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Why should we care about the American Revolution? Previous Next
Digital History ID 3212


There are certain subjects that rarely succeed at the Hollywood box office. Until the mid-1970s, sports movies always flopped. In recent years, westerns and swashbuckling adventure films have often been box office duds. But one genre has almost always failed. Until the success of the Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, in 2000, Hollywood had never made a successful movie about the American Revolution.

Altogether, Hollywood has made fewer than a dozen movies that deal more than superficially with the Revolution. These include:

  • 1776 (1972), a musical about the nation's declaration of independence from Britain;
  • Guns Along the Mohawk (1939), which looks at a young couple in upstate New York who face Indian raids instigated by the British;
  • The Howards of Virginia (1940), the story of a Virginia couple of differing social backgrounds and attitudes toward American independence;
  • The Patriot (2000), which centers on a hero from the French and Indian War who reluctantly becomes involved in the Revolution;
  • Revolution (1985), the tale of a trapper drafted to fight for the Continental army and a rebellious daughter from a Tory family; and
  • Sweet Liberty (1969), a comedy about movie company's attempt to adapt a college professor's historical novel.

The reasons for the failure of movies about the Revolution seem obvious. Modern-day audiences find it difficult to identify with characters from the late 18th century. They find the characters' powdered wigs, knee breeches, and formal speech patterns off-putting. Further, we live in a cynical age and hate being reminded of more noble times. There is a tendency to regard Revolutionary War movies as excessively patriotic and overly romanticized

Nevertheless, the American Revolution raises issues of enduring interest:

  • What factors led a people who were the freest and most prosperous in the western world to launch a revolution?
  • Were American patriots justified in asserting a "right to revolution"?
  • Could the Revolution have been averted--and, if so, what difference would this have made?
  • How were the American colonists, who had a long history of quarreling among themselves, able to prevail against the world's strongest military power?

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