Have you ever tried watching an educational movie to dive deeper into an A.P. History lesson?

Although you might associate movies with your comfy-cozy chill time, you can also use them to prepare for your APUSH exam. Watching movies is a great way to not only spice up your study strategy, but also stop procrastinating

Not convinced? 

An educational film might be the perfect study tool

In one study of 84 teachers, almost 93% reported that they used movies in the classroom at least once a week. Additionally, they felt that students were more motivated to learn when using this tool. 

films-for-educationAdditionally, in a study of more than 200 Australian teachers, many participants reported that the visual/audio elements help provide students with experiencing a more personal and empathetic experience when learning. 

Finally, a 2021 study demonstrated that students who viewed movies for educational purposes were more engaged and focused in their learning compared to students who did not view the movies. 

So, if you’re ready to put down the 500-page history textbook, it’s time to try a movie. 

1. Glory

Glory recounts the story of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was the commanding officer of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first all-black regiment to fight for the Union during the Civil War.  

2. Schindler’s List 

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Schindler’s List educates viewers on the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a Czech-born businessman and member of the Nazi Party. Moreover, Schindler ended up incidentally saving over 1000 Polish Jews during the Holocaust. 

3. Gandhi

This biographical drama, as you might expect, focuses on Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of India’s non-violent independence movement against British Rule.

4. Selma

In 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King developed a campaign to protect equal voting rights for African-American citizens. During that time, Dr. King and his followers embarked on a march from Selma to Montgomery to fight for those rights. Selma recounts the story of these events. 

5. Gettysburg

In this epic war movie, director Ronald F. Maxwell portrays the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. 

6. First Man

Based on the biographical book by Neil Armstrong’s biographer, First Man follows the years leading up to Armstrong’s journey to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. 

7. Hotel Rwanda

Hotel Rwanda tells the story of hotelier Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts to save over 1,000 people who resided in his property during the 1994 genocide. 

8. Dunkirk

Based on events of World War II, Dunkirk illustrates the battle in May and June of 1940. As the Nazi German forces surrounded them, a group of allied soldiers had to isolate at the Dunkirk beaches. 

9. Midway

In the six months after the Pearl Harbor bombing, the U.S. Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy took part in The Battle of Midway. Midway accurately depicts the U.S. victory and how ultimately, Japan was forced to go on the defensive. 

10. The Right Stuff

In 1958, astronauts introduced Project Mercury, a NASA program that would launch the first American astronauts into space. During this time, astronauts conducted six spaceflights—this movie highlights the astronauts who worked on Project Mercury, and the dangers, personal crises, and frustrations involved. 

11. Iron Jawed Angels

Iron Jawed Angels, a historical drama movie, recounts the experience of Alice Paul, a key figure in the US suffrage movement. Additionally, the film documents the peaceful, nonviolent tactics Alice Paul and other activists utilized. 

12. 12 Years a Slave

Based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave portrays the story of a free Black man who was lured to Washington, DC by the promise of work, but instead, was kidnapped. 

13. Lincoln

Set during early 1865, Lincoln discusses the last months of Abraham Lincoln’s life. Specifically, the biographical drama shows the passage of the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery), the confederacy’s relinquish, and Lincoln’s assassination. 

14. Apollo 13

Apollo 13, in April 1970, was the third human attempt to land on the moon. However, when an oxygen tank in the service module failed, the crew had to abandon their expedition. Apollo 13 is a historical depiction of the failed mission. 

15. The Longest Day

The Longest Day, released in 1962, is based on the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944.  A black and white epic war movie, this film tells the story of the Normandy invasion, which is remembered as one of the most complex military acts in history. 

16. Amistad

A historical drama movie directed by Steven Spielberg, Amistad is based on the true events that occured in August 1839 on the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad. During this time, the enslaved Africans—who were illegal slaves in Cuba—rebelled and took control of the ship and their captors.  

17. Letters From Iwo Jima 

From the perspective of the Japanese soldiers, Letters From Iwo Jima chronicles the Battle of Iwo Jima, which occured in 2945 when American soldiers invaded the island of Iwo Jima. Considered some of the most gory fighting of World War 11, the V Amphibious Corps of the U.S. Marine Corps killed approximately  22,000 Japanese soldiers. 

18. Malcolm X

As the title suggests, this biographical film tells the story of Malcolm X, a pioneer in the fight for black freedom. 

19. Frida

Frida follows the life of Frida Kahlo, highlighting how her challenges inspired her art. This drama invites viewers into the nooks and crannies of Kahlo’s life including her several affairs and sexual and political perspectives. 

20. Black Hawk Down

In 1993, President George H.W. Bush sent forces into Somalia to capture Somali military commanders who were oppressing the Somali people. However, the U.S. plan went askew when Somali forces attacked and brought down two of the U.S. helicopters. Black Hawk Down is the account of the U.S. raid into Somalia, and their failed mission. 

21. Tora! Tora! Tora!

Tora! Tora! Tora! is an account of the story of how Admiral Isoroku organized the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, in addition to the days leading up to the devastating event.

22. Full Metal Jacket

This semi-autobiographical war movie is based on the novel, The Short Timers, written by Gustav Hasford, who was a United States Marine Corps veteran and war correspondent during the Vietnam War. This Stanley Kubrick film features a group of young men on their journey to become marines and soldiers in the Vietnam War.  

23. On the Basis of Sex

On the Basis of Sex chronicles the struggles of young Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she faced challenges in her fight for equal rights while also adjusting to her role as a new mother. 

24. The Queen

Released in 2006, The Queen tells the story of Princess Diana’s death—and notably, the way in which the royal family tried to privatize the death. 

25. Stalingrad

Set during the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad, this Russian movie accurately depicts the gory six-month battle which resulted in almost 2,000,000 casualties. Stalingrad recounts the journeys of soldiers from both sides (Russia and Germany), as they fought not only to survive, but to save their loved ones. 

So toss your highlighter and lengthy notes aside, grab your comfiest blanket, and hit play! 

Author: Lydia Schapiro