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50 best movies set during the Civil War

  • #40. The Last Wagon (1956)

    - Director: Delmer Daves
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 2,804
    - Runtime: 99 minutes

    Employing a familiar premise, this 1950s Western pits surviving wagoneers against a vengeful Apache tribe. The survivors’ last hope is a Comanche-raised white man who’s been convicted of murder. Like many films of this type, the action plays out during the Civil War or shortly thereafter.

  • #39. Bad Company (1972)

    - Director: Robert Benton
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 3,654
    - Runtime: 93 minutes

    A Civil War draft dodger (Barry Brown) heads west and mixes in with a group of petty criminals along the way. Their leader is the morally dubious con man Jake Rumsey, played by Jeff Bridges in one of his earlier film roles. This effort makes up part of the “acid Western” subgenre that subverted Old West romanticism by way of bleak and often nihilistic narratives.

  • #38. The Long Riders (1980)

    - Director: Walter Hill
    - IMDb user rating: 7.0
    - Votes: 9,764
    - Runtime: 100 minutes

    Director Walter Hill followed the 1979 cult classic “The Warriors” with this atmospheric Western. Set after the Civil War, it tracks the infamous Jesse James gang as they rob banks and flee from the law. The film draws upon historical events with respectable (but not total) accuracy and casts a number of real-life siblings.

  • #37. Union Pacific (1939)

    - Director: Cecil B. DeMille
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Votes: 2,598
    - Runtime: 135 minutes

    Cecil B. DeMille’s epic chronicles the westward expansion of the Union Pacific Railroad line circa 1862. Released on the 70th anniversary of the actual railroad’s completion, the movie was bound for the first-ever Cannes Film Festival. When the festival was canceled due to World War II, it delayed the movie’s (retrospective) Palme d’Or prize by 63 years.

  • #36. Rio Grande (1950)

    - Director: John Ford
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Votes: 14,348
    - Runtime: 105 minutes

    The seventh collaboration between John Wayne and director John Ford takes place soon after the Civil War has ended. At a remote outpost, cavalry officer Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) squares off against hostile Apaches. This makes up the final chapter of Ford’s “cavalry trilogy” in which U.S. cavalrymen battle Native Americans.

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  • #35. How the West Was Won (1962)

    - Directors: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall, Richard Thorpe
    - IMDb user rating: 7.1
    - Votes: 18,472
    - Runtime: 164 minutes

    This sprawling blockbuster employs a talented ensemble cast and no fewer than three acclaimed directors (plus an uncredited Richard Thorpe). Divided into segments, it follows a family line through different eras of westward expansion. It scored big at the box office and nabbed three Academy Awards.

  • #34. The Tall Target (1951)

    - Director: Anthony Mann
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Votes: 1,673
    - Runtime: 78 minutes

    The year is 1861, and police sergeant John Kennedy (Dick Powell) has just learned of a plot to assassinate President Lincoln. If the conspirators have their way, Lincoln will be killed when his train stops in Baltimore. It might sound like the stuff of alternate history, but the story is loosely based on a real-life event.

  • #33. The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

    - Director: John Huston
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Votes: 3,994
    - Runtime: 69 minutes

    Adapted from Stephen Crane’s classic novel of the same name, this Civil War drama follows a fearful young soldier into battle. Behind the scenes, director John Huston faced a battle of his own against MGM executives. Journalist Lillian Ross chronicled the troubled production in a five-part story for The New Yorker, later published as a book called “Picture.”

  • #32. They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

    - Director: Raoul Walsh
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Votes: 5,741
    - Runtime: 140 minutes

    Best known for the role of Robin Hood, actor Errol Flynn plays historical figure George Armstrong Custer in this error-laden blockbuster. It represents the eighth and final collaboration between Flynn and co-star Olivia de Havilland. Follow Custer from his early days as a West Point cadet all the way to his famous last stand.

  • #31. Little Women (1933)

    - Director: George Cukor
    - IMDb user rating: 7.2
    - Votes: 6,361
    - Runtime: 115 minutes

    Early in a long line of big-screen adaptations, this iconic drama tells the story of the March sisters (one of whom is played by Katharine Hepburn). With the Civil War hovering in the background, each sister comes of age in her own unique way. The film earned three Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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