The Revolutionary War on film

I’ve been looking up early American course syllabi recently to see if I’m on track with my ideas for teaching a colonial course this fall.  Not long ago I ran across a website with teaching resources, including a list of films dealing with early American history. 

For reasons I’ve never understood, the Revolution hasn’t fared well on the silver screen.  There are a few period films that I enjoy watching.  1776 remains a personal favorite of mine, because it helps restore some of the suspense and urgency that two and a half centuries have worn away from the debate over independence.  I’ve also got to confess that I’m a fan of The Patriot.  It’s a compelling story told well, and it focuses on the critical war in the South, even if it plays fast and loose with the facts.  A&E’s made-for-TV films The Crossing and Benedict Arnold: A Queston of Honor also deserve an honorable mention.  I haven’t seen HBO’s Adams miniseries yet, but I’ve heard some great feedback.  Still, the Revolutionary War can’t match the Civil War or WWII in terms of number and quality of film adaptations.

This hasn’t always been the case.  As the filmography at the above website shows, the Revolutionary War was a pretty popular subject during the infancy of moving pictures.  From the early 1900’s to the 1920’s, filmmakers were turning out Revolutionary War stories at a surprisingly high rate.  Similar projects often appeared close to the same time: Paul Revere and Nathan Hale were both popular subjects in the 1910’s, and Francis Marion got his own film in 1911 and again in 1914. 

It’s clear that moviemakers were interested in the Revolution from the first days of putting stories on film.  It’s also clear that interest in making Revolutionary War films didn’t keep up with this initial burst of enthusiasm.

There are a lot of stories from the War of Independence I’d like to see on the screen, but it doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. lists quite a few WWII movies in the works, but I couldn’t find any Revolutionary War-related projects in any genre.  Maybe the current Founding Fathers craze will bring more filmmakers around.


Filed under American Revolution, History and Memory

5 responses to “The Revolutionary War on film

  1. There is lots of good information about the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War at this site:

  2. Thomas Edison also made a film in the early 20th c. about Tarleton’s Charlottesville Raid in 1781, and it was done on location. I have never seen it though…

  3. mlynchhistory

    I haven’t seen that one either, but I did see an episode of a really old TV show about Tarleton’s raid. I think it was from a series on historic incidents that Du Pont sponsored. Jack Jouett was the main character, but Tarleton put in a brief appearance.

    Michael Lynch

  4. Matt McKeon

    There was a crappy miniseries based on John Jakes equally crappy books. The reason I mention it is because William Shatner played Paul Revere.

    The HBO series John Adams is excellent.

    I would disagree with you about “The Patriot,” but totally agree with you about “1776.”

  5. mlynchhistory

    It seems like I remember hearing something about Shatner playing Revere. He does bear a resemblance, come to think of it.

    Michael Lynch

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