The revolution will not be televised. Still, certain romanticized depictions of revolts and revolutions in film can give you a pretty rough idea of how it goes (if you ignore the shoehorned romance). Sometimes all you need is an evocation of radical change and violent reprisals against oppressors brought about by the best movies about revolutions.
A lot of these films also portray events that are true to life, while some are fictional caricatures that can help you understand the point better and more artistically. Get the cake and the guillotine ready while watching the following movies about revolutions.
V for Vendetta
V for Vendetta is the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name. Its cultural impact is resonating, to say the least, as hacker groups took their inspiration from this film’s iconic Guy Fawkes mask. It’s the choice of headgear for V, the titular hero and an agent of anarchy in a dystopian UK ruled by a totalitarian government.
V has made it his goal to sow chaos and dissent in the UK as some kind of revenge plot spliced in with anarchistic ideals. Along the way, he unceremoniously recruits a woman named Evey as the two resort to terror tactics in order to take down England’s oppressive new government.
And while the film is a significant cornerstone for a lot of anarchist movements worldwide, Alan Moore didn’t particularly like the adaptation—though, to be fair, he hated just about any film adaptation of his works.
Les Misérables is yet another adaptation of a stage musical, which is also an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. It’s a dramatization of Hugo’s romanticized tale of the French Revolution and the events leading up to it explored through the eyes of different characters.
The latter half of the film heartily portrays radical students in their daring uprising during one of the French revolutions during the Industrial Age (too many to count, really).
It’s worth noting that the revolt or rebellion isn’t exactly the film’s main focus– it’s mostly the story of Jean Valjean and his stunning climb from prisoner to mayor and, eventually, one of the reluctant participants of the revolt.
Okay, time to get serious. This one is a (relatively) no-nonsense biopic about the legendary and notorious Che Guevara during his days as one of the revolutionary leaders of Cuba alongside Fidel Castro.
It depicts the exploits and struggles of the Argentinean Marxist who would later become one of the most important figureheads of Socialism and Communism, as well as agrarian revolts in third-world countries.
Che is played by none other than Benicio Del Toro in a hauntingly close performance. It’s also a two-part film; the first one chronicles Che and Fidel Castro’s victory in Cuba, while the second film portrays Che’s downfall in Bolivia after he decided to branch out his revolution and liberation of Latin American countries.
A 1960 oldie but goodie, Spartacus is a film whose screenplay was written by a blacklisted US communist, Dalton Trumbo (there’s even a film about it). Spartacus was, thus, a highly-dramatized retelling of the historical figure during his slave rebellion in Rome back in the Classical Age.
It was a time period when slavery in Rome was on a steady upward trend after the empire invaded and conquered numerous foreign territories. They sent gladiator slaves to Rome to fight and die for entertainment, and among them was the brilliant Thracian Spartacus.
He would later on lead a revolt against the Roman Empire itself, and historians even surmised that he could have sacked Rome if he wanted.
The film takes plenty of liberties with its version of the story and even sprinkles in a romantic hook for Spartacus; nevertheless, it still became an important cultural progress for the film as it was one of the earliest modern anti-slavery media back in the day.
If you don’t mind silent films, then Battleship Potemkin is a good choice for a classic. It was released in 1925 and tells a dramatized account of the Russian naval mutiny during the Russian Revolution of 1905.
The symbolisms weren’t subtle here; the sailors of the titular battleship were being fed rancid meat and had to endure the tyrannical and cruel officers, so they decided to take matters into their own hands and seize the whole ship. That’s quite the parallel to what happened to the entirety of Tsarist Russia before World War 1, which eventually led to the formation of the Soviet Union or Communist Russia.
Despite its age, Battleship Potemkin is still hailed as one of the finest of Russian or Soviet cinema due to its influential story and editing techniques.
The Birth of a Nation
The Birth of a Nation takes place in the post-colonial US in the 1800s when African-American slaves toiled in the cotton fields of Virginia and were treated like animals. One of them, Nat Turner, was taught how to read by his slave owners so he could preach Bible verses to his slave brethren in hopes that it would quell potential uprisings.
However, through the Christian Bible itself, Nat found verses and words that would later give him the ideals and realization he needed to fuel the very notion of a slave uprising. Quite the self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence, Nat led his enslaved brothers and sisters armed with the new knowledge of basic human rights and Christ’s teachings.
Snowpiercer is a sci-fi story, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful. It’s also directed by Bong-Joon Ho, who gained worldwide renown for his Korean film, Parasite. So you can expect similar themes here, and sure enough, Snowpiercer is a film about revolution.
It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans were forced to live on a perpetually-running train after Earth froze and became uninhabitable. The train was thus divided based on social classes where the wealthy and indulgent elite lived in luxurious cars near the engine while the poor were corralled like pests in the rear car.
Eventually, the destitute grew hungry enough to stage a revolution and reach the engine so they could take control.
The Wind That Shakes the Barley
Ireland is no stranger to revolts and civil wars, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a film that features one of its most tragic time periods when rebels had their socialist ideals challenged by the might of British policies in the 1920s.
A budding doctor named Damien (played by Cillian Murphy, who has an upcoming lead role for Oppenheimer) was compelled to join the Irish rebels after witnessing the brutality of the British and Irish Unionists. He then joined his brother and their cause to fight for Ireland’s independence with the goal of having socialist reforms.
Their ideals were then challenged when Damien’s brother accepted an unfair treaty from the British, leaving Damien and his fellow loyal Irishmen alone in their cause.
It’s a must-watch not just for Cillian Murphy’s acting chops but also for the film’s important themes about integrity and principles.
Moving on to Scotland, Braveheart is Mel Gibson’s movie about the famed William Wallace, who, in the 13th century, led a revolution and war of independence against the overwhelming English forces.
A disclaimer is in order here; it’s not the best film to watch if you’re looking for authentic takes on a historical event. This is a highly-fictitious and dramatized legend from Mel Gibson, but it’s still a beautiful and emotionally-raw film about a peasant uprising.
Gibson takes on the role of Wallace, who returns to his homeland of Scotland after traveling the world. He merely sought to build a peaceful life with a former childhood love, but the English robbed him of his peace and future by killing his wife.
Thus, he led a revolution and even won several battles against the larger English armies, eventually leading to Scotland’s independence.
All these violent revolutions and revolts might not be for everyone, so here’s a peaceful one from Martin Luther King Jr. Selma is a biopic detailing Martin Luther King Jr.’s legal and political fight in the US so that the African-American population would be granted the right to vote equally.
Martin Luther King Jr. led this revolt in an epic march from Selma to Mongomery, Alabama, hence the film’s title.
You’ll find no shortage of inspiring talent here, from Oprah Winfrey to David Oyelowo, and the film naturally has no shortage of awards for its more fitting message and relevance for modern times.