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Movies Based on History You Can Use to Write a Term Paper

Hollywood, both intentionally and unintentionally, has been a source of information for students. A considerable cache of movies about American history can be used as resource material by students to craft good term papers.  Take Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for instance. The book is brilliantly written, but like most novels written in the 1850s, the language is a little hard to follow. This necessitates effort to read such a book and takes up a serious amount of time on the student’s part. In such a case, the easiest dupe for most students is to watch a movie and get the gist of the material, especially when they have procrastinated and are in a time crunch. However, picking the right movie is key here.

The Scarlet Letter has been adapted into an English-language movie several times following its release. Among the two, only the 1935 original version is true to the written material and can serve as a good resource for a term paper. The 1995 version, on the other hand, is freely adapted and deviates from the main storyline considerably. This makes it important for students to pick the right movie to base their term paper on. Given that we are talking about students that are already short on time, the brilliant minds at Nerdpapers have taken it upon themselves to give us a rundown of all the history movies based on true stories. Let’s save students a few hours of looking up history movies on Netflix and other platforms that are historically accurate.

Hollywood Historical Adaptations That Mostly Get It Right

  • Boston Strangler – 2023 

Released by Hulu, the Boston Stranglers is a true-crime movie exploring the murder of thirteen women that took place in Boston between 1962 and 1964. To this day, many of the murders and the circumstances behind them remain unresolved. The murderer was dubbed the Boston strangler as the woman that was killed by strangulation, with the killer wrapping a stocking around the women’s neck like a bow tie. The multifaceted coverage of the story in the movies covers both the sexism involved in journalism as the two female journalists explore and expose the story, while also exploring the deep-set level of corruption found among the members of the Boston Police Department. The women were shown putting themselves at risk in their effort to find the truth. The police were of nearly no help with their investigation, with some speculating that they were botching up the case further by not pursuing all the leads. The movie also looks into how all thirteen murders could have been committed by different individuals, even though just one person was held accountable for the murders. The evidence in the movie is backed with facts and builds up a very compelling story that provides plenty of information to the viewers to craft a well-researched term paper.

  • Bombshell – 2019 

Bombshell is based on accounts of women coming together to sue Roger Ailes, Chairman and CEO of Fox News for sexual harassment. Released in 2019, the movie showcased the fall from grace of several television personalities, following the ousting of Harvey Weinstein as a media mogul in Hollywood. Bombshell explores the subject from the root of it all, where it began, how the issue unfolded and how it came to its unceremonious end. This movie came out at a time when women in entertainment began taking a stand against men asking for sexual favours to retain their positions or progress into better positions despite deserving them in the first place. If you have gender studies, or women studies elective that you need to ace with a fabulous term paper that blows your instructor away, this movie and the associated material available online can definitely come in handy.

  • Free State of Jones – 2016 

Free State of Jones didn’t do well at the box office. People did not enjoy its cinematography or its dramatization. However, if you need to write a paper on American history, specifically the Civil War, this movie is the one you need to go for. It draws from the work of the historian Victoria Bynum and gets as close to the original resource material as could without having to read about it. The best thing about the movie is that it goes beyond civil war and discusses various other occurrences that were influenced by it, such as the failures of Reconstruction, Court case of Knights’ descendant who was tried on charges of miscegenation in 1948. It is not the kind of film that sugarcoats things and tells things for what it is, which makes it an excellent addition to this list.

  • Selma – 2014 

Selma is an important addition to this list courtesy of its focus on the Civil Rights Movement. The accounts retold in the movie are quite accurate, however, the movie earned special praise for its retelling of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. The depiction of “Bloody Sunday”, which became a key instigator of the fight against voter suppression in the US, stunned the country and brought awareness to the plight of coloured people in America. The topic of the Civil Rights Movement is covered far and wide in history movies based on true stories, however, none of them possesses the same vibe and attention to detail as showcased in Selma. It illustrates the complexity of the events that relate to social justice movements and how the leaders at the time lead the marches from the forefront. The movie is a beautiful tribute to the unsung heroes of the time and a worthy addition to this list. Any quotes used in the movie are certain to grab you that coveted A in your history term paper.

  • Hidden Figures – 2016 

Hidden Figures is the tale of three brilliant African-American women working for NASA in 1961, in an era where segregation still exists in the deep south of the US. The film gives a glimpse at the racism and sexism that existed in NASA and segregated states in general. This history movie, based on a true story, chronicles the life of three NASA employees Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson each of which challenged the system in place. The odds stacked against them were high. Yet, the women worked to eliminate those odds and persevered. They improved their own lives, and the lives of those around them while also raising awareness as to the things considered normal at the time were key to promoting racism and keeping people from being able to exercise their basic rights. Today, the women featured in the movie are praised for their courage and their effort to transform the social landscape for women and people of colour at the time. This movie can be an excellent resource material for writing a term paper that focuses on racism prevalent in the US in the latter half of the 20th century.

  • Spotlight – 2015 

Set in the early 2000s, Spotlight chronicles the efforts of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe and their investigation that uncovered the prevalence of systematic sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston. The investigation began with the Boston Globe Spotlight investigations focusing on just one Roman Catholic priest. However, as the team behind the investigation digs deeper, they can unearth the depth of the matter and the cover-up actively taking place to prevent men of faith from taking account of their actions. Based on a true story, this movie showcases the effectiveness of investigative journalism done right and how it could be key to seeking justice for the downtrodden.

  • 12 Years a Slave – 2013 

Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave takes a glimpse into the lives of coloured people in the US. It focuses on the prevalence of slavery among the plantation owners in the South and how this systematic slavery deeply affected the Black population in the deep south at the time. Solomon Northup was a free Black man living in New York when two men abducted him and he was eventually sold to a plantation in Louisiana, where he was enslaved for the next 12 years. The movie does not sugarcoat the horrors of chattel slavery and shows the daily struggles of black people living as slaves in the South. Of all the movies about American history, the truth of the content, the resilience of the downtrodden against a system meant to exploit them and the sheer distress of those suffering make this movie a hard watch. If you’re working on a term paper on black slavery as a dark period in American history, the movie is a brilliant resource. 

  • Lincoln – 2012 

A biopic of sorts, Lincoln focuses on the 16th president of the United States of America and his efforts to abolish slavery in the US. It depicts the circumstances surrounding the Civil War and Congress passing the thirteenth Amendment in the US Constitution in the final months of the war. While the movie may have simplified the plight of those that suffered as a result of slavery. The movie is based on the works of Doris Kearns Goodwin called the Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln the movie highlights key historical events like the Emancipation Proclamation, Illinois Rail Splitter and more. The insight into the strategies employed by Lincoln to free the black population in America, as provided by the movie, can serve as a great resource for a factual term paper and the movie remains as close to the truth as reported in history.

  • Pearl Harbor – 2001 

History movies based on a true story can provide an exciting and accessible way to learn about the past, and they can also help us to understand the present. Pearl Harbor is no different in this regard. The movie, directed by Michael Bay and released in 2001, is a great example of a movie about American history that would make for an excellent term paper topic. The film tells the story of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, which brought the United States into World War II. The movie is notable for its historical accuracy, and it provides an engaging and emotional portrayal of the events leading up to and following the attack. It depicts the experiences of the men and women who were involved in the attack and the subsequent battles, both in the Pacific and in Europe. Through movies like Pearl Harbor, we can gain insights into the complex political, social, and cultural forces that have shaped our nation while also providing a simpler resource to focus on and making writing a term paper a whole lot easier.

  • Apollo 13 – 1995 

The movie Apollo 13 is an outstanding choice for a term paper topic for its historical accuracy, emotional engagement, and its status as a prime example of a movie about American history. It offers a valuable perspective on American innovation, resilience, and perseverance and provides a fascinating look at one of the most significant events in space exploration. Directed by Ron Howard and released in 1995, is a fantastic example of a movie about American history that would make an excellent term paper topic. The film tells the gripping story of the Apollo 13 space mission, which suffered a catastrophic malfunction that put the lives of the astronauts in peril. The movie is based on real-life events and accurately depicts the technical challenges faced by the NASA team during the mission, as well as the personal struggles of the astronauts and their families. It provides a fascinating look into the inner workings of the space program and the incredible determination and ingenuity of those involved. The film provides an excellent opportunity to explore the social, political, and cultural context of the 1960s and the space race, and how they impacted American society and culture, all of which can help write a multifaceted term paper.

  • Schindler’s List – 1993 

Another valuable addition to the list of movies based on the history you can use to write a term paper is Schindler’s List. It is an excellent choice for a term paper topic for its historical accuracy and emotional engagement. It offers a profound and moving look at one of the darkest periods of human history and is a powerful and moving film. The movie tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand Jewish people during the Holocaust by employing them in his factory. The movie is notable for its historical accuracy and its portrayal of the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II. It offers a profound insight into the horror of the Holocaust and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of extreme adversity. Based on the 1982 historical novel by Thomas Keneally, this world history movie is certified to get you that coveted A+ on your term paper.

  • All the President’s Men – 1976 

All the President’s Men is based on the true story of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post and tells the story of the Watergate scandal and the investigative reporting that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The pair broke the story of the Watergate scandal and uncovered evidence of Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up. It offers an insightful and engaging look into the role of the media in American politics and the importance of investigative journalism. It provides a valuable perspective on the social and political climate of the 1970s and the impact of the Watergate scandal on American society and politics. The movie offers a fascinating study of the intersection of journalism, politics, and power in American history. All the President’s Men is an excellent choice for a term paper topic for its historical accuracy, engaging narrative, and its valuable perspective on the role of the media in American politics, making it a worthy contender on this list.

In the end…

Finding the right resource material to write a term paper, or an essay on, especially when you are short on time and cannot read a 300-page history book overnight is a herculean task. It can push students to throw in the towel and give up on their term paper quite easily. However, given the fact that Hollywood tends to find some of the best movie scripts in hallmark moments of history, students can simply pick a movie and produce a term paper. The only problem is, not all movies stay true to historical facts and take dramatic liberties, combining fact with fiction. This is where this list of twelve movies, based on American history, can come in real handy. These movies remain true to historical facts, are only 150 minutes long and can help you get your work done in a short amount of time while also providing you with keen insight needed to write your term paper.

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