10 Best American Indian Movies

You won’t find Indians dancing around in circles with their hands over their mouths “whooping” war cries, but you will gain some insight about the cultures of the indigenous peoples of the Americas if you watch these ten best American Indian movies. This list will send you to your local library or have you scouring the internet for more information on these tribes and their ways of life.

  1. "Dances with Wolves." “Dances with Wolves… I am Wind in His Hair.  Do you see that I am your friend! Can you see that you will always be my friend?!" Melodramatic, true, but equally powerful. Yes its the story of the white man who discovers the “nobility” of the Sioux and falls in love with one of their white captives… But it's also the first movie to depict the Lakota language accurately on screen. And the buffalo hunt sequence is epic enough to make John Ford proud.
  2. "Last of The Mohicans." More melodrama and another story about a white captive learning the American Indian ways. But human children raised by wolves have been known to think they are, well, wolves.  Still, this is an entertaining epic about the French-Indian wars and the battles between the European powers for control of Indian country. And the love story is passionate and tragic right down to the very last scene.  
  3. "A Man Called Horse." Yet another “white man becomes an American Indian” story. Hollywood loves these. This is one of the better ones with Richard Harris earning his warpaint, so-to-speak.  
  4. "Geronimo: An American Legend." If not an entirely accurate portrayal of the infamous war chief, then at least it tries to humanize him and erase the thought of Geronimo as the infamous terrorist of the western settler days. The Apache war chief was one of the greatest freedom fighters the world has seen and this movie depicts his dilemma in almost documentary fashion. 
  5. "Smoke Signals." The biggest and most recognizable film from an actual Native American filmmaker, it chronicles the story of two friends who take a road trip and discover a great deal about themselves and their identities as “Indians” along the way. This is an insightful and often humorous film.  
  6. "War Party." Amusing at best, in a wish fulfillment kind of way. After a mock old west battle turns bloody, a group of Native friends decide to declare war on the local town. It is reminiscent of other 80’s young adult political movies such as "Red Dawn" and "Taps."
  7. "Apocalypto." If we include American Indians to mean all of the indigenous peoples of the American continent then this movie has to be at the top of everyone's list. The use of subtitles, imagery, the sense of family and the desire for liberty are overwhelming. The legend of the major character, Jaguar Paw, is immortalized in the scene when he covers himself with black mud and emerges from the murk ready to battle his enemies.  
  8. "Thunderheart." A classic whodunit in movie terms, this movie twists the premise by making the protagonist discover his own Indian heritage as he unravels the murder mystery. The entire movie is set on the Lakota Sioux reservation, which serves as a nice and seldom seen backdrop.  
  9. "Frozen River." A little seen but very interesting personal take on life for the Native Americans that straddle the U.S./ Canadian border. Being a sovereign tribe these Indians technically have dual citizenship. But by existing as a reservation this sovereignty gives way to crime and exploitation. Worth the character study
  10. "The New World." Terrence Malick's tale of "first contact" is one of the most beautifully filmed movies you could ever see. And Q'orianka Kilcher is a diamond in the rough as a captivating Indian princess enraptured by the invading Englishmen.  
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