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Top 10 Popular Historic Periods Portrayed in Movies and TV

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by Clayton Martino Sometimes, history can be far more exciting than the present. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Historical Periods Often Portrayed in Movies and TV. For this list, we are looking at the most popular periods of history commonly portrayed onscreen. Special thanks to our user 25billionaire for submitting the idea on our Interactive Suggestion Tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest!
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Top 10 Popular Historic Periods Portrayed in Movies and TV


Sometimes, history can be far more exciting than the present. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Historical Periods Often Portrayed in Movies and TV.

For this list, we are looking at the most popular periods of history commonly portrayed onscreen. In order to qualify, however, the film or TV show must have been filmed outside the time period in which it is set. We’re also excluding films set in the future.

#10: Vietnam War

One of the most tumultuous periods in American history made for some excellent movie. The war officially ended on April 30, 1975, and it wasn’t long before directors were giving their own take on the war. Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter,” released just three years after the War’s end, won the Academy Award for Best Picture, as did Oliver Stone’s “Platoon.” The latter also holds the distinction of being the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a Vietnam War veteran. With the archetype of the “crazy Vietnam veteran” becoming something of a common trope in pop culture, this era also serves as the setting for the phenomenal “Apocalypse Now” and the quotable “Full Metal Jacket,” among other classics.

#9: 1970s

Although many Vietnam films are set in the 1970s, brutal violence and warfare are not the only hallmarks of the decade. With long hair, bell-bottom pants, and platform shoes all the rage, this period – referred to by some as the “Me” decade – has a distinctive look that has been used to great effect in a wide variety of films. Drawing from the ranks of rock bands, news anchors, and con artists, the setting of the 1970s has given the screen some especially interesting characters. It also was integral to a popular sitcom, which followed a bunch of teenagers growing up in Wisconsin at the height of the decade.

#8: Roaring Twenties

Grab some illegal liquor and start practicing the Charleston, because this decade is an absolute party. Widely considered one of the greatest decades in American history, the Roaring Twenties is naturally a popular setting for filmmakers. It gave us Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot” as well as the iconic Jay Gatsby and his desperate attempt for love. We were also able to see the impact of jazz, booze, and crime on society during this time period, particularly in “Chicago” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

#7: Ancient Greece

Gods, heroes, monsters, and epic battles? No wonder Ancient Greece is apopular setting! One of the great things about setting a film in Ancient Greece is the director is not limited to a certain genre: fantasy, drama, war, and character pieces are all represented. What other period could give you an epic war between 300 Spartans and hundreds of thousands of Persians, but also see a man fight a Kraken? While this period doesn’t necessarily produce Academy Award winning films, it is the setting of some incredibly enjoyable sword-and-sandal movies.

#6: Victorian Era

From gods and Spartans to top hats and muttonchops, it’s hard to find twoperiods that are more different than Ancient Greece and Victorian London. Yet the era when Queen Victoria reigned over England is an extremely popular time period for filmmakers. One of the main reasons for this is because of Charles Dickens, with numerous of his works having been adapted for both the small and big screen. This period was also home to several vicious serial killers, however, including the real life Jack the Ripper and the fictional Sweeney Todd. With men like these roaming the streets, it’s no wonder they needed detectives like Sherlock Holmes.

#5: French Revolution

Vive la révolution! This may be the rallying cry among many directors because of the popularity of the French Revolution among audiences. This period in history gave us the famous musical “Les Misérables,” inspired by Victor Hugo’s epic novel detailing the rise of the Rebellion. Those who prefer violence to singing, however, may want to check out “The Lady and the Duke,” a film which provides an unvarnished view of revolutionary violence. This period also produced several famous figures, such as Napoléon Bonaparte and the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, whose names still resonate with viewers.

#4: Ancient Rome

Perhaps no period in history gave us more famous characters than Ancient Rome. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Cleopatra, Spartacus, and Commodus are just some of the many legendary names from this era who have memorably appeared onscreen. Yet the most famous character from this period may be the fictional Maximus Decimus Meridius. Russell Crowe’s memorable portrayal of the character in Ridley Scott's Oscar-winning “Gladiator” practically defines the era. With gladiators, chariot races, huge battles and slave rebellions, what’s not to love about Ancient Rome?

#3: Old West

If you like cowboys, outlaws, and living under the constant threat of being killed with a pistol in every saloon you enter, then the Old West is for you. Also known as the Wild West, this era in American history has been a staple of modern cinema, giving heavyweights like John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Clint Eastwood some of their finest roles. While the Western genre went through a dry period after the 1960s, 2007’s remake of “3:10 to Yuma” and 2012’s “Django Unchained” prove the genre is alive and well today.

#2: Middle Ages

The Middle Ages may not have been known for hygiene and high standards of living all around, but luckily we don’t have to smell the characters on screen. Knights, kings, princesses and castles all translate perfectly to the cinematic industry, making this period one of the more popular ones among audiences. Of course, there was no shortage of excellent characters for directors to choose from – both real and fictional – including King Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, the Black Prince, King Arthur, and Robin Hood.

Before we unveil our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
- Golden Age of Piracy
- The Great Depression
- The Renaissance
- Feudal Japan
- U.S. Civil War

#1: World War II

Easily the most popular period of history for filmmakers over the past few decades, it seems like a new World War II movie is released every year. With conflict all over the world, brutal fighting, and several countries banding together to stop a madman, however, it’s no wonder that World War II makes a great setting. “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List” were Oscar favorites and explored different elements of the war, while “Band of Brothers” is widely regarded to be one of the best mini-series of all time. To top it off, the success of 2014’s “Fury” proved that audiences aren’t tired of seeing this period relived on the big screen yet!

Do you agree with our list? What historical periods do you like to see adapted for film or television? For more exciting Top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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