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Movies for Teaching Ancient History

  • March 3, 2020
  • By Donielle
Movies for Teaching Ancient History

Movies are a great teaching tool. When a film accurately portrays a period of history, the dress, transportation, food, or weaponry, it can bring an era to life, in the mind and imagination of a student. I love to use movies when I can. Since this year is ancient history in our four year history cycle, here are a few movies that may aid in giving students a better idea of what the events looked like.

For young students

10487VS: The Prince of Egypt [Streaming Video Purchase]
The Prince of Egypt [Streaming Video Purchase]
By Simon Wells

Elementary students love animation. Try Prince of Egypt for the story of Moses and The Miracle Maker for the story of Jesus. Veggie Tales has lots of options, too.

9957VS: The Miracle Maker [Streaming Video Purchase]The Miracle Maker [Streaming Video Purchase]
By Derek W. Hayes & Stanislav Sokolov


For the whole family

For live action, try the epic The Ten Commandments. We watch this during Holy Week to remind us of the meaning of Passover. Whenever I picture Moses in my mind, he looks a lot like Charlton Heston.

152646: The Ten Commandments, DVDThe Ten Commandments, DVD


If they enjoy that, they may also like King of Kings (1961) or The Robe (1953). These movies are also biblically themed and great choices for Holy Week and Lent. We try to make Holy Week as momentous as Christmas. Why not start a movie tradition to focus our entertainment on bigger ideas and the ultimate story?

584261: The Robe, DVD
The Robe, DVD

For other parts of ancient history, try the high budget, visually stunning portrayal of the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, by Elizabeth Taylor.

Based on the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar is another masterpiece from 1953. I suggest reading the play first, of course. It is a favorite with my middle schoolers.

Are you enjoying old classics? Kirk Douglas’ portrayal of the controversial legend Spartacus is a another epic. This film contains murders that you will want to have small children out of the room for. It is the story of a tragic rebellion, after all.

The whole family will love the original Ben-Hur movie. It has a family friendly rating even though there are death scenes.

813176: Ben Hur DVDBen Hur DVD

For older students

Let’s start with the new version of Ben-Hur. With its PG-13 rating and less left to the imagination, it is for older kids, but it is very entertaining. Revenge, love, redemption, it has all the elements of a great story line.

242915: Ben-Hur (2016), DVDBen-Hur (2016), DVD

The Eagle is not quite as good as the book by Rosemary Sutcliff, but it is still an exciting movie about the Roman Empire’s push to subdue Britain. I am told that Jet Li’s Hero is a good movie for looking at the ancient history of China. It is on my list to check out.

There is an old Kirk Douglas version of the Odyssey called Ulysses. After you watch that, if you were able to locate a copy, watch O Brother, Where Art Thou? and see if you can spot the similarities. This is supposed to be a modern retelling, set in the 1930s.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a gruesome, rated R movie about the Crusades. But then again, war is gruesome and R rated. It spells out this series of wars and their resulting disllusionment in graphic detail, for upper high school students.

A few foreign films

If your older student doesn’t mind subtitled films, they might try Socrates (1971), Antigone (1961), or the Final Inquiry. Please check out ratings and reviews for any film you offer to your kids. I like the discerning reviews on Common Sense Media.

There are quite a bit of grotesquely violent, inaccurate, purposefully rewritten, and just plain bad films out there, very loosely based on ancient history. View with caution. But do view some movies. Because there are things about history that I never fully understood until I saw a cinematic interpretation and I think your students will feel the same. It adds a fun and visual element to the study of history.

Check out my post on Early American History in film for more ideas.

By Donielle, March 3, 2020
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