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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
1 Jul 2023

NextImg:Top 5 Civil War Movies

In what will likely be my last in a series of Top 5 war-movie lists, I’ve taken on the unenviable task of paring over two dozen truly excellent motion pictures down to five. If this is my final war Top 5, I’m happy and proud to be going out on such a high note.

Since visiting the Gettysburg Battlefield as a wee lad, I’ve toured 16 others in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida over the last three decades. It is something every American should do at least once in their lifetime.

As opposed to previous lists, the titles here will be presented in alphabetical order as I believe each could be placed at number one, depending entirely on what one might be looking for regarding content.

Poster for “Cold Mountain.” (Miramax Films)

Based on the award-winning novel of the same name by Charles Frazier, filmmaker Anthony Mingella’s epic yet intimate movie focuses on the fate of a single Confederate soldier (Jude Law as W.P. Inman) and the woman (Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe) patiently awaiting his return home to North Carolina.

With a dream supporting cast including Kathy Baker, Donald Sutherland, Brendan Gleeson, Jack White, Ray Winstone, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, and Oscar-winner Renee Zellweger, “Cold” opens with a jarring and detailed recreation of the St. Petersburg “Battle of the Crater,” one of if not the biggest unintended self-defeating blunders in the history of warfare.

Poster for “Gettysburg” (New Line Cinema)

At 254 minutes, writer-director Robert F. Maxwell’s “Gettysburg” (based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Killer Angels”) is one of the longest theatrically released films in U.S. history. Even with over three dozen major speaking roles, the lion’s share of attention is (rightfully) devoted to the main sub-plot featuring Jeff Daniels as Union Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Originally intended as a TNT mini-series, it was eventually released as a New Line Studios feature, a dicey choice made by producer Ted Turner who, at the time, owned both companies.

My only gripe with the film is the lack of Chamberlain’s back story. A professor at Bowdoin College at the start of the war, Chamberlain was told by his superiors not to volunteer, so he asked for a two-year assignment to study in Europe which was granted. Instead of going abroad, Chamberlain joined the Army and many credit his leadership at the Battle of Little Round Top to be the single event that ultimately saved the Union.

Poster for “Glory.” (Tri-Star Pictures)

Written by Kevin Jarre and directed by Edward Zwick, “Glory” tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first all-Black Union infantry regiments, led by Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), the son of white intellectual New England aristocrats.

Denzel Washington won his first Oscar for his portrayal of Trip, an escaped slave who served under Shaw, and it is their contentious relationship that drives the narrative. Also delivering stellar supporting performances are Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and Cliff DeYoung as a loathsome Union officer from Kansas.

The final sequence, depicting the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, is one of most detailed, inspirational, and heart-wrenching war scenes ever committed to film.

Poster for “Gone With the Wind”. (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)

If adjusted for inflation, “Gone with the Wind” (GWTW) is the highest-grossing movie in history. With over 200 million tickets sold, more people saw this film in theaters than any other, ever. Based on the 1937 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell, it was directed by Victor Fleming (taking over for the ousted George Cukor) and was adapted for the screen by Sidney Howard.

Clark Gable stars as the cynical, somewhat self-loathing South Carolinian Rhett Butler opposite Vivien Leigh as the vainglorious Atlanta Southern bell Scarlet O’Hara. She is in love (obsessed, actually) with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), a genteel but ideologically squishy man who is infatuated with his own first cousin Melanie (Olivia de Havilland).

Not as much a war movie as it is a period melodrama with war flourishes, “GWTW” delivers a little bit of something for everyone and succeeds admirably as a film that correctly reflects the mindset of the American Southern elite at the time of its setting.

Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, “GWTW” won eight (including the first color film to win Best Picture) and is notable for the performance of Hattie McDaniel who went on to become the first African American to win an Oscar (for Best Supporting Actress).

Poster for “Lincoln.” (Dreamworks Pictures)

Daniel Day-Lewis won his record-setting third Best Lead Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the title character, a man most people still consider to be the greatest president in U.S. history. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it was written by Tony Kushner, based on the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

For those looking for a cradle-to-grave Lincoln bio-flick (as the title somewhat infers), prepare to be disappointed. Spielberg’s movie concentrates on just the last two years of Lincoln’s life where he dealt with family matters, clashed with his cabinet members, and worked tirelessly to bring an end to the war.

Sally Field (as Mary Lincoln) and Tommy Lee Jones (as Congressman Thaddeus Stevens) both received thoroughly deserved Oscar nominations for their roles, but the movie belongs to and is owned by Day-Lewis.

In a role that was first offered to and turned down by Liam Neeson, Day-Lewis encapsulates the heart and soul of Lincoln and forever dispels the notion that he was a waffling, political appeaser. Lincoln considered the ratification or failure of the 13th Amendment to be the defining moment of his place in history and his gamble proved to be correct beyond his or anyone else’s expectations.

Poster for “The Civil War.” (Kenneth Lauren Burns Productions)

Second only to his 1994 “Baseball,” the 11-plus-hour Ken Burns magnum opus “The Civil War” was the most viewed show or series in PBS history. Mixing period still photos and paintings, noted talking head commentary, an all-star voice cast, and the voice-of-God narration from Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, “The Civil War” forever set the bar for every TV docuseries that followed in its wake.

For viewing options on all titles, visit