Obviously, any attempt to rank films in order is subjective. My opinions may make others cringe. It should also be kept in mind that films are made to make money, not to be models of historical accuracy. However, some films handle the history, and “feel of the times,” better than others. I have used no standard criteria for judging the films. Rather, I have based my listing on my own appreciation of the films.
Please feel free to express your own opinions in the comments below this article.
Based on David McCullough’s biography, the film puts great emphasis on getting the feel and the details to a very high level of excellence. The details include some rather ugly, but accurate, views of American civil violence and dissent. The scenes of Congress in action are memorable. Adams, who is not remembered for his style or media appeal, comes through this excellent film as the hard working, dedicated and fearless advocate of the United States and justice. This film is a must see.
This film was taken from the Howard Fast novel of the same name. The action takes place on April 18-19, 1775 in Lexington, Massachusetts; the afternoon before the battle of Lexington through the evening of the day of battle. The tension builds as the British army marches into view. The viewer sees a boy become a man as he takes his place among the men on Lexington green and fights throughout the fateful day. The arguments between the men as to why they should, or should not, stand up to the British army explain well the conflict of principles being discussed in 1775. Excellent film.
Based on the novel by Walter B. Edmonds. This visually appealing film is set in the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. There, the frontier settlers are not facing a red-coated enemy but rather the dark and sinister forces of the Tories and Indians bent on destruction of the settlers and their settlements. The feel for the time and place are outstanding. It is also great entertainment. The film is excellent and can be watched time and time again. And, if you like the film you’ll love the book.
This is a Disney film taken from the Esther Forbes novel of the same name. While perhaps considered a film for young adults in 1957 it is far better historically than one would expect. The action takes place in and around Boston before the war and ends after Lexington-Concord. Interspersed in the film are various scenes where knowledgeable characters explain what is going on politically so the viewer understands the implications he is witnessing. In particular one should pay attention to the philosophical explanations made by the James Otis character. He spells out the repercussions of the revolution for 1775 and the impact of the revolution for future generations. This is a fine film and the book is even better.
Based on Howard Fast’s novel of the same name The Crossing tells the story of Washington leading his bedraggled army across the Delaware River to attack the Hessians at Trenton. The film is compelling and has a good feel. Washington, an extraordinarily difficult character to portray, is handled well for the most part, by Jeff Daniels. The desperate nature of the attack is very clear and the very real tension of the event carries over into the film.
This film is independently produced to very high standards. It is one of the few films to depict the nature of the war in the South being Tory vs. Whig, neighbor against neighbor. Large battles were rare, small skirmishes and ambushes were very common. The film is visually very appealing and beautifully filmed. The conflicts and tough decisions citizens had to make are made clear. The action scenes are realistic and not obsessively violent. The feel of the 1770’s is very successfully depicted. Recommended.
The action takes place in upstate New York where General Burgoyne is attempting to march his army from Canada to the Hudson. Along the way he is confronted with Whig militiamen who try to block his way. The film drifts considerably from the truth but it is entertaining and a pleasure to watch the famous actors at work. The details of uniforms and equipment are excellent as far as I can determine. If you can find it, record it as you’ll want to watch it again.
This film has some good action scenes and some incredibly poor scenes as well. I am irritated by the British soldiers who inappropriately turn their heads and wince when firing their muskets. The church burning and the strange concept that all of Mel Gibson’s black workers are employees, not slaves, are pretty hard to take. While not accurate some of the battle scenes are quite exciting to watch. I don’t watch this film very often.
This film involves the American traitor General Benedict Arnold and British Major John Andre. An American officer, pretends to defect to the British, becomes a counterspy to discover the identity of an American traitor. The film did not leave me with the feel of the times. Too much effort was taken up with honor – yet, the film deals with deceit.
Being a silent film the viewer must pay close attention to follow the action. And, at times, it gets somewhat complicated. This film is made is the grand style with a huge cast, evil bad guys, and really good good-guys. This is an epic that includes Paul Revere, the Declaration of Independence, Washington and the war in upstate New York. While it may not portray history well the film by its very nature is history itself and worthy of watching, if only once.
These are my favorites. Let me hear what you have to say about your own favorites in the comments below.
UPDATE: Following this article, the author found and ordered a copy of Mary Silliman’s War, which he said deserves a spot in the top half of this list. Click here to read the full review. So, if The Patriot is that bothersome to you, now you can add Mary Silliman’s War, move The Patriot to “honorable mention,” and have a Top 10 Revolutionary War Movies list with absolutely no sign of Mel Gibson.