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18 Movies and Shows for Homeschoolers or Teachers to Incorporate Into Their History Lessons

We love the idea that everything is a learning opportunity. From hiking to independent play to direct classroom instruction, a child is always learning about the world around them. As a parent (especially a homeschool parent, but we see you teachers as well!), it can be hard to break up the monotony of textbook or project-based instruction. Cue the movies!

Movies are a great way to involve the family in a history lesson. Watch a movie as a family on a Friday night then take the next week to discuss, identify themes, write a review, and learn more about the history behind the story. The possibilities are endless!

We have compiled a list of 18 movies that can be used in class instruction. This list is compiled in no particular order, but, for each, we have a (sometimes funny) short synopsis as well as a few ideas on what historical time period they can be paired. For a few specific movies, we make recommendations on the film version.

Note: Designed with a Purpose is NOT endorsing these films or their content. We are purposely not putting a suggested age range on these films or even the movie ratings. We simply are selecting film content based on historical coverage or topics. It is up to parents and teachers to view any content and decide as a family what types of media their children will be viewing.

  1. Newsies (the Disney movie, not the musical) - A young Christian Bale sings and dances his way through the streets of New York during the late 1800s. The historical content covers everything from the industrial revolution to the importance of printing, as well as social reforms and unions. You can even expand the content after the movie to discuss yellow journalism that would take place during this same time period.

  2. Mary Poppins (the original 1964 film) - A happy Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sing and dance as they nanny two children in 1900’s England. This film has a bit of everything. Great costumes to talk about the Edwardian period, a song about the Woman’s Suffrage movement in England, discussion about the middle and working class….take your pick!

  3. North and South (BBC Production from 2004) -This romantic story follows a young girl as she moves to the north of England and becomes entangled in the plight of workers in textile mills. The show is a great start for a discussion about the early Industrial Revolution and why early innovations took place in textile mills. It also includes content about working conditions in factories at that time, the debate about unions, and early attempts at social reform.

  4. Balto (Disney, 1995) - Balto is a cartoon (which includes a cuddly polar bear that steals the show) that follows the race to get lifesaving medicine to Nome, Alaska. While funny and not historically accurate, this is a fun movie to talk about the Alaskan frontier in the 1920s and discuss how Alaska became a state. This is also a movie to watch in early March when the Iditarod takes place.

  5. Titanic - A story about a third-class passenger and a first-class passenger that meet on the infamous Titanic and tell the story of their fates (is there room on the door?). This movie captures the grandeur of the Titanic and is a great way to introduce research into what life was like during the time period, the social aspects of the different passengers on the ship, as well as the story of Titanic itself.

  6. Saving Private Ryan - A group of American soldiers during WWII fought on D-day and then received a new mission to search for the “sole-survivor”, Private Ryan. This may be one of the hardest movies to watch on this list. But the movie opens discussions for families to talk about the experiences of war, key military campaigns during WWII, and the impact of war on families both on the front lines and at home.

  7. The Prince of Egypt - Some of the biggest names in Hollywood voiced this animated movie with some stellar songs about Moses as a young man and his ultimate fight to free the Israelites from slavery. The movie can be used to discuss ancient Egypt, the development of the nation of Israel, as well as the Jewish religion.

  8. The Longest Day - This sweeping epic drama of WWII follows soldiers during D-day and is considered a classic. While this is another WWII epic, it includes some interesting content about the lead-up to D-day as well as perspectives from both Allied and German forces. This movie is often noted on lists depicting how accurate it is with its portrait of D-day.

  9. Les Miserables - Singing and dancing Frenchmen discuss revolution, love, and justice during the French Revolution. This movie can be used for discussion both from a literary perspective as well as a historical one. The movie not only covers the French Revolution but can also be used to discuss how mercy can impact someone’s life. Additionally, the movie conveys the experiences of those in the lower class that pushed for reform in French society and led to the French Revolution.

  10. Little Woman (2004 version)- Another movie on our list with a young Christian Bale, this time interacting with a loving family made up of boisterous girls during the Civil War. This is another movie that can be paired with the book to discuss it from a literary perspective. The movie can be used during American Civil War instruction to talk about the experience of women at home during the war as well as societal norms for women's behavior during that time.

  11. Ever After - A romance featuring Drew Barrymore and a beautiful dress that is set in France during the early Renaissance and follows the basics of the Cinderella story. This movie, while of course fictional, has a few fun historical details such as the Brothers Grimm, Leonardo de Vinci, King Frances, and Prince Henry.

  12. Luther (2003) - The story of Martin Luther as he wrestles with questions about the Catholic Church that would ultimately lead to the Protestant Reformation. This movie covers a lot of ground and discussion topics including the Catholic Church, religious discussion about legalism, justification, sanctification, and God’s grace, as well as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church’s response.

  13. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) - This famous movie follows a widowed lawyer as he defends a black man in 1930s Alabama. This is a great movie choice if you are also reading the book and can tie discussions about post-Civil War Jim Crow laws in the South, racial prejudice, and America during the depression.

  14. Black Beauty (1994 version) - A horse's perspective of human love and cruelty in England that includes a beautiful soundtrack by Danny Elfman. Yet another on our list has a book-to-movie adaptation. The movie covers everything from how horses were used and treated before cars, the English society during this time, and the beginnings of the animal welfare movement.

  15. Remember the Titans - Follows a newly hired African-American coach as he integrates a football team in Virginia in the early 1970s. This movie appeals to sports fans and non-sports fans alike and can open family dialogue around integration in the 60s and 70s, as well as racial tensions and prejudice during this time.

  16. Singing in the Rain - A singing and dancing trio work their way into early talkies in Hollywood. If your child is a broadway or theater fan, this will be a great film for them. Besides iconic songs such as Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain”, the story also covers how Hollywood moved from silent pictures to talkies in America and how the industry handled the change.

  17. Gladiator - A gladiator remembers his past, and fights in the colosseum around 180 AD during the Roman Empire’s rule. This movie pulls no punches showing the Roman Empire’s wars in Germania as well as the gladiator games during this time. It is a great start for a discussion on how the Roman Empire expanded, how emperors worked to keep their power, as well as Roman infrastructure and architecture during that time.

  18. The Count of Monte Cristo (2002) - A young man falls in love, trusts the wrong person, is falsely imprisoned, and seeks revenge in post-Napoleonic France. The length of the book can be daunting so this is a great movie to pair with your reading. From a historical perspective, it is an interesting read as it covers Napoleon's time in Elba and how worried the government was that he could escape.


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