10 Best History Documentaries

Friday, July 22 by Audrey Jones

The 10 best history documentaries tell the world’s tales without dramatics, but that doesn’t make them any less engaging or interesting. Whether about World War I or II, the fight against discrimination or the horrific tales of travels gone very, very wrong, these history documentaries share the stores that have made humanity what they are today.

  1. Liberation” This 1994 movie is so dramatic that it hardly seems like a documentary. Telling the tale of Hitler’s two-front war, it contains actual footage of the battles and interviews with Jewish individuals and what it took for them to survive. “Liberation” is one of the best history documentaries.
  2. Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks" This history documentary shows the true might of one tiny person. When Rosa Parks refused to move seats on the bus, she began a national crusade against discrimination. This history documentary touches on the historical fight against segregation in the United States, and how that fight changed the world.
  3. Secrets of the Titanic” This documentary tells the known and unknown stories of the infamous ship’s destruction. Produced in black and white, it’s narrative is chilling, particularly since viewers know what lies ahead for the Titanic’s passengers. “Secrets of the Titanic” is a great history documentary.
  4. The Times of Harvey Milk” Following the rise and all too early end of Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s first elected homosexual mayor, this documentary film tells the history of the beginning of the fight for gay rights. “The Times of Harvey Milk” focuses on a period of American history about which most Americans know very little.
  5. American Experience: The Donner Party” This film tells the tragic, and horrifying, tale of a group of pioneers caught in a winter storm in the middle of their journey to the West. Resorting to cannibalism to stay alive, the film shows the multiple factors that pushed the pioneers to the brink, and what might have happened had circumstances been different. The movie is a great history documentary that just might frighten viewers.
  6. Shoah” Telling the tale of the Holocaust, this documentary is unique in that it doesn’t use a single foot of archived film. Interviews with survivors and ex-Nazi soldiers make the story come alive. Even though boasting over 9 hours in running time, its length does nothing to affect its status as one of the best history documentaries of all time.
  7. Liberty The American Revolution” This documentary film tells the tale of the American Revolution from its very beginnings to the last shot fired. Over six hours long, “Liberty! The American Revolution” is certainly thorough, but it is also a moving look at what drove a nation to overthrow its ruler.
  8. One Day in September” This film focuses on one day the world stood still: the kidnapping and execution of Jewish athletes during the 1972 Olympics. Incredulously terrifying for its clear presentation of the day, “One Day in September” is a wonderful history documentary.
  9. Victory at Sea” This 1954 documentary focuses on the naval combat in the Pacific and European fronts during World War II. A condensed version of a TV miniseries, the documentary shows the quick thinking that turned the tides of many a water-based battle. “Victory at Sea” is a great history documentary.  
  10. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the life of Robert S. McNamara” Rather than focusing on an event, this history documentary focuses on a person: former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Through personal interviews with McNamara and research, the documentary shows the lessons that he learned about modern warfare while leader of the world’s greatest army.
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