Upcoming Historical Dramas To Keep On Your Radar

Generally speaking, modern historical dramas tend to get a bad rap for being stuffy Oscar bait. That unflattering reputation isn't entirely unwarranted, either. Every time awards season rolls around, theaters and streaming services are suddenly flooded with period pieces hoping to appeal to members of the Academy, be they fictional or based on real events. Historical dramas in the forms of biopics have become especially notorious for doing this, much to their detriment. As /Film's Kayleigh Donaldson argued in her piece about why biopics are bad for acting, "The biopic is what others make of it but, more than any other major genre in modern cinema, it is confined to blandness and risk-free scope for the sake of commercial success."

Extending that argument, there's nothing that says historical dramas have to be stodgy, calculated attempts at winning their stars and creatives awards. There's also no reason they can't push the envelope for storytelling and craftsmanship. In fact, there are a number of period pieces (one of which is even a dyed-in-the-wool biopic) on the horizon that look and/or sound like downright exciting pieces of filmmaking.

The Northman

Director Robert Eggers' viking drama "The Northman" already sounded like a must-see on paper, even before its glorious trailer took the internet by storm shortly before the winter holidays. Eggers demonstrated a mastery of creating eerie, richly detailed, historically accurate worlds in his horror films "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse," and those same skills look to be fully on display in his bloody, brooding tale of revenge served Icelandic cold.

"The Northman" is loosely based on the Norse legend that inspired "The Lion King" "Hamlet," with Alexander Skarsgård starring as a Nordic prince who seeks vengeance against his uncle (Claes Bang) for murdering his father (Ethan Hawke) and taking his mother (Nicole Kidman) captive. Eggers' film also reunites him with his trusty collaborators Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe, both of whom look completely comfortable operating on the story's untamed, almost mythical wavelength. Could this be 2022's answer to David Lowery's "The Green Knight?" Here's hoping!

"The Northman" opens in theaters on April 22, 2022.


"Elvis" might be a biopic about the King of Rock and Roll, but it's also a biopic directed by "Strictly Ballroom" and "Moulin Rouge" filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, an auteur who never met a genre (or, in the cases of "Romeo + Juliet" and "The Great Gatsby," classic stories) that he couldn't bring to splendid, sumptuous life. In his hands, there's reason to believe "Elvis" will go all-out in its efforts to capture the hectic life and times of its namesake in all its glory and tragedy.

Austin Butler ("The Shannara Chronicles") is starring as the grown-up Elvis Presley in the film, with Tom Hanks co-starring as Elvis' longtime manager Colonel Tom Parker. The movie's supporting cast includes Yolanda Claire Quartey, aka Yola, as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B.B. King, and Alton Mason as Little Richard, which suggests that Luhrmann is also interested in highlighting some of the Black music icons who either were contemporaries of the King or influenced his style. As such, "Elvis" could make for a nice complement to "The Get Down," Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis' Netflix series about the rise of hip-hop and disco music in the 1970s.

"Elvis" arrives in theaters on June 24, 2022.

The Woman King

Audiences got a small taste of what Viola Davis could do as an action movie star in "Widows." Now, they're about to get much more than that with "The Woman King," a historical epic in which the Oscar-winner plays Nanisca, the general of the all-female military unit that protected the West African Kingdom of Dahomey (which existed from about 1600 to 1900). And what better choice to portray Dahomey's righteous King Ghezo than John Boyega, who aims to keep proving his mettle as a powerhouse actor after his acclaimed turn in the "Small Axe" film anthology.

"The Woman King" hales from "Love & Basketball" and "Beyond the Lights" director Gina Prince-Bythewood, working with a talented cast that also includes up-and-comer Thuso Mbedu ("The Underground Railroad"), "Captain Marvel" and "No Time to Die" alum Lashana Lynch, and Tony-winning theater veteran Adrienne Warren. Prince-Bythewood's last film, the comic book adaptation "The Old Guard," was engaging but perhaps too trope-y for its own good, so hopefully "The Woman King" will combine that movie's great action scenes with the dramatic heft of her other work.

Sony has scheduled "The Woman King" to debut in theaters on September 16, 2022.


Say what you will about Christopher Nolan's "Dunkirk," but nobody can accuse it of being a staid WWII drama unwilling to try anything different narratively in the hopes of winning some easy Oscars. (And yes, I know it won three Oscars anyway.) That bodes well for his return to that period in history with the upcoming "Oppenheimer," a biographical drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer's role in the U.S.' efforts to develop the first nuclear weapons, as well as his internal conflict and guilt over being the "Father of the Atomic Bomb."

In a change of pace from his previous movies with Nolan ("Dunkirk" included), Cillian Murphy will play the titular lead in "Oppenheimer," with Emily Blunt co-starring as his wife, Katherine Oppenheimer. The star-studded ensemble cast also includes Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Robert Downey Jr., Rami Malek, and Benny Safdie. Nolan's last film, "Tenet," was about as Nolan-y as Nolan movies come (for better and for worse), but it also showcased his expertise at crafting visually arresting thrillers about people (okay, mostly men) struggling against the odds to save the world from oblivion. In his hands, "Oppenheimer" has the potential to be something special.

"Oppenheimer" hits theaters on July 21, 2023.