Great Movies for Teaching US History: Revolutionary War

This series on Great Movies for Teaching U.S. History, from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War, will publish on consecutive weekdays through May 2. It features films and documentaries inspired by historical events in the United States, including information about their educational value, ratings and appropriateness for children, and how well they represent the time periods covered.

The Revolutionary War 1770-1800

The Revolutionary War began with The Shot Heard Round the World. This was during an extremely tense time between the colonists, or Patriots, and the British. Colonists felt they were being treated unfairly by a government more than 3,000 miles away. These films explore the events surrounding this critical point in American history.

HBO’s John Adams: 1770-1800

Based on the book by David McDullough, this seven-part mini-series focuses on the life of John Adams, beginning when he was in his mid-thirties to well after his retirement. While the show follows John Adams’ life, other founding fathers and historical figures, from Benjamin Franklin to Alexander Hamilton, are featured as well.

The series was produced by Tom Hanks, who is a huge history buff and invests in history projects. You can see the production value in the video below. Real locations such as Williamsburg and Richmond were used, and the sets were painstakingly recreated.

The story begins with the Boston Massacre and John Adams’ defense of the British soldiers in court. The series follows his life through the American Revolution and into his retirement. For anyone who is interested in the first vice president, this is a great series to learn not only about what he was able to accomplish politically, but the struggles and triumphs he had in his personal life. The character of Abigail Adams plays a pivotal role in the show as she is John’s wife and confidant, whom John sought advice from regularly. HBO also created teacher and student guides that can be used with the show to learn more about American History.

The episodes vary on how appropriate they are for children. Some episodes contain battles, wounded soldiers, and brief nudity.

1776 (Musical): 1776

History and art can go together; 1776 is a film based on the popular play written by Peter Stone, and includes many of the original cast members.

The story follows John Adams and the founding fathers as they debate the Declaration of Independence. While the other films on this list include battles and the more grandiose side of the Revolutionary War, this film focuses on the events beforehand. Each of our founding fathers had their own reasons for breaking away from England and some needed more convincing than others.  This film explores the political side of the battle, the internal discussions and debates the founding fathers had prior to the signing (or singing in this case) of the Declaration of Independence.

The Patriot: 1776

The film can be considered a Hollywood history piece, but that does not mean it can’t be used to inspire the history.  You could argue that the movie was inspired by history as opposed to retelling history. The protagonist, Benjamin Martin, was based on several characters combined into one.

The action takes center stage in this film, the larger battle scenes are fictional but are inspired by actual ones. However actual battles are discussed and the timeline is accurate.

The French character, Jean Villeneuve, is a personified version of both German and French mentalities and historical figures.

The battle scenes feature carnage, and include explosions, stabbings and shootings where bodies are severely damaged. Also, themes of extreme violence are present through the movie such as the mass murder of a congregation.

AMC’s Turn: 1778

AMC is visiting the turbulent time in their new series Turn.

The show is based on the book Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, with protagonist Abraham Woodhull.  The show portrays the different mentalities had towards British control; there were those loyal to the crown, those were against the British control in the colonies, and others who just did not want to be involved. The show does depict several of the main milestones of the formation of the Culper ring, however the creators were flexible with the timing of some events to allow characters to be featured.

There are scenes that feature battles, where there is a variety of fighting as well as scenes where people are murdered which are more graphic.

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