After delivering our picks for the 15 best World War II movies, we decided to take a look at the greatest Civil War movies of all time. And you know what? There aren’t a lot of surprises here because there aren’t a lot of really great Civil War films. We’ve added a TV mini-series to round out the list and are holding out for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming “Lincoln.”
Movie Crunch’s 10 Greatest Civil War Movies:
10. Cold Mountain (2003)
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Cold Mountain is one of the more recent Civil War movies to make our list, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger and Natalie Portman. The all-star cast heads up this love story set during the Civil War – with Jude Law deserting the war to return to his love at Cold Mountain. Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger’s characters work to get a farm in order again. Good acting and a decent romantic drama, with Zellweger being rewarded an Oscar for her role as rough-around-the-edges Ruby.
9. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Chief Dan George
Clint Eastwood in the ultimate tale of revenge…this top notch western set near the end of the Civil War features Eastwood on double-duty as both star and director. When this peaceful farmer must exact his revenge on the Redlegs Union soldiers who murdered his family, it’s a “nothing left to lose” situation for Josey Wales, who joins a group of Confederate guerillas on the run.
8. Gone With the Wind (1939)
Olivia de Havilland
Gone With the Wind is the go-to classic Civil War movie here. Set against the backdrop of the war, we get a look at the drama surrounding one spoiled Southern woman – her loves and losses. Sweeping and epic? Yes. Overly dramatic? Sure. But fiddle-dee-dee, we couldn’t dare leave it off the list. And award-winning, you betcha – Gone With the Wind took home Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Leigh) and Best Supporting Actress (McDaniel). Oh, and Clark Gable, you debonair son of a bitch… you’re not too shabby either.
7. Shenandoah (1965)
Ah, Jimmy Stewart… we must have Stewart on this list, in yet another brilliant role for the talented actor. In Shenandoah, Jimmy Stewart plays a Virginia farmer who is forced to become a part of the war he wants no part of when his son is mistakenly identified and taken prisoner. Shenandoah provides an interesting perspective on being a civilian pulled into the war. Warning: have a tissue ready for Shenandoah’s ending.
6. The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
If you had to read the novel in high school, we hope you checked out the film version of The Red Badge of Courage too. The film is an excellent adaptation of the story of a young soldier – with fear, cowardice, courage and bravery all examined here. Interestingly, Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of World War II, stars as Henry Fleming… no doubt bringing to the film a load of personal experience.
5. Gods and Generals (2003)
C. Thomas Howell
This prequel to 1993’s Gettysburg has a rightful place on the list of best Civil War films, for its depiction of the events prior to the battle of Gettysburg. Gods and Generals primarily follows the story of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – and while a little long in the tooth at nearly four hours, this look at the first 18 months of the Civil War is one history lesson that shouldn’t be missed (despite critics dissing it for the omission of the Battle of Antietam).
4. North and South (1985)
We had to include this TV mini-series because North and South is a long and sweeping story that has it all: romance, hatred, happiness, tragedy and friendship. North and South focuses on relationships and character development, specifically what happens when the best of friends are on the opposite sides of battle. Despite his fame for chick-flick faves Dirty Dancing and Ghost, Patrick Swayze is perhaps in one of his finest roles here. Check it out if you have a little time on your hands.
3. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (La rivière du hibou) (1962)
This 1962 short French film is worthy of a spot on our list of the best Civil War movies – it’s not just sweeping epics here. Based on the short story of the same name by Ambrose Bierce, you may be more familiar with An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge as a Twilight Zone episode. The tale of a Confederate spy awaiting his hanging execution is light on dialogue but is one film that has stayed with me, despite all these years after viewing it in high school English class.
2. Gettysburg (1993)
C. Thomas Howell
Gettysburg easily lands near the top of our list of the best Civil War movies… with battle scenes that are among the best of this lot (portions of which were actually filmed in Gettysburg with Civil War reenactors). Jeff Daniels proves yet again that his dramatic chops are deserving of an Oscar – could someone give him an Academy Award already? This film about the Battle of Gettysburg (with Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge and the Devil’s Den battles also seen) is easily the holy grail of war films for Civil War buffs.
1. Glory (1989)
Glory stands head and shoulders above as the best Civil War movie of all time, drawing rave reviews for historical accuracy and the dramatic recreation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, an African-American Union regiment, and their assault at the Battle of Fort Wagner. Besides that, the acting is top-notch, led by the talented Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman. Amazing battle scenes, brilliant actors and truly great storytelling are all at work in Glory. Among other awards, Denzel Washington won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Well deserved.