“Colonial war” is an umbrella term that refers to wars fought between conflicting powers in the “new world,” which is to say, Oceania and the Americas, or even other places where colonies were forcibly established. Many movies have been made about the dozens of wars fought over the land that many now call home, with many featuring conflicts from different sides. Hollywood sort of got its start here, as some of these films date back to the early to mid-20th century.

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These movies are almost always synonymous with muskets, cannons, and soldiers lining up like idiots, shooting in volleys, and then waiting to get shot by the enemy (which may seem ridiculous to us now, but there were actually many valid reasons why it was done this way). If you’re in the mood for some war films that are a little bit different from usual, it’s worth checking these out; however, it’s worth noting that the European powers that are glorified in them shouldn’t always be seen as heroes in the modern day.

10 ‘The Alamo’ (1960)

Conflict: Texas Revolution (1835-1836)

The Alamo - 1960
Image via United Artists

The Alamo is a Western-war film that follows the titular battle during the Texas Revolution, which has become synonymous with standing your ground against all odds. The film was directed by iconic Western movie star John Wayne, who also stars as American folk hero Davy Crockett. While this sounds like a recipe for success, the movie kind of fell short in a lot of regards. That’s not to say it’s bad; it just isn’t anything incredible.

If you’re a Western fan or a war movie fan, you’re sure to have a good time watching the famous battle unfold with a Western twist. Most critics seem to be torn on its quality, with many loving it and others being bored by it, although it won an Oscar for Best Sound and was nominated for many more. So it’s definitely worth a watch.

The Alamo (1960)

Release Date
October 27, 1960

Cast
John Wayne , Richard Widmark , Laurence Harvey , Frankie Avalon

Runtime
162 minutes

9 ‘The Buccaneer’ (1958)

Conflict: War of 1812 (1812-1814)

The Buccaneer explores multiple genres, representing classic Hollywood in a way like no other. The story takes place during the War of 1812, a war fought between the British and the Americans over Canadian territory and trading routes, but it also manages to be a pirate movie on top of a war movie, as its name implies. Yul Brynner stars as the French pirate and privateer Jean LaFitte, who was taken prisoner and offered his freedom if he would serve in the navy on behalf of the British.

The Buccaneer is most certainly not the best movie ever made, not by a long shot. But it’s a great watch if you’re into pirates or if you want a little glimpse of Canadian, American, or British history, although, like many historical films, much of the plot is embellished for the sake of Hollywood. Still, it’s a fun time, full of early Hollywood kitsch and amazing acting performances.

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8 ‘The Patriot’ (2000)

Conflict: American Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

Benjamin (Mel Gibson) charges into battle carrying an American flag, with soldiers in the background
Image via Sony 

Mel Gibson stars as Benjamin Martin in The Patriot, the story of a bereaved father taking revenge against the British during the American Revolutionary War. While this movie is far from being historically accurate, it’s still a pretty fun watch. It’s pretty gory, but it also has some great action sequences and memorable characters. The movie is directed by Roland Emmerich, who also did films like White House Down (2013) and Independence Day (1996).

It’s an American film through and through, with many patriotic symbols making an appearance, and with the aura that America’s fight against the British Crown ought to be celebrated as one of the country’s proudest moments. The movie boasts an appearance from Jason Isaacs as fictitious British Colonel William Tavington, who makes for an excellent and highly intimidating villain. Heath Ledger also makes an appearance as Gabriel Martin, the adult son of Benjamin.

The Patriot (2000)

Release Date
June 30, 2000

Director
Roland Emmerich

Runtime
165 Minutes

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7 ‘Hochelaga, Land of Souls’ (2017)

Conflict: Lower Canada Rebellion (1837-1838)

Hochelaga, Land of Souls, occurred during the Lower Canada Rebellion in what is today known as Quebec. It is a severely underrated movie that features a mix of both European actors, such as Gilles Renaud, and Indigenous actors, like Tanaya Beatty. It features a time jump between present day and the Rebellion, with a modern Indigenous student at McGill University finding a sinkhole beneath the school’s football field that leads to evidence of the eponymous Hochelaga, an Indigenous village that was once where Montreal stands today.

Jumping between the present and the past, it explores the story of Hochelaga and the various events that unfolded there. It unfolds as a series of short stories, with some taking place during the Rebellion, others featuring the Medieval Period before European colonists arrived, and another featuring the infamous French explorer Jacques Cartier (Vincent Perez) as he traveled to Hochelaga during the Renaissance and makes contact with the indigenous people there. Above all, it is a poignant reminder that the lands that Americans and Canadians walk on are Indigenous land, with many centuries of history unfolding on screen before the audience’s eyes.

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6 ‘The Nightingale’ (2018)

Conflict: Black War (Mid-1820s-1832)

Claire (Aisling Franciosi) runs through a misty forest carrying a musket in The Nightingale.
Image via Transmission Films

The Nightingale takes place during Australia’s Black War, during a time when the continent was still used as a place of exile for British and Irish prisoners. Starring Aisling Franciosi as an Irish prisoner on Tasmania on a quest for revenge, The Nightingale is an amazing blend of war and horror that comes from the same director as the iconic horror film The Babadook (2014).

While it was criticized for being extremely graphic, The Nightingale managed to attract a lot of success for the most part, becoming an action-horror with a vengeful twist. It won several AACTA awards and was nominated for many more, with praise primarily directed towards its atmosphere and performances. Its graphic violence may be a bit much to stomach, but if you’re not particularly squeamish, it’s a great watch if you like war-horror movies.

The Nightingale

Release Date
September 23, 2018

Director
Jennifer Kent

Runtime
136 minutes

5 ‘Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier’ (1955)

Conflict: Creek War (1813-1814)

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett raised his musket high above his head
Image via Walt Disney 

American folk hero Davy Crockett returns, this time played by Fess Parker in Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier. Initially starting out as a three-part miniseries by Disney, it was later compiled into a full feature-length film that was met with numerous accolades. The movie scored a perfect 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is perhaps debatable because the movie isn’t quite perfect, but it is a timeless classic, especially for Western fans.

The first part of the film, which is the first episode of the mini-series, occurs during the Creek War in the early 19th century, with the other episodes focusing on the events following it. It’s a much better Davy Crockett film than The Alamo and is a Western classic that will continue to be loved even by future generations.

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

Release Date
May 25, 1955

Director
Norman Foster

Cast
Fess Parker , Buddy Ebsen , Basil Ruysdael , Hans Conried , William Bakewell , Kenneth Tobey , Pat Hogan , Helen Stanley

Runtime
93 Minutes

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4 ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (1992)

Conflict: Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)

Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) runs into battle with British soldiers, a musket slung across his back
Image via 20th Century Fox 

The Last of the Mohicans is based on an 1826 novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper. In the film, Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Hawkeye, a European who was raised by the Indigenous Delaware tribe. The movie takes place during the Seven Years’ War, which was one of the first real global conflicts, spanning much of Europe, Asia, and North America. The Last of the Mohicans was nominated for countless awards, even winning the Oscar for Best Sound.

Daniel Day-Lewis brings an exceptional performance as always, and the film delivers a fantastic amount of romance, history, and action all wrapped up into one nice little package. It also features real historical figures and the true-to-life Siege of Fort William Henry in the State of New York. It’s a marvelous retelling of a small portion of the Seven Years’ War, with the struggle of Indigenous tribes in Colonial America taking the spotlight, showcasing a painful part of Indigenous history, but one that is necessary to tell.

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3 ‘Lincoln’ (2012)

Conflict: American Civil War (1861-1865)

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln
Image via Walt Disney

Lincoln is a war movie that opts to focus not on soldiers but on a powerful and inspirational leader: then-President Abraham Lincoln. During his presidency, Lincoln felt that it was time to outlaw slavery in the United States, feeling that if slavery wasn’t morally wrong, then nothing was. The Southern States weren’t thrilled about this proposition and seceded from the Northern Union, forming the Confederacy and starting the American Civil War in an effort to maintain control of slavery. Thankfully, the Union won, and slavery was officially abolished throughout the country.

Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a flawless performance as Lincoln amidst a country in chaos. Not only is the movie about Lincoln, but it features a lot of dramatic and climactic battle sequences as well, boiling down to a biopic that no history fan or cinephile is going to want to miss. Featuring an enormous cast of big names, Lincoln is directed by Steven Spielberg and won not one but two Oscars. Though some historians have criticized its accuracy, or rather, its lack thereof, it still manages to be a classic film that will be remembered for generations to come.

Lincoln

Release Date
November 9, 2012

Runtime
120

2 ‘Zulu’ (1964)

Conflict: Anglo-Zulu War (1879)

Zulu takes place during the Anglo-Zulu War in what is today the nation of South Africa. The film focuses on the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which a force of 150 British soldiers, 30 of whom were either injured or sick, held off a force of 4,000 Zulu warriors. Released on the 85th anniversary of the actual battle, Zulu received rave reviews from critics, with particular attention praising the set design, soundtrack, and performances.

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu actor who would later become a leader, plays the role of Cetshwayo kaMpande, the Zulu king who was actually Buthelezi’s own great-grandfather. Other noteworthy appearances include Sir Michael Caine as Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead and Sir Stanley Baker as Lieutenant John Chard. The movie was revolutionary for its time, featuring great action, a huge production budget, and quite a bit of historical accuracy, which makes it a wild ride from start to finish.

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1 ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower’ (1951)

Conflict: Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)

Gregory Peck as Captain Horatio Hornblower
Image via Warner Bros.

Captain Horatio Hornblower is, without a doubt, the greatest colonial war movie of all time. Starring the one and only Gregory Peck in the titular role, the film takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, a series of global conflicts waged by Napoleon Bonaparte, with this film focusing on the Central American theater. While the movie proved to be Warner Bros.’s most expensive film of the year thanks to its huge budget, it was also its most popular and arguably its most successful.

This is another film that earned a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but this time it really earns it. It’s fun, adventurous, action-packed, and come on, who doesn’t love Gregory Peck? If you like naval warfare or land-based warfare in your war movies, this is a go-to option as it features both with a classic swashbuckling twist. No movie buff should ever pass this one up, because it’s a staple of Hollywood that really isn’t talked about enough today.

Captain Horatio Hornblower

Release Date
April 10, 1951

Director
Raoul Walsh

Cast
gregory peck , Virginia Mayo , Robert Beatty , Moultrie Kelsall , Terence Morgan , James Kenney

Runtime
117

KEEP READING: The Best War Movies of the 21st Century So Far

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