Historical Entertainment

Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories 

Ranker Film
Updated October 1, 2019 3.2k votes 855 voters 73.2k views 39 items

Historical movies about famous black people often focus on stories of bravery in the face of oppression. The top historical black movies are based on civil rights leaders, sports stars, and legendary musicians. This is a list of true black movies featuring everything from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom to 12 Years a Slave to Malcolm X.

What movies will you find on this list of the best historical black films? History buffs might place Glory near the top. Based on the Civil War experiences of one of the first military units of the Union Army to be comprised entirely of African-American men, this great film went on to win three Academy Awards, including a Best Supporting Actor trophy for Denzel Washington. Ali, starring Will Smith, is another good black movie based on true events. Selma took an in-depth look at Martin Luther King's iconic march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for equal voting rights for African Americans. Other good movies featured on this best historical black films list include The Hurricane, Rosewood, and The Last King of Scotland, not to mention a great deal of top African American biopics.

Do you have a favorite historical black movie? Give the best films a thumbs up and please add any good movies that are missing. And when you're done, be sure to check out our list of movies about discrimination.

list ordered by
1
12 Years a Slave is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch

Released: 2013

Directed by: Steve McQueen

12 Years a Slave is a 2013 period drama film directed by Steve McQueen, based on the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free ...more

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#22 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #78 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

2
Hidden Figures is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Amy Boal added Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae

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

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#363 of 803 The Greatest Chick Flicks Ever Made #15 of 177 The Very Best Movies of 2016, Ranked #12 of 236 The Best Movies Based on True Stories

3
42 is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni, Nicole Beharie

Released: 2013

Directed by: Brian Helgeland

42 is a 2013 American biographical sports film written and directed by Brian Helgeland about the racial integration of American professional baseball by player Jackie Robinson, who wore jersey ...more

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#167 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #9 of 27 The Greatest African American Biopics

4
Malcolm X is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Denzel Washington, Al Sharpton, Nelson Mandela

Released: 1992

Directed by: Spike Lee

Malcolm X is a 1992 American biographical drama film about the African-American activist Malcolm X. Directed and co-written by Spike Lee. The film dramatizes key events in Malcolm X's life: his ...more

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#2 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #97 of 236 The Best Movies Based on True Stories #2 of 27 The Greatest African American Biopics

5
Glory is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
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

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#554 of 1,699 The Most Rewatchable Movies #74 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Madelisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

6
The Butler is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Mariah Carey, Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey

Released: 2013

Directed by: Lee Daniels

The Butler is a 2013 American historical drama film directed and produced by Lee Daniels and written by Danny Strong. Loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest ...more
7
The Help is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
G.VanBurenBrown added 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

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#82 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #265 of 460 The Most Quotable Movies of All Time

8
Hotel Rwanda is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix, Don Cheadle

Released: 2004

Directed by: Terry George

Hotel Rwanda is a 2004 American historical drama film directed by Terry George. It was adapted from a screenplay written by both George and Keir Pearson. It stars Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo ...more

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#30 of 157 The Best Movies You Never Want to Watch Again #125 of 292 The Top Tearjerker Movies That Make Men Cry #94 of 379 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked

9
The Color Purple is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
G.VanBurenBrown added Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Laurence Fishburne

Released: 1985

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

The Color Purple is a 1985 American period drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. It was Spielberg's eighth film as ...more

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#15 of 33 The Best Steven Spielberg Movies #6 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #127 of 571 The Greatest Movies Of The 1980s, Ranked

10
Selma is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Oprah Winfrey, Common, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Released: 2014

Directed by: Ava DuVernay

Selma is a 2014 historical drama film directed by Ava DuVernay and written by Paul Webb. It is based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by James Bevel, Hosea Williams, and ...more

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#441 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Rankedlisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

11
Amistad is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, Anna Paquin

Released: 1997

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Amistad is a 1997 historical drama film directed by Steven Spielberg, based on the true story of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad, during which Mende tribesmen taken and managed ...more

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#22 of 33 The Best Steven Spielberg Movies #535 of 599 The Greatest Epic Movies Ever Made #50 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked

12
Mandela: Long Walk to Fr... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge

Released: 2013

Directed by: Justin Chadwick

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a 2013 British-South African biographical film directed by Justin Chadwick from a script written by William Nicholson and starring Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. ...more
13
Ali is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith

Released: 2001

Directed by: Michael Mann

Ali is a 2001 American biographical film directed by Michael Mann. The film tells the story of the boxer Muhammad Ali, played by Will Smith, from 1964-74 featuring his capture of the heavyweight ...more

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#96 of 236 The Best Movies Based on True Stories #10 of 27 The Greatest African American Biopics

14
Invictus is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Langley Kirkwood

Released: 2009

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

"From director Clint Eastwood, “Invictus” tells the inspiring true story of how Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s rugby team, Francois Pienaar ...more

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#64 of 179 The Best Sports Movies Ever Made #25 of 52 The 30+ Greatest Sports Drama Movies of All Time #18 of 41 35+ Great Political Movies Based on True Stories

15
The Tuskegee Airmen is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
John Lithgow, Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne

Released: 1995

Directed by: Robert Markowitz

The Tuskegee Airmen is a 1995 HBO television movie based on the exploits of an actual groundbreaking unit, the first African American combat pilots in the United States Army Air Corps, that ...more

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#102 of 379 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked #54 of 221 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time

16
Django Unchained is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
15019hh added Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson

Released: 2012

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino

Django Unchained is a 2012 American revisionist Western film directed by Quentin Tarantino. With the help of a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), a freed slave (Jamie Foxx) sets out to ...more

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#63 of 396 The Best Western Movies Ever Made #515 of 1,009 The All-Time Greatest Comedy Films

17
Rosewood is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames

Released: 1997

Directed by: John Singleton

Rosewood is a 1997 film directed by John Singleton. While based on historic events of the 1923 in Florida, when a white mob takes out blacks and destroyed their town, the film introduces ...more

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#48 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #11 of 27 The Greatest African American Biopics

18
Cool Runnings is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
John Candy, Malik Yoba, Jay Brazeau

Released: 1993

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub

Cool Runnings is a 1993 American sports film directed by Jon Turteltaub, and starring Leon, Doug E. Doug, Rawle D. Lewis, Malik Yoba and John Candy. The film was released in the United States on ...more

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#92 of 624 The Greatest Guilty Pleasure Movies #75 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked

19
The Birth of a Nation is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Lillian Gish, John Ford, Raoul Walsh

Released: 1915

Directed by: D. W. Griffith

The Birth of a Nation is a 1915 American silent epic drama film directed by D. W. Griffith and based on the novel and play The Clansman, both by Thomas Dixon, Jr. Griffith co-wrote the ...more

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#468 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Rankedlisted on List of Silent Movies

20
The Great Debaters is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Jurnee Smollett

Released: 2007

Directed by: Denzel Washington

The Great Debaters is a 2007 American biopic period drama film directed by and starring Denzel Washington and produced by Oprah Winfrey and her production company, Harpo Productions. It is based ...more
21
Fences is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
G.VanBurenBrown added Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen Henderson

Directed by: Denzel Washington

Fences is 2016 American drama film written by August Wilson and directed by Denzel Washington in his directorial debut, based on his play of the same name. Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, a former ...more
22
Ghosts of Mississippi is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, James Woods

Released: 1996

Directed by: Rob Reiner

Ghosts of Mississippi is a 1996 American drama film directed by Rob Reiner and starring Alec Baldwin, Whoopi Goldberg, and James Woods. The plot is based on the true story of the 1994 trial of ...more

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#202 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #127 of 212 The Best Historical Drama Movies of All Time, Ranked

23
The Hurricane is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Rod Steiger

Released: 1999

Directed by: Norman Jewison

The Hurricane is a 1999 biographical film directed by Norman Jewison, and starring Denzel Washington. The script was adapted by Armyan Bernstein and Dan Gordon from the books Lazarus and the ...more

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#59 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #93 of 236 The Best Movies Based on True Storieslisted on Every Oscar Winning Film Ever

24
The Long Walk Home is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
The Long Walk Home Whoopi Goldberg, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen

Released: 1990

Directed by: Richard Pearce

The Long Walk Home is a 1990 film starring Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg, and directed by Richard Pearce. Set in Alabama, it is based on a screenplay about the Montgomery Bus Boycott by John ...more

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#34 of 39 Great Movies About Racism Against Black People #7 of 49 The Best Sissy Spacek Movies

25
Red Tails is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Great Historical Black Movies Based On True Stories
Daniela Ruah, Bryan Cranston, Cuba Gooding Jr.

Released: 2012

Directed by: Anthony Hemingway

Red Tails is a 2012 American film directed by Anthony Hemingway in his feature film directorial debut, and starring Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. The film is about the Tuskegee Airmen, a ...more

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#169 of 379 The 50+ Best War Movies Ever Made, Ranked #162 of 722 The Best Black Movies Ever Made, Ranked #87 of 221 The Greatest World War II Movies of All Time