13 Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Knowing about crucial and critical parts of history is undoubtedly a vital part of life. It could be dull and tedious devouring book after book about them, though. Well, you do not have to worry about that today. We did the research, so you do not have to!

We flipped through dozens and dozens of civil rights movies, looked at the ratings and reviews, and finally narrowed it down to this list.

Today, we will show you our list of the 13 best civil rights movies you can watch to understand a significant part of history in an educative but engaging way.

With that, let us get on with this list now! Let us go!

13. Harriet (2019)

English 2h 5m IMDb
Harriet (2019) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Kasi Lemmons

Stars: Cynthia Erivo, Janelle Monáe, Leslie Odom Jr.

Harriet is the most recent release on this list. It follows Araminta (Minty) Ross, a slave, as she journeys to her freedom and aid in the freeing of other slaves.

This film is an ideal watch for those who want to see the whole picture. While many of the films below take place at the height of the civil rights movement, this one takes place way before its humble beginnings. With that, it is a film that will give you an idea of how things were before the oppressed had any means or hope for fighting.

12. The Butler (2013)

English 2h 12m IMDb
The Butler (2013)  Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Lee Daniels

Stars: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, John Cusack

This film follows Cecil Gaines as he tells the story of his life. It emphasizes his time in the White House and shows the many struggles he saw the fight face. However, it is not all bleak as it ends on such a powerful and hopeful note.

The Butler is a must-see for anyone interested in films that tackle the civil rights movement. It does not only give the viewers a glimpse of the development through the years. It also lets the audience see through the eyes of someone who got the chance to see things up close and personal.

11. Lincoln (2012)

English 2h 30m IMDb
Lincoln (2012)  Lincoln (2012) 

Steven Spielberg

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn

The film focuses on the 16th president of the United States – Abraham Lincoln. Specifically, it revolves around one of the last accomplishments of the late president – the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In other words, the abolition of slavery.

Lincoln is one of the most decorated films on this list. Additionally, it was under the direction of the talented Steven Spielberg and starred the distinguished Daniel Day-Lewis. If you want a civil rights movement movie that will not disappoint, it is undoubtedly one of the films you want to consider.

10. The Long Walk Home (1990)

English 1h 37m IMDb
The Long Walk Home (1990) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Richard Pearce

Stars: Sissy Spacek, Whoopi Goldberg, Dwight Schultz

This film focuses on Odessa Cotter, an African American woman, and Miriam Thompson, a white woman, during the events of the Montgomery bus boycott.

The Long Walk Home is an ideal film to watch for those who want to understand the fight better. For one, it gives the viewers a look at the struggles of the oppressed at the time. For another, it shows a glimpse of the hardships of its supporters. It gave its audience more than one perspective. This film can help its viewers to see the two sides of a coin.

9. No Way Out (1950)

English, American Sign Language 1h 46m IMDb
No Way Out (1950)  Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Stars: Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally

This film follows Luther Brooks, an African American doctor. It shows how his life turns downhill when two white and racist robbers needing treatment come to the hospital he works at.

No Way Out is one of the oldest films on the list and one of the first movies to present racism. It is a good watch. Not only to get an idea of how the movement has changed from old. It is also a great watch to see how the films tackling the topic have developed.

8. Selma (2014)

English 2h 8m IMDb
Selma (2014) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Ava DuVernay

Stars: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Oprah Winfrey

Selma centers on the events surrounding the voting rights march of 1965.

If we are talking about the civil rights movement, Selma is undoubtedly a film that should make it to your watchlist. It did not only show the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 but the many struggles and sacrifices that the pioneers of the movement had to face. The film likely will not only educate but engage its viewers too. It will probably not only affect understanding but touch the heart too.

7. Malcolm X (1992)

English, Arabic 3h 22m IMDb
Malcolm X (1992) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Spike Lee

Stars: Denzel Washington, Angela Bassett, Delroy Lindo

This film centers on one of the pioneers of the fight for civil rights. It tells the story of how an oppressed little boy turned into a criminal and, later on, one of the most significant influences in the fight.

When talking about the fight, we often hear and read the name of Martin Luther King Jr. However, the movement did not only have one face. This film is an ideal watch for those who want to know the leaders of the fight beyond MLK Jr. as it talks about a name not often mentioned enough – Malcolm X.

6. Mississippi Burning (1988)

English 2h 8m IMDb
Mississippi Burning (1988) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Alan Parker

Stars: Gene Hackman, Willem Dafoe, Frances McDormand

This film takes inspiration from the tragedy of the Freedom Summer murders, better known as the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. It follows two agents as they uncover the grisly reason behind the disappearance of three people involved in the civil rights movement.

The film is an ideal addition to a watchlist centering on the fight for civil rights because while many movies show the struggles, this is one of the few films to present the horrors the first fighters had to face.

5. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014)

English 1h 32m IMDb
She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Mary Dore

Stars: Chude Pamela Allen, Alta, Judith Arcana

The fight for civil rights first started with racism. Today, it has now spread its influence to many other struggles against equality and discrimination.

As you might have guessed from the title, the film does not heavily focus on the civil rights movement. Instead, it gives more emphasis on the feminist movement. Still, this film made it on the list as it shows its link to the fight for civil rights. In other words, this film is an ideal watch to show just how far the reach of the fight for civil rights has extended through the years.

4. Hidden Figures (2016)

English 2h 7m IMDb
Hidden Figures (2016) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Theodore Melfi

Stars: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Hidden Figures is a film that tackles racism and feminism. It takes after the book of Margot Lee Shetterly and tells of female African American women who worked at NASA during the renowned Space Race.

This film is an ideal watch to get a glimpse of the hardships of African American women at the height of the movement. However, it can also be a good watch for showing the spark that was starting at the time. This film will likely fan the flames in you, and rightfully so.

3. 4 Little Girls (1997)

English 1h 42m IMDb
4 Little Girls (1997) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Spike Lee

Stars: Maxine McNair, Walter Cronkite, Chris McNair

This film is about one of the most critical moments in the fight for civil rights – the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. As you might already know, it was the act that killed four little girls and consequently and rightly led to an uproar and outrage.

4 Little Girls is a film to see to understand this part of history better. For one, it looks at the events that led to it and the incident itself. For another, it also showed what happened after and its impact beyond what happened.

2. 12 Years a Slave (2013)

English 2h 14m IMDb
12 Years a Slave (2013) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

Steve McQueen

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender

12 Years a Slave takes inspiration from the memoir that bears the same name. It tells the story of Solomon Northup, an African American two white men deceived, drugged, and delivered to slavery. Here, the viewers will see the unwarranted hardships and sufferings Northup faced that started from the wickedness of two men.

This film takes place in the 1840s, long before the civil right movement was in motion. With that, it is a movie that can give you an idea of how the lives of the oppressed were before there was any light to give them hope.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

English 2h 9m IMDb
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) Best Civil Rights Movies to Add in Your Watchlist

As you might have already guessed from the name, yes, this film takes after the book by Harper Lee that bears the same name. It follows a single-parent lawyer named Atticus Finch as he takes on the case of an African American unjustly charged with rape.

This film is old but gold. It might be one of the oldest on this list, but it is also one of the greatest. It is a film you seriously want to consider if you want something educative and engaging at the same time.


That was our list of the 13 best civil rights movies. We hope we got to help you find a watch today, but we hope it did not end there. We hope we also got to help you in your quest to know a vital part of history better.

The fight for civil rights is not all there is to history, though. If you want to know more about other significant parts of the past, you might want to check out our other lists. We have many more movie recommendations waiting for you! With that, we hope to see you around soon! For now, happy watching!

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