10 History Movies That Mostly Get It Right

"The Passion of Joan of Arc"
Many still consider Maria Falconetti's performance as Joan of Arc to be one of the best on film. Buyenlarge/Getty Images

Many associate the genre of historical movies with epic, big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. But the first movie we're examining is none of those things. "The Passion of Joan of Arc" is a silent film released in 1928 that recounts the trial and execution of the famous saint. As a French avant-guard art film, it is narrowly focused both in narrative and visuals: The camerawork is unconventional and devoid of expositional shots that set a scene. Instead, it consists mostly of close-ups and shots from Joan's point of view.

The result of Danish director Theodor Dreyer's artistic style is a primarily emotional film. However, it's also historically accurate. As a silent film, it displays dialogue in intertitle cards, but these are almost all taken from historical record of the trial [source: Lerner]. And movie critic Roger Ebert pointed out that even though the costumes aren't spectacular, they are historically accurate [source: Ebert].

As a result, it gets uncommon praise for its authenticity. In the words of French director Jean Cocteau, the film was like "an historical document from an era in which the cinema didn't exist" [source: Ebert]. And historian Gerda Lerner writes that Dreyer has "shown us how film can speak truth to history without a cast of thousands or budget of millions."