The Top Eight Historical Films

Hollywood’s dream factories have released many films that both entertain and sometimes educate.  The following movies are the selections I have made that come nearest to educating as well as entertaining.  I also admit that I have chosen these movies with a small measure of subjectivity.

1.       Schindler’s List (1993) Directed by Steven Spielberg

Schindler's grave
Schindler's grave (Photo credit:

Schindler’s list is a movie that holds you from the start and doesn’t let go.  The movie is a true story about Oscar Schindler, a factory owner who used his wealth and connections to save more than 1000 Jews during World War IISteven Speilberg shoots in black and white but uses color to make emotional points throughout the movie, the most memorable being the girl in the red coat walking on the street. Director Steven Spielberg uses his talents to show what evil is and what courage is throughout the film.  The film stays true to the original story as Liam Neeson gives a stellar performance as Oscar Schindler. Actor Ralph Fiennes personifies evil in the film and puts a face to the horror of the holocaust.

2.       Apollo 13 (1995) Directed by Ron Howard

Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is the story of the shortened moon mission and how the NASA program found a way to bring the crew back home safely.  The film, from all accounts, is accurate to what actually happened.  The film took artistic liberties with arguments on the spacecraft between astronauts as well as combining all the engineering efforts of the NASA ground team into one character, Gary Sinise.  If NASA history captivates you the this film should satisfy your hunger games for all things that make astronauts modern-day heroes.

3.       Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) Directed by Richard Fleischer, American sequences.  Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda, Japanese sequences

The producers and directors of “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, meaning “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!”, present a balanced view

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (C...
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Yorktown (CVS-10) during the filming of "Tora! Tora! Tora!", her flight deck painted to resemble that of a World War II Imperial Japanese Navy carrier. Note the piston-engined aircraft on deck, often North American T-6 Texan resembling Japanese aircraft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of both sides of the Pearl Harbor attack.  It shows us the planning stages through the actual attack.  The producers elected to employ directors from America and Japan to present each point of view.  What the audience receives is a compelling straightforward presentation of Japan’s leaders planning for the attack and the America’s leaders trying to figure out when and if an attack would occur.  It outlines the view-point that Pearl Harbor’s military leaders received ambiguous orders while the political establishment ignored intercepted message to Japan’s diplomats stationed in the embassy in Washington, D.C.  If you want a clinical version of the events on December 7th without  political viewpoints or romance, watch this movie version of that horrific day.

4.    Glory (1989) Directed by Edward Zwick

Who can forget the preparation for the charge into confederate defenses at the end of the movie Glory starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman? No one who has seen the movie, I tell you!  The story of the first all black volunteer unit, the 54th Regiment, during the civil war and their commander Col. Robert Gould Shaw, it presents a generally accurate account of the unit’s formation, training and battle history. The story shows how Col. Shaw overcame prejudices so that his unit could form, train and get into the fight.  It features a great music score and each of the cast members is terrific in their parts.  I used to work with an Army Colonel who played a clip of this film before his final after action review after a two-week long training exercise.  He really liked this film and so do I.

5.       The King’s Speech (2010) Directed by Tom Hooper

What is significant about this film is that it shows that no matter your status in life, there are still personal

Colin Firth walks the red carpet at the 83rd A...
Colin Firth walks the red carpet at the 83rd Academy Awards Feb. 27, in Hollywood, Calif. Firth would go on to win in the best actor category for his portrayal of King George VI in the film “The King’s Speech. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

issues to conquer.  For some, it means bearing them in a public forum.  King George the VI of Britain, played by Colin Firth, ascended to the throne under extreme circumstances.  His brother abdicated the crown due to his insistence on marrying a divorced American.  However, the film is about the King’s struggle with a speech impediment, a stammer or stutter, that revealed itself especially in front of audiences or when making public speeches.  Colin Firth does a skilful portraying of the King working to correct his speech challenge.  Geoffrey Rush as the speech coach does not cower to the challenge of being the taskmaster to a King.  Helena Bonham Carter is charming as the young Queen Mother Elizabeth.  King George the VI rates high on my royal list because he stayed in London with its citizens during World War II bombing raids when he and his family could have went elsewhere.

6.       The Last Emperor (1987) Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

This movie gives us a glimpse of the Forbidden City and the essential parts of the life of the last emperor of China, Puyi.  As the last emperor of the Qing dynasty, the movie presents Puyi, who ascended to the throne at 2 years, 10 months. He changes from a person isolated from society inside the Forbidden City, believing he is better than his subjects to someone who dies as a simple gardener.  The story runs through the stages of the Chinese revolution and how the Emperor tried to hold on to his status and finally his re-education.  The film is breathtaking visually because the filmmakers were permitted to shoot inside the Forbidden City.

7.       We Were Soldiers (2002) Directed by Randall Wallace

Based on the book by General Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway, the movie is relatively accurate depiction of the first major battle the American’s fought during the Viet Nam War.  What is honest about this film is the cost of war paid by soldiers and their family members, especially spouses.  The notices from the Pentagon being delivered back home to wives is a truly heart breaking scene.  The battle scenes are brutal to watch but it does a better job than most films of showing how the Air Cavalry integrated with the Infantry during a battle.  The music score and the choices as to where to use it during the film will give you chills.

8.       Gangs of New York (2002) Directed by Martin Scorcese

Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & New York Ci...
Bird's eye panorama of Manhattan & New York City in 1873 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The director makes the Five Points in New York the as much of a character in the movie as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting and Amsterdam Vallon.   This movie gets a lot of things right about New York in the 1800’s, including how firemen fight for the right to put out fires and therefore get paid.  This movie is worth seeing just to watch Daniel Day-Lewis light up the screen as Bill “The Butcher”.

Honorable Mentions: The Aviator, Black Hawk Down, Longest Day, The Madness of King George, Reds, Elizabeth, Inherit the Wind, The Right Stuff, Ran, Kingdom of Heaven, 300, Midway, Enemy at the Gates, Stalingrad, Gandhi, and Alexander.  There are many more but I have to stop the list at some point.

Top Eight Decisions That Changed the United States


Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today.  If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in.  My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list.  With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day.  Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.

 1. The decision to sign the Declaration of Independence.

English: This is a high-resolution image of th...
Image via Wikipedia

The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are      created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of      happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting  names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign.  John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries  Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence.  And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.

 2. The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act.  Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all  persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all  laws…”  This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.”  This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920,  giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civ...
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President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights.  These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion.  Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.”  The 1866 Civil Rights Act started  America down the righteous path toward true equality..

 3. The  decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture.  According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.

4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.

Nederlands: kaart Louisiana Purchase
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At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more.  Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.

 5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.  

Enola Gay after Hiroshima mission, entering ha...
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The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII.  It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude  and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War.  On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up.  President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to  “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily.  The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact.  President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly. He thought about the repurcussions for days.  Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself. 

6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.

English: Washington, D.C., (July 9, 2004) &nda...
Image via Wikipedia

President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive.  Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject..  President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily.  This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington.  He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates.  President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term.  Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term.  Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch.  President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking.  Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .

 7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.”  These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow.  Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in.  He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture.  With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry.  It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.

8. The decision to Land on the MoonThe decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program.  The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...
Image via Wikipedia

Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon.  The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics.  In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets.  These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.

These are my top eight decisions.  I am sure there are people who disagree.  It was tough just to narrow it down to eight.  Let me know your top eight. .