Make Your Picks

5 Movies for an American History Class


So many good movies, so little time.
If you were going to show 5 movies in an American history class what would you show?

"Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others."- Groucho Marx

The Grapes of Wrath
The Best Years of Our Lives
Executive Suite
12 Angry Men

"Film is a disease. When it infects your bloodstream it takes over as the number one hormone. It bosses the enzymes, directs the pineal gland, plays Iago to your psyche. As with heroin, the antidote to Film is more Film." - Frank Capra

or something else set around prohibition

Maybe not this term though......

Hey, Diamond: you can't hotlink to images on the IMDb. YOU might be seeing the pictures, but we aren't.

DePalma's The Untouchables has such little historical accuracy I wouldn't show it in a classroom setting, other than as a joke. And as World Trade Center is still in the theaters, it would be tough to show it in school this Fall.

My u.s. history teacher showed us Matewan in class, which was pretty cool.

Personally, I'm against using movies as teacher's aides, by which I mean using them at face value to tell a "historicy". Partly this is because "historical" movies are generally pretty propagandist about their given topic, but more generally part of what movies aim to solve in telling a story is how to pare down all the complex and ephemeral links of causation into a pure and coherent vehicle. Even the best movies do this to some extent, and it's just bad history. On the other hand there are plenty of movies that would be good to use as historical artifacts, some of which are also pretty unavoidable in that movies are actually a driving force of much of 20th century historical consciousness. I can't remember the names in particular, but I mean to show things like how the U.S. defense establishment and hollywood used movies to rebuild europe (and basically invented the notion of Paris as "the city of romance'n'love" to attract tourists) after ww2, or using the birth of a nation to show some of the notions and arguments about blacks, and how it was used to reinvent the long-dead kkk as a mass movement (of course teaching it in the context of how that came about, how and why it was different from other incarnations the klan took at different times and different places). Gabriel Over the Whitehouse is a good 30s movie to show as part of a discussion of the ways in which the popular (and practical) idea of what the presidency should be changed, how it's different and how it's the same as today or at other times, and why. I really think that as long as you're carefully using films as artifacts or primary sources rather than as secondary sources (that is, tools to inform your own explanation of history), pretty much anything is fare game.

Originally Posted by Holden Pike

12 Angry Men
Hey Holden, can you give me some insight as to why you picked this as one of your 5?
DVD Collection


Originally Posted by JBriscoe
Hey Holden, can you give me some insight as to why you picked this as one of your 5?

"I don't feel I have to be loyal to one side or the other. I'm just asking questions."
Sidney Lumet's suspenseful and timelessly powerful dramatization of the flaws and strengths of our legal system is a quintessential American movie. Individuals may have their own petty points of view and deep-seeded prejudices which, unchecked, can lead to injustice. But the system is constructed so that reason and reasonable doubt can override and overrule on the side of equality and fairness. That such a system doesn't always work is frustrating, but that it can work is inspiring, and we should all aspire to be as stalwart and brave as Fonda's juror number eight. He represents the ideal American citizen.

So many good movies, so little time.
I think I would go with
  • Th Crucible
  • Amistad
  • Glory
  • Good Night, and Good Luck
  • 12 Angry Men

I also like Black Robe (even though it's set in Canada), Reds, Citizen Kane, Inherit the Wind, Thirteen Days, Malcolm X and All the President's Men.

Also scenes from Gone with the Wind (burning Atlanta), Gettysburg (Pickett's Charge) and Saving Private Ryan (the Normandy landing).

While all the movies are flawed as pure history, each gives a flavor of its time and the events that they portray.

Malcolm X
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media
Fog of War
Wonderland (1997)
"You have to believe in God before you can say there are things that man was not meant to know. I don't think there's anything man wasn't meant to know. There are just some stupid things that people shouldn't do." -David Cronenberg

I am having a nervous breakdance
The Corporation
Good Night, and Good Luck
Dances With Wolves
The novelist does not long to see the lion eat grass. He realizes that one and the same God created the wolf and the lamb, then smiled, "seeing that his work was good".


They had temporarily escaped the factories, the warehouses, the slaughterhouses, the car washes - they'd be back in captivity the next day but
now they were out - they were wild with freedom. They weren't thinking about the slavery of poverty. Or the slavery of welfare and food stamps. The rest of us would be all right until the poor learned how to make atom bombs in their basements.

Birth of a Nation
Good Night and Good Luck
Dr. Strangelove
Rocky 4
Fight Club

I ain't gettin' in no fryer!
Originally Posted by Britbrat19
3.pearl harbor
While longer, and much more outdated, I would probably go more with Tora, Tora, Tora. That's me though.
"I was walking down the street with my friend and he said, "I hear music", as if there is any other way you can take it in. You're not special, that's how I receive it too. I tried to taste it but it did not work." - Mitch Hedberg

I would go with Tora, Tora, Tora as well. Much more of a respected film. I wouldn't want my students leaving my class saying "Well, I learned that Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor..."

1.Grapes of Wrath was the first to come to mind
2. Gettysburg
blanking... will have to research.
You don't know me! You don't know my eyes!

Every breath you take, watching you
Depends on the type of US history class. For learning about US culture say 1940s to 1960s, I'd go with something like the below. Not all landmark films, but ones that I think give a pretty good picture of the US at that time, although admittedly in each case they are from the latter part of each decade. Probably a little off topic & might make a better new thread(?):

1. Double Indemnity
2. His Girl Friday
3. Citizen Kane (just because you'd have to)
4. The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit
5. Psycho
6. The Seven Year Itch
7. The Apartment
8. Fritz the Cat (no really, it's a neat nutshell of culture)
9. Easyrider (again, because you'd have to)

1.Das Boots
2.Bad Boys(the one with sean penn)
3.The Killing Fields

Scarface is #1

Malcom X

The Killing Fields


Thirteen Days


Originally Posted by uconjack
If you were going to show 5 movies in an American history class what would you show?

Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine
If I were to show five movies to an American history class, I would show them Saving Private Ryan, Troy, Good Night and Good Luck, Remember the Titans, and Forrest Gump.
"Walk down the right back alley in Sin City and you can find anything..."