Best Historical Fiction Movies: Top 5 Fascinating Films Most Recommended By Experts

Historical Fiction, as a storytelling device, lets the reader travel through time to great eras of the past. The best works of the genre recontextualize significant historical events through the narrative focus of well-portrayed characters. These fictional protagonists are a vehicle for audiences to experience the emotions, sounds, and sights of the past. Our list of the top five best historical fiction movies includes some of cinema’s most thought-provoking films.

The earliest examples of epic cinema mixed historical settings with fictional characters. “Quo Vadis?” (1912) and “Spartaco” (1913) are some of the earliest cinematic examples of the epic history film genre. The popularity of these motion pictures is likely due in part to the depiction of the ancient world. The Roman Empire, Ancient Egypt, and other lands of antiquity were suddenly accessible to audiences through cinema.

Movies like “The Ten Commandments” (1956) and “Spartacus” (1960) are examples of the highly successful historical fiction genre that grew even more popular with the addition of improved special effects, sound, and of course color film prints. The genre would continue to be a cinematic mainstay for filmmakers. Cowboy movies, war films, and period dramas are all examples of how historic fiction continued to grow and branch off into ever-increasing subgenres.

All these films have one thing in common: they are about people living in a different time. Great screen actors including Charlton Heston, Denzel Washington, and Adam Driver breathe life into their roles. Leading ladies of film like Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, and Liz Taylor craft spectacular performances that resonate with audiences and captivate theater goers.

We needed our trusted sources when considering the nearly 130-year history of motion pictures. With their expert help, we were able to rank the top five best historical fiction films of all time. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

person holding black remote control
Person holding remote control (Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash)

The List: Best Historical Fiction Movies, According to Fans


1. “Schindler’s List” (1994)

This black and white film is about the Holocaust and tells the story through an emotional journey that has marked “Schindler’s List” as one of the greatest films of all time. Genuinely heartbreaking moments abound in this heavy and thought-provoking film. “Set during the Holocaust, ‘Schindler’s List’ tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who used his connections to save 1,200 [Jewish People] from Nazi concentration camps,” according to ati.

“Schindler’s List” (1994)
“Schindler’s List” (1994)

TheCinemaholic raves, “There have been few films which have moved me like ‘Schindler’s List’. This tragic and harrowing documentation of the genocide of [Jewish People] during World War II, is downright touching and presents a kind of cinema few have ever produced. Widely considered the greatest film ever made… The film, as expected, opened to critical and commercial success, garnering a total of seven Oscar wins. Do watch the film. It will change the way you see and perceive life.”

The Elective praises, “Director Steven Spielberg’s landmark drama tells the story of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a German businessman who saved more than a thousand Jewish refugees from Nazi genocide. Spielberg’s film is unrelenting and powerful, thanks in part to it being shot in black-and-white and filmed as if it were a documentary.”

2. “Ben-Hur” (1959)

Thanks to epics like “Ben-Hur,” Charlton Heston is considered one of the greatest actors of all time. This film was a groundbreaking spectacle when it was released because of its lavish sets, heart pounding chariot sequence, and meticulous attention to detail. tells, “This historical fictional movie is full of adventure and drama… [‘Ben-Hur’] shows how a man takes on the tyranny of the Romans, with all sorts of horrible consequences to himself and his family.”

“Ben-Hur” (1959)
“Ben-Hur” (1959)

Bored Panda comments, “‘Ben-Hur’ is a religious epic film that’s… adapted from the 1880s novel ‘Ben-Hur: A Tale Of The Christ’ by Lew Wallace. The events in the movie center around Judah Ben-Hur – a wealthy Jewish prince living in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 1st century.”

TheCinemaholic adds, “This 1959 epic historical drama held the mantle of the greatest film ever made for a long time… [‘Ben-Hur’] was the costliest film ever made at that time, and had the biggest set and production in the history of cinema… The film starred Charlton Heston in the main role and catapulted him into global stardom.”

3. “The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society” (2018)

Don’t let the mouthful of a title fool you, “The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society” is a charming romantic movie set against a post-WWII backdrop. The stories of people that lived during one of the most turbulent eras of history are fascinating. The Chronicles of History says, “In the aftermath of World War II, a writer forms an unexpected bond with the residents of Guernsey Island when she decides to write a book about their experiences during the war… This movie is based off a book told by way of letters, and as the reader, you become enchanted by the writers, and the love Juliet comes to feel for each of the Islanders.”

“The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society” (2018)
“The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society” (2018)

“In 1941, the German-occupied island of Guernsey sees the hasty birth of a literary society in the dead of the night: an attempt to cover up why some inhabitants were breaking curfew. The formation of the book club, however, becomes a reality, as Dawsey and the gang discuss tomes over food and drink and become a tight-knit group,” describes ScreenRant.

“‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ is a beautiful film that explores the power of books during a time of war. The cast is excellent, and the film has a lovely sense of nostalgia. It is one of the best Historical movies on Netflix,” elaborates Screen Binge.

4. “12 Years a Slave” (2013)

“12 Years a Slave” is a tour-de-force from actor Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor’s deeply nuanced performance captures the feelings of fear, desperation, and outrage of an enslaved man. The Pioneer Woman explains, “This unflinching look at American slavery tells the story of a free Black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South.”

“12 Years a Slave” (2013)
“12 Years a Slave” (2013)

The TV Freak offers, “This is a biographical period-piece movie and an adaptation of the slave memoir ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ by Solomon Northup. Graded 8.1 by IMDb, it was chosen the best film of 2013 by assorted media platforms and detractors, and it earned over $187 million on a [budget] of $22 million.”

TheCinemaholic states, “The plot centralizes on a free man of color, who is tricked into the slavery business by two imposters posing as job offerors. This painful yet liberating tale of his twelve years in slavery evokes tangible emotions in the audience. Another film that won Best Picture, the film was a true to the soul effort from the cast and crew, something we all profoundly loved. One of the best historical movies.”

5. “Lincoln” (2012)

Abraham Lincoln led America through the Civil War, and his presidential story is intriguing. Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field both give career-highlight performances as Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. TheCinemaholic claims, “Directed by the master [director] Steven Spielberg, the film stars (the greatest ever) Daniel Day Lewis in the titular role and boasts a stellar supporting crew with names like Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The film truly moved me and is in part based on the book ‘Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln,’ also one of my favorite books.”

“Lincoln” (2012)
“Lincoln” (2012)

The Elective relates, “Director Steven Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner focus on a very narrow part of the 16th president’s life… but it feels like the definitive biopic of Abraham Lincoln… Yes, history nuts interested in the Civil War will get what they’re looking for, but it’s Sally Field’s gut-wrenching performance as a grieving Mary Todd Lincoln that’ll ring in your mind for days after you watch.”

“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… Yet the president is torn, as an early peace would save thousands of lives. As the nation confronts its conscience over the freedom of its entire population, Lincoln faces his own crisis of conscience — end slavery or end the war,” reviews The Chronicles of History.

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  1. Ben Hur was not about fighting Roman Empire Oppression. Sure, Heston made comments about fighting the Romans but remember the following.
    1. His “Crime” was an Accident where a falling Roof tile hit the Roman Governor. Certainly, not an Act of Rebellion. His Roman friend Marsala manufactured that into a Crime of Rebellion which unjustly imprisoned the Hur family.
    2. Heston does save the Roman Consul from drowning in a Naval battle, hardly an example of fighting Rome.
    3. His Chariot Victory was merely Symbolic. Like Jesse Owens’ Victory in the 1936 Olympics that did not defeat the Nazis from their murderous plans for WW2.
    4. The scene where the Jewish Rebellion was brutally crushed showed the futility of fighting against Roman Might.
    The Novel from which the Movie was adopted was to show there was way apart from Rebellion.That way was in “The Christ”, hence the title of the book.

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