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Historically Accurate Movies

By Michal Strutin
February 10, 2023
Master and Commander

During the worst of Covid, when vaccines were new and many of us were nervously venturing out, I organized a family get-together. I planned on take-out pizza and Master and Commander, one of my favorite movies. I told my two teenaged grandsons that they would love the movie. “It’s got sailing ships,” I crowed, “conflict on the high seas, teens climbing the rigging, the ship’s surgeon tracking iguanas in the Galapagos, even a very punny joke…”  They rolled their eyes. Still, a successful evening and nobody caught Covid.

Last week, roaming around the internet for the next movie to watch at home, I came upon Master and Commander. It was in a list of the most historically accurate movies. I explored other such links and picked nine movies that each appeared at least three times among those lists.

Each of the movies is linked to its IMDB (Internet Movie Database) description. Three relate to the Civil War. Not surprising, as it was such a turning point in our history. Plus Black History Month shout-outs to two of them.  

Below are the nine movie titles I culled from the lists that follow them.

The Lion in Winter

The Lion in Winter, 1183 (1968, Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn). King Henry II’s three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won’t commit to a choice. When he allows his imprisoned wife Eleanor of Aquitaine out for a Christmas visit, they all variously plot to force him into a decision.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, 1805, based on the series by Patrick O’Brian (2003, Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany). During the Napoleonic Wars, a brash British captain pushes his ship and crew to their limits in pursuit of a formidable French war vessel around South America. 

12 Years a Slave, based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir (2013, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams). In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. 


Glory, 1863 (1989, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher). Robert Gould Shaw leads the U.S. Civil War’s first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices from both his own Union Army, and the Confederates.

Lincoln, 1865 (2012, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn). As the American Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, 1882 (2007, Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck). Robert Ford, who idolized Jesse James since childhood, tries hard to join the reforming gang of the Missouri outlaw, but gradually becomes resentful of the bandit leader. I have seen the other eight movies. All compelling. I haven’t seen Jesse James…yet. It was based on the same-named book by Ron Hansen, a fine writer.

A Night to Remember

 A Night to Remember, 1912 (1958 Kenneth More, Ronald Allen). On her maiden voyage in April 1912, the supposedly unsinkable RMS Titanic strikes an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean. I saw this movie when I was a little kid. It was so fearsome that I’ve never been inclined to travel on a large ship.

Ghandi 1893-1948 (1982, Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud). The life of the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.

Schindler’s List

Schindler’s List, 1938-1945 (1993, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes). In German-occupied Poland during World War II, industrialist Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazis.


Historically Accurate Movies – IMDB

Five Great Historically Accurate Movies – History Guild

100 Films Reviewed by Historians

Five Great Movies That Are Actually Historically Accurate as Well – Medium

10 Most Historically Accurate Movies of All Time

Hollywood’s Most Accurately Made Historical Films

15 Movies That Nailed Historical Accuracy

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Michal Strutin
Written by Michal Strutin

Judging Noa: a Fight for Women’s Rights in the Turmoil of the Exodus is Michal Strutin’s debut novel. She is now working on a mystery series set in the Late Renaissance. Michal’s award-winning nonfiction focuses on natural and cultural history and travel. Her eight nonfiction books include Places of Grace: the Natural Landscapes of the American Midwest with photographer Gary Irving; Discovering Natural Israel, a high-spirited discovery of flora, fauna, and people; Florida State Parks: a Complete Recreation Guide; and History Hikes of the Smokies.

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