Goonhammer Historicals: Our Favorite Historical Movies

The days are getting shorter and there’s nothing better to fuel the drive for a new project than watching some moving pictures. Luckily the goonhammer starfort is equipped with a state of the art Kinema, which even has speakers for those “talkies” which are all the rage in the last couple of decades. Snuggled under a rough woolen blanket and tasty treats of hardtack and salted pork nearby, they’re ready to give an overview of their favorite movies.

Lenoon: It’s not a fantastic movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’ll come as no surprise that I’m recommending Toussaint Louverture (2012) as one that’s worth a watch. Mid-budget, some weird choices about battles and mainly people talking, it does a pretty good job taking you through the Haitian revolution and, until someone realizes this is the perfect follow-up movie to Napoleon, it’s the best we have. It’s got some stellar performances and gets across the sheer mind-bending heroism of the revolution. Is it accurate? Acceptably. It’s something for grogs and the general public, and it’s also all on Youtube with English subtitles.

Credit: France télévision

A special don’t watch this shoutout to Black Hawk Down, a movie that really encapsulates a very 2002 attitude to conflict. It’s hard to point to a modern movie that spends more time dehumanizing America’s enemies while celebrating war-as-pornography, and it does it with all the foaming-at-the-mouth Islamophobia of the early 00s. It’s absolutely not what you want as movie-watching prep for the difficulties around gaming with Ultramoderns.

Jackie Daytona: Have to say I agree on Black Hawk Down. The book felt far more nuanced and focused a lot more on the Somali side as well, and gives a bigger picture then what’s depicted in the movie. Ridley Scott can really direct the hell out of something, but the need to add a big bad to serve as mindless fodder sours the experience for me. 

Lenoon: In terms of what I’m looking forward to – inevitably – it’s Napoleon. I think I want something else from it than lots of people do, though. I don’t want accuracy. I want Napoleon as depicted in his own memoirs, somewhere between Emperor and God, unjustly thrown down by fate. I want Scott to lean into the Napoleonic myth – as long as someone does a full budget Toussaint follow-up. 

Credit: Columbia Pictures

Enzo da Baker: Apocalypse Now: This is the best war movie ever produced. It encapsulates the madness, horror, and excitement of conflict. It’s a Vietnam war movie that captures the folly and tragedy of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam without being juvenile or too on the nose.

Jackie Daytona: I’m just going to bite the bullet and recommend Waterloo, and while it does have its flaws all the effects are in-camera. It blew my CGI-spoilt mind that yes, they actually landscaped a valley to accurately represent the Waterloo battlefield, and yes, they actually trained 20,000 Ukraine soldiers to march, load and fire, and use contemporary tactics in an epic ballet. Rod Steiger plays a brooding Napoleon, who delivers some solid speeches. I don’t think it gets mentioned that much in the series of best war movies, probably because it bombed I guess. They don’t and won’t make these anymore, and it’s worth it alone for the spectacle of several thousand troops marching alone.

Yes they did this Credit: Columbia pictures

On the other side of the spectrum: Patton. This is technically a war movie, but I see it as a vehicle to let George C Scott act the hell out of a role. The tanks are all wrong, some facts aren’t presented correctly, but that’s only the backdrop to what’s actually a nuanced take on leadership in WW2. Patton was only one of many such generals, with quirks and serious character flaws. Taking too much initiative, sometimes bordering on insubordination, all these things were typical of the generals of the time. I doubt there are a lot of actors who could deliver such a role, and I forgive most of the 70’s jingoism and some corny dialogue here and there because of it. If you’re watching this for the first time, you’ll have to look past certain things for certain. It’s a good character study with too many mp40’s, and bonus Karl Malden as well. 

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Michael O “Mugginns”: Without a doubt my favorite period is the American Civil War. My favorite movie of the period is an easy one – Glory. There are three main reasons for it: historical accuracy, great story, and effective acting.

Glory is about one of the first African-American regiments during the war, the 54th Massachusetts. Much of the movie is spent on Matthew Broderick’s character, Robert Gould Shaw, the commanding officer of the 54th. 

The accuracy is pretty great for a movie made in 1989. Uniforms look great, the sets look great. Most of the main details of the story are accurate; some characters are made up but believable. In terms of historical movies, it’s one of the best for accuracy.

The story of the 54th Mass is now pretty well known because of the movie, but I suspect before that it was largely unknown. The plot starts with how Shaw comes to command and then traverses through he and Cary Elwes training the regiment, the regiment seeing how top brass will treat them (poorly), them ‘seeing the elephant’, and then their fateful charge at Battery Wagner. You care about the characters a ton; when I watched this movie in 8th grade other kids cried at the end.

Credit: Tr-star Pictures

In terms of acting chops this movie has pretty big names in Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, and Cary Elwes. They put in great performances – the movie was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three, with Denzel winning best supporting actor. 

Things to look out for – there are a few scenes that are somewhat gory, including an implied cannon shot on a regiment and injuries from flogging. There is some offensive period language. It is well worth watching.

I have to name a few other things really worth watching: North & South is a less accurate miniseries from the 80s but worth watching for a fun story. Wicked Spring is a more accurate portrayal with great uniforms and equipment. Ride With the Devil is an amazing story about bushwhacking during the war starring a pre-Spider-man Tobey Maguire and Jewel.

Zuul: Fun fact, when I was in high school I was in NJROTC for a few years. Our teachers, Colonel Bob Miller & MCPO Guarin let us watch Black Hawk Down in class. Very cleary american propaganda and is one sided quite a bit, but visually a great film with some really bad ass moments. My two big recommendations though are Alatriste featuring Viggo Mortensen and The Duellists directed by Ridley Scott & featuring Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine. 

Credit: Paramount Pictures

I really like Alatriste because it’s one of those films that highlights some really bad aspects of medieval warfare, specifically what is known as the “push of pike”. Essentially large pike formations would lock into combat and result in staggering casualties. The Italians referred to it as “bad war”. The movie takes place during the Eighty Years’ War and follows the life of soldier Diego Alatriste. It’s a great period piece. 

For The Duellists, I’m a huge Ridley Scott fan. He’s one of my favorite directors for historical pieces and The Duellists is his first film. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, it follows the story of two rival officers and the successive duels they hold against one another over the course of 20 years. It’s a great look into the period from a minor perspective but seeing how the historical events affected individual lives. 

Both Alatriste and The Duellists are fairly accurate. I say this because they’re clearly dramas with made-up dialogue and some events, but by and large the costumes are great, the set pieces are amazing and the movies are just plain good. I recommend both films for anyone, really. If you like drama movies, both of them have romance, drama and action. For the Grogs, the attention to historical detail is excellent. 

Bouns Napoleon because I’m doing the editing here Credit: Columbia Pictures

For future films, like everyone else in this piece I’m very much looking forward to Ridley Scott’s Napoleon. I’m keen on seeing how Joaquin Phoenix decides to portray Napoleon, and I’m really looking forward to Empress Josephine being portrayed by Vanessa Kirby. I’m also a big turn of the century American west history buff, so I can’t wait to watch Killers of the Flower Moon by Martin Scorsese starring Leonardo DiCaprio & Robert De Niro. It’s based on the book by David Grann about the Osage Indian Murders between 1918 and 1931 in which Osage Native Americans were targeted and murdered when oil was found on the Osage Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. Sadly, Native American history isn’t really taught the way it should be in the United States, so any chance for a form of public history that highlights the tragedies visited upon them is one I’ll encourage people to go see. Plus, i’m sure it’s going to be an excellent film.  

Greg: Fine, I’ll go to bat for Black Hawk Down. This is not a good movie. It’s deeply problematic (jingoistic trash, racist as hell), and it’s only slightly more historically accurate than Battleship. (ed: I will not link that thing) But: it owns. This is a very specific type of action movie, that was done much more recently and adroitly in Fury Road, where basically all backstory, character development, and pretense is done away with and the movie is constructed from two hours of uncut insane violence. The depiction of the “battle” is so one-sided and dehumanizing that it might as well be a commercial for the military-industrial complex, and it lionizes a bunch of dudes that don’t really need or deserve it, but as an action movie – untethered from any deeper meaning and judged solely on how exciting the depiction of combat is – this is maybe the best Ridley Scott has ever been. The cast is stacked (Tom Sizemore is pitch perfect as, essentially, a put-upon truck driver). I think it holds a place – barely – in the Dudes Rock canon. If nothing else, Black Hawk Down is an entertaining movie about high-speed low-drag Operator types doing Army Guy Activities that’s at least not quite as crappy or freighted with post-9/11 America Brain as Zero Dark Thirty. Where I think it has historical value – if it even does – is less in its vision of Mogadishu in 1992, where it’s set, and more in what it says about the American movie-going public in late 2001, when it was released. What it says is that we were all completely insane.

Credit: Columbia Pictures

My actual favorite historical movie is Gladiator, another Ridley Scott movie that has more problems than it does positive qualities, but also legitimately rips. Look, if you want an accurate movie about the Roman Empire, watch a documentary. If you want a rough idea of what history was like, and also to see a bunch of dudes wrecking each other with hammers and stuff, watch this.

A close second would be Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. They don’t make enough movies about boats these days, even less so when you want something about real naval battles and not pirates. I don’t care about pirates.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Momma Negan: While WW2 and the Napoleonic era are quite the fan favorites, there are some movies set during the first World War which I feel are absolute must watch. The most obvious is All Quiet on the Western Front, the newer version. I watched it with my wife who is also an absolute history buff and we both agree this movie absolutely nailed the anti war formula. The movie is one continuous stream of why war sucks, shown from the very personal experience of one soldier. The start of the movie really captures the gung ho enthusiasm of the young men which I had always been told about in history class. I can’t quite comment on how historically accurate this movie is, but getting fussed about this would be missing the point. War is horrible, it is brutal, it should not happen and this movie perfectly encapsulates that dread and hopeless feeling.

If you are looking for a little something to give you a little more faith in humanity, I can also absolutely recommend the short movie Joyeux Noël from 2005. This movie not only shines through an incredibly inclusive cast, similar to the previous movie(meaning the actors are of their role’s nationality and speak that language), but through giving a more positive outlook on humanity. Obviously the end of the movie wasn’t the end of the war, but it showed that despite the killing, there was still a way for people to connect. In particular I like to recall the scene where a French and a German soldier barter for each other’s chocolate and alcohol and then proceed to argue about the name of a stray cat both of them had encountered. And while this movie has a very positive outlook, there’s still a reminder of the bitter killing, shown through a french soldier trying to recover his brother’s dead body. I would say watch this movie after All Quiet On The Western Front, war is horrible, people can be cruel, but people can also be good to each other. 

Credit: Netflix

The last of the WW1 Movies would be 1917. While this movie shares in All Quiet On The Western Front’s anti war messaging, it doesn’t feel quite as powerful. It still manages to convey that anti war sentiment, especially during the scenes set in the burning town and afterwards, but All Quiet just does it so much better. What makes this movie a joy to watch is both, in my opinion, stellar acting and the unreal length of the continuous shots in this movie. It is no exaggeration when I say that I asked myself multiple times during the movie how they managed to pull it off. A little extra that I liked and generally enjoy about movies is the normalization of the presence of POCs during these wars. Media has, for the longest time, tried to portray the Western theater to be a conflict between white people, throwing under the bus all the colonial troops who fought bravely for countries who would continue to mistreat them for decades. The casual inclusion of a Punjab(or Sikh, I don’t quite remember) soldier with the other British and Scottish soldiers made me kinda happy and I really hope this might become a trend to acknowledge the sacrifices and heroism of POCs during the World Wars. 

Credit; Universal Pictures

There you have it folks, some excellent choices to while away an evening. I think it’s pretty clear that, when in doubt, Ridley Scott seems like a safe bet. If you’re looking to binge a show and need inspiration, check out our Sharpe series review. And let us know in the comments which movies you’re watching or what we missed and should talk about!

As always, if you have any questions or comments and want to communicate, please email Thanks!