Examples of movies/TV series' that accurately depict historical warfare?

Mar 2016
1,106
Australia
#1
Usually the depiction of historical combat (especially pre-gunpower) is woefully poor, with movies and TV series' rarely showing the opposing armies doing much more than shooting arrows at each other and then basically running at each other, colliding and having it out in a free-for-all, with absolutely no semblance of rank or order, and no depictions of the very common uses of spear and shield walls (which were far more common in battles than just swinging swords at each other).

A few of examples I can think of that at least vaguely got the combat done accurately:

Zulu (1964) - It very accurately depicts some of the famous battle formations of both the Zulu warriors and the British soldiers, such as the bullhorn formation of the Zulus and the three-deep fire-by-rank of the British.

Waterloo (1970) - Basically everything in this movie is spot-on in terms of historical accuracy, including and especially the titular battle. The long shot of the charging French cavalry being destroyed by the famous anti-cavalry squares of the British is legendary.

Barry Lyndon (1975) - Granted, this film isn't about war at all, but the one battle scene it does show between the British and the French is, as one would expect from a perfectionist and Napoleonic-obsessed Kubrick, handled perfectly accurately, with the steady, unwavering march of the British infantry in ordered ranks while the French fire-by-rank upon them.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - I don't know too much about naval warfare, but from what I've heard and read, this movie very accurately depicts it, and even used some famous real-world events as inspiration.

Alexander (2004) - I can't remember if all of the movie's battle scenes are handled accurately, but the depiction of the Battle of Gaugamela is pretty much spot-on to how it really happened, copying the ingenious cavalry maneuvers of Alexander and showing the famously indestructible hopilite phalanxes as they slowly and orderly march into battle against the Persians, their huge sarisas towering above them.

Vikings (2013-present) - One reason I really like this show (despite the occasionally snail-pace and melodrama) is how accurate most of the battles are. It was cool seeing the first reaction of the Vikings be, when attacked, to immediately form up into a tight shieldwall and keep pushing back their enemies until their lines broke. I also loved the entirety of the siege of Paris, which showed many genuine early medieval battle and siege tactics on both sides, the Vikings and the French.

That's about all I can think of at the moment. What are some that you know of?
 
Jan 2015
2,902
MD, USA
#2
Hoo, that's a toughie. Mind you, I pretty much gave up on "historical" films (medieval and ancient-era) after Gladiator, it was just too painful. I forced myself to try a few episodes of the HBO "Rome", and had to gnaw my leg off to escape. The battle scene was execrable.

Yeah, the average improves greatly in the gunpowder era, though that isn't necessarily saying much. For ancient stuff, um, "The Mummy Returns" has a couple fun ones as the Scorpion King conquers Egypt. (Though it went WAY downhill in "The Scorpion King" spinoff movie, combat-wise!) "Willow" actually has excellent use of formations in battle. There's a wonderful battle at the end of "The Wind and the Lion", which is at least kinda-historically-based, but early 20th century of course.

Just to chip away at your list, I didn't think the battle in "Barry Lyndon" was very realistic. Fabulous costuming and formations, to be sure! But no way the British would be a "charge bayonets" that far away, nor would the French open fire at such a long range. No artillery? No shooting from the British *at all*?

I haven't seen any of "The Vikings" aside from a few stills which were horrific. Heard some really bizarre reports of other bits. So I'd be VERY surprised if the combat was actually realistic, though a shield wall does sound like a good start!

The ship combat in "Master and Commander" was definitely realistically scary. My only caveat was that the gunfire seemed to be doing too much damage too quickly, but some of that can just be dismissed as Hollywood time compression. No biggy. The 13-year-old midshipman leading a boarding charge was awesome.

For modern stuff, it's hard to beat the Normandy landings in "Saving Private Ryan", and pretty much anything from "Band of Brothers" should be spot-on.

But a GOOD medieval battle on film, dunno. Maybe I just need to watch more movies and TV! Lemme think about it...

Matthew
 
Nov 2016
16
Corning, NY
#3
While it isn't pre-gunpowder, Sharpe's Rifles series is a fantastic treatment of the warfare of the Napoleonic era. It's one of my favorites. Others that I enjoyed were Horatio Hornblower and Master and Commander.

Good Medieval battles - very thin on the ground. The Vikings show is very gritty and well done, despite the other historical inaccuracies of the show. They not only show shield walls, they show training in shield walls. And some of the consequences of their battles (horrific scars, etc.).

I just shared a blog post on another forum that I wrote a while ago about (mostly) historical shows and movies. I'm new here, so am not certain that posting it again would be kosher.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,453
Portugal
#4
"Willow" actually has excellent use of formations in battle.
Really? Don’t recall it. I guess I have to see it again. Currently I am even in a fantasy mood, so…

The ship combat in "Master and Commander" was definitely realistically scary. My only caveat was that the gunfire seemed to be doing too much damage too quickly,
Found the same, but in an overall we must recall that “historical fiction” has a “fictional” component… in other words… I liked the “Gladiator” even if I found the initial Battle so-so.

And I agree with WhatAnArtist about “Zulu” and “Alexander”.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#5
Really? Don’t recall it. I guess I have to see it again. Currently I am even in a fantasy mood, so…



Found the same, but in an overall we must recall that “historical fiction” has a “fictional” component… in other words… I liked the “Gladiator” even if I found the initial Battle so-so.

And I agree with WhatAnArtist about “Zulu” and “Alexander”.
Gladiator ar least showed the use of field ballistas by the Romans, which very few movies do. We know the Romans had these field ballistas.

Das Boat is supposedly an accurate depiction ov battlw at sea by submarines. Others I think should be mentioned is Gettysburg. and Saving Private Ryan D-Day landing battle scene.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,537
#6


A better portrayal of an amphibious assault than Saving Private Ryan IMO, though the first twenty minutes or so of SPR was also very good.

This scene is also pretty much lifted straight from John Basilone's Medal of Honor citation:



This scene much nails the experience of men assigned as stretcher-bearers during assaults in the Pacific theater, where the Japanese not only didn't try to avoid killing or wounding stretcher-bearers, but actively targeted them. The terrain in that scene is also dead on for Peleliu.

 
Last edited:
Jun 2012
5,705
Texas
#7
Tora Tora Tora and to a lesser extent the Midway actions.

Second Gettysberg. I will add its sequel-Gods and Generals.

The Alamo was reasonably researched (the most recent one not the John Wayne version).

I don't know about accurate, but the Last of the Mohicans army ambush scene was impressive.
 
Feb 2015
289
Netherlands
#8
I watched the beach scene from "Saving Private Ryan" with my grandfather shortly before he died. He agreed to watch it with me because from the time I was a child I had asked him over and over again what it was like. He made the beach landing in Italy AND the beach landing in Normandy and survived them both against all odds.

After ... what was it?.... 60 years or so ... I thought -- and so did he -- that he could handle it. For me it was a way to try and understand my grandfather beter. For most of my life he suffered from PTSD even though in the back-water village we came from it wasn't an official "sickness" at all and people just thought you needed to "man up", which he did the best of his ability; eventually becoming one of the region's best "mine rescue" experts.... one of the most risky jobs you could have.....

I both regretted it and thought it helped us connect. This is a man who was, to me, one of the strongest individuals I had ever seen. I had seen him stare down bears, literally lay up on a rock and shoot back when hunters mistakenly shot at us first (I was terrified to the point that I nearly wet myself) and then laugh about it saying, "HAHAHA we taught them some respect!"

..... but while watching this clip, within the first 2 minutes he became physically ill from it and literally vomited on the floor.

 
Nov 2016
16
Corning, NY
#9
roturner, that's both horrifying and poignant (your grandfather's reaction, that is). I feel for him, and greatly respect his ability to shove the pain away enough to function in the face of society's denial of his emotional needs.
 
#10
The Battle of the Bastards in the latest series of Game of Thrones was above average for a pre-modern battle scene. Parts of it obviously were quite fantasical, but the clash of the horses and the general goriness were a considerable step above the romanticised fight dancing you usually get.
 

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