Our Favorite Native American Movies on Netflix

Our Favorite Native American Movies on Netflix

Posted By Paul G July 11th, 2019 Blog

For movie fans with an interest in various indigenous tribes that have lived throughout the Americas for millennia, Netflix offers a sizable collection of Native American movies choose from. Although some are decried for their stereotyping and inaccuracies, others do include representations more accurate and less insulting. Also, the ones chosen on this list have high ratings as entertainment.

Here are our favorite Native American movies on Netflix today!


Reel Injun

The first Native American movie is a documentary that was created in 2009. Through a collection of clips and interviews, the movie covers how Native Americans were on the big screen throughout time.



This must-watch film can help you determine if the other Native American movies on Netflix give a fair representation of the people they include. In many cases, the native people included in the movies are horrible stereotypes that would seem comical if they were not cruel.

It is important to note that some movies listed on this best Native American movies collection are represented in Reel Injun.


Smoke Signals

This interesting and informative movie gave families the opportunity to sit down together and learn something about Native American culture. It was released in 1998, and was directed by Chris Eyre, who also did quite a few of the other movies listed here and was an instrumental player in Reel Injun as well.

This is a story that many young people know well. A hurt young man clings to memories of the past, struggles to survive after his parents are killed in a fire, and goes on a road trip of self-discovery. It blends serious meaning with comedy and adventure with a predominately native cast. This movie was created from an idea written by Sherman Alexie, a prominent Spokane-Coeur d'Alene Native writer.


Winter In the Blood

Based on the 1974 novel by James Welch, plays into what could be considered stereotypes and the harsh reality for many people in modern Native American life. The movie itself was released in 2014 and stars Chaske Spencer, a prominent native actor among others.

The movie itself is a psychological trauma about a man seeking his runaway wife and his favorite rifle. He is depicted as an alcoholic who struggles with visions from his past, gets guidance from a native elder, and comes in contact with his roots.


Barking Water

Instead of focusing primarily on Native American issues or ideals, this tragic drama explores the relationships between people. The main character nears the end of his life gets help to return home to see his children and grandchildren for the last time. While this is one of the least popular options on this list of best Native American movies available on Netflix, it does have very high ratings. Also, viewers enjoyed the touches of Seminole tradition and how people's connections breed understanding.


Hostiles

This movie from 2017 may more accurately be called a Western film rather than a Native American one. However, it does include a focus on the interactions between the Army Captain and the family of a Cheyenne war chief being brought back to Montana. It has a lot of drama, some action, and conflict, but the real focus of the movie is the internal conflict and connection between the people.

Frequently in the movie industry, Native Americans are viewed through the lens of non-native perspectives. Luckily, modern movies like this one have come a long way from the early Westerns of whooping, hollering, and other stereotypes.


Dances With Wolves

This classic 1990 Native American movie on Netflix get high ranks even though some people argue with its accuracy and fair depiction. Kevin Costner stars as a war soldier who is stuck with the Sioux tribe for an extended period of time. Some of the most beloved characteristics of this film include the gorgeous scenic shots, the lighthearted feel of many scenes, and how two cultures are able to blend together rather than clash like many other older Westerns.


Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper wrote this book a very long time ago and various incarnations have appeared in film over the years. The first was in 1920, and the most recent appeared in 1992. Obviously, the version you choose will affect how the movie portrays natives and everything else. It takes place during the French and Indian War in North America, which the Mohican tribe is desperately trying to avoid. Drama surrounds a Colonel's kidnapped daughter and two brothers, one of which is of mixed race.


Little Big Man

This earlier movie stars Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway who look back through a very long life at dealings with Native Americans during the Battle of Little Big Horn. People describe it as accurate, brilliant, and sometimes absurd and confusing. Other than the aforementioned actors, it does have a large number of native cast members including Chief Dan George.


Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

As the winner of an Emmy for the Best Made-for-Television Movie and now available on Netflix, this looks back into American history follows prominent figures including Sitting Bull a through life after Little Big Horn. Viewers consider this to be a more accurate depiction than many others at that time. Instead of looking at the horrible circumstances in a black and white perspective, both the white expansionists and the native people were shown as occasionally morally gray. Because it was not a Hollywood feature film, it may not have as much awesome cinematography as other options.


The Windtalkers

Since Nicholas Cage is the big-name actor in this 2002 film, he gets top billing over the cast of Native Americans who share the screen including Peter Stormare and Adam Beach. This is a dramatization of a real story that took place in World War II.

Navajo men were used by the US Marines to confuse the enemy with their native language, which was turned into a battle code. While this really happened back then, the movie itself is a fictionalized account. It focuses on action and the drama of the interpersonal relationship between the two men fight side-by-side.


Skins

This is one of the lesser-known Native American movies on the list, but it still receives high stars on Netflix. It is a bleak telling of social issues that plague people living on the South Dakota reservation. Although primarily dramatic with looks into alcoholism, the struggle of returning Vietnam veterans, and the efforts to maintain traditional knowledge and way of life, it also includes a touch of comedy. Watchers who ranked it highly speak of its gritty accuracy and the high skills of Graham Greene who sank into the main role seamlessly.


Geronimo: An American Legend

Many of the best Native American movies look back through history to the early days when tribes were forced off their ancestral homes and treated horribly by the US government. This 1993 does the same. It is the story of an Apache chief, played by Wes Studi, who gathers together a type of guerrilla force to reclaim what is theirs from the white man. Some consider it to be one of the more accurate depictions of how things really were back then, although, unlike many Native American movies, it erred on the side of drama and entertainment instead of strict realism.


Thunderheart

The basis of this Native American movie seems to surround the reticence of people on a reservation to interact with outsiders. Luckily, an FBI field agent has some Sioux heritage so they let him come and helps them solve several murders.

The end conflict continues to focus on the differences and divided loyalties between native ideologies and the law. Val Kilmer stars, but the cast does include several native actors including the very popular Graham Greene.


Powwow Highway

This dramatic film made in 1998 offers a gritty glimpse inside the struggle of many Native American reservations when it comes to finance and the retention of traditional values and behaviors.

It is essentially a buddy road trip movie mixed with a touch of crime, action, and a great deal of introspection and even humor. Some people consider this option a cult classic in best the Native American movies list.


Billy Jack

Although this list means to depict the best Native American movies on Netflix, sometimes one exists for rather odd reasons. Tom Laughlin stars as a Vietnam veteran who has both European and native heritage. Intending to stamp out discrimination and punish those practicing it against minorities, he rides his motorcycle through the country and beats people up. Because the movie was released in 1971, and some modern viewers may see it as rather odd and out of touch. This is more a groovy action movie from the time rather than one that focuses particularly on the American issues or ideas.


Entertainment steeped in the traditions of Native American tribes, both modern life and days long gone, offers many options on Netflix. However, if you want to learn more about real history without the dramatics of Hollywood, consider spending time with an informative documentary.

These Native American movies focus on various aspects of life for the first people to call the land their home. While there are many more available, Netflix mostly offers general historical western topic documentaries series. Probably the best offered on that platform is Ken Burns's “The American West”.

The top Native American movies on Netflix run the gamut from comedic or magical films that use Native American impressions as a backdrop and ones that truly sink into the heart of what it meant to live as one in the past or present. The ones included here all have four stars and above, but that does not mean each is for everyone. Read the descriptions and the reviews before you choose your next piece of entertainment or information.

Also, if you truly wish to learn about the history or current lives of Native Americans, go for the more modern documentaries, peruse tribal organization websites, or actually make the acquaintance of Native American Indians living today in the real world.


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