Over 150 years after its end, effects of the Civil War can still be seen in today’s society. It’s no wonder that its events and figures continue to interest writers and directors until today with various period films set in that era being produced almost every year. So without further ado, here are 10 of the best civil war movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Civil War Movies of All Time
Cold Mountain (2003)
Cold Mountain (2003) is a film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s novel of the same name. Meant to be a ‘modern’ Gone with the Wind-type of period drama, the film is about a deserter from North Carolina and the woman he has left behind.
Although it did not quite pan out according to plan, the film did help lead actress Renee Zellweger to bag an Oscar for her superb performance in the film. Also notable is Jude Law’s performance as the aforementioned fleeing soldier, W.P. Inman, and his quest to be with the woman he loves.
The film offers a look at a different side of the Civil War by dramatizing what life was like for deserters of the war. Cold Mountain is one of the best civil war movies.
How the West Was Won (1962)
How the West Was Won (1962) is Hollywood’s love letter and grand attempt to narrate the entire 19th-century American life (including the Civil War, of course) through the story of four generations of the fictional Prescott family as they make their move from New York to the Pacific Ocean coast.
It features an all-star cast of Hollywood’s biggest names at the time including Carolyn Jones, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart and Debbie Reynolds to name a few. How the West Was Won is one of the 60’s best civil war films.
Gangs of New York (2002)
One of Martin Scorsese’s best film about civil war, Gangs of New York (2002) is a period drama inspired by Herbert Asbury’s nonfiction book of the same name.
The film is set in 1963 New York at the height of the American Civil War and stars constant Scorsese collaborator Leonardo Dicaprio as a young Irish immigrant who vows to assassinate a father figure, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, he has.
While technically not about the Civil War itself, the film’s setting and the backdrop is largely influenced by it.
Friendly Persuasion (1956)
Friendly Persuasion (1956) is a comedy period film set in mid-1800s Indiana. It centers on the story of a Quaker family overseen by a pair religious parents played by Dorothy McGuire and Gary Cooper.
Much of the film’s humor relies on jokes about staying above violence and the similarities of familial life that transcends time periods. It also sought to analyze how the violence of the Civil War tests a family’s pacifist beliefs.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) is set at the time of the Civil War but focuses on the sidelines.
Clint Eastwood stars as The Stranger in this Italian spaghetti western which chronicles his and his partner’s search for some stolen gold a Union soldier buried in the Southwestern deserts which they need to get to before their rival.
The best spaghetti western that Hollywood has ever produced, the film is most memorable for its use of wide shots, and highly stylistic gunfights. It’s also the film credited to being Clint Eastwood’s ticket to stardom.
Lincoln (2012) is a historical film based on the last four months of Abraham Lincoln’s term as president of the USA. It highlights his efforts to pass the emancipation proclamation which would finally put an end to slavery in the states.
Veteran actor Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the titular Lincoln along with stellar supporting performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Sally Field.
The film is primarily based on the book Team of Rivals: The political genius of Abraham Lincoln written by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. It is one of the best civil war movies.
As the film title implies, Gettysburg (1993) is about the historic battle which turned the tides of the Civil War. It is also an adaptation of the historical novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.
The film covers the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in extreme detail from the front lines to the behind the scenes drama that maneuvered the event.
The film received mixed reviews particularly from the prolific film critic Roger Ebert who said that Gettysburg is a ‘film that Civil War buffs will find indispensable’ but is also, unfortunately, ‘bloated Southern propaganda’. Gettysburg is one of the best civil war movies of all time.
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Perhaps one of the most underrated Civil War movies on our civil war movies list, Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil (1999) is a great study of the historical event from the perspective of an outsider turning the film to focus on the often overlooked Kansas and Missouri border wars which one of the bloodiest aspects of the entire Civil War ordeal.
The film premiered to mixed reviews with some critics deeming it to be a terrific film that featured the ‘most terrifying kind of close-in gunplay’ which ranged from ‘a variety of reasons ranging from the political to the nonsensical’.
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The most famous film about the American Civil War, this epic adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel about a Southern belle’s love for a married man still holds the honor of being the highest grossing movie of all time bringing home $198.68 million ($1.85 billion in today’s money).
Follow and get entangled with petulant Southern belle, Scarlet O’Hara’s life and survival of the tragic history of the South during the Civil War. Gone with the Wind is one of the best movies about Civil War.
We give the number one spot to Glory (1989).
The film follows the story of the first all-African American military units of the Union Army as seen from the perspective of its white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who is portrayed in the film by Matthew Broderick.
Glory (1989) was a critical success earning Denzel Washington, who played a black private, an Oscar for best-supporting actor which helped cement his reputation as a serious actor.
The film is also notable for its effective way of imparting an important message without getting too pedantic or preachy. Glory is one of the best Civil War movies of all time.
What is your favorite movie about the Civil War? Tell us in the comments below.