The Civil War, the bloodiest conflict in American history, has been chronicled on the big screen since the advent of motion pictures in the early 20th century. Some moviegoers at the time had vivid personal recollections of the war, which had been fought only a few generations earlier. (These are the states with the most Civil War deaths.)
The first full-length film about the Civil War – in fact the first full-length film of any kind – was “The Birth of a Nation” (originally titled “The Clansman”), which debuted in 1915. Though it is praised for its groundbreaking technical achievement under director D.W. Griffith, its horrific depiction of African-Americans (sometimes played by white actors in blackface) and heroic characterization of the Ku Klux Klan sparked riots in many cities and it remains a controversial film to this day.
Some of the nation’s best works of historical literature revolve around the Civil War, and not surprisingly, some of them have been turned into memorable motion pictures. These include “The Killer Angels” (“Gettysburg”); “Team of Rivals” (“Lincoln”); “The Red Badge of Courage” (starring real-life war hero Audie Murphy); and of course “Gone With the Wind.”
To determine the best Civil War movies of all time, 24/7 Tempo developed an index using average ratings on IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon, and a combination of audience scores and Tomatometer critics’ scores on Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, as of July 2022, weighting all ratings equally. Only movies that deal directly with the American Civil War were considered. Documentaries were not included. (Civil War and otherwise, these are the best military movies ever made.)
Some of cinema’s greatest directors have weighed in on the subject. John Ford has two films on the list – he collaborated with other directors on “How the West Was Won” and helmed “The Horse Soldiers.” Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”), Raoul Walsh (“They Died with Their Boots On”), and William Wyler (“Friendly Persuasion”) each have one.
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