Top 14 Historical Movies According to Me

I just finished watching the 2009 version of Emma while working on my Regency pattern pieces. It was a good choice to watch, as the movie was full of inspiring early 1800s dresses! I loved that they were mostly simple with good examples of trimmings and bodice styles. And the best part was that I saw several plain linen dresses! This gave me some hope in regards to my lovely green linen as a potential dress.

Well, watching this movie got me to thinking of other influential historical movies that I've watched, and like any self-respecting blogger I had to make a list. haha! Now this list may not be what you're expecting. The movies I've chosen are ones that have had a huge influence on me, starting as a young teenager. Some of them may make you laugh... but don't! Okay, you can, but do it quietly when I'm not looking. ;-)

Choosing was harder than I expected, because obviously there are a thousand movies I could have chosen, but these boil down to ones that have influenced me the most personally. To me these movies are timeless and I've watched them all at least twice (and one movie maybe over 40 times... but don't ask me which one! It's highly embarrassing!) I apologize if this post is unusually long... There's just a lot to say!

My Top 14 Most Influential Historical Movies

1. The Secret Garden
I love so many things about this movie - the costumes, the beginning segment set in India (even though her parents did not die in an earthquake, but of a sickness), the castle, the actors. Most of all, this film made me fall head over heels in love with the land of England and fueled my beginning desire to go there. The wild loneliness of the moors was such a fascinating place to me as a girl. When I did my study abroad to England, my visit to the moors was top priority and it was a wonderful experience - I even took a steam train to get there! It was almost like coming home, because dreaming of it had made up such an important part of my childhood. Someday I'd like to go back and visit the house that this movie was filmed at. And maybe take a ride across the moors on a moor pony like Dickon. :-)

2. The Journey of Natty Gann
Aah, "The Journey of Natty Gann"! I remember watching this with my mom as a teenager. I had decided that I was going to be a film maker and I remember watching this movie with a notebook and pen, totally serious about taking film notes. Not only did I fall in love with the story, but this movie was a huge influence in my becoming a tom boy. (And developing a major crush on John Cusack at the same time!) This movie is set during the Depression, and I love how the film has a dark, gritty feel to it. I remember loving the clothing and Natty's spunk and determination to find her father. Nothing got her down and while she wasn't totally fearless, she was driven by the hope that her father was waiting for her, something I related with a little. I was estranged from my father at the time.

 3. Bugsy Malone
Not many people have heard of this movie, and even less people knew that Jodi Foster and Scott Baio (from "Charles in Charge") were in a movie together, or that it was a musical! I 100% absolutely adore this movie. The movie is one big stereo-type; only the gangsters sing and dance. Their rivalry is very serious, but it's hard to take it very seriously with marshmallow-shooting Tommy guns. Not only that, but the entire cast is made up of children and their singing voices are dubbed over with adult voices. This is one of those movies that is so bizarre and off the wall that it's hilarious. How did this movie influence me? It gave me a young, humorous appreciation of the '20s, Prohibition, and gangsters. haha!

4. Back Home
Hands down, "Back Home" is my top favorite WWII movie. Hayley Mills is wonderful as the mother of a girl whom was sent overseas to America for the duration of the war. It's wonderful and poignant how Rusty's transition home is rocky, but she does her best to fit back into a culture she barely remembers. Another vital aspect to this story was how they show the father's rough transition back home from being at the war front. Not many films show that aspect of the war. This was one of the movies that hugely impacted my love of England, British culture, and WWII.

5. Newsies
Okay, so most of you have at least heard of "Newsies", and those who haven't seen it ask, "What's the big deal?" I have two words for you: Spot Conlan. And if that doesn't mean anything, then you need to watch the movie. haha! But seriously, this movie just stoked my already budding tom boy tendencies. The music is memorable, the dancing is pretty amazing, and the costumes aren't bad! I even met the actor who played Snitch. I have to say, though, that this movie was probably the most impactful to me because it was based on a true story. When I was a nanny in New York (on Long Island), I didn't spend my time going to Broadway plays or the Met or even Central Park. I spent my time (countless hours!) at the New York Public Library doing research on this story and spending a fortune on microfilm copies. I probably have the best research on this topic of anyone out there and I even wrote a paper about it in college. I already had an interest in child labor, but the fascinating thing is that I could really read about Kid Blink and Racetrack in 1899 issues of newspapers. To me, it was mind blowing, and I learned a lot about doing research that hugely impacted my future college career in History. I doubt Disney had that in mind when they made this movie! (They messed with the story by the way...surprise, surprise.)

6. Pride & Prejudice (1996)
I think we all know why this movie is amazing. Awesome costumes, sweeping, glorious love story set in the thrilling Regency era, and it's 5 hours long! Yippee!

7. Joan of Arc
The story of Joan of Arc is very captivating, but this movie hit me big time. I do like the costumes, but I think Leelee Sobieski really captured Joan's vulnerability in convincing people of her vision and her drive to accomplish her mission, however crazy it seemed to others. I watched this as a teenager and her story really touched me, even inspiring me to wade through Mark Twain's Joan of Arc, which I highly recommend to anyone!

8. A Little Princess
I love the time period this movie is set in London. I think it is a very good example of children's fashion of the late 1800s (maybe the early 1900s?) which is absolutely wonderful. This movie was also fascinating to me as a teen, because it was the first time I was introduced to that British film feel of watching a play instead of a movie. I have yet to see as good of an adaptation of the book as this film. It stays very true to the story.

9. The Happiest Millionaire
This is another film that not many people have seen, much less heard about. It is set in the 19-teens just before the outbreak of WWI. The music is awesome and Leslie Ann Warren is wonderful along with her co-star John Davidson who has an incredible voice. Tommy Steele is fantastic too! This movie entertained my siblings and I many a time and it is always a delight to watch.

10. Saints & Soldiers
I first saw this WWII movie at a film festival in Indianapolis. The director, Ryan Little, was there whom I got to meet and chat with afterward. The story is simple, but impactful, and watching this movie changed me in a huge way. I knew right there in my seat watching this film that I needed to become a film maker - my teenaged dream was rekindled. And I did go to college with that aim. The Lord had different plans, but I still owe watching this film to my paradigm shift. It sounds hokey, but it's true.

11. North & South
I love this book by Elizabeth Gaskell and I love this adaptation. This movie got me super excited, not just because the story is great, or that the costumes are lovely, but because they showed an actual textile mill with working machinery! I have never seen a movie where they showed that and it was something I had been longing to see ever since reading Lyddie, one of my all-time favorite books. The moment when Margaret walks into the mill is breathtaking and beautiful, with tufts of cotton floating everywhere like snowflakes, which of course have a darker side. I am totally fascinated by Industrial Revolution technologies, so this was just so thrilling to see! Of course the romance with Mr. Thornton is pretty smashing too. :-)

12. The Greatest Game Ever Played
Really? A sports movie about golf?! Oh yes. My husband and I have watched this movie at least a dozen times. Not only are the costumes fantastic, but the story line is so sweet and timeless - a boy who has a gift and who is torn between how to pursue his love and pleasing his father. I also like his friendship with Sarah who is a potential love interest, but is mostly encouraging of his dream. Gosh, I could watch this movie a lot more times than I have already, I think it's that good!

Almost done!
13. October Sky
This movie is set in a 1950s mining town and is about a boy who pursues his dream of rocketry against his father's wishes. I love that this is based off a real story which is truly captivating. I also like that it's about a group of boys. So many of the historical films I love are about girls, so I loved seeing a movie that was a success story of a boy pursuing a seemingly impossible dream. I love the time period too. It's 1950s, but it's not the typical, stereo-typed 1950s. And the music is pretty sweet too.

14. Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea
How could I forget this Canadian film classic? I have loved this story since I first saw it. Anne made me even like puffed sleeves the way she talked about them despite my stubborn prejudice against them. The fashions in Anne of Avonlea are superb! I always wanted to be dressed as stylishly as Anne. This saga is divine and like no other. I was a bit disappointed in the 3rd installment when Gilbert and Anne finally marry, so I guess I'll just have to finally go and read the books. I've tried to, believe me, but she does chatter on so! ;-)

Whew, that's quite the list and they are pretty far ranging in time periods! Any historical films that were particularly influential to you?


  1. I've seen all but two of these films. It's a great list. You are inspiring me to get back to my own blog which I've been neglecting lately.

    1. Ooh, which two? That is impressive, because I thought a few of these were rather obscure! I'm glad I can be an inspiration! :-)

    2. Haha - I can't count! It's actually three! The three I haven't seen yet are: The Greatest Game..., Saints & Soldiers and The Happiest Millionaire. I love The Journey of Natty Gann, though I haven't seen it in YEARS. And I watched Back Home with you. I really enjoyed that, and think of it often. Hurray for period films!


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