Ten Historically Accurate Films

It is only by looking at the past, that we are able to fully understand who and what we are, and where we come from. History enables us to understand the world we live in, and what has occurred in the past. In a way that captivates people, cinema is able to convey important events in history. However, bringing historically accurate films to the screen is a difficult feat. Directors, screenwriters, costume designers, etc. must work together to accurately portray historical events to the best of their ability. Below is a list of some of the most historically accurate films in cinema.

12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northup’s memoir Twelve Years a Slave, later adapted into a 2013 Oscar-winning film, tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York. After being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South, Northup struggles to survive, hoping to one day escape the chains of slavery. 


In 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on Dunkirk. Using every vessel that could be found, British and French forces were able to evacuate the Allied troops from the beach. At the end of the mission, the

forces were able to safely evacuate 330,000 soldiers.

The Pianist

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1974-132-33A, Warschau, Parade vor Adolf Hitler.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
The Palmiry massacre — a series of mass executions carried out by Nazi forces near Warsaw.

The Pianist is based on Polish Jewish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s survival of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. As World War II begins, Szpilman is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. Later on, Szpilman is separated from his family during Operation Reinhard. From this time until the end of the war, Szpilman hides in various locations among the ruins of Warsaw.

Apollo 13

After leaving Earth’s orbit, Astronauts Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert find everything going according to plan. But when an oxygen tank explodes, the scheduled moon landing is called off, and the safety and survival of the astronauts’ are in jeopardy.

File:Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center Dorchester County 32.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Pictured here is abolitionist, Harriet Tubman.


Harriet tells the story of abolitionist, Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and the missions she led to liberate slaves through the Underground Railroad.


The Iron Lady

In The Iron Lady, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was prime minister of the UK for 11 years before resigning. In her old age, she reflects on her life and career as she finally prepares to dispose of the remnants of her late husband, Denis. 

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge tells the story of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Pfc. Desmond T. Doss. Initially ostracized by soldiers for his pacifist stance, he later earned respect for his bravery after risking his life — without firing a shot — to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.

Hidden Figures

NASA workers, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are the brains behind the launch of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. After reaching this monumental achievement, these three African-American women galvanized the world and restored the nation’s faith.


Lincoln reflects on President Abraham Lincoln, and how his political skill ended the Civil War and permanently abolished slavery. His persistence led to the greater good for all mankind.

File:José Mujica2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
José Mujica, President of Uruguay (2010 – 2015).

A 12 Year Night

A 12 Year Night tells the story of the 12-year solitary confinement and torture of members of the Uruguayan political group, Tupamaros. One of the prisoners – José Mujica – later becomes the president of Uruguay.


There are several other widely commemorated historically accurate films not included in the list above. Since it’s difficult to fit them all into one small list, here are a few honorable mentions — Tora! Tora! Tora! (Pearl Harbor), Full Metal Jacket (Vietname War), First Man (Neil Armstrong), Troy (Battle between Troy and Sparta), On the Basis of Sex (biopic on Ruth Bader Ginsburg), Battle of the Sexes (Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs monumental tennis match), and Zodiac (“Zodiac Killer” from California).

Part of a film’s grandeur is its emotional aspect — it is able to make society empathize with characters on screen — a difficult task for a textbook to execute. When done correctly, a historically accurate film not only fulfills the legacy of those historical figures who helped shaped our world, but it educates society on who and what led us to where we are today.