Hollywood has always had an appetite for specific events in history. The American Civil War is a major one. The four-year war (1861-1865) was fought between the Northern states (the Union) and the South (the Confederacy). It was fought over the controversy brought about by slavery and the idea of a united America. The Confederate states preferred to be independent and maintain slavery whereas the Union states preferred a united America under a single constitution.

Among the multitude of movies that have been made about the American Civil War, some stand out as classics while some were simply perfect cures for insomnia. Rotten Tomatoes has always been a pretty reliable differentiator of the good and the bad in cinema so let’s use it to sort out the Civil War movies.

10 Best: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) – 97%

This Spaghetti Western is easily Clint Eastwood’s best movie and Sergio Leone’s best work as a director. The storyline touches on three gunslingers; Blondie (The Good), Angel Eyes (The Bad) and Tuco (The Ugly). The three compete to find Confederate gold that has been buried in a cemetery. The gold is worth $200,000. In the 1860s, that kind of money could have easily made either of them the Jeff Bezos of their era.

As they try to outdo each other, the violence of the American Civil War proves to be a major obstacle. The dialogue in this movie is extremely enjoyable. With quotes such as “you have a face that only a mother could love,” it’s very easy to fall in love with these characters.

9 Worst: Gods And Generals (2003) – 8%

Yawn! The movie was too long for no good reason. Note to all film directors: If your name is not Scorsese or Russo, try to fit your story within a reasonable timeframe.

The plot wasn’t so bad. A certain General Thomas Jackson quit working at the Virginia Military Institute to go to war. He also left his family behind so that he could lead the Confederacy against the Union. He’s successful, in broad terms. Sadly, he manages to be very boring while doing it.


8 Best: Glory (1989) – 93%

While Denzel Washington looks pretty young here, Morgan Freeman kinda looks the same in this movie as he does now. Teach us your ways, Master Freeman. Reveal to us your secrets.

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Quick suggestion. Since there is Batman, Superman, Ironman and dozens of other superheroes whose names end with ‘man’, why not create a new hero called Freeman? His unique ability would be staying the same age and looking the same way for a full century. Over to you Marvel and DC.

Hollywood normally likes to tell the stories of African-Americans during the Civil Rights years but it normally forgets to capture their experiences during the Civil War. Luckily, Glory managed to change this. The movie takes us through the journey of the Black Union infantry as they face the brutality of the war. Denzel Washington’s performance stands out and as a result, he managed to scoop an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

7 Worst: Jonah Hex (2010) – 12%

Thanos is in this movie but it still flopped. Not the actual Thanos but Josh Brolin, the very capable actor who plays him in the MCU. Other renowned actors like Michael Fassbender and John Malkov were present but also couldn’t save this disaster. The film’s major undoing was that it was rushed. At 81 minutes, there simply wasn’t enough time to tell what could have been a decent story.

In the film, Jonah is a dedicated Confederate soldier but things take a turn for the worst when his evil general, Quentin Turnbull, asks him to burn down a health center full of Union members. He declines and so Turnbull begins to make hell rain on him.

6 Best: The General (1927) – 92%

It might seem hard to find something funny about the Civil War but trust Buster Keaton to show you. This silent comedy film is about an engineer who decides to hunt down a Union solider who stole his beloved train.

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The General was adapted from the memoir The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger. It had some spectacular action sequences as well. The fact that Keaton did all the stunt work himself and also served as co-director makes you appreciate his work even more.

5 Worst: Field Of Lost Shoes (2014) – 39%

A group of Confederate teenage cadets defending themselves against Union soldiers? We should have been in for a ride. Sadly, we were in for a serious bore-fest.

What is your average yawn per minute rate? Whatever it is, prepare for it to be even higher as you watch this movie. You can tell that the actors are trying but the film still has ‘low budget’ written all over it. Nothing looks spectacular at all. Nothing. Even the trees and flowers look broke.

4 Best: Lincoln (2012) – 89%

Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t act much but when he does, he impresses to a great degree. Lincoln is also directed by Steven Spielberg. The involvement of these two Hollywood titans makes you want to call in sick in order to sit down and watch this film. Blacklist and Avengers: Age Of Ultron star James Spader is here too and so is Tommy Lee Jones.

The film follows President Abraham Lincoln as he tries to abolish slavery and reunite the warring Union and Confederate states during the Civil War. The movie is very enjoyable. Who in this world doesn’t love Lincoln? We’d say the guy who shot him but this is not the time for dark humor.

3 Worst: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012) – 34%

The synopsis? America gets attacked by a group of ferocious vampires during the American Civil War. To protect his country, Mr. President gives himself the task of hunting them. The real wonder is why he doesn’t delegate this tiring task to one of America’s many agencies. Doesn’t the president have better things to do? Maybe Lincoln had a fetish for vampires all along.

There’s nothing good here. This is one of those movies you feel is going to be a disaster even before you watch it. The president hunting vampires? You have to give the screenwriters a thumbs up for their imagination but that’s where the praise ends.

2 Best: Dances With Wolves (1990) – 82%

During the Civil war, a Union lieutenant gets posted in a remote area where he ends up developing a strong relationship with the First Nation natives. He likes their culture so much that he decides to become part of them. Because love conquers all, he even dates a white woman who was raised in the tribe.

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This decision puts him at loggerheads with his superiors. And when Union soldiers arrive to claim the land, he has to fight to protect the tribe. There’s top-level entertainment in Dances With The Wolves, so go watch it if you haven’t.

1 Worst: Free State Of Jones – 46%

Have you ever paused a movie and promised yourself that you’ll come back to it later but you never did? You are guaranteed to do that with Free State Of Jones. Once you pause it, there’ll be no desire to continue. Matthew McConaughey is a man of hits, not misses, but this was an epic disappointment. There are just too many details that don’t make sense.

The plot seems straightforward on the outside. A former medic in the Civil War, Newton goes back home to protect his family. The Confederate government labels him as a deserter and so conflict arises. The thing is, it’s a confusing mess on the inside.

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