10 Historical Hollywood Movies

Friday, February 25 by William Gish

These 10 historical Hollywood movies explore the history of America’s mythic film industry. The movies on this list dare peek behind the proverbial curtain of glamor and opulence and explore the inner workings and turbulent history of one of America’s most important pop culture institutions.

  1. “Sunset Boulevard” – “Sunset Boulevard” is the ultimate historical Hollywood movie. The demented, creepy, violent and hilarious noir explores the relationship between a washed up queen of the silent film era and a marginally talented young hustler trying to break his way into the film industry. The movie exposes the darkness of early Hollywood and the way realized dreams create lives of perverse illusion just as easily as shattered dreams.
  2. “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” – This heinously demented historical Hollywood movie examines the manner in which the film industry destroys the lives and children and adults alike with a host of illusory opulence and fickle stardom. It’s a harrowing picture and tells the tale of two sisters and their lives in, and out of, the spotlight.
  3. “The Star” – “The Star” tells the tale of a washed-up actress and her attempts to rekindle her relationship with her estranged daughter. This historical Hollywood movie portrays middle-aged women as victims of lost youth and beauty who are drowning in alcohol and illusion. At one point, the film’s central character, played by Bette Davis, has a bizarre conversation with her Oscar. This one takes viewers far down the Hollywood rabbit hole.
  4. “The Player” – Robert Altman’s “Player” is a complex and darkly satirical view of Hollywood during the late 1980’s in which a high rolling studio executive, played by Tim Robbins, murders an aspiring screen writer he believes his sending him death threats. It’s a perverse exploration of power and control in the film industry.
  5. “The Way We Were” – This historical Hollywood movie explores the nature of relationships, prejudice, power and wealth in 1930s and '40s America through the filter of a young couple who find success in Hollywood as the McCarthy Witch Hunts are at their height. Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand turn in affecting performances.
  6. “Barton Fink” – The Coen Brothers’ surreal historical Hollywood film presents a strange and alternate reality in which an aspiring playwright travels to Los Angeles in 1941 and finds a land dripping in honey-colored sunshine and peppered with beautiful faces that is nonetheless oozing an enigmatic darkness.
  7. “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” – Holy darkness, Batman. Nothing encapsulates the cynicism of this film more than the following quote from it: "Maybe it's just the whole world is like central casting. They got it all rigged before you ever show up."
  8. “Ed Wood” – “Ed Wood” is hilarious. One of 10 historical Hollywood films, it explores the life and work of the titular B-picture director. As embodied by Johnny Depp, Wood is a cross-dressing eccentric who had a close friendship with Bela Lugosi and loved the sight of cardboard spaceships going up in flames.
  9. “LA Confidential” – “La Confidential” is not as much a historical Hollywood movie as it is a lurid noir that takes place in a decrepit and infernal 1950’s Los Angeles filled with failed actors, directors and writers reduced to lying, stealing, murdering and taking drugs. Seedy underbelly indeed.
  10. “Hollywoodland” – This recent entry to the canon of historical Hollywood films is a dark and twisted noir that explores the death of George Reeves, the man who played “Superman” on the much beloved 1950’s television series.    
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