The Top 10 Civil War Movies

The Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in American history, turning brother against brother and devastating large regions of the country. No wonder, then, that the war has been the subject of so many dramatic films and documentaries. The best examples bring this fascinating period of history to life and illuminate the many ways in which the war changed the course of U.S. history.

of 10


American actors Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher and Matthew Broderick on the set of Glory, based on the book by Lincoln Kirstein, and directed by Edward Zwick

Sunset Boulevard / Getty Images

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed Civil War films ever made, "Glory" is the stirring account of the 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the second African-American unit assembled during the Civil War. In 1863, this regiment led an assault on Fort Wagner at the Battle of Fort Wagner that helped changed the course of the war. The film is historically accurate and rich in detail with superb acting from an all-star cast that includes Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman.

of 10


Soldiers posing in a scene from the film 'Gettysburg'


Archive Photos / Getty Images

Based on one of the most popular war novels ever written—"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara—"Gettysburg" tells the story of how the famous 1863 battle helped the Union push back Robert E. Lee's army. The battle scenes in the film were actually filmed at Gettysburg, lending the film great authenticity. "Gettysburg" features complex characters and a superb performance by Jeff Daniels. With great music and an excellent screenplay, the movie is a must-see for Civil War buffs.

of 10

Gone With the Wind

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh on the set of "Gone with the Wind"

Sunset Boulevard / Getty Images

The classic, Oscar-winning film uses the Civil War as a backdrop to tell the tale of a strong-willed Southern woman. "Gone With the Wind" does a good job of depicting the South's point of view without moralizing. The burning of Atlanta and the confiscation of Tara provides a compelling look at the effect of Sherman's March to the Sea on the Southern people.

of 10

North and South

Patrick Swayze during the TV mini-series "North And South"

Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images

This made-for-TV mini-series is an excellent exploration of one of the most important periods of American history. The story—based on the popular historical novels by John Jakes—offers a well-balanced look at a very dark period by portraying good and bad people on both sides. Patrick Swayze, James Read, and David Carradine offer strong performances. The series is perfect for history fans looking for an extended story about the war.

of 10

The Red Badge of Courage

A battle scene in "The Red Badge Of Courage"

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Based on the classic novel by Stephen Crane, this movie tells the story of a young Union soldier's struggle with cowardice. Even though the film was drastically cut down from its original length by studio editors, it has stood the test of time. The movie features several impressive battle scenes and narration taken directly from the novel. The main character is played by Audie Murphy, a decorated combat veteran of World War II.

of 10


James Stewart and Rosemary Forsyth in a scene from the film "Shenandoah"

Archive Photos / Getty Images

In "Shenandoah," a successful planter in Virginia is unwilling to take sides in the Civil War. However, he is forced to become involved when Union soldiers mistakenly capture his son. The family then proceeds to retrieve the son and along the way discovers the horrors of war and the importance of family values. The movie offers superb scenery, a great story, and tremendous acting from Jimmy Stewart.

of 10

Cold Mountain

A banner showing Nicole Kidman at the Italian premiere of "Cold Mountain"

Franco Origlia / Getty Images

Based on the award-winning book by Charles Frazier, "Cold Mountain" stars Jude Law and Nicole Kidman as a Confederate soldier and his lover. The movie was filmed in Virginia and the Carolinas, where the story is set, and provides a look at how people in this region suffered during the war.

of 10


Daniel Day-Lewis attends a "Lincoln" photocall in Madrid, Spain

Juan Naharro Gimenez / Getty Images

Featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as the 16th U.S. president, "Lincoln" offers a look at the tail end of the Civil War from inside the White House, when Lincoln and his "team of rivals" were trying to find a way to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Instead of battles and gore, the movie focuses on the difficult political challenges faced by U.S. leaders as the Civil War drew to a close.

of 10

The Civil War

The Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War


At nearly 12 hours long, Ken Burns' PBS series "The Civil War" is a documentary epic. During its nine episodes, it chronicles the history of the war from Southern secession to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Narration is provided by historian David McCullough; actors Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, and M. Emmet Walsh also contribute.

of 10

Gods and Generals

Actors Jeff Daniels and Stephen Lang attend the "Gods and Generals" Civil War re-enactment in Central Park

Mark Mainz / Getty Images

A prequel to "Gettysburg," "Gods and Generals" focuses on the career of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general who led the South to numerous victories. The film provides a detailed look at some of the major battles of the war, including the Battle of Fredericksburg.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Kelly, Martin. "The Top 10 Civil War Movies." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Kelly, Martin. (2020, August 29). The Top 10 Civil War Movies. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "The Top 10 Civil War Movies." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).