5 Best Civil War Movies

Thursday, January 20 by Alan Rankin

America’s ongoing fascination with its Civil War is reflected in the 5 best Civil War movies. In 1861, southern states of the U.S. seceded from the nation over a wide range of disputes, including taxation, federal power, and slavery. By 1865, the year the war ended, half a million Americans had died, including the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. The epic conflict has spawned a series of epic movies through the decades:

  1. “The Birth of a Nation.” The Civil War had only been over for a half-century when pioneering director D.W. Griffith created the first epic movie in 1915. The historical value of the movie cannot be disputed, as Griffith used it to invent the “language” of film that movie makers still use to this day. But the story, with its sympathetic portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan and racist view of African-Americans, is as controversial today as it was when Griffith released it.
  2. “The General.” By contrast, although he also had Confederates as the heroes, Buster Keaton wisely bypassed political issues with his 1927 film. He used the conflict as the background for a crackling good spy adventure, punctuated with his trademark comedy and amazing stunt work, all filmed in real time on real trains. “The General,” even today, is often listed as one of the great movies of all time.
  3. “Glory.” In 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, composed almost entirely of African-American soldiers, joined the fight. In 1989, acclaimed director Edward Zwick teamed with actors Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman to tell their story. The result, “Glory,” won international acclaim and numerous awards, including an Oscar for Washington.
  4. “Gettysburg.” In 1992, media mogul and Civil War buff Ted Turner acquired the rights to Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-winning novel “The Killer Angels.” Thousands of Civil War re-enactors, actors, celebrities and extras traveled to Pennsylvania to re-create the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg. Turner developed “Gettysburg” as a TV miniseries, then decided to release it in 1993 as an epic four-hour film instead.
  5. “Gone With the Wind.” Speaking of Civil War epics, 1939’s Best Picture Oscar winner is another on the shortlist for “greatest movie ever made.” The Civil War itself becomes a mere backdrop to the romance of Rhett and Scarlett, both of them changed forever by the fall of the South. “Gone With the Wind” thus qualifies as a classic romance, a reinvention of the epic film, and a masterpiece of world cinema, as well as perhaps the best of the best Civil War movies.
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