Movies about war paint a grim but realistic picture of human history that serves as a reminder of our dark collective past and the strength of the human spirit. That said, there’s an extra layer of tragedy present in movies about civil war. They show communities and countries torn apart, pitting families against each other and against people who aren’t all that different from them.
These films about civil war tell tragic tales of death as well as uplifting stories of resilience based on internal wars fought throughout world history. You can watch each of these civil war movies on Netflix; just be sure to catch them before they go away.
1. Blood Diamond (2006)
Blood Diamond (2006) is a movie set in Africa. The movie is a fictional retelling of the Sierra Leone Civil War that centers around the civil war for the diamond trade. A group of Mende people are forced to mine for diamonds by the Revolutionary United Front. One of them discovers a pink diamond, leading to a battle between competing local factions and a foreign mining company.
2. Little Women (2019)
Whether you’re reading Little Women or watching one of its many movie adaptations, there’s no doubt that it can be easy to forget that the movie is set during the American Civil War. The March sisters are the daughters of a staunchly abolitionist family, and their current circumstances in the movie are a direct product of the American Civil War. Though once wealthy and respected in their community, the Marches fall on hard times when their father leaves to join the fight against Confederate forces.
The way Little Women takes the focus away from the front of the war and into the homes of the people who are left behind to deal with the effects of the war.
3. Beasts of No Nation (2015)
Beasts of No Nation (2015) is about a child forced to make hard decisions in order to survive in the midst of a civil war. Agu is a regular boy living with his family when the war breaks out, forcing him to be separated from his family. Now alone and without a way to support himself, he joins a group of rebels as a child soldier. Agu witnesses unbelievable violence and even partakes in some of it, making him question when he changed from the boy he once was.
4. Glory (1989)
Glory (1989) is an American Civil War movie centered on a soldier returning home after his injuries force him off the battlefront. What makes the movie even more intense, aside from the literal war happening, is that the soldier in question is an African American who is part of the first all-black Union regiment. Not only does he and his brothers-in-arms have to fight the Confederate army, but they must also resist racist attacks from within the ranks of the Union army.
5. The Hateful Eight (2015)
The Hateful Eight (2015) takes place in the periphery of the American Civil War. A Union army soldier is on a journey to Wyoming and meets a group of fellow travelers along the way, one of whom realizes that the soldier is the same person the Confederates are paying a generous bounty for.
If that sounds like the beginning of an Agatha Christie novel, that’s because the story is more of a murder mystery or a game of Clue set against the backdrop of the civil war. As alliances shift and new political perspectives are unveiled, the audience is left to wonder who was actually on whose side.
6. The Siege of Jadotville (2016)
The Siege of Jadotville (2016) is another movie about a Congolese civil war, except this time, it’s Irish, Belgian, and French forces duking it out to gain control of the area’s most valuable resource – a rich depository of uranium.
The film is based on a real siege of the same name that took place back in 1961. The Irish army was sent to the Congo to assist the new republic in transitioning from a colony to its own nation, something that involved making sure Belgian colonial forces would be fended off. The incident became a source of controversy at the time and stained the reputations of the Irish soldiers involved.
7. First They Killed My Father (2017)
The 2017 film First They Killed My Father tells the story of how the Khmer Rouge, a communist army, took control of Cambodia and began executing anyone they deemed as allies of the old government. Loung, who is a small child at the beginning of the story, is the daughter of an army officer for the old government. When the family is captured by the Khmer Rouge, they are torn apart and forced to go their separate ways, all while knowing that they may never see each other again or know what happened to their other family members.
Like the protagonist of Beasts of No Nation (2015), Loung is forced to become a child soldier in order to survive and has to dish out the same violence that destroyed her family.
8. The Endless Trench (2019)
In our present public consciousness, civil wars feel like something that only happens in unstable, war-torn regions. However, The Endless Trench (2019) drops us in the middle of the Spanish Civil War, which is being fought between republican and nationalist forces, the latter being, to oversimplify, a pro-monarchy and conservative faction.
Newlyweds Rosa and Higinio are forced to live their married lives hidden away in their own home because Higinio is a known republican. The longer Higinio stays under the house’s floorboards, though, the more strain it puts on their relationship and on Higinio’s declining mental health. If you thought the lockdowns were isolating, imagine going through them without access to the internet.
9. ‘76 (2016)
‘76 (2016) is a little different from the civil war films on this list because instead of being set during a war, it’s set after it. Two young lovers meet opposition from both sides of their family and their community because each of them comes from a people belonging to different factions of the previous civil war. It’s a sad, intensely personal story told at a more human scale about how the hatred of war prevents a people from moving on.
10. West Beirut (1998)
West Beirut is about a religiously charged civil war told through the eyes, and Super 8 lens, of a young boy and his friends. At first, the group thinks the war is little more than an excuse to take some time off from school. It gives them time to get into fun adventures in their neighborhood, meet interesting (if a bit shady) people, and spend time together. As they grow older and are forced to deal with the realities of living during a civil war, the group slowly loses their innocence and becomes more jaded.
11. The Beguiled (2017)
There’s a lot to say about The Beguiled (2017), but seeing as it’s a Sofia Coppola film, you could probably describe it as a story about how sexuality disturbs the tranquility of a community of women and not be far off.
The story takes place in an all-women’s school that lives in relative peace, far from the American Civil War, until they’re disturbed by the arrival of a Union army deserter. The soldier convinces them to let him stay, eventually becoming the source of the women’s discord as he tries to seduce them all into keeping him there.
12. Mosul (2019)
Mosul is a 2019 film about the struggle between ISIS forces and local policemen. Kawa, a newly minted officer, is raring to join his new colleagues in the fight against ISIS. What at first appears to be a straightforward mission to serve his country and follow commands from top officers is later complicated when he discovers that his SWAT team hasn’t been in touch with command for the entire duration of their mission.
13. 12 Strong (2018)
Set after the events of 9/11, 12 Strong (2018) follows U.S. Army Captain Mitch Nelson as he volunteers to go to Afghanistan out of a patriotic sense of helping his country serve justice. When he arrives in Afghanistan, however, he is made to realize how U.S. forces have hurt local politics and the locals themselves. He must now balance his interests with the interests of the Afghan soldiers he’s working with so they can focus on fighting the Taliban together.