When you’re a kid, the idea of learning anything about the history of the world may seem rather, well, boring. Luckily, there are a ton of historical movies out there that can both educate and entertain your little ones about important subject matter. From following the story of real-life inventors to watching world-renowned heroes embark on harrowing quests, there’s a lot of material Hollywood has had to work with throughout the years. But, of course, the biggest task is figuring out what movies are appropriate for kids that won’t accidentally scar them for life. (After all, as essential as learning about history can be, there are definitely some dark and dismal parts that should be tread through delicately.)
But how do you know which historical films fit the bill? While the final decision ultimately lies with each parent, it’s always helpful to have a general guideline of possible suggestions that can make the trip down the historical rabbit hole informative and a lot of fun (while not too scary) for everyone involved. As always, many films take a few liberties with some details to help amp up the entertainment factor, so finding something with 100 percent accuracy is a little hard to come by. However, that doesn’t mean there still aren’t a lot of great lessons to learn about various elements of history — the good and the bad.
So, if you’re in the market for some movies that offer a much-needed blast from the past, look no further. The picks below are cinematic history lessons, albeit a bit creative at times.
Family-Friendly Historical Movies to Get You Started
1. An American Girl Story – Melody 1963: Love Has To Win (2016)
Unfortunately, racial injustice is still a very real problem in today’s society. While some parents may feel hesitant to introduce such a hot button issue to their kids, it’s a topic that shouldn’t be ignored. It’s also what makes this particular film such a great option because while it does tackle racial discrimination during the Civil Rights Movement, it does so through the eyes of a young African-American girl, Melody Ellison (Marsai Martin). In doing so, it showcases the hope and resilience that she brings to her community.
2. The Sound of Music (1965)
Though it would be easy to focus solely on the love story between Captain von Trapp and Maria, this iconic film also delves into the Nazi takeover of Austria during World War II and the risks (and sacrifices) made by those who were brave enough to try to resist. It’s definitely a weighted topic to incorporate into a movie — and a musically-inclined one, at that. Still, the unique combination is what makes it such an ideal viewing for kids.
3. The Prince of Egypt (1998)
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more spiritual topic, the story of Moses and his quest to free his people from Egyptian slavery is a great place to start. Between the educational subject matter and the powerful songs accompanying it (the soundtrack features Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and more), this is truly an under-appreciated Disney triumph that deserves to be seen by people of all ages.
4. Night at the Museum (2006)
OK, so the whole statues and exhibits coming to life at night thing isn’t the most accurate depiction of history. However, it offers a helpful glimpse into the lives of several iconic figures from the past, which can give your kiddos a better appreciation for those who made this country (and this world) truly great.
5. A League of Their Own (1992)
That’s right, friends. This classic ‘90s baseball movie, which stars the likes of Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna, is actually chock-full of real-life history. While many of the characters are mostly works of fiction, the plot about how and when the very first All-American Girls Professional Baseball League came to be is pretty accurate. Yes, that means the Rockford Peaches indeed did exist, which should make your viewing experience all the more fascinating as you watch their first-ever season unfold. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. (Just kidding about that last part — everyone knows there’s no crying in baseball!)
More Historical Options to Add to Your Queue
While the above picks are all relatively safer for the younger set, the following list contains some historical movies more appropriate for older kids. Age ratings and Common Sense Media-recommended age ranges for viewers will help you size this list up at a glance.
- Ruby Bridges (1998) — PG, ages 10+
- Kevin Hart’s Guide to Black History (2019) — TV-PG, ages 10+
- Apollo 13 (1995) — PG, ages 12+
- Miracle (2004) — PG, ages 8+
- Hidden Figures (2016) — PG, ages 10+
- The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) — NR, ages 12+
- Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (2008) — G, ages 6+
- Fiddler on the Roof (1971) — G, ages 10+
- The Sword in the Stone (1963) — G, ages 5+
- Newsies (1992) — PG, ages 9+
- Remember the Titans (2000) — PG, ages 10+
- The Greatest Showman (2017) — PG, agest 10+
- The Miracle Worker (1962) — NR, ages 10+
- Valiant (2005) — G, ages 6+
- American Legends (2002) — G, ages 5+
- Miracle of the White Stallions (1963) — G, ages 5+
- Johnny Tremain (1957) — NR, agest 11+
- Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) — PG, ages 6+
- Secretariat (2010) — PG, ages 8+
- I Am David (2005) — PG, ages 9+
- Harriet (2019) — PG-13, ages 12+
- Hugo (2011) — PG, ages 8+
- 42: The Jackie Robinson Story (2013) — PG-13, ages 11+
- Apollo 13 (1995) — PG, ages 12+
- The Color of Friendship (2000) — TV-G, ages 9+
- The Island on Bird Street (1997) — PG-13, ages 12+