as well-though-out as 12 Years a Slave. It’s an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup. It details his life, living as a free black man in Upstate New York, when he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1941. The memoir goes in depth in regards to his life before he won his freedom back. The film doesn’t pull any punches for the audience and shows how truly brutal life as a slave was back then. Director Steven McQueen really didn’t want to sugarcoat anything.
The Apollo 13 mission has been dramatized many times, but the 1995 film of the same name did it the best. The film does a phenomenal job replicating the Apollo 13 spacecraft and captured the raw emotions of the astronauts. Ron Howard was the director, with film producers waiting until technology had improved enough to accurately portray the launch in 1970 and the mishaps that followed.
There were quite a few movies about submarines released in the 1980s. Unfortunately, a lot of those films weren’t very good. Even so, Das Boot managed to effectively portray how maddening it can be to fight a war while in a submarine. You may be able to easily hide, but you can be die just as easily as well. Director Wolfgang Peterson really let the raw emotion hit the audience through the screen. It really showed what made submarine warfare unique.
The Battle of Stalingrad is considered one of the largest and bloodiest battle in the history of warfare. And the film named after it certainly delivers in showing the horrors of the conflict. It helps with historical accuracy in that it’s one of the most studied moments during World War II. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made sure to stay true to history when it came to retelling the event. It’s captured from a German perspective, but the utter brutality is on full display.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
Tora! Tora! Tora! is considered a far more historically accurate version of the bombing of Pearl Harbor when it comes to adaptations of the event. And the directors, Richard Fleisher, Toshio Masuda, and Kinji Fukasaku, certainly wanted to make sure they didn’t a one-sided story of the event. They provided a deep dive into both sides of the conflict. Not to mention, the real-life aircraft carrier, the Yorktown, made an appearance in the film. The Navy made it available to them before its decommissioning the following year.
A Night To Remember
Everyone knows the tragedy that happened when the RMS Titanic. The story’s been adapted a few times, with the most notable one being James Cameron’s Titanic. However, Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember was a far superior adaptation in terms of historical accuracy, even if this one didn’t make as much money at the box office. The film gives insight into the lives of characters from each class and how they struggled to survive.
When making a film about any real-world culture, you want to make sure you properly represent their society. Historical accuracy is far more important as a result. Black Robe portrays indigenous people and their culture. And this portrayal received great acclaim for its representation of their lives, way of living, and dialogue from Cree, Mohawk, and Algonquin languages. Director Bruce Beresford simply wanted to bring the pages of the Black Robe novel he read to the big screen with as much accuracy as possible.
Come And See
Come and See is another film that portrays the brutality of World War II. This time, the film is portrayed from the side of the Russians. Director Elem Klimov wanted to make a film that showed the real story of Russia’s involvement in the war. And a lot of Russians weren’t exactly happy with his work. They believed it steers too far away from the stories they were told. Even so, historians praised the film for its accurate portrayal of death camps and victims. People shouldn’t close their eyes to history.
Gettysburg is a film that’s four hours and 31 minutes long. And they use that run time to give you all of the nitty-gritty information about the landmark Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. The film’s pacing can be lacking in some places, but the audience still gets the chance to see how the three-day battle affected all those who fought in it. The film was still praised by audiences and critics alike for its historical accuracy and performances.
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln shows all those qualities that makes the titular president considered the greatest one the US has ever had, even by historians. Even so, all of his shortcomings are in full display as well. The uses the information of Lincoln’s simple upbringing to inform his decisions, as well as portraying the intensity of the political climate at the time.
Saving Private Ryan
Saving Private Ryan isn’t technically based off of a true story. It is influenced by the story of a young soldier whose three brothers died in combat, so they sent him home. However, the mission to save a “Private Ryan” never technically happened. However, the film still has plenty of historical accuracies. Most notably in the storming of Omaha Beach. Soldiers that had actually fought in the war stated the accuracy of the event, saying it was the most realistic portrayal of combat they had ever seen. The movie received immense critical acclaim from both audiences and critics as well.
Some characters and moments were somewhat altered for dramatic effect, but Spielberg’s Schindler’s List did the best it could to stay true to Thomas Keneally’s novel, Schindler’s Ark. The film doesn’t shy away from the brutality brought by the Holocaust. Another film by Spielberg portraying the devastation and pain caused during World War II.
The Last Emperor
Historians are still piecing together what’s fact and what’s fiction when it comes to China’s last emperor. Not everything in the film, The Last Emperor, may be historically accurate. But from what we do know, the film gives a masterful look at the political climate of China during this time. The film was even nominated for nine Academy Awards, and won in every single category it was nominated for.
The Lion In Winter
Films often have a bit of trouble portraying the Middle Ages accurately in film. And they have some trouble making the films good as well. Often, these films try to delve into the caste system of Medieval Europe, juxtaposing the peasants to the monarchy. The Lion in Winter, however, serves to give an accurate portrayal of the political climate at the time. Director James Goldman excellently shows the complications and intricacies of King Henry II’s life, including his imprisoned wife and need to name an heir to his throne.
There are several films that portray the wrongful death of an individual. But none have been quite as captivating as Fruitvale Station. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Oscar Grant III earned him major critical acclaim. It sticks true to Grant’s life, showing the ups and downs of his life, right up until his tragic final moments. The film was shot in Oakland, California, at the exact spot where Grant was killed.
All The President’s Men
Most people know what happened during the Watergate scandal, yet there aren’t a lot of movies about it. That’s probably why All The President’s Men tried to get as many things about it as they could right. The film’s based on the book by the journalists Bob Woodard and Carl Berstein, who worked for The Washington Post and brought the scandal into the eyes of the public. Actors Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman made sure to learn the ropes and what had been happening in the newsroom at the time. And the production crew even brought the exact same desks that the newspaper used for their film sets. The film was added to the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
As with the real-life story of the Zodiac Killer, the film, Zodiac, doesn’t have a satisfying conclusion. David Fincher and James Vanderbilt, the director and writer of the film respectively, could have dramatized things and had everything wrapped up nicely. But that wouldn’t have been been true to history. That’s why the movie failed to win any audiences over when it came out. However, it really is true to life. The mystery of the Zodiac Killer still remains unsolved to this day.
Flags Of Our Fathers
Flags of Our Fathers was directed, co-produced, and scored by the Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood. Based on the book of the same name, it details the story of five marines and one Navy corpsman who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. The scene was forever immortalized with a monument in Washington DC. The movie didn’t do great at the box office, but it was well-regarded by critics who praised its historical accuracy and Eastwood’s attention to detail.
The Pianist is based on the autobiography of the Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman. It was well-known upon release for its emotional portrayal of the titular Holocaust survivor. And actor Adrien Brody received immense praise for his role, even winning Best Actor at the Oscars that year.
Moneyball is a sports drama based on the bestselling book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It depicts the story of the Oakland Athletics 2002 baseball season, where general manager Billy Beane and his assistant used unconventional methods to scout and analyze player with a limited team budget. The film does take some liberties with the chronology of certain events, but is mostly true to history. The A’s manager, Art Howe, even publicly stated he believed his portrayal in the film was accurate.
The Wolf Of Wall Street
It may not be common knowledge to everyone, but The Wolf of Wall Street was based off of the story of real life stockbroker Jordan Belfort. There are some details that are debated to differ from reality, as different law-enforcement agencies have stated that parts of Belfort’s memoir, which the movie was based off of, were untrue. With the exception of some names, however, the film is mostly accurate to Belfort’s memoir. And it’s not exactly a flattering image.
Spotlight is based on the investigative journalism team of the same name, the “oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States”. The film revolves around the team’s investigation of the Roman Catholic Church’s widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area, as well as the churches’ attempts to cover it up. The reports actually got the Boston Globe, the newspaper that Spotlight worked for, a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
City Of God
City of God is a 2003 film based off of the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, by Paulo Lins. It’s based on the growth of organized crime in the Cidade de Deus suburb of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The films spans 20 years, from the 1960s to the 1980s. It ends with a war between the drug dealer Li’l Zee and the vigilante-turned-criminal Knockout Ned. The novel as well as the film was hailed for its accuracy and story.
Miracle is one of the quintessential sports films that one must see. The film is about the famous “Miracle on Ice”, where the US hockey team beats the heavily-favored Soviet Union in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympics. Some of the personal relationships from the film are played up for dramatic effect, but the film actually uses footage from the real game. It’s spliced in so perfectly that it’s hard to even notice. And, of course, the directing and acting is on point.
Also known as 84 Charlie MoPic, 84C MoPic isn’t technically based on a true story. It’s more accurately based on accounts from the Vietnam War instead of an actual mission. However, the realism of the film was received well by actual military veterans. It’s considered one of the best accounts of what it was actually like to be there. And the “found footage” style of the film probably helps sell that idea. The film was actually nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and Best First Feature and Best Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards.