Highly Recommended Teaching Movies
American History High School Level

Based on our own experience and recommendations from TWM Users, each of these movies will present a stellar educational experience for American History classes. We couldn't limit it to ten.
Give us your input!   Email your nominations and a description of your reasons, including your experience with the film. Tell us the name of your school and what grades you teach. You might find yourself in print.

Don't ignore the great teaching opportunities from other movies!   There are about a hundred excellent movies on American History that didn't make this list. Take a look at them, too! Review TWM's extensive Index of Movies on U.S. History and Culture.

Check the list from time to time.   We'll change it depending on your feedback and our experience. It's an ongoing conversation.


The films are listed in approximate order by date.


THE TWENTY-EIGHT BEST

The Crucible — Arthur Miller's classic play about the Salem Witchcraft Trials is an excellent introduction to colonial America and to the Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s.



The Crossing — This movie is a fairly realistic portrayal of a small engagement that changed the course of the American Revoluation and of human history.



Amistad — The incident of "La Amistad" provides a window onto American society in the early 1800s and the tensions that were building toward the Civil War.



Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives — In the 1930s, as the last generation of former slaves were passing from the scene, the Federal Writer's Project sent interviewers throughout the South. Read by famous black actors, the slave narratives paint a compelling picture of American slavery.



Gettysburg — This is an accurate and compelling description of the battle which many historians believe turned the tide in the Civil War.



Glory — Another accurate Civil War movie, this film tells the tale of the first official black rgiment in the Civil War.



The Searchers — Understadning U.S. history and culture means understanding the myth of the western hero. This film and the movie that follows are two of the best Westerns of all time.



High Noon — This film is both a quintiessential Western and an examination of character particularly pointed to the failures of U.S. society during the Red Scares of the late 1940s and early 1950s. The movie itself is an artifact of history, being one of the few American movies as to which the filmmakers had to disguise the political implications of their film in order to get it made.



Fort Apache — This film accurately shows camp life, entertainment, and military politics on a U.S. Army outpost in the Southwest during the years after the Civil War. The Apaches are portrayed with respect. The false and dishonorable manner in which the U.S. government treated Native Americans is not glossed over.



Hester Street — New York was an exciting yet fearsome place for immigrants from Eastern Europe during the early 1900s. This film shows the stress of moving to a new land.



Iron Jawed Angels — Most people don't know that in order to get the vote American women suffered imprisonment and torture. It's not taught in the history books but Alice Paul and the women who picketed the White House developed, the tactics and techniques of non-violent mass action which Mahatma Gandhi was developing independently on the other side of the globe. For picketing the White House they were arrested on false charges and tortured in prison. The scandal that resulted was one of the major factors in forcing President Wilson to suppport votes for women. This film, a fictionalized account of this struggle, is reasonably accurate in all historically important respects.



The Grapes of Wrath — This classic tale of the Oakies, forced off their farms in the mid-West, and their mass migration to California, will give kids a way to understand the Great Depression.



Warm Springs — What did it take for a relatively shallow patrician politician from New York to become the greatest U.S. President of the 20th century? This film shows part of that process.



Casablanca — It's not only one of the greatest love stories ever made. The character of Rick is a metaphor for America breaking out of its isolation and coming to the aid of the free world.



Fat Man and Little Boy — This tale of science, technology, leadership and beauracratic competition in the complex organization developed to create the atomic bomb, is an important story for modern society.



The Longest Day — This movie is a relatively accurate description of D-Day.



Midway — Demonstrating how the U.S. crippled the Japanese fleet in payback for Pearl Harbor, this film tells a lot about how the U.S. won the war in the Pacific.



The Tuskegee Airmen — The Second World War was not just an armed conflict. It changed America in many ways, and race relations was one of them. This tale of the first black fighter squadron is a good example of that process.



Twelve O'Clock High — Considered a classic film about leadership in an organization under stress, this film also shows the air war against Germany and occupied France during the Second World War.



Dr. Strangelove — Only a surreal film can demonstrate the surreal world of mutual assured destruction. (And what's even stranger is that it worked. We're all still here.)



A Raisin in the Sun — The first Broadway play to explore the lives of a black family, this classic play also shows some of the effects of racism and discrimination.



The Right Stuff — In the 1950s there was no rival to American technology, or so most Americans thought. But then, the Russians put up Sputnilk and the U.S. was suddenly way behind in the space race. This is the story of America's first astronauts, the men in the cockpit in the effort by the U.S. to catch the Russians.



A Force More Powerful — This documentary shows the Nashville Sit-ins from the training the students received, through the sit-ins themselves, to the negotiations that led to the integration of restaurants in downtown Nashville.



Ghosts of Mississippi — It looked like the assassin of civil rights worker Medgar Evers would get off scott free. This is the story of Evers' widow and a courageous prosecutor who brought the killer to trial again closing this festering wound of injustice.



Remember the Titans — And this is how it is when the nation's effort to end racism and heal the wounds of decades of discrimination really works.



All the President's Men — The worst abuse of Presidential power was uncovered by one of the best journalistic efforts in U.S. history. This is the tale of Woodward and Bernstein, the reporters who broke the story.



Thirteen Days — There's a lot of good history in this movie, but there's a lot more in the Learning Guide. Show students how close the world came to Armageddon.



Smoke Signals — Native Americans have an important place in the epic story of U.S. history. This movie tells a little about what's going on with them now.




Email us your suggestions for the best movies for teaching American History and Culture.




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