The best historical films on Netflix make for some of the best and most controversial fanfare on the big screen. These films are perhaps the closest we can get to time travel, as they offer modern audiences a glimpse into the past through cinema. Through visual storytelling, these snippets of the past are preserved for the sake of the present and future generations. Let’s take a look at some of the best historical movies you can watch on Netflix today.
25 Best Historical Movies on Netflix for History Buffs
Movies drawn from historical events have a particular appeal. These movies indulge natural curiosities among audiences to understand past events that most have not had the liberty to witness firsthand. They remind us of events that have been and could be once again in the never-ending possibility of “history repeating itself.”
The genre itself has unlimited possibilities, with an ever-expanding pool of significant events open for retelling. Their value stems not only from their aesthetic quality but also from their inherent historical and cultural significance. They preserve bits and pieces of history in a relatable and memorable way. Although, of course, most movies contain events that have been brushed out for dramatic effect.
Notably, some of the films you will encounter are accompanied by the tagline, “based on true events.” This tagline should be taken to mean that some details of the story have been filled with artistic interpretation.
Of course, if you wanted a historically-accurate depiction of events, then documentaries exist for this exact purpose. Here are some of the best documentaries on Netflix that you can give the hard facts that you crave. But often, the best way to capture the true emotional weight of a film is to add some dramatic and creative elements. This is exactly the essence of most modern historical films.
We’ve compiled some of the best historical films on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.
1. Ip Man (2008)
Ip Man is a biographical film and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie is based on the early life and accomplishments of the Ip Man, who was a martial arts grandmaster who was also the mentor of the famous Bruce Lee.
The movie is set in Japanese-occupied Beijing, where the young Ip and his family resided during the early phases of the war. The invading Japanese force Ip and his family out of their home and into a dilapidated apartment.
Former police officer Li Zhao recruits Ip to join the fight. Ip refuses at first but agrees to join after witnessing the murder of his friend. Ip soon finds himself at odds with Japanese officials, who seek to eliminate all opposition within the town.
The movie dramatizes some of the events in the martial arts master’s life, although the basic facts of the story and the timeline are historically accurate.
2. Jodhaa Akbar (2008)
Jodhaa Akbar is an Indian historical drama and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie is about the love story of a Mughal emperor and his wife from the sixteenth century. Many of the events in the movie are based on historically documented events, lending a high level of accuracy to the plot.
Indian Princess Jodhaa, the daughter of Raja Bharmal, is betrothed to the Mughal emperor, Akbar. The courtiers expect the union of the two royals to bring peace into their respective kingdoms.
Things turn for the worse after the King’s half-brother murders one of Akbar’s generals, and this would force the King to order the execution of his half-brother. Thereafter, a series of events would threaten the couple’s love and the stability of the realm.
3. The King’s Speech (2010)
The King’s Speech is a 2010 historical drama and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie focuses on King George VI and his friendship with the Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The screenplay resulted from the decades-long research of David Seidler, who had also developed a stammer as a young child.
The movie follows Prince Albert, Duke of York, during his first-ever public speech at Wembley Stadium. Prince Albert’s wife, Elizabeth, persuades him to see the Australian-born Lionel Logue, a well-known speech therapist. During their first meeting, Logue has the future king recite Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy while listening to classical music.
The pair soon develop an unlikely friendship and continue to work towards healing Prince Albert’s speech impediments. The movie presents the pair’s personal and professional journey across critical junctures in British history. These include the death of King George V, the eventual abdication of King Edward VIII, and the eventual ascension of Prince Albert as King George VI.
4. 12 Years A Slave (2012)
12 Years A Slave is a historical drama film based on the novel of the same name by David Wilson. The story focuses on Solomon Northup, an African-American man who was kidnapped and subsequently sold into slavery in 1841. The movie was both a box-office and critical success, and various publications hailed the film as the best film of 2013.
In 1841, Solomon Northup was a free African-American man living in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two conmen, Brown and Hamilton, approach Northup with the promise of a job in Washington DC.
Instead, they drug Solomon and sell him to a slave pen, where his protestations are ignored. Northup is later shipped to New Orleans, where he passes ownership from one landowner to the next until he meets a man who might be able to help him earn his freedom.
5. Dunkirk (2017)
Dunkirk is a war film and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie is a fictional reimagining of the real-life evacuation of the Allied Forces from Dunkirk, on the coast of France, near the end of WWII. The movie is an international project between production companies in the US, UK, and France. It would go on to become the highest-grossing film about WWII of all time.
The story begins in late 1940, a time when Germany invaded parts of France, pushing the British and French forces back to Dunkirk, a coastal region in France. The sole survivor of a German ambush, Tommy Jensen finds thousands of troops stranded at the beach, awaiting evacuation. Jensen meets another soldier, and the two try to get on a boat to leave Dunkirk as the German forces send their planes to attack. The evacuation becomes a deadly tug-of-war as the two parties race to achieve their respective objectives.
While the majority of the characters in the movie are fictional, the events and conflicts experienced by the characters in the movie closely represent what thousands of soldiers experienced during the operation.
6. The Imitation Game (2015)
The Imitation Game is a spy thriller and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The movie is based on the biography of Alan Turing, an English mathematician, and cryptanalyst. Turing is perhaps most well-known for the so-called “Turing test,” a test for machines on their ability to think independently.
In the movie, Alan Turing recounts his experiences working for the British intelligence during the First World War. In 1928, Turing was recruited as part of a team to analyze the workings of the Enigma machine. The Germans rely on the Enigma machine to send encrypted messages to their troops.
Turing quickly proves his brilliance by developing a machine that could decipher German code. He also develops a statistical model to help the Allies determine the best counteroffensives. All the while, he must conceal a deeply personal secret that, if revealed, can compromise his entire career.
7. Suffragette (2015)
Suffragette is a British historical film depicting the struggle for women’s right to vote in Britain before the passage of the suffrage act in 1918 and 1928. While the characters in the movie are fictional, the events in the movie are largely accurate to the real-life beginnings of the feminist movement in Victorian Britain.
The story follows Maud Watts, a 24-year-old laundry worker detained by the police after being caught up in a suffragette rally. Her family and friends stigmatize maud, but she continues to attend secret meetings. A series of events would push Maud further into radicalism and the suffragette movement. As the suffragettes escalate in their methods of protest, the women’s lives become increasingly at risk.
8. Mudbound (2017)
Mudbound is a historical movie and one of the historical films on Netflix with a fictional story but a realistic setting. The movie depicts two WWII veterans returning from the war to face the demons of racism and PTSD. The movie would go on to receive a variety of award nominations, with critics praising its screenplay, direction, and cast performances.
In the aftermath of WWII, two families from the Mississippi Delta, one black and one white, are forced to share the same patch of land. Their lives become intertwined amidst the backdrop of economic strife and racial prejudice. The eventual return of two war veterans will set off a series of events that will test the two families’ relationship.
9. Darkest Hour (2017)
The Darkest Hour is a war drama depicting the early days of Winston Churchill’s leadership as Prime Minister of the UK. The movie follows Churchill’s decisions during the start of WWII. In particular, it focuses on his refusal to align with the Germans amidst the threat of invasion. The film received multiple nominations, most of which were for Gary Oldman’s performance as Churchill.
Amidst the threat of a German invasion, Parliament assigns Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, as the new Prime Minister. Churchill is to replace Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was pressured into resigning by Parliament.
Churchill faces opposition from multiple fronts: the current King George VI distrusts him for his support for the abdicated King Edward VIII, and he has a poor reputation in Parliament for his actions in the Admiralty.
To make things worse, the British Cabinet needs to decide whether to make terms with Nazi Germany or continue its alliance with France and the US. With millions of lives at risk and an entire country looking up to him for wisdom, the newly elected PM must make all the right decisions.
10. The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)
The Zookeeper’s Wife is a historical movie and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman. The movie is a dramatic depiction of a real-life couple who sheltered over three hundred Polish Jews in the Warsaw Zoo during WWII.
In the early 1930s in Warsaw, Poland, Dr. Jan Zabinski, and his wife manage the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. Following the German invasion of Poland, Dr. Lutz Heck, a Nazi and head of the Berlin Zoo, visits them. Heck offers to save the zoo’s most prized animals by transporting them to Berlin. Meanwhile, and in other places around the country, the Germans begin to force Polish Jews into Ghettos.
Antonina and Jan shelter their Jewish friends inside the zoo. They would propose to Heck to turn the zoo into a pig farm. Unbeknownst to Heck, their real intention is to sneak people out of the Ghetto into safety. The couple would shelter more Jews in the zoo as they struggle to keep their activities hidden from the Germans.
11. Manto (2018)
Manto is a biographical drama film and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The movie is about the most turbulent years of the life of the prolific short story writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. The movie is a commentary on the struggles of the post-war era in India and Pakistan.
In Bombay 1946, prolific short story writer Saadat Hasan Manto is at the peak of his career as a scriptwriter for the Bombay film industry. Muslim forces attack Manto’s family, causing them to leave Pakistan. Manto then makes the difficult decision to move to Pakistan. While there, he would pen some of his greatest works amidst political and social strife.
12. The Highwaymen (2018)
The Highwaymen is a period crime drama film depicting the hunt for one of history’s most notorious crime couples, Bonnie and Clyde. While the movie is said to have a few discrepancies in historical details, the movie does stay faithful to the sequence of events in the original case.
The story takes place in Texas, 1934 when notorious crime couple Boonie and Clyde have broken out their associates from jail. After the couple gets involved in a deadly shootout, the police recruit retired Texas ranger Frank Hamer and his former partner Benjamin Maney Gault into the case. The pair would travel across the country to track down one of history’s most notorious criminal couples.
13. A Twelve-Year Night (2018)
A Twelve-Year Night is a historical drama film about the incarceration of a left-wing guerilla group in Uruguay amidst a military dictatorship. The writers of the movie took inspiration from the story of the Tuparamos, a rebel group aiming to bring about social change by any means necessary. Notably, one of the members of the group would later become the President of Uruguay.
In 1973, Uruguay is under a military dictatorship under President Jorge Pacheco Areco. The repressive politics and poor socio-economic conditions of the time fueled resistance in the form of the Tuparamos, led by Raul Sendic. Several members of the group are captured by the military and held hostage.
14. The Angel (2018)
The Angel is an Egyptian-Israeli spy film thriller and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The movie is based on the book, The Angel: The Egyptian Spy Who Saved Israel, written by Uri Bar-Joseph. The movie dramatizes the true story of Ashraf Marwan, an Egyptian official who becomes a spy for Israel during the Egyptian-Israeli conflicts of the early 1970s.
In 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched an attack on the holy city of Yom Kippur in Israel. The attack turns into a weeks-long battle between the Egyptian and Syrian, and Israeli forces. Unbeknownst to the public, Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, would receive a warning about the attack before it takes place.
The person who sent the warning is Ashraf Marwan, a well-connected Egyptian official. Marwan would rise to power within the Egyptian government, all the while acting as a spy for the Israeli government.
15. Outlaw King (2018)
Outlaw King is a historical movie about Robert the Bruce, a 14th Century who fought against the English takeover of Scotland during the time. The film is a dramatic depiction of Robert Bruce’s rebellion against King Edward I of Scotland until the 1307 Battle of Loudun Hill. This was approximately three hundred years before the unification of the two kingdoms under the same crown.
The story takes place in 1304, following the surrender of Sottish nobility to King Edward I of Scotland at Stirling Castle. Robert Bruce, one of the Scottish nobles, befriends the Prince of Wales and marries his goddaughter, Elizabeth De Burgh. When Robert and another noble are left in charge, they begin to plan another rebellion.
16. Operation Finale (2018)
Operation Finale is one of the most accurate and notable historical films on Netflix. It’s about the discovery and capture of former SS Officer Adolf Eichmann by Israeli Mossad officers in 1960. The writers of the movie took into account several source materials, including Eichmann in My Hands, a memoir by Israeli officer Peter Malkin.
Following the end of World War II, Nazi officials begin to take their own lives to avoid facing trials for war crimes, but Holocaust Architect Adolf Eichmann disappears. A few years later, Peter Malkin, a Mossad agent, mistakenly kills the wrong person while on the hunt for Nazi war criminals, staining his reputation.
Fifteen years later, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a young woman, and her father have dinner with a young German migrant. The father suspects the young migrant to be the son of the missing Adolf Eichmann. The father informs Mossad of his suspicions, and Operation Finale commences.
17. Elisa and Marcela (2018)
Elisa and Marcela is one of the more romantic and feminist-themed historical movies on Netflix. The movie is a creative rendition of the lesbian relationship in late 19th century Galicia between Elisa Sánchez Loriga and Marcela Gracia Ibeas. The two are known for being the first same-sex married couple in Spain.
The movie opened in 1898 in A Coruña, Spain. Marcela and Elisa meet in a school for girls, forming a close bond almost immediately. Soon, their respective families begin to suspect their relationship to be something of a more romantic nature.
Marcela’s family sends her away to boarding school. Nevertheless, the pair continue to send each other letters. The two reunite after years apart but soon face greater problems as societal forces try to pull them apart.
18. The Last Duel (2019)
The Last Duelis a movie adaptation of the 2004 novel of the same name by Eric Jaeger. The movie is based on the true story of a duel that took place in 1386. The duel took place between two former friends and knights named Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris. The former friends had a medieval version of falling out after Carrouges’ wife accused Le Gris of rape.
The story begins shortly after the Caroline war. The two men return from their posts to pledge their allegiance to Count Pierre d’Alencon. Jean marries Marguerite de Thibouville, whose father is indebted to Count Pierre. A series of events would spur hostility between the two friends. The story culminates in an explosive accusation that would destroy their friendship.
19. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)
Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile is a crime thriller and one of the best historical films on Netflix. The movie tackles the discovery of the identity of the infamous“Campus Killer” Ted Bundy. The movie is told from the perspective of Bundy’s ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloefer, who remained oblivious to Bundy’s killings until his arrest in 1995.
In 1969 Seattle law student Ted Bundy meets Elizabeth “Liz” Kendall, a divorced single mother working in the same school where Ted attended school. The pair quickly fall in love, and Bundy helps Liz raise her daughter, Molly.
Fast forward to 1974, and the news is replete with reports of multiple murdered women and girls near the Seattle area. Witness descriptions of the killer resemble Ted Bundy. Witnesses would also report seeing the killer ask women to help him load a sailboat onto a Volkswagen Beetle.
The cops apprehend Ted a year later, and a woman named Carol DaRonch positively identifies Ted from a police lineup. Ted maintains his innocence toward Liz as Liz begins to question everything that she believes about her long-term partner.
20. The King (2019)
The King is a dramatic historical movie and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The movie is based on Shakespeare’s plays about the life of King Henry V. It received generally positive reviews, though most historians have criticized its deviation from both the original play and actual events.
Henry, Prince of Wales, is an unwilling descendant of the English throne. King Edward IV dies, and Henry becomes King Henry V of England. At King Henry’s coronation banquet, Henry receives an insulting gift from the Dauphin of France. Thereafter, the King’s guards would later present him with a captured assassin who claims to have been sent by the Dauphin to assassinate him. Henry then declares war on France, spurring two famous battles, including the Seige of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt.
21. The Endless Trench (2019)
The Endless Trench is a Spanish-French historical movie and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The story takes place post-Spanish civil war, where Nationalists have taken over and guerilla fighters went into hiding. The movie is a reference to real-life cases of guerillas who hid under trap doors and secret passes of their own homes, with some remaining in hiding for over three decades.
The story is set in 1936 Spain. A newly married man decides to go into hiding after criticizing the Nationalist party. As the police search for him, the man decides to hide under the floorboards of his house with the help of his wife. The man and his family must learn to adapt to their situation until such time that he can safely come out.
22. The Red Sea Diving Resort (2019)
The Red Sea Diving Resort is a contemporary spy thriller film about the rescue of Ethiopian-Jewish refugees from Sudan to Israel by Mossad agents. The movie title references a real-life abandoned resort that the Mossad used as a temporary base for the refugees.
The story follows Mossad agent Ari Levinson in his efforts to evacuate Jewish-Ethiopian refugees to Israel. The operation is a logistical nightmare, and the operation requires multiple vehicles to transport the refugees and a building to house them temporarily before extraction.
Realizing they needed a cover, the team decide to rent an abandoned resort named the Red Sea Diving Resort. The team begins to accept tourists into the resort to keep their cover. All the while, they are simultaneously rescuing refugees under the nose of the Egyptians.
23. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a historical and legal drama about the countercultural riots that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the trials that followed.It tells the true story of the Chicago 7, who were anti-Vietnam war protesters charged with and acquitted of a conspiracy by the state.
The story begins in August 1986, when the now-famous Chicago 7 protested during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Five months later, police arrest the protesters and charge them with conspiracy and “crossing state lines” to incite a riot. The officials form a grand jury to investigate both sides: the protestors for violation of federal laws; and the police officers for violation of protesters’ civil rights.
24. The Forgotten Battle (2020)
The Forgotten Battle is a historical movie and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. It depicts the Battle of Scheld, a military operation carried out by the combined forces of the Canadian, Polish, and British units to help the Allies in North-West Europe in 1944.
The story takes place in September 1944, following the Normandy landings. The Allies have successfully taken over Antwerp, but the Germans still hold the Scheldt estuary. This causes a logistical roadblock, preventing supplies from getting to Antwerp. The Allies launch Operation Market Garden to create an invasion route into northern Germany.
A glider from this operation crash-lands into a flooded estuary in Zeeland. The three survivors soon find themselves trapped behind enemy lines. The three survivors head for Allied lines as the Canadian forces advance on Walcheren island, the final German stronghold on Scheld.
25. The Dig (2021)
The Dig is a British drama film and one of the best historical movies on Netflix. The movie depicts the events leading up to the Sutton Hoo excavation, where British archaeologists uncovered an intact Anglo-Saxon ship filled with dazzling riches. While some parts of the story have been creatively “filled in,” the main characters are based on real people. The story of the dig itself is also widely recognized to be real and historically significant.
In 1939, English landowner Edith Pretty hired archaeologist Basil Brown to explore the large burial mounds on her Sutton Woo estate in southeast Suffolk in 1937. Brown’s former employers entice him to abandon the project to explore a Roman estate, but Brown refuses. Brown uncovers a series of items hinting at a greater find of major historical significance underneath the rubble. Edith’s health begins to decline, and the beginning of World War 2 looms in the background.
Final Thoughts on the Best Historical Movies on Netflix for History Buffs
This concludes our list of historical movies on Netflix for you to watch with friends and family. Admittedly, this list is a lot shorter than what is available on Netflix. But that is only because we have chosen well-made films that are relatively recent and well-received by critics. Most of the films we’ve selected depict real historical figures and events. Meanwhile, others present fictional stories set against notable timelines in history. Whether fact-based or fictional, the best historical movies on Netflix aim not only to help us understand the past. Additionally, they offer us a lens through which we can look at possibilities of the future.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.