10 Historically Accurate Films For Your Classroom

Educators in the 21st Century are both blessed and cursed to have media like film and the Internet as tools for education. But as we all know, not everything you read on the Internet is true, and not everything you see in movies or on television is accurate, or even possible. For that reason, it is important that you be aware of popular films that students are probably watching, and include a discussion about such films and their actual historical relevance in class. This kind of interaction is interesting to students, who see it as blending an otherwise boring subject like history with something they are actually interested in, like movies. To give you some guidance, here is a short list of historically accurate films you can work into your curriculum for your students this year...and if any students are reading, consider this your history tutor for the summer (although your parents might not let you see some of these). 

1. Lincoln (2012)

Director Steven Spielberg's epic portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln's campaign to abolish slavery has been praised by historians and film critics alike for its natural, realistic, and fact-bound story telling. Actors Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones also received much praise for their portrayals of President Lincoln and Congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

2. Milk (2008)

Milk tells the story of real-life gay activist and politician Harvey Milk, who served as the first openly-gay elected official in the State of California. 

3. 12 Years A Slave (2013)

This film is based on the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in the North during the time of the Civil War who was abducted and sold into slavery in the South. It wasn't until he met a Canadian abolitionist in his 12th year of slavery that he was able to return home, where penned the novel Twelve Years A Slave, telling of his memories and experiences. 

4. Das Boot (1981)

Das Boot is a German film released in 1981 that followed a crew of soldiers on a German U-boat during WWII. The film received 6 Oscar nominations for its portrayal of the horrors of claustrophobia, filth, and boredom that come with living in a U-boat for months at a time, not to mention the added torment of war. 

5. A Night To Remember (1958)

This British film is considered the most accurate retelling of the sinking of RMS Titanic. It was based on the book by Walter Lord, who had discussed stories and accounts of the events with actual survivors to write the story. In the film, the Titanic sinks in one piece, something that was thought to be accurate until the wreckage was actually discovered in 1985. 

6. The Longest Day (1962)

The Longest Day tells the story of D-Day, but from the perspectives of both the Allied and German forces. It is known for its uniqueness in showing both sides' perspectives of the war, and of the events of the D-Day invasion, which opened the way for the Allies to make their way across Europe towards Nazi Germany.  

7. The Great Escape (1963)

The Great Escape is another WWII epic (based on the book by Paul Brickhill) that follows a group of Allied soldiers in a Nazi POW camp. The prisoners undertake one of the largest breakout attempts in history when they decide to tunnel out from underneath the prison in order to scatter the Allied troops across Germany. The film was even more notable for its use of actors who had actually been held in POW camps during the war, including Donald Pleasence, and for its eerily accurate set production. 

8. Apollo 13 (1995)

Director Ron Howard spent extra time researching this project to ensure everything was as accurate as possible. NASA scientists were brought in to consult on the mission specifics and the training modules in place at the time, putting the actors through a similar training regiment as real-life astronauts Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, and Commander Jim Lovell, on whose book the film is based. 

9. Come and See (1985) 

Come and See is a Polish film released in 1985 that followed a young boy who joins the Soviet Resistance against Nazi Germany during WWII. The film is not only historically accurate, but has also well known for its frightening realistic depiction of the horrors of war. 

10. Schindler's List (1993)

Steven Spielberg brilliantly retells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who, after discovering the brutality experienced by the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, devised a plan to save his Jewish employees and their families from the horrific onslaught during WWII. The film is based on the book by Thomas Keneally, and is noted for the brilliant, but so-accurate-it's-hard-to-watch performance by Ralph Fiennes as SS officer Amon Goeth.