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Best Civil War Movies and Documentaries on Netflix


Best Civil War Movies and Documentaries on Netflix


There is no shortage of compelling Civil War feature films and documentaries to stream on Netflix in April 2024. While many occur outside the United States, it’s worth contextualizing the most memorable cinematic stories of civil unrest with Alex Garland’s explosive new dystopian thriller Civil War opening on April 12, 2024. Starring Kirsten Dunst as a war correspondent, Civil War imagines a not-so-far-off future in America where politically divided citizens hash out their differences on the battlefield.

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Although all-time great American Civil War movies like Edward Zwick’s Glory and Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary are no longer hosted on the platform, there are plenty of worthy films chronicling the devastating impact of international countries fighting among themselves in the name of progress and prosperity. Here are the eight best Civil War narrative features and documentaries on Netflix.

8 Beasts of No Nation (2015)

A Fictional African Country Serves as a Grand Allegory

Beasts of No Nation

Beasts of No Nation

Release Date
September 11, 2015

Cast
Abraham Attah , Emmanuel Affadzi , Ricky Adelayitor , Andrew Adote , Vera Nyarkoah Antwi , Ama Abebrese

Runtime
133

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga from a script he co-wrote with Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation is arguably the best Civil War movie on Netflix in 2024. The story follows Agu (Abraham Attah), a young boy in West Africa who becomes a gallant child soldier who protects his parents and leads his people through a bloody civil war. Torn between his devotion to his country and his fear of his ruthless commander (one of Idris Elba’s best performances), Agu is robbed of his childhood as he rises as an unlikely hero.

Unflinching and All Too Real

While not for the faint of heart, Beasts of No Nation was praised by critics for its visceral, uncompromising glimpse of the hyper-violent horrors of war and the resilient ingenuity Agu demonstrates as he fights for his freedom. Fukunaga’s stark visual style was also hailed for its immersive tension and suspense, depicting the civil war with an unforgettable flare. By refusing to name the African country at war with itself, the movie becomes an allegory for countless nations that suffer similar fates, doing so with a glint of optimism that promises a better future.

7 Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom (2015)

A Prescient Account of The Ukrainian Revolution

A Molotov cocktail is held in Winter on Fire
Netflix

Directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, Winter on Fire: Fight for Freedom is a timely and topical Netflix documentary. The eye-opening account traces the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity, also known as The Maiden Uprising and the Ukrainian Revolution. The Maiden Uprising consisted of Ukrainian nationals protesting President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision not to join a free trade agreement with the European Union (EU). The result of the revolution led to the removal of Yanukovych from the presidency and a return to the 2004 Ukrainian Constitution.

A Critically Acclaimed Account

Roughly three months after The Ukrainian Revolution ended in February 2014, the Russian invasion of Ukraine took place and the devastating ramifications are still felt a decade later. Winter on Fire is more relevant today than most civil war documentaries on Netflix and is so well-made that it earned a 2016 Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature. The film also scored a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking and was listed among the 2016 winners at the Television Academy Honors.

6 The White Helmets (2016)

An unflinching account of The Syrian Civil Defence

Responders carry a stretcher in The White Helmets
Netflix

Netflix’s first Oscar-winning documentary, The White Helmets, is a must-see 41-minute account of The Syrian Civil Defence. This organization consisted of national volunteers and first responders who risked their lives to rescue victims injured in the war in Syria and Turkey between the locals and the opposition-led Syrian National Coalition. While the focus remains on the medical professionals and the heroic efforts made by the volunteers, the war itself is felt on the periphery.

The Triumph of Human Compassion

By chronicling the selfless sacrifices of the White Helmet members Khalid and Mohammed Farah, Abu Omar, and Raed Saleh, the inspiring doc puts faces to the many nameless, unknown saviors who continue to do charitable work in a wartorn region. Although the violence is disturbing and shocking at times, the overall message of strangers coming together to uplift a country spiritually and emotionally following a protracted war is hard to resist.

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5 Born in Syria (2016)

A Harrowing Chronicle of Displaced Child Refugees

Refugees March in Born in Syria
Netflix

Sticking with the Syrian Civil War, Born in Syria is a heartbreaking chronicle of the lost children displaced in the country following ISIS’ takeover of the region and the decisions made by President Bachar al-Assad. Beginning in 2011, the doc depicts the unthinkable displacement of roughly nine million Syrian nationals, with roughly 4 million believed to be children. The sobering tearjerker is difficult to endure but boasts a profoundly important message worth witnessing.

The Impact of War on Children

Beyond the unfathomable acts of violence that separate children from their parents, the doc shows how hard it is for children to find a safe haven even in so-called refugee camps designed for their well-being. As the children long for a better life by fleeing to Europe, the documentary is unafraid to show the futile dead ends at the Syrian border. It may be one of the least-viewed and most unheralded Netflix Civil War documentaries, but it’s undeniably powerful.

4 The Beguiled (2017)

The American Civil War is the Backdrop of a Psychological Thriller

John is flanked by women in The Beguiled
Focus Features

A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled is a semi-erotic psychological thriller set during the American Civil War. Although the war itself is more of a backdrop, the story concerns John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a corporal serving in the Union Army in the fight against the Confederates in 1864. When McBurney is injured in battle, he stumbles on an all-female farmhouse, where he begins to sew division among the women as they nurse him back to health.

A Delightful Twisty Civil War Thriller

Featuring terrific performances by its superb cast, including Nicole Kidman, Kirsten Dunst, Angourie Rice, and Elle Fanning, The Beguiled careens toward a soapy Southern Gothic thriller in the end, but the period detail is impeccable and the societal mores of the Civil War era are just as fascinating as the original. Rather than turning McBruney in as a POW to the Confederate Army, they become attracted to his unbridled masculinity, leading to an unpredictably steamy psychosexual affair for the ages.

3 First They Killed My Father (2017)

Angelina Jolie Tackles the Cambodian Civil War with Grace and Dignity

first they killed my father

First They Killed My Father

Release Date
February 18, 2017

Cast
Sareum Srey Moch , Phoeung Kompheak , Sveng Socheata , Mun Kimhak , Heng Dara , Khoun Sothea

Runtime
136

Angelina Jolie rarely gets the credit she deserves as a talented director. Case in point, the 2017 historical drama First They Killed My Father tells the remarkable true story of Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch), a five-year-old Cambodian girl forced into battle following the death of her father at the hands of the communist Khmer Rouge regime. Much like Beasts of No Nation, the movie shows how age does not matter when protecting one’s beliefs, family, and country during international wars. Unlike Beasts of No Nation, the story genuinely happened.

Stunningly Based on a True Story

Following the death of her father and the displacement of her siblings, Loung was conscripted into an army training regiment as the Cambodian Civil War began. As Vietnamese forces attempted to rescue the remaining Cambodians, Loung learned how to fight in hand-to-hand combat, booby-trapping, firearm shooting, and laying landmines. Yet, despite her orders and the propaganda fed to her daily, Loung rose above the chaos and became a civil rights activist as an adult. The film was lauded for Moch’s precocious performance and for Jolie’s deft ability to tackle a serious subject with grace and dignity.

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2 Harriet (2019)

A Stirring Biopic About a True Civil War Hero

harriet

Harriet

Release Date
November 1, 2019

Runtime
125

A rousing Civil War-era female biopic, Harriet tells the story of real-life abolitionist and Underground Railroad leader, Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo). The movie begins in 1849 Maryland, where Harriet toils on the Brodess plantation as an indentured slave despite being married to a freedman. The movie charts Harriet’s rise to power as she travels West toward Philadelphia and begins aiding slaves in their escape via the Underground Railroad.

The Story of an Incredible Figure

Beyond Erivo’s commanding performance, Harriet drew acclaim for director Kasi Lemmons’ decision to spare viewers the ugly horrors of slavery and instead focus on Harriet’s indomitable spirit and uplifting agency to help others in her position. Engaging, respectful, and more optimistic than most American Civil War stories, Harriet is more of a heartfelt celebration of Tubman’s legacy than it is a grim portrait of America’s original sin.

1 The Woman King (2022)

The Incredible True Story of The Kingdom of Dahomey

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Woman King recounts the incredible true story of General Nanisca (Viola Davis), the leader of an all-female army in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey. When the Kingdom liberates the enslaved women, the Oyo Empire attacks Dahomey and launches a brutal civil war. Undaunted, Nanisca and her soldiers fight back in an unbelievably brave stand-off using primitive low-tech weaponry.

A Powerhouse Performance from Davis

The Woman King drew near-unanimous praise for Davis’ dedicated performance and physically dominating screen presence. The action epic has been compared to Braveheart and Gladiator for its eye-popping size, scope, scale, and spectacle. Unlike many war movies that become mired in the grim aspects of battle, The Woman King delivers intense action sequences designed to make viewers root and cheer for Nanisca and her people to triumph over their captors. Most importantly, the film spotlights a little-known chapter in West Africa’s wartorn history.

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