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The Best Movies Based On History Novels 

Ranker Film
Updated September 20, 2019 259 votes 45 voters 2.5k views 39 items

List Rules Vote up your favorite movies based on or inspired by historical literature.

From the Trojan War to the Civil Rights Movement, film adaptations of historical novels combine fact and fiction. The best movies based on history books feature real life events. Many films based on historical novels feature political figures while other good history movies that are books feature fictional characters living in historic times. Some of the best history films based off books have even won Academy Awards.

What historic novels adapted into movies will you find on this list. Forrest Gump has to be near the top. Based on Winston Groom's book of the same name, Forrest Gump stars Tom Hanks as the title character who finds himself at several historic events. The March on the Pentagon, The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, and the Vietnam War are just a few of the noteworthy events featured in the film. Dances with Wolves is another good movie based on a historical novel.

Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas star in The English Patient, based on Michael Ondaatje's novel. Other good movies based on historical books include Enemy at the Gates, Spartacus, The Scarlet Letter, and Troy.

Which movie based on a historical novel is the best? Give your favorites a vote and and please add any great new films we may have missed.

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list ordered by
1
Forrest Gump is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright

Released: 1994

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Forrest Gump is a 1994 American epic romantic-comedy-drama film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis and stars Tom Hanks, Robin ...more
2
Schindler's List is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley

Released: 1993

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Schindler's List is a 1993 American epic historical period drama, directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Steven Zaillian. It is based on the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas ...more
3
The Godfather is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Released: 1972

Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola

The Godfather is a 1972 American crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the novel by Mario Puzo. The aging patriarch (Marlon Brando) of an organized crime dynasty transfers ...more
4
The Help is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard

Released: 2011

Directed by: Tate Taylor

The Help is a 2011 American period drama film directed and written by Tate Taylor, and adapted from Kathryn Stockett's 2009 novel of the same name. Featuring an ensemble cast, the film is about ...more
5
Spartacus is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Tony Curtis

Released: 1960

Directed by: Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus is a 1960 American epic historical drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo was based on the novel Spartacus by Howard Fast. It was inspired by the life ...more
6
The Last of the Mohicans... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Pete Postlethwaite

Released: 1992

Directed by: Michael Mann

The Last of the Mohicans is a 1992 historical epic film set in 1757 and produced by Morgan Creek Pictures. It was directed by Michael Mann and based on James Fenimore Cooper's novel of the same ...more
7
The Sound of Music is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, Eleanor Parker

Released: 1965

Directed by: Robert Wise

The Sound of Music is a 1965 American musical drama film produced and directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. The film is an adaptation of the 1959 Broadway ...more
8
Downfall is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Alexandra Lara, Bruno Ganz, Thomas Kretschmann

Released: 2004

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Downfall is a 2004 German film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, depicting the final ten days of Adolf Hitler's reign over Nazi Germany in 1945. The film is written and produced by Bernd ...more
9
Enemy at the Gates is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Rachel Weisz, Jude Law, Ed Harris

Released: 2001

Directed by: Jean-Jacques Annaud

Enemy at the Gates is a 2001 film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. The film's title is taken from William Craig's 1973 nonfiction book Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad, which ...more
10
Glory is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick

Released: 1989

Directed by: Edward Zwick

Glory is a 1989 American drama film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on ...more
11
The Pianist is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Emilia Fox

Released: 2002

Directed by: Roman Polanski

The Pianist is a 2002 historical drama film co-produced and directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood, and starring Adrien Brody. It is based on the autobiographical book The ...more
12
True Grit is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin

Released: 2010

Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

True Grit is a 2010 American Revisionist Western film directed by the Coen brothers, based on the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. A stubborn teenager (Hailee Steinfeld) enlists the help of a tough ...more
13
Hidden Figures is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Released: 2016

Directed by: Theodore Melfi

Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi, based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly. The story of a team of female African-American ...more
14
Master and Commander: Th... is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, Joseph Morgan

Released: 2003

Directed by: Peter Weir

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is a 2003 epic historical drama film co-written and directed by Peter Weir, starring Russell Crowe as Jack Aubrey, with Paul Bettany as Stephen ...more
15
Shutter Island is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Leonardo DiCaprio, Michelle Williams, Mark Ruffalo

Released: 2010

Directed by: Martin Scorsese

Shutter Island is a 2010 American psychological thriller film directed by Martin Scorsese. The film is based on Dennis Lehane's 2003 novel of the same name. Production started in March 2008. ...more
16
Dances with Wolves is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Charles Rocket

Released: 1990

Directed by: Kevin Costner

Dances with Wolves is a 1990 American epic western film directed, produced by, and starring Kevin Costner. It is a film adaptation of the 1988 book of the same name by Michael Blake and tells ...more
17
Troy is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Orlando Bloom

Released: 2004

Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen

Troy is a 2004 epic period war film directed by Wolfgang Petersen, loosely based on Homer's Iliad. After Paris smuggles Queen Helen to Troy, Achilles leads his Myrmidons along with the rest of ...more
18
The Eagle is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Channing Tatum, Donald Sutherland, Mark Strong

Released: 2011

Directed by: Kevin Macdonald

The Eagle is a 2011 historical adventure film set in Roman Britain directed by Kevin Macdonald, and starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. Adapted by Jeremy Brock from ...more
19
L.A. Confidential is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Basinger

Released: 1997

Directed by: Curtis Hanson

L.A. Confidential is a 1997 neo-noir film based on James Ellroy's 1990 novel of the same title, the third book in his L.A. Quartet series. Like the book, the film tells the story of a group of ...more
20
The Hunchback of Notre D... is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Jason Alexander

Released: 1996

Directed by: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise

Madacy Kids brings to life Victor Hugo's classic novel for this entry in their animated Children's Film Favorites series. Centering on the deformed Quasimodo, Children's Film Favorites: The ...more
21
The Hunchback of Notre D... is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Lon Chaney, Ernest Torrence, Raymond Hatton

Released: 1923

Directed by: Wallace Worsley

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a 1923 American film starring Lon Chaney, directed by Wallace Worsley, and produced by Carl Laemmle and Irving Thalberg. The supporting cast includes Patsy Ruth ...more
22
The Grapes of Wrath is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Henry Fonda, John Carradine, John Qualen

Released: 1940

Directed by: John Ford

The Grapes of Wrath is a 1940 drama film directed by John Ford. It was based on John Steinbeck's 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Nunnally ...more
23
The Scarlet Letter is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Lillian Gish, Karl Dane, Henry B. Walthall

Released: 1926

Directed by: Victor Sjöström

The Scarlet Letter is a 1926 American drama film, based on the book by the same name, and directed by Victor Sjöström. Louis B. Mayer was reluctant on using Miss Gish, fearing ...more
24
Moll Flanders is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
Morgan Freeman, Robin Wright, Stockard Channing

Released: 1996

Directed by: Pen Densham

Moll Flanders is a 1996 film starring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman. The film was directed by Pen Densham. The original music score was composed by Mark Mancina. The film is based on the novel ...more
25
Zeroville is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Best Movies Based On History Novels
James Franco, Megan Fox, Seth Rogen

Released: 2019

Directed by: James Franco

Zeroville is a 2019 American comedy-drama film directed by James Franco, based on the novel of the same name by Steve Erickson. A 24-year-old architecture student, Ike Jerome (James Franco) ...more