Sometimes, one wishes to be entertained and educated at the same time. For times like this, period pieces are the go-to for any film buff. These films, based almost entirely, or loosely on different eras of history, serve to educate and enlighten viewers while also teaching valuable lessons from the ages. Without any further ado, here is a list of the 15 best period piece movies of all time:
15. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Set in the pre-Civil War United States, the film follows the reality-inspired journey of Solomon Northup (portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor) from being a free man to becoming a slave. The film features some of the most brutal portrayals of atrocities that were commonly incurred upon people of color during the era of slavery.
The film received overwhelming critical acclaim and went on to win an Oscar for Best Motion Picture of the year. It also performed extremely well at the box office and initiated a new era for all black filmmakers in Hollywood.
14. Gladiator (2000)
Gladiator follows the life of a Roman general who was once revered and honored in the upper echelons of society. However, when a corrupt and greedy emperor murders his entire family and sends him to slavery, he begins the slow and arduous journey to exact his revenge.
Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Russel Crowe as the main characters, the movie has won over five Oscars for its incredible screenplay and dynamic action sequences, making it a must-watch for all history buffs and movie enthusiasts.
13. Braveheart (1995)
Braveheart follows the life of the Scottish rebel William Wallace in his efforts to lead an uprising against the tyrannical English ruler Edward the Longshanks. The English tyrant wants to inherit the Scottish crown for himself. However, the locals are up against him.
Wallace, whose brother and father lost their lives in efforts to free Scotland during his childhood, is reminded of their sacrifice on a daily basis and won’t let their lives go in vain. He gathers his own troops and sets out to free Scotland once and for all. The film stars Mel Gibson as the lead role and is a classic movie that everyone should watch for a thoroughly entertaining experience.
12. Theory of Everything (2014)
This movie is based on the legendary life of one of the greatest scientific minds of the modern era; Dr. Stephen R Hawkins. Played almost effortlessly by Eddie Redmayne, the movie follows not the scientific endeavors of the personality, but rather the personal development and romantic entanglement of the scientist. It humanizes one of the greatest scientists of the modern era by elaborating on his childhood and adolescence all through into adulthood.
The emphasis on the personal details of his life as opposed to his professional competencies sheds new light on the life of the scientist. This novel take on the scientists’ life makes it a must-watch movie for all viewers.
11. Gandhi (1982)
Winner of 8 Oscars, Gandhi follows the life of Mahatma Gandhi, a lawyer who turns into a political leader for the masses in the subcontinent against the colonial rule of the British Empire over the Indian Subcontinent. Directed by Richard Attenborough, the film reprises Ben Kingsley in the role of Mahatma Gandhi and follows his life through the Indian revolt against colonial rule.
Gandhi was famed for his method of nonviolent protest against colonial rule, and this movie serves to show just that. It takes the viewers back in time to reveal how unconventional modes of protest work effectively against one of the biggest colonial forces of the 19th century.
10. Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Based on the book by the same name, Pride and Prejudice follows the life of the wealthy aristocrat, Mr. Darcy, as he arrives at the estate of the charming and intelligent Elizabeth Bennet and her mother.
While her mother goes into a frenzy in order to get her daughter married to this wealthy man, Elizabeth matches wits with Mr. Darcy and stimulates his intellect in order to gauge their compatibilities. This is a classic piece of literature mapped onto film and a must-watch for all viewers.
9. Ben-Hur (1959)
Ben Hur follows the lives of Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy and renowned Jewish prince and businessman in Jerusalem at the onset of the 1st century. He comes across his longtime friend Messala, who is a commanding officer of the Roman legions. They are happy to meet each other initially but their distinct political views soon drive a rift between the two.
During a parade, a tile falls from Judah’s house and injures the governor which provides Messala with the cleavage of opportunity to accuse Judah and send him to the gallows. What follows is a story of vengeance and retribution.
8. 1917 (2019)
Set during World War 1, this movie follows the story of two soldiers tasked with the impossible. They are assigned with delivering a message to troops of over 1600 men who are about to walk in towards their own demise. In a race against time, these two soldiers must deliver this message in order to save the lives of their brothers.
There is, however, one major obstacle in their way. They must penetrate deep into enemy territory in order to get this message delivered on time. What follows is an incredible story of brotherhood and companionship.
7. Lincoln (2012)
Starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, this film follows the life of the first president of America through the American Civil War. As Lincoln attempts to materialize the historic constitutional amendment that puts an end to the Civil war, he is met with unimaginable obstacles from within his own cabinet which thwart him towards conflict and contradiction.
This movie attempts to humanize the first president of the USA and contextualizes the problems he faced during his tenure while highlighting the gravity of his decisions. These decisions would go on to shape the political landscape of the entire country in the years to come.
6. Dunkirk (2017)
Directed by Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk is one of the most impactful and action-packed war movies of the modern era. Cristopher Nolan does not usually direct war epics, but when he does, he makes sure to place emphasis on the epic. It follows the allied forces who are surrounded by the Germans in the port town of Dunkirk.
This is a story seen through the eyes of soldiers as they try to maneuver their way out of the war with seemingly all of the odds racked up against them. In their efforts to evacuate, they leave no stone unturned and what unravels is a historical phenomenon that will be talked about for centuries to come.
5. Titanic (1997)
Titanic is one of the most iconic period pieces of all time. Directed by James Cameron and starring the impeccable Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the main roles, it follows the life of a seventeen-year-old businessman and his entanglement with a struggling artist who ends up on the R.S.S Titanic.
Titanic is a story of love and loss. Everyone knows what happened to the ship, but no one is aware of the consequences born by the hundreds of lives on board the ship. This movie is not only a glimpse into history but also a recollection of the undying love that humans carry for one another.
4. The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game follows the life of a prolific English mathematician by the name of Alan Turing. He is employed by the allies to crack the code of the German encryption device known as the Enigma. Cracking the code to Enigma holds the key to winning the war, therefore, the stakes are high and the outcome of the war rests on the genius of Alan Turing.
Played magnificently by Benedict Cumberbatch, Alan Turing is portrayed as an incredibly gifted yet misunderstood genius who employs the help of other mathematicians to beat the code against the clock. The Turing device is one of the greatest inventions to come out of the Second World War, however, Alan Turing is not recognized as a war hero for his sexual identity does not fall within the acceptable range of sexualities at that time. After having used his genius to win the war, he was shunned and removed from the history books. This period piece serves the critical role of highlighting the notable contributions made by Alan Turing.
3. The King’s Speech (2010)
This Biopic follows the life of Britain’s Prince Albert, played by Colin Firth, who must ascend to the throne as King George the sixth. However, this unlikely succession is met with an obstacle because of the King’s speech impediment. No king can be declared legitimate without addressing his kingdom, and this king could not even talk properly to his servants, let alone his nation.
His wife Elizabeth, recognizes this and hires an Australian actor and speech therapist to help her husband out. What follows is an incredible story of friendship and retribution that displays the potential to straighten out the worst of impediments.
2. 300 (2006)
Starring Gerard Butler and Lena Headey, 300 follows the life of King Leonidas of Sparta and an army of only three hundred men who set out to fight the Persian forces in 480 B.C. The Persians led an army of over 100,000 men. Yet this did not waver the convictions of the Greeks, who found it their responsibility to protect their city-states till death.
This movie has one of the most iconic lines in the history of film, “This is Spartaaa!!!” and the thrilling action sequences make it a must-watch for all the action-hungry movie enthusiasts out there.
1. The Pianist (2002)
The Pianist follows the life of an artist through one of the most harrowing time periods known to mankind; the holocaust. This artist is a Jewish pianist living in Germany with his family at the time of the Holocaust. They are a well-respected family with many lively prospects developing when the Nazi party comes into power before the onset of the First World War. Things begin to take a turn for the worse as those considered inferior are slowly marginalized and later butchered to the point of extinction.
This Pianist, a man who has never known violence and dedicated his life to art, slowly begins to see his entire life fall apart. The Pianist is not a movie for the light-hearted, but it is a must-watch for those that want to educate themselves on the atrocities inflicted upon an entire demographic of the population that once thrived as equal citizens under the law. It is both a lesson in humanity and the wrath of mankind.
- Troy (2004)
- The Last Duel (2021)
- Schindler’s List (1993)
Did we miss any worthy title on our list of the best period piece movies of all time? Let us know in the comments below!