Independence Day is here! Happy 4th of July everybody! It’s of the most popular and sought after release dates for any movie as the vacation week celebrating the independence of the United States draws many summer crowds to the theater. That said there have been a lot of movies that have taken advantage of the rush and those are the focus of my list today. Whether they’re blockbusters, hindsight classics or cult classics the films that make up this list are the most prominent summer movie season offerings that helped ring in the most patriotic holiday in the United States. For a very different top ten you can read my list from last year of Ten Great Films to Watch for 4th of July here. For now though, these are my picks for the Top 10 Movies Released on 4th of July Weekend.
For this list I looked only at movies released on the officially designated weekend of 4th of July, whether that took place before or after the holiday. Any movie that had a big weekend on 4th of July weekend but was not actually released to directly coincide with the holiday, such a “Jaws” for example which was released on June 20 the weekend before the holiday celebration, did not apply. These are films whose releases were specifically timed to utilize the holiday as their opening weekend of release. For some perspective, if the 4th of July falls before a Wednesday then the weekend leading up to it is considered the holiday weekend. If 4th of July is on a Thursday or later then the weekend after it is the holiday weekend.
After compiling a short list of candidates I decided to make box office gross a minor factor at best otherwise this list would have been too easy. Instead I focused more on the iconic status and popularity of these films in ADDITION to their success during their 4th of July weekend debuts with a little bit of my personal bias for spice as usual.
What is your favorite movie released on the 4th of July weekend? Let me know in the comments below and enjoy the list! Also to my fellow Americans please have a safe an happy holiday.
10. “The Patriot”
I mean what better way to start right? “The Patriot” was a perfectly timed tribute to America’s revolution that eventually lead to the independence the 4th of July celebrates every year. Released in the year 2000, “The Patriot” is a Mel Gibson staple that despite its major historical inaccuracies holds up today as a dramatic, bloody and ruthlessly violent look at the war for America’s freedom from British rule. However Americans didn’t quote line up to see this movie at first. It actually lost to “The Perfect Storm” which nearly doubled the movie’s opening weekend take and also premiered in 400 more theaters. In the years since however “The Patriot” has become somewhat of a 4th of July tradition and bypassed “The Perfect Storm” in iconic status although the later is still a much loved movie today. It went on to nearly double its budget in box office gross and is still one of only two Roland Emmerich movies with a score above 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes for what that’s worth. It might have taken some liberties, but it lives on in history as one of the most beloved July 4th releases to not hit #1 at the box office.
9. “Coming to America”
This is an odd entry because, just like this year, the 4th of July fell on Wednesday in 1988 which meant there were actually TWO weekend celebrating the holiday. This iconic Eddy Murphy comedy was released on the first of those two weekend and explores an African prince adapting to American culture of the time after he moves to Queens to escape an arranged marriage. Containing one of Murphy’s finest performances, this movie tackled the struggles of immigrating and adapting to the unique culture that is the United States long before it became a sexy issue of ideals and controversy. Endlessly quotable and still to this day strangely accurate in many ways, “Coming to America” provides audiences with an interesting look at America through the eyes of an outsider without vilifying either culture or presenting one as more appropriate than the other. What better message to share for the holiday than cultural unity and diversity in the United States? Considering this country was built on meshing lifestyles and cultures together in a melting pot “Coming to America” was a well-timed and appropriate comedy that continues to celebrate what makes us unique and what brings us together.
In the late 90s and 2000s it became a popular trend to take nostalgic properties and adapt them to live action. One of the most notable efforts came from Michael Bay as he officially launched the “Transformers” franchise on 4th of July weekend of 2007. Still the best and most entertaining of the five films released to date in the series, the original “Transformers” is nothing short of a modern sci-fi classic that brought the fantasies of 80s and 90s cartoon fans to literal life for the first time. Seeing the Decepticons and Autobots go toe to toe made for the perfect summer blockbuster and popcorn thriller filled with mindless action and, yes, a LOT of American flags and landmarks to pander a bit to its holiday timing. Every entry since has been timed to debut on or just before the 4th of July weekend although this year’s spinoff “Bumblebee” will be the first to break that trend in December. For a while the original “Transformers” was the second biggest opening ever for the holiday behind only “Spider-Man 2” and the third film in the series, “Dark of the Moon”, remains the biggest 4th of July opening of all time.
7. “Apollo 13”
This famous docudrama made its debut on 4th of July weekend of 1995 and went on to become an awards season contender and skyrocket (not pun intended) its cast of already famous stars to a whole new level of notoriety. “Apollo 13” explores one of the most infamous space missions in American history, a mission that nearly turned deadly after equipment failure forced the crew to abandon their goal to walk the moon’s surface. Filled with spectacular performances and critically and scientifically acclaimed realism in its depiction of such factors as zero-gravity in space “Apollo 13” depicts a dramatic moment of the nation’s history and rode the wave of interest and critical love to the top spot of the box office and $355 million in revenue. Even years later it’s still one of the most highly respected space movies ever made. Its reputation has kept it alive as a fan favorite but few newer fans of the film remember that it originally made its mark on pop culture during the most patriotic holiday celebration in the United States.
Before “Transformers” Michael Bay utilized the 4th of July holiday for a different science fiction blockbuster, the apocalyptic disaster film “Armageddon”. An instant 90s classic upon its release for the holiday in 1998, “Armageddon” focuses on a group of oil drillers who are recruited to help NASA implant a bomb on an incoming meteor before it destroys the planet. A lasting example of how Bay’s literally explosive approach to filmmaking can work even with the most ridiculous of premises, “Armageddon” earned over $553 million at the box office and established a legacy that still holds strong to this day. It’s also well known for being released two months after a similar film called “Deep Impact” which had already wet the appetites of viewers for potentially world ending catastrophes on the big screen and probably helped fuel the success of Bay’s project. However in the years since “Armageddon” has become the more famous of the two and a lasting example of the 4th of July’s status as a bankable holiday for blockbuster titles.
5. “Men in Black”
Just noticed as I’m writing this that the 4th of July seems to be an oddly popular time to release science fiction classics. Take this 1997 4th of July release that spawned not only a franchise, but one of the most legendary trilogies of modern science fiction in general. “Men in Black”, loosely based on a comic series that itself is based on the idea of shady government cover-up agents, is another example of pure 90s nostalgia on this list that stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in memorable performances as agents charged with policing extraterrestrial activity on Earth. The movie revitalized Jones’ career for a new generation and further solidified Will Smith as one of the biggest stars of the time. It was the second year in a row Smith starred in a 4th of July weekend release and the weekend proved to work so well that the sequel was also a 4th of July film in 2002. “Men in Black” went on to gross nearly $590 million and is now permanently ingrained in 90s pop culture as a beloved science fiction must see that has stood the test of time.
4. “Spider-Man 2”
With the second largest 4th of July weekend debut ever, behind only “Transformers :Dark of the Moon”, “Spider-Man 2” is the most successful single weekend film on this list and is only fourth because the next three have surpassed it in iconic status. All the same this superhero sequel helped usher in the age of comic book adaptations that we still enjoy today as its 2004 holiday release helped reestablish the 4th of July weekend as a must-have movie date for studios. After a few slow years leading up to it “Spider-Man 2” led to the resurgence of a trend that would continue up into the 2010s and made the 4th of July weekend one of the biggest movie weekends of the year once more. Add to that the films legacy as one of the best superhero movies ever and among the greatest all-genre sequels ever and there is very little contest to deny it a place in the top five. “Spider-Man 2” remains the best cinematic version of the webslinger in the eyes of many. It’s a genre classic and after 14 years has still only been topped one time in weekend revenue for the holiday.
3. “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”
Considered by many to be one of the greatest sequels of all time, “Terminator 2: Judgement Day”, or “T2” as it’s often shortened to, was released for the 4th of July of 1991 and while its successor was a bigger hit over opening weekend in 2003, by far the more iconic of the two is “T2” which went on to gross $523 million and became a legendary film with groundbreaking special effects and memorable one-liners that all still hold up today. It spawned countless pieces of related merchandise and continued the story from it’s equally legendary predecessor with a more sleek look and presentation that made it one of the earliest films to ingrain itself as a 90s cinematic staple. The franchise has tried to recapture this same magic time and time again to no avail, but when a sequel is as beloved as “T2” it’s truly a tough and near impossible act to follow. It might not have been the highest grossing 4th of July debut ever, but the years that followed made it one of the most legendary blockbusters the holiday ever hosted.
2. “Independence Day”
Speaking of legendary blockbusters, this film had it all. The name worked with the holiday, Will Smith was fresh off of “Fresh Prince”, and the trailers promised something big, epic and destructive. “Independence Day” became appointment viewing for the holiday from which it got its name in 1996 and went on to become the stuff of sci-fi legend. The ultimate 90s blockbuster, it earned $50 million on opening weekend and went on to gross $817 million worldwide, more than any movie on this list. It’s also the third highest grossing movie domestically featured on this countdown behind only “Spider-Man 2” and “Transformers”. But money aside the legendary cinematography and images as well as the iconic performances by Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and others helped make “Independence Day” one of the most legendary blockbusters of the 90s and the quintessential 4th of July classic that many still view as a traditional yearly must watch. A sequel was released 20 years later, just before the 4th of July, but was critically planned and couldn’t capture the same magic as the original. “Independence Day” made 4th of July an unquestionably marketable release day for films, but as popular as it is there’s one movie that has an even bigger legacy that takes the top spot.
1. “Back to the Future”
It’s not the biggest opening weekend on this list. Hell it’s not even in the top ten for the holiday. It’s not the highest grossing movie overall. Half this list made more money in their own runs. But “Back to the Future” as the oldest film on this list being release in 1985 made the 4th of July a national movie going holiday. The first installment in one of the best trilogies ever conceived “Back to the Future” took the world by storm, but it was only released in 1,420 theaters during its 4th of July opening. Even then the movie reigned supreme for 11 weeks and became the year’s highest grossing film before it’s sequels would further cement it’s legacy as one of the best ever in the science fiction genre. “Back to the Future” isn’t just memorable or legendary, it’s certifiably iconic to the point where even today, years after the second’s films 2015 setting has come and gone, people are wishing that the technology in the film’s depiction of the future would become a reality. Iconic characters, iconic lines, and an iconic car all helped “Back to the Future” set a standard that every movie on this list was forced to follow and it all started on July 3, 1985 making it the first modern blockbuster of America’s most patriotic holiday.