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5 Historically Accurate Movies that Impact Student Understanding

These 5 cinematic glimpses at history bring synopsis of the past off of the pages of a textbook and into an engaging and discussion enhancing format.

Making history come to life can be a tricky process. Selecting key events and details to help students develop images and understandings of a particular era or occurrence in history can really make a difference in how learners are able to assimilate information and understand the past’s connections to today’s world. When filmmakers get it right and put accurate depictions of history on the big screen, teachers can employ a fresh and impactful strategy for brining history to life for students. These 5 films get top ratings for their realistic renderings of eras and/or events of the past.

The Lion in Winter — This film from 1968 shares more than just an impressive visual depiction of medieval times. Rather than romanticizing or solely focusing on violence from the era, the filmmakers chose to highlight the true political challenges Richard the Lionheart faced. Viewers are left with a keen understanding of the perils found within the decision-making process for selecting an heir.

Gettysburg — This lengthy feature film from 1993 takes the time to present both sides of the epic Civil War battle. Viewers are able to garner an understanding of the positives and negatives of the layouts of the battlefields. While the outcome of the battle may be known, this view of the intricacies of the fight offers some engaging perspectives on the soldiers, their mindsets, and the overall emotional aspects within the war.

Tora! Tora! Tora! — The events surrounding Pearl Harbor are captured in this 1970 picture. The key element that sets the film apart from others focused on this time within history is the depiction of both the American and Japanese perspectives. Seeing the Japanese as human and some American choices as flawed brings the aspect of realism to these cataclysmic events. The on-point visuals and coverage of the strategies deployed offer an excellent picture of cinematic accuracy.

12 Years a Slave — 2013 brought a telling depiction of slavery in America to the big screen. Not only does the film portray the true story of one man’s fight to regain freedom, but it does so within an accurate depiction of the horrific conditions and details that comprised the suffering of the slaves. Viewers are made privy to details of slave markets, punishments, religion, work, etc. that constituted the daily life of slaves during this deplorable time period in American history.

Schindler’s List — Steven Spielberg’s award winning film from 1993 gives viewers a very real glimpse of the persecution of the Jews and concentration camp conditions during the Holocaust. This lengthy feature details the story of Oskar Schindler’s plight to save as many of his Jewish workers as possible once he realizes the fate awaiting them at the hands of the Nazis. While some storyline liberties were taken to engage the audience, these in no way negate the accurate depictions of the emotionally charged climate and atrocities of the time.

In no way does cuing up a film from start to finish take the place of quality instruction of history. While every movie in its entirety doesn’t have a place in the classroom, pulling some key visual and teachable scenes from historically accurate films can make a lasting impression. These 5 films take events off of textbook pages and offer teachers and students realistic windows into the past.

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