A bunch of people simulating famous battles and wars, especially (if American) The American Civil War, (if English) the English Civil War, (if anything from French to Russian) The Napoleonic Wars and (if European) The Middle Ages, the Thirty Years' War or World War II. A character already known to be a history, military, or weapons geek will probably be in attendance. Sometimes they'll be the descendant of a famous general.
Given their place in the world of subcultures lies somewhere between Nerds and Geeks and socially acceptable study of history, their fictional depictions vary — from living history hobbyists and patriots, through enthusiastic but harmless geeks who just pay attention to actual history behind their SCA fantasies, all the way to obsessive types who behave as if they were Born in the Wrong Century.
In Real Life, there are some quirks to reenactment. For one, reenactors tend to be on average older and more well-fed than their historic counterparts. Many casual reenactors also tend to gravitate towards the "elite" or "badass" units leading to their over-representation, because when you want to play out your historical fantasies, you kind of need to grow to accept the fact that not everything worked like in the movies and that common footmen were actually more numerous than Viking jarls or knights in full plate (and for that matter — fantasy fiction, while a gateway drug, is not an accurate depiction either). And talking of elite formations, playing out "evil" formations such as the Waffen SS is a perennial source of controversy, even if a battle kind of requires the other side. And finally, putting together a cavalry unit is a whole degree of magnitude harder since you need reenactors who are also equestrians; many European reenactors scoff that of the whole lot of knight reenactors, just a merest handful of them can ride.
Still, it's worthy to note that many historical war films make use of reenactment societies as readily equipped extras, e. g. in Gettysburg and its prequel Gods and Generals. Making enough period accurate costume uniforms and prop weapons for a large group of extras is so ridiculously expensive that very few film productions even have a large enough budget to do one scene requiring a large group of extras that looks period accurate without using reenactors who brought their own costumes and weapons (some of which can cost as much as, if not more than a new car).
Compare and contrast Society for Creative Anachronism, LARP, and Renaissance Fair. These are pastimes that are superficially similar, but have a different image in public consciousness and are not always appealing to the same mindsets. Note however that both the perceived and actual overlap is heavily dependent on time period; medieval reenactors will be confused for larpers a lot more often than Second World War reenactors.
- From George Carlin's "Reagan's Gang, Church People and American Values" on his 1988 album What Am I Doing In New Jersey?:
"The Civil War's been over now for about 120 years or so, but not so you'd really notice it, of course. 'Cause we still have these people called Civil War buffs. People who thought it was a really keen war. And they study the battles to improve the tactics to increase the body count. In case we have to go through it again sometime. Some of them even go out and refight these battles. You know what I say? 'Use live ammunition, assholes! You might increase the IQ level of the American gene pool!'"
- The titular Two Thousand Maniacs! are having their own little reenactment with our poor heroes.
- In Antebellum, the Confederate troops are a group of war reenactors who have bought in way too heavily to the recreating the antebellum South. The plantation is located in a historical theme park which recreates Civil War battles, and the final chase takes place in the middle of one.
- In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Frank Heffley is a Civil War reenactor, and takes his son Greg to one of his reenactments one day in an attempt at father-son bonding.
- Many films set in the American Civil War make use of reenactment societies as readily equipped extras, e. g. in Gettysburg and its prequel Gods and Generals. One notable drawback is that the soldiers in the battle scenes tend to be on average older and more well-fed than their historic counterparts. Historian Gregory Urwin even founded a reenactment group from among black students from the University of Central Arkansas to play part of the 54th Massachusetts in Glory.
- Just for the record, it's not in the slightest limited to the American Civil War because making enough period accurate costume uniforms and prop weapons for a large group of extras is so ridiculously expensive that very few film productions even have a large enough budget to do one scene requiring a large group of extras that looks period accurate without using reenactors who brought their own costumes and weapons (some of which can cost as much as, if not more than a new car).
- Night at the Museum had a whole exhibit of Civil War soldier mannequins that would come to life each night and start fighting each other.
- The protagonist's father in Sweet Home Alabama is a reenactor.
- In Sweet Liberty (1986) Alan Alda plays a historian who also heads a War of the American Revolution reenactment society. His book on a local episode of said war is then turned into a movie, in which he serves as an advisor and the reenactors as extras. He becomes incensed as the movie makers restage the battle so it is more cinematic, throw in a fictional love story between a local woman and the British commander, General Tarleton, and change Tarleton's uniform from the historical dark green to the more iconic scarlet. That he also becomes infatuated with the actress playing the female lead (Michelle Pfeiffer) does not help.
- Anna Pigeon: In Deep South, Anna's investigation into a girl's disappearance is severely complicated and hampered by the large-scale American Civil War reenactment that is going on in the park. Anna finds herself getting a crash course in the world of war re-enactors.
- Appears in Discworld, though of course here it is largely a spoof of English Civil War re-enactment societies like the Sealed Knot (Corporal Nobbs is a member of the Peeled Nuts, aka the Ankh-Morpork Historical Re-creation Society).
- Also, a famous "ambush" in which Dwarfs and Trolls supposedly both set a trap for each other and fought so hard that the Disc cracked and flooded and all participants were swallowed up into the crevices. From then on, every year, almost all Dwarfs and almost all Trolls gang up on each other to fight in a sort of reenactment...but more like an actual war. It turns out that the two sides were actually trying to negotiate lasting peace and were simply caught in a flash-flood, eventually settling down to die together during a nice game of Thud.
- Simon Ark: In "The Weapon Out of the Past", a small town stages a reenactment of a minor battle of the French and Indian War: the most significant event to ever happen in the town. During the event, one of the reenactors is killed with a weapon seemingly launched 200 years earlier.
- Most of the characters in War Game by Anthony Price are members of a reenactment society specialising in the English Civil War; the novel begins with one of their officers turning up really dead during a mock battle. Some of the reenactors find the plot eerily echoing their "game" roles.
- In the first episode of 7 Days (1998) the main character makes his first trip back in time. As the title says he should only travel back a week but he ends up in what appears to be a Civil War battle. It turns out to just be a recreation.
- One episode of The Brittas Empire had members of the Classical War Society (who were re-enacting the Roman era) besiege the centre (complete with an elephant).
- CSI came across the corpse of a Civil War reenactor in one Cold Open. The framing device was a conflict between two reenactors, one of whom strongly identified with his persona, while the other was more laid-back.
- Following the end of Dad's Army, several of the extras who had played non-speaking roles as the rest of the Walmington-on-Sea platoon set up as re-enactors, touring military shows and performing presentations about the typical life and set-up of a Home Guard unit in WW2. This was done with BBC blessing.
- A reenactment of the English Civil War coincides with the awakening of ancient Sealed Evil in a Can in the Doctor Who serial "The Awakening". Its baleful influence turns the reenactors more violent than it otherwise would have been (and companion Tegan is almost burnt at the stake).
- In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Frank is joining an old friend for reenacting the reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg. This is taking place in Long Island, in the middle of winter. For those not in the know, Gettysburg is a town in Pennsylvania, and the battle took place in July.
- In an episode of Family Tree Tom is visiting his relatives in America and one of them is a very active Civil War re-enactor. Tom is invited to participate and gets to witness two Abraham Lincoln impersonators beat each other up since only one of them is needed and they cannot agree on which one was supposed to stay home. Tom is later considered to have been killed and does not really take to the idea of having to play dead for an hour. Finally he makes a faux-pas by asking the man acting as the Confederate general if it is harder to re-enact the side who was in the wrong.
- In one episode of Jam and Jerusalem, the people of Clatterford reenact the Clatterford Skirmish of 1646, after some wrangling with health and safety legislation.
- One Key & Peele sketch has them trolling Confederate reenactors by playing stereotypical slaves.
- Midsomer Murders:
- In "Shot at Dawn", several suspects (and victims) are members of a World War I reenactment group who are preparing a major public display.
- Given the event takes place in Midsomer, it should come as no surprise that the annual Civil War recreation in "The Dark Rider" results in murder.
- The Batley Townswomen's Guild's Reenactment Of The Battle Of Pearl Harbour (A group of women covered in mud, going at each other with their handbags in some field) from Monty Python's Flying Circus.
- NCIS's Tony DiNozzo senior did Civil War reenactments and gave Tony DiNozzo junior the job of carrying around a bucket for the reenactors to use as a toilet. A childhood of being called their "little poo-boy" gave him a slight phobia of reenactors in general.
- New Tricks: In "Romans Ruined", the discovery of a Roman sword with blood on it leads UCOS into the world of Roman historical reenactment.
- The Outer Limits (1995): The two protagonists of "Gettysburg" are American Civil War reenactors, with at least one of them having pretty unsavory views on slavery. They are both transported to the actual Battle of Gettysburg by a time traveller from the far future who wanted to teach them something about War Is Hell. It turns out that the openly racist one was going to assassinate the first black President in 2013.
- Psych: A murder occurs during a Civil War reenactment. Lassiter (weapons geek) was role-playing as a Union officer that he claims to be a descendant of.
- That Mitchell and Webb Look had a sketch about re-enactors of the English Civil War, who become bored of "the Roundheads and the Cavaliers again". They try the Second Congo War instead, but quickly call it off because they realize it's pretty racist.
Webb: [in an awful fake-Congolese accent] I am going to kill you with this big machete!
Mitchell: Stop... it's racist. Very very racist.
- Time Team makes a lot of use of these guys, having had them act out Roman, English Civil War, and even WW2 Homeguard activities over the course of the show. Usually with Phil Harding joining them just for a laugh.
- Michael Moore's TV Nation had a civil war re-enactment troupe re-enact other battles, like "Battle of Hiroshima" (model plane flies overhead, everyone stares and point up, then drops dead) and "Battle of Los Angeles" (Rodney King riots).
- An episode of Warehouse 13 has Steve and Claudia joining a Civil War reenactment so they can blend in while investigating the area.
- The 1812 Overture can't be done to full effect either indoors or without reenactors. It requires a battery of antique cannons. Assuming you can get one cannon, the powder charge for a blank (i.e. no cannonball) belches out a 20+ foot diamater cloud of fire. To perform it right you need six antique cannons, about 15lbs of gunpowder, and enough space to ensure nobody gets hurt.
- The Divine Comedy track "Norman and Norma" about how a middle-aged couple rediscover their love for each other through Norman (Meaningful Name) versus Saxon war reenactment is built of this trope.
- Kakos Industries: When the isolation imposed by the pandemic hampers the Humongous Mecha battles and/or orgies of the annual Festival of Innovation, a section of Kakos Industries known as Division of Kaiju Battle Reenactment sees an opportunity to fill the niche. They are directly compared to Civil War or World War II reenactors as C.E.O. Corin Deeth describes them as creating elaborate costumes and reenacting the battles in a manner not unlike the older Tokusatsu shows.
Corin: Instead of the Civil War, or all of the weird World War II reenactment weve seen lately, or the Battle of Tucky Mucky Bay, they do the classics. MechaMoth vs Armadilladon. Stuff like that. At first I was skeptical about what they could be doing with these ridiculous costumes, and cardboard sets. Hearing about it at first, I thought it was kind of silly. But Ive seen a few of these battles. The costumes are not fully convincing, but once the action starts to get going, it gets intense. And I dont care who you are, you will be drawn in.
- There is a BBC Radio 4 radio comedy play about English Civil War re-enactors where what the re-enactors did on the eve of the re-enacted battle affects events on the field. For instance, one of the Royalist officers goes spare after he discovers his girlfriend cheated on him with a Roundhead artilleryman the night before.
- A John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme skit has a Napoleonic War re-enactment group whose organiser (who is playing Napoleon) is not happy to learn that they don't have a Duke of Wellington outfit but they do have a Hitler ... until it's suggested that maybe they could have Napoleon beating Hitler.
- The Minutes: The Town Council members of the little town of Big Cherry are all life-long residents — except for the newly elected Mr. Peel, a recent transplant to their city. When the Town Council members learn that Mr. Peel hasn't yet heard the story of Big Cherry's founding, they suspend the council meeting and put on an abbreviated reenactment of the story... right in the middle of the council chambers. The reenactment tells the tale of a heroic American General fighting a battle against the vicious Sioux natives and rescuing an innocent settler girl from their clutches. Particular attention is paid to the improbable feats of marksmanship pulled off by the General and his men, the types of weapons used in the battle and rescue operation, and the tactics employed by both sides. The whole skit is gleefully narrated by Mayor Superba.
- In The Elder Scrolls series, the Order of Diagna is a Redguard knightly order based in Hammerfell. Their most famous leader was Gaiden Shinji, founder of the Imperial City Arena and legendary Master Swordsman in his own right. Every year, new initiates to the Order play the Orcs in a reenactment of the Siege of Orsinium, in which Shinji dueled the Orc warchief, but was betrayed by his Breton allies who opened fire on them both, killing them.
- Ghostbusters The Videogame had a fight in a museum full of Civil War Ghosts. The reenactment was inevitable.
- The now suspended/ended comic Dovecote Crest tells the story of a Civil War battlefield and associated museum in Arkansas. The staff members and local folks do periodic reenactments of the eponymous battle.
- Parodied in Dresden Codak with the Historical Pre-Enactment Society, who (pre)enact battles that have yet to happen, with lasers and such.
- Also parodied in this strip of xkcd, with real-time reenactment.
- On American Dad!, Stan and Steve participate in a Vietnam War re-enactment on a golf course. Steve takes it too seriously and starts acting like a Shell-Shocked Veteran.
- In "Launchpad's Civil War" from DuckTales (1987), Launchpad was called in to a reenactment of a battle which his ancestor fought in (single-handedly costing his side victory). It turned out that some of the soldiers (now ancient) who Launchpad's ancestor lead to defeat are in the area, and draft him in a plan to win the reenacted battle and regain their honor.
- Parodied in Family Guy when the Griffins live in a backward Southern town. The local reenactors put on a short play which goes as follows:
Lee: Ulysses S. Grant. You invite me to lunch, then show up late and drunk?
Grant: I was lookin' for your wife, to give her the old...(does crude gestures)
Lee: That does it. This, sir, means war. (pushes Grant down)
Grant: I am vanquished.
- On Futurama, the crew takes part in a Sith-il War reenactment. They dress in blue Union uniforms with fake laser rifles while their opponents use lightsabers.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle ended up getting the Wassamatta U football team to reenact the Civil War on the football field - during the game. This somehow enabled them to win the game.
- A few times on The Simpsons:
- In "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious", to save money for a nanny, Homer resigned from "the Civil War Recreation Society I love so much."
- For added humor, Homer was playing Ambrose Burnside, inventor of the sideburns. We also get this gem:
- In "The PTA Disbands", Springfield Elementary tried to sneak peeks at a reenactment (of an outright war crime - the Southern troops tried to surrender before the battle even started) during a field trip, because they didn't have the money to pay to get in; the soldiers (both North and South) chased them away.
- In "Homer the Great", when Homer becomes head of the Stonecutters he hits upon an idea to help the community:
Homer: I'll get a bunch of monkeys, dress them up, and make them reenact the Civil War.
Lisa: Dad, that doesn't help people!
Homer: Couldn't hurt... unless the monkeys start hurting people. Which they almost certainly would.
- Also occurred during the first act in "The Sweetest Apu", when Principal Skinner sponsors a Civil War reenactment. It was pretty inaccurate (Stonewall Jackson on rollerblades)...and then the World War II vets joined in their tanks and Prof. Frink showed up with his giant steam-powered spider.
- In "Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious", to save money for a nanny, Homer resigned from "the Civil War Recreation Society I love so much."
- South Park: "The Red Badge of Gayness" had Cartman bet Stan and Kyle that the South could win the war, then dress up as Robert E. Lee and take command of the Confederates. They went along with it mainly because he kept them perpetually drunk with s'mores-flavored Schnapps. They managed to take Washington D.C. and almost forced then-President Bill Clinton to recognize Southern independence, but Stan and Kyle intervened and reenacted the South's surrender while dressed as Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.
- Parodied in Spongebob Squarepants with a large group of fish dressed in pseudo civil war era uniforms, one army in blue and one in red, reenacting the Battle of Bikini Bottom. Towards the end of the episode there's a rather unnecessary and hamhanded Take That! towards actual enthusiasts.
- The New York City of Ugly Americans has an annual apocalypse pre-enactment, which is a cherished part of demon culture. In the episode it's featured in Lily thinks it's slipped into Not a Game but that's only because he didn't read the script.
- "Historical Medieval Battles" (HMB) or "Buhurt" (from Old French béhourd: "wallop") or "Armored Combat" is a modern full contact fighting sport with steel blunt weapons based on those used in The Middle Ages. Armour and weapons have to follow regulations on historical authenticity and safety published by the official Battle of the Nations tournament organization. It's quite a step above LARP.
- Usually under the name of "historical reenactment". A lot of eras are popular, mostly depending on the countries concerned (The American Civil War in the USA, Battle of Normandy and The Napoleonic Wars in France, etc).
- In the UK especially the controversy over World War II reenactment mainly relates to those portraying the German forces and particularly the Waffen SS. Celebrating the sacrifices of what is often called "the greatest generation" is generally considered okay.
- Many reenactment groups specializing in World War II German forces operate under strict guidelines, which includes no Nazi salutes and No Swastikas.