Period Drama: Top 15 Most Popular Historic Periods Portrayed in Movies and TV

Have you watched these movies about specific historic periods?

by Todor Ivanov

History has often served as an inspiration for Hollywood. Going back in time is always exciting as we participate in groundbreaking events and meet inspirational personalities. 

Not all historical movies are based on true stories, but a perfectly crafted historic narrative can make the story feel legitimate, just like with books. 

Here are the most popular historical periods portrayed in movies and TV. Also known as period pieces or period films, these great historic movies capture a certain epoch’s allure (or the action). Here are the top 15 most popular historic periods portrayed in movies and TV!

The Vietnam War Era in Cinema

The intense backdrop of the Vietnam War was a pivotal period in American history that has inspired some remarkable films. Following the war’s official end on April 30, 1975, filmmakers wasted no time in capturing its complexities on screen. Michael Cimino’s “The Deer Hunter,” released just three years after the war’s conclusion, clinched the prestigious Academy Award for Best Picture. Another iconic film, Oliver Stone’s “Platoon” won the same award and marked a historic moment as the first Hollywood production helmed by a Vietnam War veteran. It’s arguably one of the most impressive historical period films.

The Deer Hunter

The Deer Hunter

During this era, the portrayal of the “crazy Vietnam veteran” became a prevalent theme in pop culture, giving rise to unforgettable cinematic gems like “Apocalypse Now” and the unforgettable lines of “Full Metal Jacket.” These movies provided gripping narratives and etched the Vietnam War era indelibly into the annals of cinematic history.

The Groovy 1970s on Screen

The stylish and diverse landscape of the 1970s, a decade where more than just the Vietnam War defined the cinematic scene. Characterized by iconic fashion choices like long hair, bell-bottom pants, and platform shoes, this era, often dubbed the “Me” decade, provided filmmakers with a vibrant canvas to work upon.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Beyond the brutalities of war, the 1970s introduced audiences to a plethora of intriguing characters. From rock band members to charismatic news anchors and cunning con artists, the screen came alive with personalities as diverse as the fashion of the time. This distinctive era also played a vital role in a beloved sitcom, chronicling the adventures of a group of teenagers navigating the challenges of growing up in Wisconsin during this exhilarating period. 

The 1970s weren’t just about bell bottoms and disco balls; they were a dynamic backdrop that added depth and character to the stories unfolding onscreen.

The Glitzy Roaring Twenties Unleashed

The dazzling and debonair Roaring Twenties are an era synonymous with extravagant parties and clandestine adventures. Widely regarded as one of America’s most vibrant periods, the Roaring Twenties has naturally become a favorite playground for filmmakers.

Some Like It Hot

Some Like It Hot

In this exuberant decade, the screen came alive with unforgettable moments. Picture Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon donning drag in the timeless comedy “Some Like It Hot,” capturing the essence of the era’s playful spirit. And who could forget the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, his allure, and his desperate pursuit of love, immortalized on screen?

Moreover, the Roaring Twenties also witnessed the rise of jazz, the flow of illegal booze, and the shadow of crime, all of which left an indelible mark on society. Films like “Chicago” and series like “Boardwalk Empire” brilliantly portrayed the intoxicating blend of music, illicit spirits, and criminal intrigue, giving us a glimpse into the soul of an era that truly knew how to throw a party. 

Epic Adventures in Ancient Greece

Тhe mythical realm of Ancient Greece, a setting brimming with gods, heroes, monsters, and legendary battles. Unsurprisingly, Ancient Greece has become a beloved backdrop for filmmakers worldwide.



What makes Ancient Greece so compelling is its versatility. Directors aren’t confined to a specific genre; they can explore fantasy, drama, warfare, and deep character studies. This rich era has given rise to diverse cinematic experiences. Imagine witnessing the breathtaking stand of 300 Spartans against hordes of Persians, alongside encounters with mythical creatures like the formidable Kraken.

While not always a ticket to the Academy Awards, Ancient Greece has gifted us with a trove of immensely enjoyable sword-and-sandal movies. These films, filled with epic quests and heroic feats, continue to captivate audiences, reminding us of the enduring allure of ancient myths and the timeless thrill of larger-than-life adventures. 

Revolution Unleashed: The French Revolution on Film

Vive la révolution! This battle cry echoes in the streets of history and the hearts of filmmakers and audiences alike. The French Revolution has proven to be an irresistible lure for directors, drawing viewers into the tumultuous era that changed the course of nations.

Les Misérables

Les Misérables

At the heart of this period lies the renowned musical “Les Misérables,” a captivating adaptation of Victor Hugo’s epic novel, chronicling the Rebellion’s stirring rise. For those inclined towards a raw and unfiltered portrayal of revolutionary violence, “The Lady and the Duke” offers a gripping perspective, painting a stark picture of the brutality that defined the times.

The French Revolution also introduced us to iconic figures like Napoléon Bonaparte and the ill-fated Marie Antoinette, names that continue to resonate with audiences across the globe. Their stories, filled with passion, power, and tragedy, have become timeless narratives on the silver screen. 

Glorious Days of Ancient Rome on Film

The grandeur of Ancient Rome, a period that gifted us an array of iconic characters whose stories continue to captivate audiences worldwide. From the political prowess of Julius Caesar and the passion of Mark Antony and Cleopatra to the bravery of Spartacus and the decadence of Commodus, Ancient Rome’s history is a treasure trove of captivating narratives.



Yet, among these legendary figures, one fictional character stands tall: Maximus Decimus Meridius, immortalized by Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Oscar-winning epic “Gladiator.” Crowe’s powerful portrayal practically embodies the era’s essence, leaving an indelible mark on cinematic history.

What makes Ancient Rome so irresistible onscreen? Gladiators battling in epic arenas, heart-pounding chariot races, colossal battles, and stirring slave rebellions – this era truly had it all. The blend of intrigue, power struggles, and larger-than-life spectacles makes Ancient Rome a perennial favorite among moviegoers. 

Lawless Tales of the Old West

The Wild West, as it’s fondly known, has carved its place as an enduring treasure trove in modern cinema.

In this rugged terrain, cinematic legends like John Wayne, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Clint Eastwood found some of their most iconic roles, embodying the spirit of the frontier with unmatched charisma. The allure of the Old West isn’t just about dusty trails and showdowns at high noon; it’s about the untamed spirit of a nation finding its way amidst chaos and lawlessness.

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

While the Western genre experienced a dry spell after the 1960s, it proved its resilience with powerful comebacks. The 2007 remake of “3:10 to Yuma” and Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 masterpiece “Django Unchained” revitalized the genre, proving that the Old West still holds an unbreakable grip on our imagination. 

Enchanted Tales of the Middle Ages

Middle Ages were not a time renowned for its hygiene or luxurious living, but a period that found a magical home on the silver screen. The medieval world of knights, kings, princesses, and castles has seamlessly translated into the cinematic industry, captivating audiences worldwide.

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

In the realm of medieval cinema, the choices are as vast as the kingdoms they portray. From the noble valor of knights to the intricate politics of kings and the timeless allure of princesses, this period has given rise to many captivating characters. 

Whether it’s the real-life sagas of King Henry II, the valiant exploits of Richard the Lionheart, the enigmatic aura of the Black Prince, the legendary tales of King Arthur, or the iconic adventures of Robin Hood, the Middle Ages have provided filmmakers with a rich tapestry of stories waiting to be woven into cinematic masterpieces.

The Unforgettable Saga of World War II on Film

It seems like hardly a year goes by without a new World War II movie gracing the silver screen, capturing the hearts and minds of audiences worldwide.

Why does World War II continue to dominate the film industry? Perhaps it’s the global scale of conflict, the unparalleled bravery exhibited on all fronts, or the unity of several nations joining forces to thwart a madman’s tyranny. The sheer magnitude of the war, with battles raging across the globe, provides an epic backdrop for filmmakers to craft compelling narratives.

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan

Oscar favorites like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List” delved into different facets of the war, delivering powerful and moving stories that left an indelible mark on cinema history. The critically acclaimed mini-series “Band of Brothers” stands tall as a testament to the bravery and camaraderie of soldiers during this tumultuous time, earning its place among the greatest television series ever.

The continued success of films like 2014’s “Fury” proves that audiences remain deeply engaged with the stories of World War II. The bravery, sacrifice, and resilience of individuals amid the chaos of war continue to resonate, making this era not just a setting for movies but a canvas upon which extraordinary tales of humanity and heroism are painted. World War II’s legacy in cinema is far from fading; it continues to shine brightly, reminding us of the unparalleled courage that defined an entire generation.

The Golden Age of Piracy: High Seas Adventures on Screen

Let’s set sail into the thrilling waters of the Golden Age of Piracy, a period that has always intrigued filmmakers and audiences alike. Spanning from the 1650s to the 1730s, this era was marked by daring buccaneers and legendary treasure hunts, making it a captivating subject for movies.

Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean

While pirates have always been a popular cinematic theme, it wasn’t until the Pirates of the Caribbean series and classics like Peter Pan and Treasure Island that the genre found its true compass. The Golden Age of Piracy has been a double-edged cutlass for filmmakers, as many pirate-based films failed to impress audiences, falling victim to critics’ harsh reviews. However, a select few managed to hoist the Jolly Roger successfully, with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise standing tall as the ultimate conqueror of the high seas.

Victorian Era: An Age of Intrigue and Elegance on Film

One of the main reasons behind the Victorian Era’s popularity in cinema lies in the literary brilliance of Charles Dickens. His timeless works have seamlessly transitioned from pages to screens, both big and small, offering viewers glimpses into the time’s social intricacies and human struggles.

Sweeney Todd

Sweeney Todd

Yet, beyond the elegance of ballrooms and the charm of gas-lit streets, the Victorian Era had its darker corners. Real-life horrors like “Jack the Ripper” and the fictional menace of “Sweeney Todd” cast sinister shadows on the period, adding an element of thrilling mystery to the cinematic narratives. In a world where nefarious characters roamed the streets, the need for brilliant detectives like “Sherlock Holmes” became apparent, creating an enduring legacy in the annals of detective fiction.

Films like the Sherlock Holmes series, the whimsical Alice in Wonderland, the enigmatic The Prestige, the heartfelt David Copperfield, and the chilling Oliver and Sweeney Todd have all carved their places in the Victorian tapestry of cinema. Director Christopher Nolan, too, lent his genius to this era with the acclaimed film “The Prestige,” weaving a tale of magic and deception against the backdrop of Victorian elegance.

Ancient Egypt: Mystical Sands and Pharaohs on Film

The allure of Ancient Egypt lies in its mystique – a land of majestic pyramids, powerful pharaohs, and mythical gods. From the colossal structures of Giza to the mesmerizing hieroglyphics adorning temple walls, the visual splendor of Ancient Egypt has found its perfect canvas on the silver screen.

One key element that makes Ancient Egypt a favorite among filmmakers is its rich mythology. The stories of gods like Ra, Osiris, and Isis, along with the iconic tale of Cleopatra, have been brought to life with cinematic grandeur. This period shrouded in mystery and magic, has given rise to epic adventures, from daring treasure hunts in hidden tombs to the captivating romance of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar.



The fascination with Ancient Egypt isn’t confined to historical accuracy alone; it extends to the mystical allure of mummies and curses. Films like “The Mummy” series have made mummies iconic figures in popular culture, their bandaged forms synonymous with ancient secrets waiting to be uncovered.

Moreover, Ancient Egypt has been a treasure trove for filmmakers exploring themes of power, betrayal, and destiny. The opulent courts of pharaohs, the bustling markets along the Nile, and the rituals of life and death have become immersive backdrops for tales of intrigue and heroism.

As directors and storytellers continue to delve into the sands of time, Ancient Egypt remains a captivating realm where ancient mysteries and modern storytelling converge. Step into this enchanting era, where the gods walk among mortals, and the echoes of history resonate through every frame, reminding us of the eternal allure of the land of the pharaohs.

Medieval Japan: Samurai Honor and Feudal Legends on Film

What makes Medieval Japan a cherished theme in filmmaking is its unique blend of martial prowess and poetic beauty. The era of samurai warriors, shoguns, and daimyos offers a rich backdrop for epic battles, intricate political intrigues, and the unwavering code of honor upheld by the samurai class. From the iconic katana swords to the art of tea ceremonies, every aspect of Medieval Japan exudes a sense of disciplined elegance that resonates powerfully on the screen.

The Seven Samurai

The Seven Samurai

Films set in this era often explore the delicate balance between duty and personal integrity, the clash of feudal clans, and the indomitable spirit of legendary figures like Miyamoto Musashi and Oda Nobunaga. The mysticism of ninja warriors, shrouded in shadows and mystery, adds an element of intrigue and stealth to the narratives, making every scene a captivating spectacle.

From masterpieces like Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” to modern interpretations like “The Last Samurai,” filmmakers have beautifully captured the essence of Medieval Japan. The elegance of geishas, the precision of archery, and the grandeur of feudal castles have become cinematic treasures, inviting audiences into a world where the clash of swords and the whispering cherry blossoms paint a mesmerizing portrait of a bygone era.

World War I: The Great War’s Epic Tales Unfold on Screen

World War I emerges as a poignant and powerful chapter, etched in the collective memory of humanity. This tumultuous period, spanning from 1914 to 1918, has become a compelling source of cinematic inspiration, capturing the harrowing experiences, the resilience of the human spirit, and the transformative impact of war on nations and individuals alike.

World War I, also known as the Great War, is a canvas upon which filmmakers have painted stories of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice. The era’s trench warfare, biplane dogfights, and the introduction of mechanized weaponry offer a visceral backdrop for gripping narratives. From the heart-wrenching tales of soldiers in the trenches to the daring exploits of fighter pilots soaring amidst the clouds, every aspect of World War I has found expression on the silver screen.



Its ability to explore the human side of war sets World War I apart in cinematic history. Films like “War Horse” and “1917” have delved into the deep bonds between soldiers and their animal companions, highlighting the humanity amidst the chaos of battle. The war’s profound impact on societies, the changing roles of women, and the societal upheaval that followed are themes that have been sensitively explored in movies set against this backdrop.

World War I remains a treasure trove for directors and storytellers, offering a canvas where heroism and tragedy coexist and the human spirit shines amidst the darkness of conflict. Step into the trenches, soar with the aces of the sky, and witness the echoes of history in every frame, for in World War I movies, the stories of a generation are immortalized, reminding us of the enduring impact of this pivotal moment in time.

The Renaissance: Artistic Brilliance and Cultural Resplendence on Film

The Renaissance, or “rebirth,” was a period of profound transformation in Europe. A flourishing of the arts marked it, the exploration of scientific ideas, and a renewed interest in classical knowledge. Filmmakers have artfully captured the essence of this period, from the opulent courts of Medici in Florence to the bustling streets of Venice, where painters, scholars, and thinkers congregated, exchanging ideas that would shape the course of history.

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The Renaissance was not only a time of artistic innovation but also a period of political intrigue and religious upheaval. The clash of powerful families, such as the Borgias, and the fervor of religious reformers, like Martin Luther, have provided rich material for cinematic storytelling. Films set in this era often explore themes of ambition, betrayal, and the eternal quest for knowledge, creating narratives that resonate with audiences across the ages.

From sumptuous period dramas like “The Agony and the Ecstasy” to the mesmerizing intrigue of “The Borgias” series, filmmakers have brought the Renaissance to life with meticulous attention to historical detail. The era’s architectural marvels, lavish costumes, and the spirit of intellectual inquiry have been meticulously recreated, immersing audiences in the splendor and complexity of this transformative period.

In conclusion

These historical periods in cinema make for some great historic movies. These period pieces can be found on Netflix and all over the streaming platform, as they generate immense interest amongst the viewers. 

Period drama will forever remain as a fan favorite due to the excitement that it bring to its fans. Admit it, we all live to see a wild 70’s party or a grand Renaissance ball!

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are historic periods popular settings for movies?

Historic periods offer rich backdrops filled with intriguing characters, cultural diversity, and captivating stories. Filmmakers draw from history to craft narratives that resonate with audiences, blending the allure of the past with modern storytelling techniques.

How do filmmakers ensure historical accuracy in period movies?

Filmmakers often collaborate with historians, researchers, and costume and set designers to recreate historical settings authentically. Attention to detail, accurate costumes, and period-appropriate language enhance the film’s authenticity.

Are movies set in historic periods always accurate?

While filmmakers aim for accuracy, artistic liberties are sometimes taken to enhance the story’s entertainment value. However, many movies strive to maintain a balance between historical authenticity and compelling storytelling.

Why do filmmakers choose specific periods for historic pieces?

Filmmakers select historic periods based on various factors, including audience interest, cultural significance, availability of historical records, and the potential for engaging narratives. Certain periods offer rich thematic material, making them attractive choices for filmmakers.

Are period movies limited to specific genres?

Period movies can encompass various genres, including drama, romance, action, adventure, and even science fiction. Each genre allows filmmakers to explore different aspects of historic periods, catering to diverse audience preferences.

How have advancements in technology influenced the portrayal of historic periods in movies?

Technological advancements, such as CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) and advanced set design techniques, have allowed filmmakers to recreate historic periods with unprecedented detail and realism. These technologies enhance audiences’ visual and immersive experience, bringing historical settings to life in remarkable ways.

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