This ranking of the best American Revolution films is based on my own appreciation of the movies. Obviously, any attempt to rank films in order is subjective and my opinions may make others cringe. Keep 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. Agree or disagree? Did I miss any? Which Revolutionary War movies are your favorites? Please feel free to express your opinions in the comments below.
Based on David McCullough’s biography, this film (miniseries) 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. [BUY DVD] [STREAM/BUY] [BUY BOOK]
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. [RENT/BUY] [BUY NOVEL]
3 // Mary Silliman’s War – 1994.
This film is based on the true story of Mary Silliman and her husband, General Gold Selleck Silliman of Fairfield, Connecticut as told in the biography, The Way of Duty, A Woman and Her Family in Revolutionary America by Joy Day Buel and Richard Buel. This is a wrenching tale. Absent are the ranks of soldiers firing in battle. Instead, there is the struggle of a woman to overcome the myriad of obstacles in her way. Eventually, she very reluctantly resorts to desperate measures. It is stressful, authentic and extremely compelling. The attention to authenticity is extraordinary. The viewer experiences a you-are-there feeling that is rare among films. And, the feeling is historically correct. Click here to read my complete review. [WATCH/RENT BELOW] [BUY BOOK]
Based on the novel by Walter D. 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. [BUY DVD or AMAZON VIDEO] [BUY 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. [RENT/BUY MOVIE] [BUY BOOK] [READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY]
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. [BUY DVD]
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. [WATCH ON AMAZON] [BUY DVD]
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. [BUY DVD]
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. [RENT/BUY] [BUY DVD]
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. [WATCH ON YOUTUBE]
And of course…
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. [BUY/RENT]
And don’t forget the stage…
MUST SEE // Hamilton – Lin-Manuel Miranda.
From Isabel Friedman: Debuted in 2015, the new hip-hop musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has become a cultural phenomenon, winning a Grammy, the Pulitzer Prize, and many other awards. Its popularity continues to grow to monumental heights for musical theatre of any genre; the show is sold out months in advance, and thousands of people enter a daily lottery for tickets. Click here to read a full review by JAR contributor James Kirby Martin. [BUY SOUNDTRACK] [BUY INSPIRATION BOOK]
CLASSIC // 1776 – Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards.
From Isabel Friedman: 1776, written at the Bicentennial by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards, is very true to the event of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Consisting of a cast of all white males and two women, it accurately reflects the racial make-up of the Continental Congress, conveying and celebrating the patriarchal society, and is, in Andrew Schocket’s words, an “essentialist” interpretation of the Revolutionary era. Despite conflicting reviews, 1776 won a Tony Award in 1969, and because of its success on Broadway, producers decided to turn it into a movie. [BUY DVD OF MOVIE]
LESSER KNOWN // The Ruckus at Machias
From Isabel Friedman: The Ruckus at Machias, written by Richard Sewell and debuted in 1976, portrays local rather than national history. Centered on one of the first naval battles of the Revolutionary War, The Ruckus at Machias follows both “Tory and Rebel factions” as they navigate June 1775 and the effects of the beginnings of the Revolution in rural Machias, Maine. The action centers on Hannah Weston, whose husband Josiah Weston goes against her wishes to fight the Tories and capture British soldiers aboard a ship docked in harbor, the HMS Margaretta.
RENT/OWN Mary Silliman’s War film and watch it now on your computer or mobile device.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2013 and was updated in January 2017 for comprehensiveness.