It’s the 4th of July, the day that America celebrates its independence and pride in the red, white and blue! While few films have actually used the holiday as a subject or backdrop, the patriotic nature of the holiday, it’s connection to the Revolutionary War, and it’s timing right in the heart of summer have made it the perfect time of year to enjoy a blockbuster or two or pop in a film celebrating patriotism. In honor of my home country’s iconic holiday I’m counting down the top ten films for the 4th of July.
For this list these films don’t have to be patriotic in nature per say. Patriotic films that embody the spirit of America’s obsession with freedom were obviously considered for this list, as were films that actually involved the 4th of July or the Revolutionary War in their plot, but I also considered films that take place during other American conflicts that prove to be inspiring tales worth appreciating on a day that celebrates America’s freedom and independence. I also included films that incorporated summertime and represent the blockbuster season, with Memorial Day and the 4th of July, two of America’s most cherished patriotic weekends, being considered THE biggest blockbuster holiday weekends of the season. Just because a film has a powerful political undertone did not mean that it is the best film for the 4th of July. This is a list that counts down what I think are the best films for anyone to enjoy during this patriotic celebration.
With such a large pool of films to pick from for this list I’m bound to miss a few. So what are your favorite films to celebrate the 4th of July? Let me know in the comments below and have a safe and happy 4th of July holiday!
10. “Captain America: The First Avenger”
Even before his inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America was a symbol of America with his shield adorning the shirts of many (including myself) at fireworks shows and patriotic celebrations nationwide. When he finally got his own proper film to bring him into the MCU in 2011 Chris Evans brought a charm and sense of patriotism to the character as he entered the fight in World War II that managed to capture the same unapologetic pride many Americans feel without being too cheesy or over the top. Over the year’s the Captain has served as more of a commentary character about how America seems to have lost its ways and its core values and his depiction in this first film in the “Captain America” trilogy brings him back to a time when the nation held itself to a different standard and men and women fought not for the glory, but because they felt it was their responsibility. Part campy superhero origin story and part patriotic loveletter to the soldiers of World War II, “Captain America: The First Avenger” speaks to the patriot in all of us showing that anyone, even the weakest of us, can be heroes for our country if given the chance.
9. “Red Dawn”
I’m not talking about the failed attempt at a remake here. No I’m talking about the original campy cult favorite “Red Dawn”, a 1984 film that speaks to America’s spirit of never compromising for its freedom and independence. The movie takes place in an alternate history timeline where the Soviet Union and its allies invade the United States during World War III, sparking a resistance movement from a group of high schoolers in a small American town. The film makes many thematic references to the different conflicts America has been a part of, including the Revolutionary War, as we see these students put their lives on the line to fight back again an oppressive outside force. America has seldom been invaded as an act of war, but the Revolutionary War was one of the few times the opponents took the battle to us. In “Red Dawn” the battle is not fought by real soldiers, but children, young men and women who were brought up in a nation of freedom and saw fit to take it upon themselves to preserve that freedom through whatever means necessary. It may not be the most obvious of 4th of July film, but “Red Dawn” truly does embody the spirit and courage of a nation that refuses to stand down and compromise when faced with a war that threatens to destroy their way of life.
8. “Saving Private Ryan”
No man gets left behind. That’s the motto of many soldiers in the United States Armed Forces and the creed embraced by a group of America soldiers in World War II in this Oscar-winning war epic. The film focuses on a squad charged with retrieving the last remaining brother of the Ryan family after several are killed in the Invasion of Normandy. Filled with some of the most powerful and poignant death scenes, battles, and what many consider one of the greatest war scenes in all of film in its opening portrayal of the invasion itself, “Saving Private Ryan” puts viewers on the front lines of war and examines the true sacrifice and danger associated with preserving the freedom America, and any parts of the world, enjoy today. The film avoids political undertones and goes straight for the heart strings with expert cinematography and some powerful moments and dialogue that speak to the mindsets of soldiers during a dangerous and destructive time in world history. When the soldiers finally find Ryan he refuses to leave, wanting to continue to serve no matter what the cost. Few films have ever captured the spirit of an American soldier, and the brotherly bonds they form, the way this film did, humanizing the men who fought on the front lines many years after their brothers in arms took to their own front line to earn the nation its independence. It’s a story of what it truly takes to keep freedom alive.
A truly underappreciated film, “Glory” showcases the first all-black military unit of the Union Army that took to the battlefield during the American Civil War. A critical darling, this film is often forgotten in the mix of war films, but should never be unappreciated as it provided a tasteful and powerful look at African-American men joining a battle to fight for their own freedom from slavery in one of America’s most controversial conflicts. The film was even praised by historian James McPherson for the approach it took to educating young black Americans about the role their ancestors played in fighting for their own freedoms. The movie also avoids vilifying white Americans, providing a balanced approach to a controversial subject. In today’s day and age where racial divide seems to be getting wider and wider and concerns over abuse of the black community are on the rise, it’s important for those young men and women to remember that their ancestors had a powerful role in fighting a different war for independence, a war where their people fought to earn their own freedom in the United States side by side with white soldiers who changed the face of a nation. Watching this film to celebrate the 4th of July can be a great reminder that America is not perfect, but we are a work in progress and there are people willing to fight to help us take the next steps in our own evolution as a free nation.
6. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”
It’s an easy American cliché to assume that our elected officials do not have our best interests in mind. With television shows like “House of Cards” in the mix and the presidencies of Barack Obama (who many believed had forsaken the right) and Donald Trump (who many now believe forsakes the left) creating political divide it is hard to justify that anyone in Washington is working for the best interest of the American people. If you’d like a bit of hope on that front though for your 4th of July turn to “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, the story of a Boy Rangers leader who is picked as the replacement for a deceased Senator in Washington. Taken under the wing of crooked Senator Joseph Paine, the new Senator Jefferson Smith proposes a plan to build a boys camp that happens to be smack dab in the middle of land earmarked for a dam, a project Paine supports. What unfolds is a game of cat and mouse between the two senators as Smith fights a seemingly hopeless battle against men more powerful and experienced than him in the Senate, and men whose careers in politics were forged on empty promises and bribes. Released in the 1930s, this film was truly ahead of its time, speaking to the fear of corruption and political games that have littered American politics for decades now. It’s actually an uplifting tale to some extent that could give you the hope you need this 4th of July that even in Washington there are still good people working to do what’s best for those they represent.
5. “Yankee Doodle Dandy”
Few songwriters and performers embody the spirit of America like legend George M. Cohan. His life and connection to America musical classics were chronicled in the 1940s in a film named after one of his most famous works, “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. The movie sees Cohan receiving a Gold Medal from President Franklin Roosevelt as he recalls his life in flashbacks that explore his rise as a performer and as a songwriter of American classics like “Yankee Doodle” and “You’re A Grand Old Flag”. Cohan is an underappreciated American icon, and a man who captured the spirit of America in iconic lyrics that today have become synonymous with 4th of July parades across the country. What better way to spend the 4th of July than to enjoy a film exploring the life of a man who set an example for patriotism in his time? Cohan took his pride in his country with him throughout his career and left a lasting and unquestionable impact on the entire culture of a nation he loved to call home.
4. “The Patriot”
Sure there are historical inaccuracies by the bucket in this patriotic film, but no 4th of July list could be completed without a movie focusing on the war that spearheaded the fight for independence in the first place. Set during the Revolutionary War, “The Patriot” focuses on Mel Gibson’s Benjamin Martin who is thrust into battle after one of his sons is killed in cold blood by a ruthless British Colonel. Martin engages in guerrilla warfare with his loyal soldiers and eventually finds himself on the front lines fighting for America’s freedom from the British. While this film is a heavily dramatized and, in many ways, corrupted look at history, “The Patriot” serves its purpose by showcasing the bloody battles of the time and the spirit within the soldiers who fought a power they felt oppressed their abilities to live as a free and self-sustaining people. All things considered “The Patriot” has become an American war classic and, considering it was directed by now-infamous director Roland Emmerich, it’s a not-half-bad piece of cinematic gold for anyone looking to literally go back in time to the days of the revolution on a day celebrating the results of that war.
3. “Born on the Fourth of July”
While not necessarily focusing on the 4th of July itself, “Born of the Fourth of July” is an unapologetic political film about a 1960s New York teen thrust into the war in Vietnam hoping to do his patriotic duty. During his tour he accidentally kills a fellow soldier and becomes paralyzed from the waste down. Despite his initial excitement as performing his duty for God and country, he returns home to find an uncaring public and administration and political divide and takes it upon himself to become a public critic against a war he couldn’t wait to join. The title is largely symbolic of the political undertones of the film, which itself focuses on a man who put his life on the line for a country that didn’t seem to care. In the years of Vietnam the nation became split on whether or not involvement in the conflict was justified, and the warriors who, in many cases, were drafted against their will to fight a battle were caught in the crossfire. Overall the movie is more than just a commentary on the Vietnam War, it’s also a harsh look at how America has lost its way. What used to be a country of morals and unity had, at that time in history, become divide and started forsaking those who are doing their job overseas and had really become tools of war more than symbols of freedom and revolution in the eyes of many of the American people. That sentiment still lasts today in many ways, making “Born of the Fourth of July” a worthy and timeless film to watch this 4th of July as a reminder of just how low we can go as a society at times when we find ourselves at odds with who we are and who we want to be.
2. “Independence Day”
It would be easy for me to put this film at #1, but I have what I believe to be a much more worthy blockbuster in mind for that. Anyways, Director Roland Emmerich shows up for the second time on this list, if you can believe that, with a summer classic that takes the concept of independence and gives it a more action-packed undertone. Released in 1996, on 4th of July weekend as you would expect, the film was a true summer blockbuster that ushered in the era of the action epic during the summer months. Filled with intense action, great cinematography, and some of the most delightfully cheesy one-liners “Independence Day” saw an alien species invade earth days before America’s holiday and a few days later, on the 4th of July itself, the earth engages in a last-ditch assault to put an end to the invasion. For many this is the quintessential 4th of July movie. It captures the fun and epicness of both the weekend and the traditional movie blockbuster, while also speaking to the patriotic theme of the holiday (the president’s speech is one of the best in modern movie history). For countless American’s this film is a holiday tradition, and while its iconic status can not be denied there is still one more film that is truly a staple of 4th of July holidays across the country that deserves the top spot.
Set during the 4th of July weekend celebration on Amity Island, this may not be a patriotic film but it is a 4th of July staple as the original summer blockbuster and the first film to top over $100 million at the box office in the United States. “Jaws” embodies the horror of one of nature’s most vicious, and frankly misunderstood, predators and the fear of summer beachgoers everywhere as a massive great white begins to reek havoc along the island’s beach. The film has become a classic in the industry and redefined the concepts of horror and what a summer film could be. The 4th of July weekend is by far one of the most popular weekends to hit the sandy shores of your local coastline and ever since this films 1975 release it has become a running gag about whether or not it’s safe to go in the water. In recent years it has even become a tradition for certain groups to float in their pool or on the pond and watch this classic on a projector. If you’re looking for a little less patriotism and a little more unabashed fun for your 4th of July this film takes the cake and it truly the most iconic 4th of July film to date.