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100+ Best Period Dramas on HBO Max to Watch

From HBO period drama originals like "The Gilded Age" to classic romances like "Pride and Prejudice," HBO has more than 100 fabulous period dramas to check out.

HBO MAX has hundreds of period dramas and costume dramas (fantasy) available on their streaming service, making it challenging to know what to watch or even what’s available. I’ve decided to narrow down that list to the best or at least my top recommendations of HBO period dramas to watch.

hbo period dramas featured image
Period Dramas on HBO Max. Photo Credit: The Gilded Age (HBO), Jane Eyre (BBC), John Adams (HBO), Pride and Prejudice (BBC), and As You Like It (HBO Films/BBC Films/Picturehouse)

This list is for you if you’re a fan of romantic period dramas, historical period dramas, or romanticized period dramas (less gritty and gratuitous and more uplifting or idyllic).

I’ve broken down the period dramas on HBO MAX into FOUR categories:

  1. HBO Period Drama Originals – Movies and Television.
  2. Other Period Dramas – Films and Television.
  3. Costume Dramas: Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, & Sci-Fi
  4. Period Dramas Coming Soon.

In the first three sections, I’ll share my top picks!

Within the first three categories, at the end of each section, I also include bonus lists of even more period dramas and costume dramas to check out on HBO MAX. If you don’t mind the more explicit period dramas, you’ll probably find most of them in the bonus sections.

Enjoy!

(Note: This list was first published in March 2022. Availability may change at any time. If I update the list, I’ll let you know!)


100+ PERIOD DRAMAS ON HBO MAX TO WATCH


HBO Period Drama Originals – Movies & TV: 

Here you’ll find original HBO dramas or movies and shows exclusively distributed by HBO.

My Top 20 RECOMMENDATIONS: 

#1 As You Like It (2006)

as you like it screenshot
As You Like It. Photo Credit: HBO Films/BBC Films/Picturehouse

HBO Synopsis: “Kenneth Branagh’s exotic adaptation of Shakespeare’s delightful stage comedy in which a courtship plays out in the Forest of Arden.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

As You Like It is a delightful and diverse period drama adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play. It’s light-hearted, romantic, and perfectly cast.

Romola Garai, Bryce Dallas Howard, David Oyelowo, Adrian Lester, and Kevin Kline star.

Content Note: PG for mild violence and suggestive references.

#2 Capturing Mary (2007)

Ruth Wilson in Capturing Mary
Ruth Wilson in Capturing Mary. Photo Credit: BBC

HBO Synopsis: “The young concierge of a spooky London mansion entertains an elderly visitor in this follow-up film to ‘Joe’s Palace.'”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Maggie Smith and Ruth Wilson star in this gothic-like period drama about a young journalist whose world changes forever when she meets a mysterious stranger.

It’s atmospheric, exciting, and just a little bit scary.

Content Note: TV-14 for frightening situations.

#3 Chernobyl (2019)

Jessie Buckley in Chernobyl.
Jessie Buckley in Chernobyl. Photo Credit: Sky TV/HBO/Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Plant workers and firefighters try to control a catastrophic 1986 explosion at a Soviet nuclear power plant.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Chernobyl deservedly won 10 Emmys and is one of the most harrowing historical dramas you’ll ever see. It’s a gripping miniseries based on actual events that will leave you feeling both horrified and deeply moved.

Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Jessie Buckley, and Emily Watson star.

Content Note: TV-MA for frightening images, strong language, and brief nudity.

#4 Einstein and Eddington (2008)

einstein and eddington poster

HBO Synopsis: “The tale of the unlikely partnership between Albert Einstein and British scientist Arthur Eddington during World War I.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

David Tennant of Doctor Who fame and Andy Serkis from Lord of the Rings star in a period drama together! You can’t get much better than that.

The two actors play the titular scientists in this fascinating historical drama based on a true story. It’s an intelligent and beautifully made TV movie about two men who changed the world with their groundbreaking work in science.

Content Note: TV-PG for mild adultery and adult themes.

#5 Elizabeth I Part 1 & Part 2 (2005)

Elizabeth I 2005
Photo Credit: HBO Films/All3Media

HBO Synopsis: “HBO Films miniseries that explores the public and private lives of Queen Elizabeth I.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This Emmy-winning miniseries stars the brilliant Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth I. It’s a sweeping and intimate portrait of one of the most fascinating women in history.

RELATED: Historical Women Who Deserve Their Own Miniseries

The production values are incredible, and Mirren gives one of her best performances.

Jeremy Irons, Hugh Dancy, Patrick Malahide, and Toby Jones also star.

Content Note: TV-MA for severe violence (be warned this one is graphic) and some sensuality.

#6 The Gathering Storm (2002)

the gathering storm poster

HBO Synopsis: “Albert Finney stars in this story of Winston Churchill’s struggles to resurrect his political career and save his marriage prior to WWII.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Gathering Storm is a brilliant and underrated Emmy-winning period drama. Finney is excellent as Winston Churchill, and the supporting cast is superb.

Content Note: TV-MA for brief strong language, some smoking, and brief mild nudity. Mild overall.

#7 Gentleman Jack (2019)

Photo Credit: BBC/HBO

HBO Synopsis: “The epic story of 19th Century landowner Anne Lister who returns to her home to transform its fate–and with plans to marry a woman.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Gentleman Jack is a charming and unique romantic period drama. The show is based on the real-life of Anne Lister, a trailblazing 19th-century woman who was openly gay at a time when it was dangerous to be so.

The series is wonderfully written by Sally Wainwright and impeccably acted, with Suranne Jones and Sophie Rundle in the leading roles.

Content Note: TV-MA for a moderate amount of explicit love scenes with nudity.

#8 The Gilded Age (2022)

Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski in The Gilded Age
A dramatization of the American Gilded Age. Cynthia Nixon and Christine Baranski in the series. Photo: HBO/Alison Cohen Rosa

HBO Synopsis: “From Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes comes this drama that follows a young woman living in New York City’s glittering Gilded Age.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Gilded Age brings Julian Fellowes cerebral and romantic period drama style to the United States! The new show is witty, glamorous, scandalous, and just plain gorgeous. 

So, if you’re looking for a good Downton Abbey filler, you can’t go wrong with this one! It’s already been renewed for a second season too! Christine Baranski (The Good Fight), Cynthia Nixon, Louisa Jacobson, Carrie Coon, Denée Benton, Morgan Spector, Taissa Farmiga, Blake Ritson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Audra McDonald, and more stars.

From my review of The Gilded Age:

“The show is set in 1882 and follows the story of Marian Brook, who moves from rural Pennsylvania after her father dies to New York City to live with her aunts. Marian then becomes embroiled in a social war between her aunt, part of the old-money set, and her wealthy “new money” neighbors, ruthless railroad tycoons – George Russell and his ambitious wife, Bertha Russell.”

Check out the full review for my complete thoughts on the new series.

(All new episodes are now available to stream!)

Content Note: TV-MA for a brief scene of female nudity and some sensuality. Mild overall.

#9 Grey Gardens (2009) 

grey gardens 2009 promo image
Photo Credit: HBO Films

HBO Synopsis: “The lives of two eccentric, mutually dependent women play out in a decaying house known as Grey Gardens.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange star in this Emmy-winning biopic about the famous Grey Gardens house. The movie is a strange but fascinating look at the lives of two women essentially abandoned by their families.

Barrymore and Lange are excellent in their roles, and the supporting cast is terrific.

Grey Gardens is a weird but unforgettable movie experience. I also recommend checking out the original documentary on which the film’s based.

Content Note: TV-PG for mild language and implied sensuality.

#10 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2017)

HBO Synopsis: “Oprah Winfrey stars in the true story of a woman’s search for enlightenment about her mother–whose cancer cells would save millions.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a captivating and heartbreaking true story based on the best-selling book of the same name.

In the film. Winfrey gives a memorable performance as Henrietta Lacks’ daughter Deborah. The film also stars Rose Byrne and Renée Elise Goldsberry.

Content Note: TV-MA for a brief but disturbing scene of an assault and some profanity.

#11 Into the Storm (2008)

into the storm promo photo
Into the Storm. Photo Credit: HBO/BBC

HBO Synopsis: “This follow-up to ‘The Gathering Storm’ follows Winston Churchill from 1940 to 1945 as he led his beleaguered nation through World War II.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Into the Storm is the second part of a brilliant two-part series about Winston Churchill, except Brendan Gleeson stars in the leading role this time. The entire cast is excellent, and the production values are top-notch.

All in all, this is worth checking out if you’re a fan of historical dramas or war movies.

Content Note: TV-PG (should be TV-14) for brief strong language.

#12 Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

Hilary Swank in Iron Jawed Angels
Hilary Swank in Iron Jawed Angels. Photo Credit: HBO Films

HBO Synopsis: “Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor star in this true story of two young activists who fought to give women the right to vote.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Emmy-nominated TV movie has an exceptional cast that includes Hilary Swank, Frances O’Connor, Anjelica Huston, Patrick Dempsey, and Julia Ormond. It’s a fascinating look at the early women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

Iron Jawed Angels is an inspiring film that will make you appreciate how far we’ve come–and it has some romance too.

Content Note: TV-14 for a scene of sensuality and mild language, and frightening situations.

#13 John Adams (2008)

Sarah Polley in John Adams
Yes, yes, that is Sarah Polley from Road to Avonlea in John Adams. Photo Credit: HBO

HBO Synopsis: “Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney star in this Emmy(R)-winning, seven-part HBO miniseries about American Founding Father John Adams.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

John Adams is one of the best American period dramas. It’s well-written, well-acted, and enthralling. If you’re interested in American history, this is a must-watch.

Content Note: TV-14 for violence, some mildly strong language, suggestive references, and a couple of love scenes.

#14 Mildred Pierce (2011)

Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce
Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce. Photo Credit: HBO/Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Kate Winslet stars in this riveting five-part HBO miniseries about a divorcee struggling to survive amidst the Depression.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Kate Winslet is a master of her craft (as always) in this adaptation of the 1941 novel. Evan Rachel Wood and Guy Pearce also star.

Content Note: TV-MA for brief nudity, implied sensuality, and adult themes.

#15 Miss Evers’ Boys (1997)

miss evers' boys poster

HBO Synopsis: “Emmy(R)-winning story of a 1930s experiment in which the U.S. government withheld treatment from African American syphilis patients.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This compelling TV movie is based on a true story and stars Alfre Woodard, Laurence Fishburne, and Joe Morton.

If you’re looking for an enlightening and powerful historical drama, Miss Evers’ Boys is worth checking out.

Content Note: PG for thematic elements.

#16 My Brilliant Friend (2018)

My Brilliant Friend (2018): A Brutally Tender Modern-Day Classic
Photo Credit: RAI/HBO

HBO Synopsis: “HBO series about two young friends whose stormy relationship evolves amidst the backdrop of post-WWII Italy.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Based on the novel of the same name by Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend is a beautifully written and well-acted drama series.

This three-season show (eight episodes per season) is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a coming-of-age story or an Italian period drama.

Content Note: TV-MA for a disturbing attempted molestation scene, a few explicit scenes – including brief nudity, and frightening/intense situations.

#17 Parade’s End (2012)

parade's end poster

HBO Synopsis: “A British gentleman becomes caught up in an era of social upheaval and the onset of World War I in this five-part HBO miniseries.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall star in this miniseries based on the novels by Ford Madox Ford. If you’re a fan of World War I historical dramas, you won’t want to miss this one.

Content Note: TV-MA for a moderate amount of explicit love scenes with nudity and some profanity.

#18 Starter for 10 (2006)

starter for 10 poster

HBO Synopsis: “A brilliant young man heads to college bent on leading his school on a TV quiz show, only to get caught up in personal entanglements.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Starter for 10 is an underrated rom-com gem set in the 1980s with an all-star cast. James McAvoy, Rebecca Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Catherine Tate, Simon Woods, Dominic Cooper, and more star in this sweet, nostalgic romance movie.

Content Note: PG-13 for suggestive references, drug use, and language.

#19 Temple Grandin (2010)

temple grandin poster

HBO Synopsis: “An autistic woman becomes an unlikely hero to America’s cattle industry–and to autistic people everywhere–in this fact-based story.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you’re looking for a heartwarming and inspiring biopic, look no further than Temple Grandin. Claire Danes delivers a fantastic performance as the title character.

Content Note: TV-PG for thematic elements.

#20 Warm Springs (2005)

warm springs poster

HBO Synopsis: “The stirring true story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s battle with polio in 1921.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Kenneth Branagh stars in this Emmy-winning TV movie as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If you’re a fan of historical dramas, this is one emotional story you won’t want to miss.

Content Note: TV-PG for an implied affair and some language.

Even More HBO Period Drama Originals to Watch: 

  • 61*(TV-MA)
  • Bessie (TV-MA)
  • Boardwalk Empire (TV-MA)
  • Carnivale (TV-MA)
  • Cast a Deadly Spell (R)
  • Catherine the Great (TV-MA)
  • Conspiracy (Rated R)
  • Gia (Rated R)
  • Grisse (TV-MA)
  • Gunpowder (TV-MA)
  • Hemingway & Gellhorn (TV-MA)
  • In Pursuit of Honor (PG-13)
  • Indictment: The McMartin Trial (Rated R)
  • Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (Rated R)
  • It’s a Sin (TV-MA)
  • Knick (TV-MA)
  • Last Outlaw (Rated R)
  • Perry Mason (TV-MA)
  • RKO 281 (Rated R)
  • Rome (TV-MA)
  • Warrior (TV-MA)

Other Period Dramas on HBO Max – Movies & TV:

You’ll find all the other period dramas on HBO Max to watch in this section! From British period dramas, award-winning feature films, and more.

My Top 60 Recommendations: 

#1 The Alienist (2018)

The Alienist publicity photo
Photo: Warner Bros. Television

HBO Synopsis: “Set in 1896 amidst a backdrop of wealth, poverty and technological innovation, this psychological thriller stars Daniel Bruhl, Luke Evans, Dakota Fanning and Brian Geraghty. Viewers will see the darkest corners of NYC during the Gilded Age.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Alienist is a dark and suspenseful period drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The brilliant cast, expert direction, and gorgeous cinematography create a truly captivating show.

There is some romance too. However, only watch this one if the darker content doesn’t bother you.

Content Note: TV-MA for disturbing graphic violence, nudity, and some explicit molestation content.

#2 All the Pretty Horses (2000)

all the pretty horses promo image
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Miramax Films

HBO Synopsis: “A dispossessed young man on an epic journey to Mexico seeks the meaning of life, love, responsibility and honor.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you’re a fan of romantic Westerns, you’ll want to add All the Pretty Horses to your watch list. This beautifully shot love story (directed by Billy Bob Thornton) stars Matt Damon and Penelope Cruz.

Content Note: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.

#3 Anna Karenina (2012)

Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina. Photo Credit: Focus Features

HBO Synopsis: “Keira Knightley and Jude Law star in this stylized adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s novel about a married woman’s affair in 19th-century Russia.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Joe Wright brings an artistic touch to numerous romantic period dramas (such as Pride and Prejudice), with this tragic adaptation as no exception. The lavish costumes and sets will transport you to another time and place.

Pride and Prejudice fans will also enjoy seeing Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen reunite onscreen.

Content Note: Rated R for some violence and moderately explicit sensuality.

#4 Atonement (2007)

Atonement poster with Keira Knightley and James McAvoy

HBO Synopsis: “A lie tragically changes the lives of three people in this searing adaptation of Ian McEwan’s 2001 bestseller.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Atonement is a period drama masterpiece with gorgeous costumes, a heartbreaking love story, flawed characters, a beautiful musical score, and an unforgettable ending.

It’s no wonder that the Academy nominated this film for numerous Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Romola Garai star.

Content Note: Rated R for some strong language, war violence, suggestive dialogue, an assault scene, and an explicit love scene. Everything is moderate and necessary to the story.

#5 Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

au revoir les enfants poster

HBO Synopsis: “A French boarding school harbors Jewish children during the Nazi occupation.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Oscar-nominated French film is a powerful heart-wrenching story based on true events. It’s an important movie that everyone should see.

Content Note: PG for some language.

#6 Australia (2008)

Australia promotional photo
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

HBO Synopsis: “Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in this sweeping epic about an English woman who finds tragedy, danger and passion in Australia.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Australia is a grand and sweeping epic romance set against the backdrop of the eve of World War II.

The film has gorgeous cinematography, an excellent cast (including Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, and David Wenham), and a lovely musical score.

Content Note: PG-13 for brief sensuality, strong language, and some violence.

#7 The Aviator (2004)

the aviator poster

HBO Synopsis: “Martin Scorsese’s brilliant, Oscar(R)-winning drama about the life of legendary tycoon and recluse Howard Hughes. Leonardo DiCaprio stars.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This biopic about Howard Hughes is a masterpiece of filmmaking that won five Oscars. It’s gorgeously shot, well-acted (especially by Leonardo DiCaprio), and tells a captivating story.

If you’re a fan of Scorsese, DiCaprio, or Old Hollywood, you’ll want to check this one out.

Content Note: PG-13 for language, sensuality, nudity, and thematic elements.

#8 Babette’s Feast (1987)

Babette's feast poster

HBO Synopsis: “A French refugee in Denmark transforms the lives of the elderly women for whom she works.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This foreign film is a must-see for anyone who loves food, cooking, or exploring other cultures. It’s a beautiful and heartwarming story with gorgeous visuals.

Babette’s Feast also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s an extraordinary film and food for the soul.

Content Note: G

#9 Beau Brummell (1954) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

beau brummell still
Photo Credit: MGM/Loew’s, INC

HBO Synopsis: “An English Don Juan courts the Prince of Wales’ favor while romancing his way through society.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

While not historically accurate, it’s an entertaining period romp set in the Regency Era starring Stewart Granger as the dashing Beau Brummell.

Elizabeth Taylor co-stars as a love interest, and the film features opulent costumes and sets.

Content Note: TV-PG.

#10 Ben Hur (1959)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Ben Hur promo shot
Charlton Heston in Ben Hur. Photo Credit: MGM

HBO Synopsis: “While seeking revenge, a rebellious Israelite prince crosses paths with Jesus Christ.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Ben Hur is a classic epic film that tells a sprawling, dramatic story with high-stakes action, romance, and tragedy. It’s one of the most iconic and beloved movies ever made.

Charlton Heston stars in this Oscar-winning film.

Content Note: G

#11 Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde still 1967
Bonnie and Clyde. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “In the early 1930s, a car thief and the daughter of his intended victim team up to become America’s most feared and ruthless bank robbers.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Bonnie and Clyde is a landmark crime movie that ushered in a new gritty, realistic cinema era. It’s a violent and stylish movie with standout performances from Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.

This movie is essential for anyone interested in American history or film history.

Content Note: Rated R for violence and brief nudity.

#12 Cabaret (1972)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Liza Minnelli in Cabaret.
Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. Photo Credit: Allied Artists.

HBO Synopsis: “A starry-eyed singer and the club’s master of ceremonies try to bring happiness and decadence to the lives of Berliners as Nazism threatens to destroy their lives.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Cabaret is one of the most iconic and revered musicals of all time. It’s set in a dark and dangerous time in history and tells a heartbreaking story with beautiful music.

It won eight Oscars, including Best Actress, and features memorable performances from Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey.

Content Note: PG for suggestive content, some language, and adult themes.

#13 Chaplin (1992)

Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin.
Robert Downey Jr. in Chaplin. Photo Credit: TriStar Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “Robert Downey Jr. brings Charlie Chaplin perfectly to life in this revealing film about the legendary comedic actor.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This biopic about Charlie Chaplin is a fascinating look at the life of the iconic filmmaker. Downey Jr. is brilliant in the title role, and the film features some great behind-the-scenes looks at Chaplin’s films.

Content Note: PG-13 for language, implied sensuality, and nudity.

#14 Chariots of Fire (1981)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

chariots of fire still
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

HBO Synopsis: “Personal goals spur British runners Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell to compete in the 1924 Olympics.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Chariots of Fire is a stirring and inspirational sports movie about two men who overcome great odds to achieve their dreams. It won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Music Score.

RELATED: A Score of Scores: 20 Pivotal Songs from Film

Chariots of Fire is a must-watch for anyone who loves athletics or underdog stories.

Content Note: PG for brief mild nudity and mild language.

#15 Chinatown (1974)

chinatown promo image
Chinatown. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “Roman Polanski’s 1974 film noir classic with private eye Jack Nicholson on the trail of corruption, murder and sex in 1930s L.A.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Chinatown is a masterpiece of film noir. It’s a dark and cynical movie about power and corruption. It features a brilliant performance from Nicholson and is an excellent example of film noir done right. Faye Dunaway also stars.

Content Note: Rated R for implied love scenes, some suggestive references, violence, and language. It’s a mild R-rated film overall. 

#16 Cinderella Man (2005)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Cinderella Man period drama
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures.

HBO Synopsis: “Russell Crowe soars in his depiction of Depression-era boxer Jim Braddock, whose career resurgence electrified a nation.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Cinderella Man is an underrated romance movie that tells the story of a real-life boxer who became a champion during the Great Depression.

It features strong performances from Crowe and Renee Zellweger and has a moving score.

Content Note: PG-13 for violence and some language.

#17 The Conspirator (2010)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Alexis Bledel and James McAvoy in The Conspirator.
Alexis Bledel and James McAvoy in The Conspirator. Photo Credit: Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions

HBO Synopsis: “Abraham Lincoln’s assassination is viewed from the perspective of the lone female conspirator charged in the case.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Conspirator is a fascinating and underrated historical drama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It features strong performances from James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Alexis Bledel, and Kevin Kline.

Content Note: PG-13 for some violence.

#18 Dirty Dancing (1987)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Dirty Dancing | Baby takes Penny's place dancing with Johnny at a gig
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Photo Credit: Vestron Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “A teenage girl learns about love, adult responsibility, and how to do the Dirty Boogie in this romantic drama that is loved around the world.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Dirty Dancing is a classic romantic drama (set in the 1960s) that audiences have loved for decades. It’s a heartwarming and empowering movie about a young woman who finds herself.

It features incredible dance sequences, a legendary soundtrack, and a swoony romance with iconic scenes you can watch again and again.

Content Note: PG-13 for sensual scenes, suggestive references, and an abortion.

#19 Doctor Zhivago (1965)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

doctor zhivago publicity still with Julie Christie and Omar Sharif
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

HBO Synopsis: “Illicit lovers fight to stay together during the turbulent years of the Russian Revolution.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Doctor Zhivago is an epic love story set against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. It’s a sweeping and beautiful film with stunning scenery and costumes.

It also features excellent performances from Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. So, if you’re looking for an epic romance to watch, this one’s a great choice.

Content Note: PG for mature themes and implied affairs.

#20 Down with Love (2003)

Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in Down with Love.
Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in Down with Love. Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

HBO Synopsis: “A male chauvinist vows to expose a progressive women’s author for the traditional girl she is in this farce starring Renee Zellweger.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Down with Love is a hilarious and clever romantic comedy that satirizes the traditional gender roles of the 1960s while also paying tribute to the classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson rom-coms.

Zellweger and McGregor have great chemistry, and the movie is just a lot of fun. 

Content Note: PG-13 for lots of innuendoes and suggestive dialogue.

#21 Dreamgirls (2006)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Dreamgirls publicity photo
Dreamgirls. Photo Credit: Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “The dazzling adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about the rise of a 1960s female supergroup and the price that they pay along the way.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you’re a fan of Broadway musicals, you’ll want to check out this film adaptation of the Broadway show. It’s a well-done movie with some great singing and dancing.

It stars an impressive cast including Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, and Jennifer Hudson (who won an Oscar for her performance).

Content Note: PG-13 for language, some sensuality, and drug content.

#22 The Earrings of Madame De… (1954)

earrings of madame de poster

HBO Synopsis: “When a woman sells her earrings to pay a gambling debt, it leads to a string of betrayals.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Earrings of Madame De… is a classic French romance that’s both heartbreaking and elegantly directed. The best part about this movie is the costumes – it even was nominated for the Oscar for Best Costume Design.

It stars Charles Boyer, Danielle Darrieux, and Vittorio De Sica. 

Content Note: NR, but it is a mild film with only some adulterous flirtations.

#23 Emma (2009)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai in Emma.
Jonny Lee Miller and Romola Garai in Emma. Photo Credit: BBC

HBO Synopsis: “Emma Woodhouse is convinced she is good at matchmaking after her older sister and her governess both marry suitable husbands. Although, she had nothing to do with these relationships, Emma, certain of her talents, plays a dangerous game.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Emma is an excellent romantic period drama based on the Jane Austen novel of the same name. It features memorable performances from Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller and is arguably the best adaptation to date!

The miniseries does an excellent job of staying true to the spirit of the book while also adding some extras perfect for the TV medium.

The screenplay comes from Sandy Welch, the writer behind the 2006 adaptation of Jane Eyre and the brilliant 2004 version of North and South.

Content Note: TV-PG and very wholesome.

#24 Empire of the Sun (1987)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun.
Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun. Photo Credit: Amblin Entertainment/Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Semi-autobiographical story of an 11-year-old English boy learning to grow up in a Japanese internment camp during WWII.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Empire of the Sun is a great coming-of-age story set during WWII. It’s based on J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel of the same name and directed by Steven Spielberg.

The movie follows young Jim Graham (played by a young Christian Bale) as he navigates his way through a Japanese internment camp.

Content Note: PG for violence and language.

#25 Finding Neverland (2004)

finding neverland publicity still with Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp
Photo: Miramax

HBO Synopsis: “Johnny Depp portrays Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie in this Oscar(R)-winning film about the family who inspired him to write ‘Peter Pan.’

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Finding Neverland is a beautiful and heartwarming movie about the creation of Peter Pan. It starred Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Freddie Highmore, Julie Christie, and Dustin Hoffman and was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture.

It’s one of our personal favorites I can’t recommend enough. Just bring tissues.

Content Note: PG for thematic elements.

#26 The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

the french lieutenants woman still
Photo Credit: United Artists

HBO Synopsis: “A scandalous Victorian-era romance plays out in the past and the present in this haunting tale starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a complex and compelling romance. It stars Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons as star-crossed lovers in Victorian England.

It also uses a unique narrative structure – making it all the more interesting to watch!

Content Note: Rated R for some mildly strong language and love scenes.

#27 Genius (2016)

The cast of Genius.
The cast of Genius. Photo Credit: Summit Entertainment/Roadside Attractions

HBO Synopsis: “Chronicling the complex relationship between famed literary editor Max Perkins, and the eccentric novelist Thomas Wolfe.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Genius is an excellent historical drama based on the real-life relationship between literary editor Max Perkins and novelist Thomas Wolfe. It stars Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Linney.

The film does a great job of exploring the creative process and the complicated dynamics between an editor and an author. If you love classic literature or are interested in publishing, Genius is a must-see movie!

Content Note: PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive material.

#28 Gigi (1958)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Gigi promo art
Photo Credit: MGM

HBO Synopsis: “The story of an illegitimate waif in late 1800s Paris who reluctantly becomes a courtesan and mistress of a young, handsome and wealthy heir.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Gigi is a classic romantic musical set in late 1800s Paris. It stars Leslie Caron, Maurice Chevalier, and Louis Jourdan.

The movie is based on the 1944 novella by Colette and features lots of catchy tunes. Fans of My Fair Lady should love this elegant film!

Content Note: G

#29 Gone with the Wind (1939)

Gone With the Wind promo image with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh.
Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

HBO Synopsis: “Scarlett O’Hara’s battle to save her beloved Tara and find love during the Civil War.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Gone with the Wind is a classic American epic romance and one of the bestselling movies of all time. It stars Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland, and Leslie Howard.

The movie is set during the Civil War and Reconstruction era and follows Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh) as she tries to save her family’s plantation.

While the movie has come under criticism in recent years for the racism in the film, it’s still an important part of cinema history.

Content Note: NR but includes suggestive references and racism. Nothing explicit.

#30 Great Expectations (1946)

Great Expectations 1946
Photo Credit: Cineguild/General Film Distributors Ltd.

HBO Synopsis: “A mysterious benefactor finances a young boy’s education.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Great Expectations is a classic Dickens adaptation starring John Mills, Alec Guinness, Valerie Hobson, Martita Hunt, and Bernard Miles.

The movie is set in Victorian England and follows the coming-of-age story of Pip (Mills). It’s a great film for fans of period dramas and classic literature. This movie won two Oscars – one for Cinematography and the other for Best Art/Set Direction.

Content Note: NR – but completely wholesome.

#31 The Great Gatsby (2013)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Leonardo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby.
Leonardo Dicaprio and Carey Mulligan in The Great Gatsby. Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Leonardo DiCaprio brings ‘Gatsby’ to new life in this stylish, colorful adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary classic.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Baz Luhrmann brings his signature style to The Great Gatsby in this unique adaptation of the famous novel. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, and Isla Fisher.

The movie is a visual feast and captures the excess and opulence of the 1920s, and is a must-see for fans of classic literature or romantic period dramas.

Content Note: PG-13 for some language, sensuality, and violence.

#32 The Green Mile (1999)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

the green mile photo
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Death row head guard Paul Edgecomb has walked many inmates down the stretch of green linoleum that leads to Louisiana’s electric chair. But never has he encountered anyone like John Coffey.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Green Mile is a Stephen King adaptation starring Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, and Bonnie Hunt.

The movie is set on death row in a Louisiana prison in the 1930s. It’s a touching story about friendship, hope, and redemption with a hint of fantasy.

Content Note: Rated R for some disturbing violence, suggestive content, and strong language.

#33 Hamlet (1948)

hamlet 1948
Hamlet. Photo: Universal-International

HBO Synopsis: “The melancholy Dane flirts with insanity while trying to prove his uncle murdered his father.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Laurence Olivier is a master of Shakespeare, and his Hamlet is considered one of the best adaptations ever made – winning four Oscars.

It’s a classic Shakespearean tragedy set in Denmark and is a perfect film for those who want to study the play or are interested in classic period dramas.

Content Note: TV-14 for violence and thematic elements. Very mild.

#34 The Help (2011)

the help promo art
Photo Credit: Dreamworks/Disney

HBO Synopsis: “A woman from 1960s Mississippi causes a scandal when she begins writing about the Black women working for prominent white families.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Octavia Spencer gave a career-defining performance winning the Best Supporting Actress in this movie.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi, during the Civil Rights Movement and is based on the novel of the same name by Kathryn Stockett.

The film is a heartwarming look at the relationships between women during a time of turmoil.

Content Note: PG-13 for thematic material.

 #35 The Hours (2002) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

the hours 2002 promotional art
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “The story of three women from different eras, including English author Virginia Woolf, a 1950s housewife and a contemporary book editor.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Hours is an artistic adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Michael Cunningham. It stars Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, and Julianne Moore.

The movie spans three different time periods and tells the intersecting stories of three women. It’s a moving and thought-provoking film that deals with love, depression, and life themes.

Content Note: PG-13 for brief strong language, thematic elements, and disturbing moments.

 #36 Jane Eyre (2006) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Jane Eyre 2006 photo
Photo: BBC

HBO Synopsis: “A lavish, complex and passionate adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s period romance.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This 2006 period drama adaptation of Jane Eyre stars Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Edward Rochester, and it is absolutely brilliant!

The BBC miniseries is a mostly faithful adaptation of the novel and captures the beauty and emotion of the story.

Ultimately, it’s a nice choice for those who want to watch a classic period romance. It’s one of the best!

Content Note: TV-PG for sensual content and emotionally abusive situations.

 #37 Jezebel (1938)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Jezebel 1938 still
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “A tempestuous Southern belle’s willfulness threatens to destroy all who care for her.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Jezebel is a classic period drama starring the consistently brilliant Bette Davis as the Scarlett O’Hara-esque Southern belle, Julie Marsden. Davis even won the Best Actress Oscar for this film. Henry Fonda also stars and does an excellent job.

RELATED: 12 Special Collaborations Between Costume Designers And Actresses

Overall, it’s an excellent movie for those who love classic dramas with strong female leads. And honestly, any film starring Bette Davis is worth watching.

Content Note: TV-PG. Nothing of note.

 #38 Little Old New York (1923)

little old new york poster

HBO Synopsis: “An Irish girl comes to America disguised as a boy to claim a fortune left to her brother who has died.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Little Old New York is a classic silent film starring Marion Davies as the young Irish woman, Molly Malone. Sidney Olcott, a famous silent movie filmmaker, directed this must-see film.

The classic movie is also a love letter to New York City and its history.

Content Note: TV-PG but nothing here.

#39 Malcolm X (1992)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Biographical drama on the life of the late Malcolm X, who was assassinated on February 21, 1965.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Denzel Washington stars in this insightful look into the life of iconic leader Malcolm X. Spike Lee directed this powerful biopic that is essential viewing for anyone interested in American history or the Civil Rights Movement.

Content Note: PG-13 for some language and violence.

#40 Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)

master and commander promo art with Russell Crowe
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

HBO Synopsis: “Russell Crowe is a 19th-century British warship captain who leads a motley crew as they prepare to attack a superior French vessel.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

This action-packed period drama is set during the Napoleonic Wars and stars Russell Crowe as Captain Jack Aubrey. Peter Weir directed the film based on the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian.

It’s a great choice for those who want to watch an exciting period film.

Content Note: PG-13 for battle scenes and brief strong language.

 #41 Meet me in St. Louis (1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis promo photo
Meet Me in St. Louis. Photo Credit: MGM

HBO Synopsis: “Young love and childish fears highlight a year in the life of a turn-of-the-century family.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Meet Me in St. Louis is a classic romantic musical set in the early 1900s. The film stars Judy Garland as Esther Smith, one of the daughters in the family.

The film features classic songs like “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And it’s well worth a watch!

Content Note: G

#42 Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles in Mona Lisa Smile.
Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles in Mona Lisa Smile. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing

HBO Synopsis: “This funny, uplifting film stars Julia Roberts as an art history professor with a lot to teach about life–and much to learn about love.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Mona Lisa Smile is a must-see movie with a brilliant female cast and an uplifting message. Julia Roberts stars as Katherine Watson, an art history professor at a prestigious all-female college in the 1950s.

The film also stars Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dominic West, Ginnifer Goodwin, Topher Grace, Juliet Stevenson, John Slattery, and Marcia Gay Harden. It’s directed by Mike Newell and is a great choice if you’re looking for a female-driven period drama.

Content Note: PG-13 for suggestive content and thematic material.

#43 My Brilliant Career (1979)

My Brilliant Career Movie Poster

HBO Synopsis: “A proud young woman in early 20th century Australia must choose between marriage and independence.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Gillian Armstrong (Little Women) directed this beautiful romantic period drama starring Judy Davis and Sam Neill.

My Brilliant Career tells the story of Sybylla Melvyn, a young woman and aspiring writer in early 20th century Australia who must choose between marriage and a writing career.

It’s an excellent choice for those interested in period dramas about female writers.

Content Note: G

#44 News of the World (2020)

news of the world photo
Photo: Universal Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “Tom Hanks portrays a grizzled Civil War veteran tasked with returning a young girl to her only remaining family.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Tom Hanks stars in this recent period western set after the Civil War. It’s a wonderful film with a memorable story and great acting.

Content Note: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and some language.

#45 Pride and Prejudice (1995)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Pride and Prejudice 1995 promo image
Photo: BBC

HBO Synopsis: “Witty Elizabeth Bennet charms haughty Darcy against a backdrop of a postcard countryside, small-town assembly rooms, and stately English homes.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Arguably, Andrew Davies’ iconic adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel started Austenmania and, by extension – period drama mania!

If you’re a period drama fan (or even a fan of good drama and acting) and haven’t seen this version yet, get on it right away.

This is romantic period drama at its best, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle giving performances of a lifetime.

Pride and Prejudice is one you can watch over and over.

Content Note: TV-PG and is entirely wholesome.

#46 Pride & Prejudice (2005)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

Photo: Focus Features

HBO Synopsis: “Keira Knightley is luminous as Elizabeth Bennet in this adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic love story.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is utterly brilliant in a different way than the 95 version. This Joe Wright feature film adaptation is perfection if you’re looking for a more visually artistic film.

It’s also epically romantic with swoony moments and a backdrop of 19th century Romanticism: Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen star.

Content Note: PG

 #47 Princess Kaiulani (2009)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

princess kaiulani still
Photo Credit: Roadside Attractions

HBO Synopsis: “True story of the last royal heir to the Hawaiian throne, who tried to thwart U.S. annexation in the late 1800s.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Princess Kaiulani is a little-known but excellent romantic period drama starring Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World) as the titular character.

The film is set in late 1800s Hawaii and tells the true story of Princess Kaiulani, who fought against the annexation of Hawaii by the United States.

The film also stars Shaun Evans from Endeavour playing her romantic suitor.

Content Note: PG for thematic material, sensuality, some language, and mild violence.

 #48 Radio Flyer (1991)

radio flyer 1992 poster

HBO Synopsis: “Two young brothers whose childhood world of monsters and secret potions is turned upside down when a very real monster-a volatile stepfather-enters their lives.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Tom Hanks plays an older version of Elijah Wood in this heartbreaking story about two brothers trying to escape an abusive stepfather.

The end has caused many discussions over the years due to the numerous interpretations, making it an even more intriguing movie to watch.

Wood and Joseph Mazello also give some of the best child actor performances ever onscreen.

Content Note: PG-13 for child abuse and other violence.

#49 A Room With A View (1985)

A Room with a View promo photo
Photo Credit: Merchant Ivory Productions/MGM

HBO Synopsis: “An Englishwoman visiting Florence is torn between her straitlaced fiance and a young Bohemian.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

A Room With a View is one of the greatest British period films of all time. Period.

It’s gorgeously filmed, and Maggie Smith gives an Oscar-worthy performance (she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress!).

The film also stars Helena Bonham Carter in one of her first-ever roles as Lucy Honeychurch, the young Englishwoman visiting Florence. The movie’s romantic, gorgeous, and a must-see!

Content Note: NR but would be TV-MA/R for a male nude swimming scene. It’s PG otherwise.

#50 Roots (1977) 

Roots 1977 still
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “From Alex Haley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book comes the stirring, sweeping saga of his unforgettable family and its struggle over many generations to survive slavery and regain freedom – Roots.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Roots is one of the most important miniseries ever made, and it’s available to stream on HBO Max.

It tells the story of Alex Haley’s family and their struggle to survive slavery and regain freedom.

The miniseries was groundbreaking when it first aired due to its depiction of slavery and won numerous awards, including nine Emmys.

Content Note: TV-14 for disturbing violence, implied assaults against women, racism, etc.

#51 The Scarlet Pimpernel/ Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1934/1937)

the scarlet pimpernel 1934 still
Photo: United Artists

HBO Synopsis: A British aristocrat’s effete facade masks a swashbuckling hero rescuing victims of the French revolution.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Scarlet Pimpernel is a classic British adventure story about an aristocrat who rescues victims of the French Revolution.

The film stars Leslie Howard as the main character and Merle Oberon as his love interest.

The sequel, Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, is also available on HBO Max, albeit with a different cast.

Content Note: G

 #52 School Ties (1992)

School Ties promo image
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “Brendan Fraser stars as a Jewish youth who encounters prejudice while attending an exclusive New England prep school in the 1950s.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

School Ties is a great coming-of-age story (from Dick Wolf, the producer behind the Law & Order franchise) about a young man figuring out his place in the world amid anti-semitism.

Besides Brendan Fraser, it also stars Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Cole Hauser in early film roles.

Content Note: PG-13 for language.

#53 The Secret Garden (1993)

The Secret Garden 1993 photo in the garden
Photo: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “An orphaned girl resurrects an abandoned garden–and her sickly cousin–amidst the gloom of her uncle’s mansion in this classic story.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Secret Garden is a beautiful and timeless story about a young girl who finds hope and friendship in the most unlikely of places.

It’s based on the classic novel of the same name by Frances Hodgson Burnett and has been adapted for the screen multiple times, with the 1993 version being one of the best! It’s a beautiful, magical adaptation.

Content Note: G

#54 The Secret Life of Bees (2008)

Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson in The Secret Life of Bees
Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “A 14-year-old girl and her best friend are taken in by a kind-hearted beekeeper and her sisters in this adaptation of the bestseller.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Secret Life of Bees is another lovely adaptation based on a best-selling novel, this time by Sue Monk Kidd.

The film stars Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Paul Bettany, and Jennifer Hudson in one of her first major movie roles.

It’s a heartwarming story about family, love, and sisterhood.

Content Note: PG-13 for thematic material and violence.

#55 The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The shawshank redemption promo art
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “Two life sentences for a 1947 double murder land an innocent man in a corrupt Maine penitentiary.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Shawshank Redemption is one of the most popular films of all time for good reason. It’s currently even ranked #1 on IMDB’s Top Rated films.

It’s a beautifully written, directed, and acted film about hope and friendship.

The film stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in two of their most iconic roles.

Content Note: Rated R for language and violence.

#56 Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

singin in the rain promo art
Photo Credit: MGM/Loew’s Inc.

HBO Synopsis: “A silent-screen swashbuckler finds love while trying to adjust to the coming of sound.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Singin’ in the Rain is one of the most beloved romantic musicals.

It’s an upbeat and fun film about Hollywood in the late 1920s as it transitions from silent films to talkies.

The cast is absolutely stellar, with Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds in some of their best roles.

Content Note: G

#57 Splendor in the Grass (1961)

Splendor in the Grass promo photo
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Set in the 1920s, two midwest teenagers fall in love, are frightened by their physical desires and struggle to navigate their feelings of sexual repression.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

William Inge won Best Screenplay for this haunting and beautifully written film about young love. The movie is a timeless classic that’s as relevant today as when it was released over 60 years ago.

It stars Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in two of their most memorable roles.

Content Note: NR, but it is PG-13-like for thematic elements, including a suicide attempt, suggestive content, and mild language.

#58 That Hamilton Woman (1941)

that hamilton woman poster

HBO Synopsis: “Naval hero Lord Nelson defies convention to court a married woman of common birth.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

See Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier onscreen together in this fantastic historical romance film.

The film is set during the Napoleonic Wars and tells the story of Lord Nelson and his famous mistress, Lady Emma Hamilton.

It’s a sweeping epic with amazing costumes and cinematography.

Content Note: G

#59 War Horse (2011)– NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

war horse promo photo
Photo Credit: Disney

HBO Synopsis: “Steven Spielberg’s epic World War I drama centers on a young man who embarks on an extraordinary journey to be reunited with his horse.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Based on the book and hit stage play, War Horse is a beautifully made and heart-wrenching film about the horrors of war.

War Horse stars Jeremy Irvine, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Emily Watson.

If you’re looking for an emotional drama to watch and love horses, War Horse is it.

Content Note: PG-13 for war violence.

#60 West Side Story (2021)

west side story promo art 2021
Photo Credit: Amblin Entertainment/20th Century Studios

HBO Synopsis: “Steven Spielberg’s dazzling take on the classic musical about a forbidden love affair and rivalry between street gangs in 1957 New York.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The brand-new adaptation of West Side Story is an absolute masterpiece of cinema. Spielberg brings his best to this new, updated version of the famous musical.

Rita Moreno even returns to play a new, memorable role. Other cast members include Ansel Elgort, newcomer Rachel Zegler, and Ariana DeBose. Everyone gives outstanding performances. However, Mike Faist as Riff is a particular standout.

The film is visually stunning, with beautiful costumes, music, and set design. It’s a must-see for any fan of musicals, epic romances, or cinema.

Content Note: PG-13 for language, violence, racism, and sensuality.

BONUS PERIOD DRAMAS ON HBO:

  • ’71 (Rated R)
  • 12 Years a Slave (Rated R)
  • 47 Ronin: Part 1 & Part 2
  • An American Haunting
  • Angel at my Table (Rated R)
  • Bolero (TV-MA)
  • Breaking the Waves (Rated R)
  • Capote (Rated R)
  • Child 44 (Rated R)
  • Cries and Whispers (Rated R)
  • Deadwood: The Movie (Rated R)
  • Defiance (Rated R)
  • The Departed (Rated R)
  • Explota Explota
  • The Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Fanny and Alexander (Rated R)
  • The Four Feathers – classic
  • Friday (Rated R)
  • Goodfellas (Rated R)
  • Harlem Nights (Rated R)
  • Henry V
  • The Last Duel (Rated R)
  • The Last Emperor
  • Last Metro
  • Love & Mercy
  • Marriage of Maria Braun (Rated R)
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Nightmare Alley (Rated R)
  • No Country for Old Men (Rated R)
  • Of Mice and Men
  • Oliver Twist (1948)
  • Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Passion of Joan of Arc
  • Pennyworth (TV-MA)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock
  • Quigley Down Under
  • Rashomon
  • The Reader (Rated R)
  • Rembrandt
  • Richard III
  • Rise of Catherine the Great
  • Selena
  • Seven Samurai
  • The Shooting
  • Shop on Main Street
  • Stagecoach
  • Sweeney Todd (Rated R)
  • Sweet Dreams
  • Throne of Blood
  • Tom Jones
  • Trial of Joan of Arc
  • Two English Girls
  • War and Peace (many parts)
  • We Are Marshall
  • When Trumpets Fade (Rated R)

Costume Dramas (Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, & Sci-Fi)

Here you’ll find historical fantasy films and shows – meaning that it may take place in the real world (in the past), but it also has fantasy or sci-fi elements.

You’ll also find pure fantasy and sci-fi dramas on this list. The characters typically wear costumes and are influenced by historical dramas.

Finally, I also included contemporary fantasies with period flashbacks.

My Top 20 RECOMMENDATIONS: 

#1 Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et La Bete) (1946)

Photo Credit: DisCina

HBO Synopsis: “A mysterious monster forces a young innocent to share his life in an enchanted castle.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The French adaptation of Beauty and the Beast remains one of the most artistic and beautiful films ever made. It’s arguably also the best adaptation of the fairy tale to date.

The cast is perfect, with Jean Marais and Josette Day giving stunning performances as the Beast and Belle. The set design and costumes are equally gorgeous, transporting you into a magical world you’ll never want to leave.

But what makes this movie so memorable are the groundbreaking special effects!

This film is a must-see for anyone who loves fairy tales, romantic fantasies, or beautiful cinema. It’s a masterpiece.

Content Note: G

#2 The Book Thief (2013)

the book thief promo art
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

HBO Synopsis: “A little girl in Nazi Germany learns to survive the horrors she experiences through reading in this adaptation of the acclaimed novel.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Book Thief is a powerful and heartbreaking film about the power of words and the human spirit. It’s based on the best-selling novel of the same name and tells the story of a young girl living in 1940s Germany.

This movie is unique because it has a fantasy twist: Death is the narrator. And who really is the book thief? While not as good as the brilliant novel, this is still an excellent film worth watching.

Sophie Nélisse gives an incredible performance as Liesel Meminger. Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Nico Liersh are also fantastic.

Content Note: PG-13 for some violence and thematic material.

#3 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

charlie and the chocolate factory promo art
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “A poor boy and four spoiled children win a tour through the incredible factory of an odd confectioner.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Most people are familiar with the superior 1971 classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. But the 2005 Tim Burton remake is also well worth watching.

The cast is excellent, with Johnny Depp giving a wonderfully eccentric (and perhaps creepy) performance as Willy Wonka. The set design and special effects are amazing, transporting you into a fantastical world and escape.

Content Note: PG for mild language.

#4 Doctor Dolittle (1967)

doctor dolittle 1967
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox.

HBO Synopsis: “Rex Harrison doesn’t just talk to the animals-he sings to them, doctors them and loves them all in this charming 1967 musical fantasy.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you love animals, musicals, or Rex Harrison, you’ll love Doctor Dolittle. This delightful film is based on the popular children’s books by Hugh Lofting and takes place in Victorian times.

It follows the Doctor as he communicates with animals and sets off on several adventures.

The songs are catchy and will stay in your head long after watching! This one’s perfect for the entire family.

Content Note: G

#5 Doctor Who (2005)

Rose Tyler and the 10th Doctor.
Rose Tyler and the 10th Doctor. Photo Credit: BBC

HBO Synopsis of Episode 1: “When Rose Tyler meets a mysterious stranger called the Doctor, her life will never be the same.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Is there anything better than Doctor Who? This long-running BBC series is sci-fi/fantasy perfection.

It follows the adventures of the Doctor, a Time Lord who travels through time and space in his TARDIS. So, expect to see many historically-set episodes.

The 2005 reboot is especially excellent, with Christopher Eccleston in the title role (other actors like David Tennant take over the part afterward).

RELATED: Doctor Who Theory – Was “The Moment” in Day of the Doctor Actually Bad Wolf?

The writing and directing are top-notch, and it’s full of romance, humor, adventure, and wonder. It’s truly a show that can go on forever! And it’s fun to come up with theories while you’re watching too, guessing what will happen next.

I also recommend checking out the two spinoff series, Torchwood (TV-MA) and The Sarah Jane Chronicles. Both include period flashbacks from time to time and are overall excellent shows.

Content Note: TV-PG for fantasy violence and mild language and innuendo.

#6 Dracula Untold (2014)

Dracula Untold still
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “The evil origins of Bram Stoker’s legendary vampire are revealed in this horror tale.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Dracula Untold is an entertaining vampire romance film starring Luke Evans as Vlad the Impaler.

It’s a retelling of the Dracula legend, set in medieval times. If you love vampires and period dramas, this movie is for you!

The action sequences are well-done, and there’s plenty of suspense. Plus, it’s always nice to see some romance in a vampire flick, even if this is a mediocre movie.

Content Note: PG-13 for war scenes, vampire violence, and sensuality.

#7 Dune (2021)

Dune promotional art. Photo Credit: Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “The son of a noble family travels to a dangerous planet to ensure the future of his people in this visually stunning sci-fi epic.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Dune recently received 10 Oscar nominations – a rare feat for a genre film. Timothée Chalamet stars in this epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel.

Set in the future (but looks a lot like the past), it tells the story of a young man who must journey to a hostile planet to save his family and lead a revolution. The visuals are stunning, the acting is excellent, and the plot is full of twists and turns.

Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, and many more fabulous actors also star.

Content Note: PG-13 for violence and suggestive content.

#8 Ella Enchanted (2004)

Photo Credit: Miramax

HBO Synopsis: “Anne Hathaway tries to lift her curse–obedience–in this magical, musical take on the ‘Cinderella’ story.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Ella Enchanted is a charming live-action film based on the book by Gail Carson Levine.

It tells the story of Ella, cursed with obedience by her wicked stepmother. Anne Hathaway does a great job in the lead role, and the supporting cast is also excellent.

The movie is humorous, romantic (Hugh Dancy is swoony as the Prince!), and full of adventure. It’s a lovely romance movie for the entire family.

Content Note: PG for humor and language. Very mild.

#9 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them/ The Crimes of Grindelwald (2016/2018)

fantastic beasts and where to find them promo image
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “Magizoologist Newt Scamander, two sisters and a No-Maj battle dark forces while tracking down magical creatures set free in the wizarding world of 1926 New York.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you love Harry Potter, you’ll want to check out the prequels. The first movie takes place in the wizarding world of 1926 New York.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) is a magizoologist who studies magical creatures. When some of his beasts are accidentally let loose in the city, it’s up to Newt and his friends to find them before they cause too much trouble.

The Fantastic Beasts movies are fun and exciting, with plenty of magic, romance, and adventure. They’re also full of exquisite period detail.

Content Note: Both movies are PG-13 for fantasy violence.

#10 His Dark Materials (2019)

his dark materials promo art
Photo Credit: Bad Wolf/BBC/HBO

HBO Synopsis: “From Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy comes this compelling HBO series that follows a young girl’s adventure in a parallel world.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

If you’re a fantasy fan, then His Dark Materials is definitely worth watching. The show is based on the trilogy of books by Philip Pullman.

And while it’s technically set in the modern-day, the parallel world is very period-influenced and not modern looking.

The story follows Lyra Belacqua, a young girl who travels to a parallel world and faces adventure, magic, and intrigue. The series has stellar actors (including Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda) and top-notch production values.

Content Note: TV-14 for some violence and thematic elements. Mild overall.

#11 The Hobbit / Lord of the Rings Trilogies (2001-2014)

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Photo: New Line Cinema

HBO Synopsis (The Hobbit): “Bilbo Baggins journeys to face an evil dragon in this first tale in Peter Jackson’s trilogy prequel to ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

HBO Synopsis (Fellowship of the Ring): “A chosen hobbit and his loyal friends join a wizard, humans, a dwarf and an elf on a quest to destroy a powerful ring and defeat an evil lord.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

You can’t go wrong with the Lord of the Rings movies if you love epic fantasy. These movies are based on the beloved books by J.R.R. Tolkien, and they’re gorgeous adaptations of the source material.

The movies are filled with magic, adventure, romance, and suspense. They’re simply movie magic.

While The Hobbit movies are not as good as Lord of the Rings, they are still excellent, romantic, and nicely tie into the original trilogy.

Content Note: PG-13 for fantasy violence.

#12 Kate & Leopold (2001) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

kate & leopold promo image
Photo Credit: Miramax

HBO Synopsis: “A Manhattan woman falls in love with the 19th-century Duke of Albany, who has stepped through a time portal.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Kate & Leopold is a charming and funny romantic comedy with Jackman proving he’s a star. Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman have great chemistry together, and the supporting cast is also excellent.

The movie is light-hearted and fun, with plenty of humor and romance. It’s a perfect movie to watch when you want something feel-good with a swoony love story.

Content Note: PG-13 for language.

#13 The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)

the league of extraordinary gentlemen photo
Photo: 20th Century Fox

HBO Synopsis: “Legendary adventurer Allan Quatermain leads other great literary characters of 19th-century fiction against a murderous madman.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

While not the best movie of all time, it’s still worth watching Sean Connery’s last major film role. Plus, it has a fun cast, a Victorian setting, and an intriguing mix of literary characters.

Content Note: PG-13 for fantasy violence, innuendo, and language.

#14 Mary Reilly (1996)

mary reilly publicity photo - gothic romance movie
Photo: TriStar/Sony Pictures Releasing

HBO Synopsis: “A housemaid is attracted both to her master and to his darkly mysterious assistant.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Mary Reilly is a dark and atmospheric movie based on the novel by Valerie Martin. It’s directed by Stephen Frears (The Queen, Philomena) and stars Julia Roberts and John Malkovich.

The movie is visually stunning and has a great cast. It’s a different kind of period drama, one to watch if you enjoy gothic romances.

Content Note: Rated R for some violence, gore, and a scene of sensuality.

#15 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

frankenstein photo - gothic romance movie
Photo: TriStar Pictures

HBO Synopsis: “In this epic and romantic new version of the classic film, The Creature is driven to revenge when his master rejects him after giving him life.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a retelling of the classic monster story. It stars Robert De Niro as the creature, Kenneth Branagh as Victor, and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth.

The movie is beautifully shot and atmospheric with some fantastic creature makeup and period detail. It’s overall a great adaptation of the book with excellent performances all around.

Content Note: Rated R for disturbing horror images, a scene of sensuality, and a scene of nudity.

#16 The Mummy/The Mummy Returns (1999/2001) – NOW GONE FROM HBO MAX

The Mummy Returns
The Mummy Returns. Photo: Universal Studios

HBO Synopsis: “Adventurer Brendan Fraser and opposing teams of treasure hunters awaken an evil 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy in this thriller.”

Why You Should Check It Out:

The Mummy is an action-packed and thrilling adventure movie with some fun effects. It stars Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and Arnold Vosloo.

The Mummy Returns is the follow-up to The Mummy, and it’s just as exciting as the first movie. It has a great cast, incredible action scenes, and romantic fun.

Overall, if you enjoy romantic adventure films or period fantasies, The Mummy is always a good choice.

Content Note: PG-13 for adventure violence, innuendo, and partial nudity.

#17 Nanny McPhee (2005)

nanny mcphee dvd poster

HBO Synopsis: “A British nanny uses her magical powers to tame the badly-behaved Brown children in this family film.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Colin Firth and Emma Thompson star in this charming (and romantic) family film. Set in Victorian England, Nanny McPhee is a delightful movie with great humor, an excellent screenplay, and beautiful visuals.

Nanny McPhee is worth watching if you’re looking for a feel-good period film that the whole family can enjoy. After all, you can never go wrong with Colin Firth in a period drama.

Content Note: PG for some language and rude humor.

#18 The Seventh Seal (1957)

the seventh seal still
Photo Credit: AB Svensk Filmindustri

HBO Synopsis: “In medieval Sweden a knight returns from war only to find a ravaged homeland. He meets up with a group of travelling players and eventually confronts the embodiment of death with whom he engages in a game of chess.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Ingmar Bergman directed this masterpiece about life, death, and faith. It stars Max von Sydow as a Knight who returns from the Crusades to find his country ravaged by the Black Death.

He then challenges Death to a game of chess to buy more time for himself and his people.

The movie is visually stunning and thought-provoking and considered one of the greatest films ever made. If film history interests you, the Seventh Seal is a must-see historical fantasy movie.

Content Note: TV-PG (as rated by HBO MAX) for dark themes and some language.

#19 The Water Horse (2007)

the water horse publicity still
Photo Credit: Walden Media/Sony Pictures Releasing

HBO Synopsis: “A lonely boy who discovers a giant egg that hatches the fabled Loch Ness monster tries to keep his new friend a secret.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

The Water Horse is a family-friendly period film set in Scotland during World War II. It stars Alex Etel as a boy who discovers a Loch Ness monster egg and tries to keep the creature hidden.

This is a heartwarming movie about friendship, loyalty, and family. It’s perfect for a rainy day or if you’re looking for something different to watch with your family.

Content Note: PG for mild action and language.

#20 Wonder Woman/Wonder Woman 1984 (2017/2020)

wonder woman movie still
Photo Credit: DC Films/Warner Bros.

HBO Synopsis: “After leaving her all-female island for the first time, Wonder Woman discovers her full powers and true destiny while fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars.”

Why You Should Check It Out: 

Wonder Woman is a superhero movie based on the DC Comics character of the same name. Gal Gadot stars as Diana, Princess of the Amazons, who leaves her home to fight in World War I.

The movie is exciting, inspiring, and well-made. It’s perfect for fans of superhero movies or anyone looking for a romantic historical fantasy to watch.

While not as good, the sequel is still a fun adventure film with a good message.

Content Note: PG-13 for action, violence, and suggestive content.

BONUS COSTUME DRAMAS TO CHECK OUT: 

  • Brothers Grimm
  • Clash of the Titans (both)
  • The Curse of La Llorona (R)
  • Game of Thrones (TV-MA)
  • Ghosts (UK version)
  • The Golden Compass
  • Legend of Hercules
  • Lovecraft Country (TV-MA)
  • The Nevers (TV-MA)
  • Theodosia 
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife 
  • True Blood (TV-MA) – flashbacks

PERIOD/COSTUME DRAMAS COMING SOON: 

  • House of the Dragon: August 21, 2022

What HBO period dramas or romantic dramas do you plan to check out? Do you have a personal favorite? Share your recommendations below!


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By on March 21st, 2022

About Amber Topping

Amber works as a writer and digital publisher full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

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