With the rising popularity of reality shows and the apparent confusion about which channels they should be on, many previously history oriented channels are now overrun by shows about storage, swamps and pawn shops. This is very well for when you need to see a person wrestle an alligator, but where is there to turn when you need to teach your kids about the Civil War, but you don’t know enough about it yourself?
Who will you ask when you need to know every waking detail of the life and times of Henry the VIII? Never fear! Netflix has entertaining and informative content in droves for those with hungry minds and appetite for knowledge and pop-tarts. Netflix has a plethora of modern movies and shows right now but here is a list of some of the best historic movies and documentaries that I have found on Netflix.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. – Marcus Garvey
1. Planet Earth (2006)
If you’re in the mood to watch something that will make you marvel at the beauty and complexity of the natural world, then look no further. Planet Earth, directed by Alastair Fothergill, is an awe inspiring collection of nature documentation that takes its viewers through every climate and terrain imaginable. A team of invisible camera men follow animals in their natural habitats while David Attenborough narrates their stories and tells the audience about the natural processes taking place. Not only is Planet Earth informative and family friendly, it’s also immensely beautiful and uplifting. As nature documentaries go, this is one of the best.
2. World War II in Colour (2009)
If you don’t think your high school history class covered World War II well enough, or black and white videos are too vintage for your taste, then have a look at the series World War II in Colour which summarizes the second world war with stunningly re-colored footage. Robert Powell draws the viewer into the time period as he narrates the stories of generals, presidents, soldiers and civilians on whom the war had effect. The series is a gritty, colorful and accurate representation of World War II. Who knew everything wasn’t really black and grey back then? This documentary series was created for history buffs and armchair enthusiasts alike.
3. Food, Inc. (2008)
If you watch only one documentary in your life, let it be this one. Food, Inc. is an eye-opening experience for anyone who eats food in America. Directed by Robert Kenner, Food, Inc. breaks down the illusion of variety in our food choices as well as the farm-fresh façade grocery corporations are so eager for consumers to believe. Food, Inc. shows just what processed food does to your health and what corporations do to farm animals bred for slaughter. This documentary will blow your mind, open your eyes and maybe make you want to throw out all the food in your pantry. For more information of the writers and directors of this documentary visit IMDB.
4. Inside the Court of Henry VIII (2015)
This historical documentary illustrates the intricate connections and politics of the English court in the early 1500’s as well as the life and times of known player and decapitator, Henry VIII. His court was full of interesting characters like himself all climbing over one another for power and favor. Some attained their goals, others lost their heads. Henry’s story is by far the most memorable from high school world history. He was a prideful, tyrannical and vain ruler who had six wives in total, some of which he had killed for one reason or another. If your historic interests a tad bit of the Elizabethan side, this documentary is highly recommended. To find critics and viewer reviews of these movies you can visit Rotten Tomatoes.
5. Ken Burns: The Civil War (1990)
This documentary, directed by Ken Burns, is a heart wrenching series that depicts a detailed overview of the American Civil War. The story is told through letters from soldiers and loved ones, accompanied by narration from several voice actors and the melancholy music of the time period. There might be other excellent factual accounts of the Civil War but none that will make you cry like this one. The war occurred over 150 years ago and it was a painful time for the United States and this documentary captures that feeling. After just a few episodes of this excellent retelling the Civil War will start to feel like a personal tragedy.
6. Blackfish (2013)
If you have a bone to pick with the practice of keeping animals in captivity, this is the kind of documentary to inspire your campaign. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite this movie follows the story of Tilikum, and orca whale living in captivity who is responsible for the deaths of three people including a trainer named Dawn Brancheau. There has been some controversy over this documentary because orca performances are so popular but it’s always a good idea to look into what’s behind the curtain, or tank if you will. If you’re looking for something emotional and informative this is an excellent choice although you may not want to go to SeaWorld afterwards. For more information on the other side of the killer whale controversy visit SeaWorld Cares.
7. The Sixties (2014)
After watching this it seems entirely plausible to be nostalgic for a time you never lived in. The Sixties is an overview of an entire era. The series begins with the rise in popularity of television and continues onto the assassination of John F Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, the British invasion and the space race only to end with an episode on sex drugs and rock & roll. It is marked on Netflix as controversial although the reviews from people who lived during the era are remarkably positive. This series brings the viewer back to a time full of progress and hope mixed with chaos and sadness.
8. The Seventies (2015)
This Series depicts the era following the previously mentioned sixties. The time period was marked by all sorts of issues and movements! Gender equality came to the forefront, cults became an actual problem, punk rock developed and television became an art form. Not to mention the Watergate scandal and the controversy over Vietnam. This was a period amidst some truly enormous change. Not all the change was for the better of course but it was a layer in the foundation upon which our society currently sits. If you’ve ever seemed That 70’s Show and wondered what was going on outside the basement, this would be an informative and entertaining option.
9. The Mask You Live In (2015)
With all the focus in the past on women’s issues it can be hard to pay attention to some of the struggles that men also face in today’s society. The Mask You Live In illustrates many of the problems boys face while growing up and how, in some cases, they are raised in an unhealthy way. The documentary, directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, is presented through interviews with professional educators, coaches, counselors and psychologists who explain the many ways in which boy’s emotional needs are neglected by others and themselves. The film introduces a concern that, until now, hasn’t had a true voice. The Mask You Live In is an eye-opening film and it is worth a watch if you have any interest in gender and social issues.
10. Escape from a Nazi Death Camp (2014)
If you watched all the episodes of World War II in Colour, reread all your college history books, researched all the way on the second page of a Google search to find more information about World War II and you still can’t get enough, then give this a look. Escape from a Nazi Death Camp gives a true account of the courageous and successful rebellion and escape of several Jews from Sobibor, a death camp that stood in the district of Lublin in Poland. This documentary is dark and gritty as the times were, but the outcome of the escape is undeniably hopeful, especially so because they were the first success. Dark historical movies rarely have a favorable ending however, if you’re looking for a true success story regarding death camps, this is one of the few.
Through documentaries, we can see other points of view and learn things about the world and each other. And then go back to enjoying sitcoms and storage shows, content and happy that we’ve learned something new today.