I went to see Stranger than Fiction* today (which has nothing to do with history) and was surprised that every single preview featured an upcoming film based on a true story or set in a historical time period.
First was We Are Marshall. This film follows the rebuilding of the Marshall football team after most of its players and coaching staff were killed in a plane crash.
Second was a preview for Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, which is about the decline of the Mayan civilization.
Then they showed a preview of The Pursuit of Happyness. This movie is based on the true story of Christopher Gardener, a successful stock broker who worked his way up from the bottom of the industry while raising his toddler son and being homeless for a time.
They also showed a preview for Night at the Museum. This one is a bit of a stretch, but it is about the exhibits at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History coming alive at night. Apparently, Robin Williams has a fairly big role in the film as Theodore Roosevelt.
Add these to the currently playing Bobby (about the assassination of Robert Kennedy) and The History Boys and it seems like Hollywood is in love with history.
Why is this important?
I think it serves as a great reminder that what historians do - tell stories - explain why people's lives are significant - contextualize the past so that it makes sense to present - is interesting to a number of people. Film makers wouldn't produce these pictures if people didn't care about them. A lot more people are drawn to history than we see in our classes or who buy our books. I think historians can take some comfort from this - or be really depressed about it.
(* In Stranger Than Fiction a English professor plays a major role in the film. This professor says at one point in the film that he is teaching 5 classes and directing 2 graduate theses. What I want to know is what college with Ph.D. students has professors who teaching more than a 2/2 load? I mean come on!)