The 20 Best Historical Movies on Netflix

Sometimes life writes the best stories. And have been for thousands of years. Historical films draw from this trove to tell a storyline that is either based on true historical events or embeds a fictional plot in a historical context. Because it is exactly this, sometimes only flimsy, connection to reality that gives historical films their fascination. You are a window into the past.

The genre is as old as the film itself. It includes great film classics such as Lawrence of Arabia, Gandhi, or Schindler’s List, as well as the latest darling of film critics 1917. You should definitely have seen the following 26 historical films. And the best? They’re all currently available on Netflix.

1. Outlaw King

The movie Outlaw King starring Chris Pine, takes the audience to the Scotland of the 14th century. The film is set in the mid-nineteenth century and tells the story of Robert the Bruce. Maybe you know this historical figure also from Braveheart. Robert, the outlaw king of the Scots, gathers an army around him and goes to battle against brutal English rule. If you are interested in Scottish history and want to shout “freedom” in front of the TV, then this historical film is for you.

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2. The King

Directed by David Michôd and starring Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson (as the Dauphin of France), the 2019 film The King recounts the rise and exploits of the young Henry V. from England based on William Shakespeare’s Henry V. An innovative interpretation of the famous drama that focuses on the value of loyalty and friendship and highlights the sense of loneliness of a monarch destined to have only retainers and enemies.

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3. Troy

The story is known to almost everyone. Young Prince Paris falls in love with the beautiful Helen, Queen of Sparta, and whisks her away to his home in Troy. But the Spartan king Menelaus could not possibly put up with that. He sends his army to the siege of Troy. Among the Spartan attackers: Achilles and Odysseus.

Homer’s timeless epic of the long siege of Troy is arguably one of the more challenging literary adaptations imaginable. In 2004, the successful director Wolfgang Petersen took up this challenge. Along with a stellar ensemble cast from u.a. Brad Pitt, Sean Bean, and Eric Bana. With its imposing sets, authentic costumes, and meticulously choreographed battles, Troy boasts all the hallmarks of the genre.

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4. Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of lifelong pacifist Desmond Doss. A military medic, Doss ends up on the battlefield after all, despite his convictions, and becomes one of the unexpected heroes of World War II during the battle for the Japanese city of Okinawa. He carries 75 badly wounded comrades to safety from the battlefield in a hail of bullets and cares for them. For this patriotic service, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in the U.S. And now a cinematic memorial set.

Mel Gibson’s highly acclaimed drama is one of those Anti-war war movies that seems to be both fascinated and repelled by the brutality of war. In Hacksaw Ridge, this paradox finds its embodiment in the main character Doss – a war hero and soldier who, in the midst of the bloodiest battle, never once has a gun in his hand.

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5. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom follows the titular blues singer (portrayed by Viola Davis) as she and her band gather during a recording session in 1927 Chicago. But while Ma Rainey was a true blues pioneer with an unforgettable personality, the film is not a true story.

The Netflix film is based on the play of the same name by August Wilson, who also penned Fences (also starring Davis). Still, it’s a gift to see Davis pay homage to a music legend and Chadwick Boseman, who plays a trumpeter in her band, put it all into his final performance.

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6. Enola Holmes

Millie Bobby Brown, the star of “Stranger Things,” plays Enola Holmes, a young girl left in the care of her two brothers after she dies on her 16. Davis wakes up on her 70th birthday to find that her mother has disappeared. While her brothers want to send Enola to boarding school, she flees to London to find her mother and becomes a detective herself.

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7. The Highwaymen

The Outlaws made headlines. The lawmen made history. The Highwaymen, by director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side), tells the previously unknown story of the legendary detectives who hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. When the full force of the FBI and the latest forensic technology aren’t enough to catch the nation’s most notorious criminals, two former Texas Rangers (Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson) must rely on their instincts and old-school skills to get the job done.

The Highwaymen is a leisurely film with two actors who know how to do a lot without doing too much. He won’t reinvent cinema the way “Bonnie and Clyde” once did. But the film is still worth the trip.

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8. Rebecca

The ultimate hate film or a playful attempt to reinvent a classic thriller? Opinions are divided on Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, already immortalized by Hitchcock. Lily James and Armie Hammer are the mismatched lovers across the class divide, while Kristin Scott Thomas plays the disapproving Mrs. Danvers plays. Wheatley doesn’t take things too seriously, and the gothic Manderley estate isn’t nearly as creepy as it should be. Still, the movie is a talking point – and you don’t want to feel left out, do you?

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9. The Trial of the Chicago 7

What was meant to be a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War that ended in a violent confrontation with police? The protagonists of the real events are seven activists, the “Chicago Seven,” victims of a shameful trial for conspiracy and inciting a riot following a demonstration on 28. August 1968, during the Democratic National Convention.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a 2020 film directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Michael Keaton.

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10. 300

Rather unusual source material for a historical drama, namely a comic book, the film 300. Both the comic and the film tell the story of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian Wars. In it, Leonidas I., King of Sparta, with only about 300 men in a narrow mountain pass to face the many-time superior army of the Persian king Xerxes. It is one of the oldest and best-known stories of an army’s desperate last stand against an overwhelming enemy.

300 is a unique film experience simply because of its stylistic and aesthetic references to the comic genre. Including the elaborately staged fight scenes with slow-motion effects raining blood and human limbs.

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11. The Miracle of Bern

After long years in Soviet captivity, Richard Lubanski finally returned home from the war in 1954. The family he once left behind is a complete stranger to him. Especially his youngest son Matthias. The latter is a big soccer fan and has already found a surrogate father in Rot Weiß Essen striker Helmut Rahn.

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In the film, Sönke Wortmann develops the storylines of the Lubanski family and the German national team at the World Cup in Switzerland in parallel, right up to the grand finale. Up to the famous “Aus! From! From! The game is up.

Germany is the world champion!!” Deliberately not monumental but soulful, it tells of a broken post-war German society yearning for heroes. An accomplished portrait of Germany in the 1950s.

12. Robin Hood (2018 Movie)

The story of Robin Hood, the outlaw armed with a bow and arrow, is being filmed over and over again. From Errol Flynn to Kevin Costner, many great names in film history have tried their hand at this role. Last 2010 Oscar winner and historical film veteran Russel Crowe.

However, the latest Robin Hood movie has a surprising twist right at the beginning. Robin Hood is not really Robin Hood this time. Or at least not the noble Robin of Loxley, as he dies on the battlefield right at the beginning.

Whereupon the simple foot soldier Robin Longstride takes over his armor and identity. The rest remains as known. Robin returns home to England, rebels against the cruel regime of the Sheriff of Nottingham, and falls in love with the maiden Marianne.

As you would expect from Ridley Scott, Robin Hood is a perfectly cast and directed adventure film.

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13. The Irishman

Given the length of The Irishman, it may take a few sittings to watch the film in its entirety, but it’s worth the investment. Unlike some Netflix films, this one also opened in theaters – a clear attempt to get recognition from the Academy during awards season. Considering the people involved, you’d have to be crazy not to care about the awards.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci – all aged with the help of CGI – this film is like an acting class on steroids. De Niro plays Frank Sheeran, a truck driver in Philadelphia who gets involved with the mob to work his way up to become the right-hand man of legendary gangster Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Part gangster epic, part historical exposé on the influence of the Teamsters union and the Mafia on American politics, The Irishman is another extraordinary high point in Scorsese’s resume.

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14. The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion, who hasn’t made a feature film in twelve years, delivers an ice-cold masterpiece with “The Power of the Dog.”

Benedict Cumberbatch is Phil, a bitter, closeted cowboy mourning his deceased lover; Kodi Smit-McPhee is the boy on whom he directs his self-loathing before taking him under his wing; Kirsten Dunst is the boy’s mother, who assuages her worries with alcohol; and Jesse Plemons is caught between two stools as her husband and Phil’s brother. They all perform at their best under Campion’s expert guidance.

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15. Noah

Again and again, Noah is plagued by visions of a deluge. God is angry with sinful mankind and wants to destroy them. But not all of them. Noah is tasked with building a great ship, an ark, to ensure the survival of the animal kingdom and his own family.

In addition to history books, the Bible has also been a source of inspiration for historical dramas. Darren Aronofsky’s Noah joins the such illustrious company as The Ten Commandments or King of Kings. Completely free of religious pathos, the film looks at the well-known story from new angles and tries to relate it to modern issues like climate protection and sustainability.

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16. The Revenant

Far from civilization, fur trapper Hugh Glass is attacked and badly wounded by a bear on an expedition deep into the American wilderness. His expedition group leaves him convinced that he cannot be saved. But Glass himself does not yet give up the fight for survival and drags himself on alone with almost superhuman determination. He’s out for revenge.

The film is a household name even for those who haven’t seen it because it finally earned lead actor Leonardo di Caprio a long-awaited Oscar after many unsuccessful nominations. And absolutely rightly so.

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17. Legend of Tarzan

The latest Tarzan adaptation, starring Alexander Skarsgard in the title role, begins not in the jungle but in the British House of Lords. There, the former Tarzan and current Lord Greystoke, who returned home years ago, is asked to take part in a special mission to the Congo. In the process, he gets caught in the middle of the conflict between the brutal Belgian colonial masters and the enslaved native population.

David Yates spins on the jungle hero’s story, already filmed more than 50 times, in Legend of Tarzan. But also, the origin story of Tarzan, the King of the Apes, is not completely missing. It is told in a few flashbacks.

18. We Were Heroes

Lieutenant Hal Moore landed his company of about 400 men in North Vietnam in November 1965. There they face thousands of Vietnamese freedom fighters. From the beginning, the Americans suffer heavy losses. Cut off from any supplies, Moore’s unit fights for three days and three nights in a war that looks less and less like it’s winnable.

Now making his third appearance on this list, Mel Gibson has become a true master of historical film. For We Were Heroes, it also reunites with Braveheart writer Randall Wallace, who this time wrote the script and directed it himself.

19. Seven Years in Tibet

The Austrian climber Heinrich Harrer is in 1939, on an expedition in the Himalayas to climb Nanga Parbat there. At their base camp, the group is surprised by news of Britain’s entry into the war. As members of the German Empire on British territory, they are arrested. In 1944, Harrer managed to escape from a prison camp. He makes his way across the Himalayas to the Tibetan highlands, where he becomes the first European in the Tibetan royal court. As a teacher, advisor, and finally, a friend of the young Dalai Lama.

Seven Years in Tibet is based on the adventurous life story of Harrer. Between Nazi Germany and the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Breathtaking mountain scenery and intimate insights into the strict Tibetan theocracy make the film what it is – absolutely worth seeing.

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20. The Harder They Fall

In 2021, Netflix poured a lot of money into the Western genre, which seems to have paid off. “The Harder They Fall” is one of the best historical films. Director Jaymes Samuel has created a story that subverts many of the expectations we have of the typical Wild West cowboy movie. “The Harder They Fall” is one of the few westerns to feature an all-black cast, with Jonathan Majors, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, and Idris Elba (among others) playing the lead roles.

Together they construct the story of an embittered outlaw on a quest for revenge, determined to confront the man who killed his parents when he was a child. Grief and revenge aren’t exactly uncommon themes in the traditional Western, but with a remarkably talented cast all committed to the cause, “The Harder They Fall” breathes new life into the genre.

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If you are also a fan of historical films and have other recommendations and favorites, please share them with us in the comments.

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