10 Historical Movies That Got The Facts Surprisingly Right
Cinema's love affair with history is no secret.
After all, why rack your brains for original content when there are centuries worth of juicy, high-stakes drama right at your fingertips?
While these silver screen adaptations often take liberties with their source material (we're looking at you, Braveheart), there are a select few that actually nail their historical accuracy.
1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)
Well, shiver me timbers! Set during the Napoleonic Wars, this high-seas adventure sails straight into the heart of historical accuracy. Russell Crowe commands the screen (and the ship) as Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey. Despite the fictitious characters, director Peter Weir took immense care to portray life at sea accurately. From the painstakingly recreated ship interiors to the naval strategies used during the film's epic battles, Master and Commander proves you can have your sea biscuit and eat it too. Weir consulted extensively with historians, and it shows.
2. Apollo 13 (1995)
Houston, we have a... surprisingly accurate movie. Apollo 13 took one giant leap for filmmaking-kind by recreating the heart-stopping events of the Apollo 13 lunar mission with commendable precision. The film, starring Tom Hanks as astronaut Jim Lovell, was crafted with such attention to detail that it might as well be a documentary. Director Ron Howard worked closely with NASA to replicate the mission control room and the spacecraft interiors down to the last switch. They even shot scenes in NASA's zero-gravity aircraft to authentically portray weightlessness in space. To top it all off, Lovell himself was a consultant on the film, ensuring that, just like in space, no detail was left floating.
3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
Packed with equations that would make your high school algebra teacher sweat, A Beautiful Mind is a biographical drama that recounts the life of John Nash, a Nobel laureate in Economics. While the film, admittedly, takes creative liberties with certain aspects of Nash's personal life, its portrayal of his groundbreaking work in game theory is impressively accurate.
4. Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg 's haunting black-and-white masterpiece takes us to the heart of the Holocaust, focusing on the story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jews. Spielberg pulled no punches in depicting the stark reality of life in the Kraków Ghetto and Plaszow concentration camp. From the meticulous reproduction of Schindler's enamelware and ammunitions factory, to the recreation of key events, such as the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, Schindler's List is a stark, heartbreaking testimony to the horrors of the Holocaust. In fact, several Schindler Jews served as consultants during production, ensuring that the depiction of these events hit painfully close to home.
5. Lincoln (2012)
Considered one of the most accurate portrayals of Abraham Lincoln on screen, this movie is the equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover on a historian's field trip. Lincoln captures the complexities of the 16th president as he navigated the final months of the Civil War while trying to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Director Steven Spielberg, and screenwriter Tony Kushner, dedicated years to researching Lincoln, and it shows. From Daniel Day-Lewis's spot-on physical portrayal (right down to the high-pitched voice), to the intricate detail of the 1860s era sets and costumes, Lincoln is as close to a history book as cinema gets.
6. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Back in Spielberg's court (seriously, does this guy own a time machine?), Saving Private Ryan opens with a gut-wrenching depiction of the D-Day invasion that has been lauded for its historical accuracy. Spielberg's eye for detail recreates the brutality of the Normandy landings with such harrowing precision, that veterans have reported the film triggered flashbacks. Beyond the famous beach scene, the film maintains its commitment to accuracy, with the characters' journey reflecting the chaos, fear, and camaraderie experienced by the soldiers during the war.
7. The Pianist (2002)
This heart-wrenching depiction of the Holocaust is lauded as one of the most authentic portrayals of the era. The Pianist, based on the memoir of Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, does not spare any detail in its depiction of the horrors of World War II. Director Roman Polanski, himself a survivor of the Krakow Ghetto, went to great lengths to portray the wartime conditions with utmost authenticity. Scenes were shot on location in Warsaw, lending to the realism, while Adrien Brody's transformation into Szpilman, for which he famously lost a significant amount of weight, was nothing short of miraculous.
8. Spotlight (2015)
Based on the true story of the Boston Globe's investigative Spotlight team that uncovered the scandal of child molestation within the local Catholic Archdiocese, this film isn't set in a long-distant era, but it nonetheless tells a vital historical tale. From the painstakingly reproduced newsroom to the accurate representation of the journalists' investigative process, Spotlight pulls back the curtain on this horrifying real-life drama with impressive detail. The actual Spotlight team members served as consultants on the film, ensuring a faithful portrayal of their investigation. In an era of fake news allegations, Spotlight stands as a testament to the power and importance of thorough, accurate journalism.
9. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Adapted from Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, 12 Years a Slave gives a brutally honest portrayal of the pre-Civil War United States and the inhumanity of slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a powerful performance as Northup, a free black man from New York who was abducted and sold into slavery. The film pulls no punches in showing the horrifying realities of slavery, including the back-breaking labor, cruel punishments, and the slaves' living conditions.
10. United 93 (2006)
United 93 is a poignant and respectful tribute to the passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, which was hijacked on September 11, 2001. The film meticulously recreates the harrowing events of that day, using real-time narrative to heighten the sense of reality. The filmmakers conducted extensive research and interviews with the victims' families and aviation officials to portray the events as accurately as possible. The majority of the film was shot in a single, claustrophobic airplane set, capturing the terror and desperation of the passengers and crew.