For some, the Fourth of July is a time to celebrate the birth of the United States with friends and family, grilling food, drinking cold beverages, and watching fireworks displays. For others, however, it's a time to beat the heat by spending the day inside and watching your favorite movies that recreate all your favorite things about summer.
On July 4, 1776, America's founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, officially telling the British Empire that it would no longer be 13 colonies under their rule, but one united nation, the United States of America. Over 200 years later, one of the ways in which Americans honor those who came before them is with blockbuster movies that tie the holiday into their plot in a variety of ways.
In addition to films regularly incorporating the Federal holiday into their narrative, when Americans celebrate Independence Day, children are typically out of school for the summer, which increases the audience size for cinematic summer fare, straying from graphic violence or profanity, and embracing spectacle to dazzle audiences of all generations.
If you prefer to drown out the sound of fireworks by locking yourself indoors and enjoying a good movie with the air conditioning cranked, then scroll down to see the movies that will give you all the Fourth of July feelings you need, without risking life or limb with fireworks displays!
Independence Day (1996)
In the two decades since its release, Independence Day has become a quintessential piece of '90s action schlock that you can typically only get away with watching on July 4th, and for good reason.
When a group of alien ships begins to descend upon earth, posing a threat not just to one nation or continent, but all of human existence, it's up to the whole world to organize a defense against the intergalactic terrors. Casting aside differences in race and religion, humanity shows their resolve and resourcefulness to combat the alien threat to protect their planet.
To call Independence Day "good" wouldn't be quite accurate, but to call the film a whole lot of fun would be far more fitting. The film has Will Smith at his most charming, Jeff Goldblum at his most nerdy and neurotic, and features one of the goofiest yet memorable motivational speeches in cinema history, thanks to Bill Pullman's presidential performance.
There have been plenty of better summer blockbuster films before Independence Day and plenty of better films since, but few are as quintessentially associated with the Fourth of July than this slice of '90s sci-fi silliness.
Rather than being relegated to merely a film about one holiday, Jaws can represent an entire summer, with its plot unraveling in a town that relies completely on the business it brings in during peak vacation times.
After a string of deadly shark attacks from a great white lurking in unfamiliar waters, a local sheriff hires a shark fisherman and an expert from an oceanographic institute to end the threat once and for all. The three embark on a journey upon the ocean where they must confront their fears and end up learning far more about themselves than about the terrifying fish.
Interestingly, despite how intrinsically linked to the Fourth of July Jaws has become, the audience sees very little of the actual holiday, as the film shifts focus to the ocean before the events can unfold. Rather, the impending holiday gives a countdown to the decisions that the citizens of the town must make, because if they can't operate at full force on Independence Day, the entire town's economy will crumble.
The Patriot (2000)
From the mind of Independence Day director Roland Emmerich, The Patriot gave the fictionalized account of how much more quickly the United States could have achieved freedom were Mel Gibson around.
If you're looking for an accurate representation of the American Revolutionary War, then avoid watching The Patriot. However, if you're looking for a violent fictional story that at least looks the part of an authentic movie about this period in time, there are many entertaining elements to it.
Sadly, given the inherent nature of war, seeing a movie that is purely a "feel good" film that skirts issues of violence, racism, or genocide is a nearly impossible task. If you're hoping to see America painted in a purely positive light and enjoy heroes who always do the right thing, you'll have to get far more fictional.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Set against the backdrop of World War II, Captain America: The First Avenger exploits with your emotions, as it's one of the few times in history where America has stood up to the forces of pure evil.
When hoping to create a soldier who could fight harder, longer, and faster than any living human, a "super soldier" serum was created and given to Steve Rogers, whose courage and bravery epitomized American values. Although this newly created "Captain America" stood up to the Nazis, it was discovered that Hydra and the Red Skull were the true masterminds behind the entire war, giving Captain America a target at which to aim his might.
America has a complicated history, but that didn't stop Stan Lee and Jack Kirby from creating a symbol that represented the perfect moral barometer, a force for good who always did what was right, no matter what the odds. In that sense, Captain America is the perfect symbol of what the founding fathers had hoped to create when they signed the Declaration of Independence, making The First Avenger a great reminder of just how rewarding it is to do good in the world, even when it's sometimes easier to do bad.
Blow Out (1981)
In the three decades since its release, Blow Out has earned a tradition as being a movie people watch on the Fourth of July but, strangely, the entire film takes place fourth months earlier, with one scene even showing snowfall.
In Brian De Palma's film, a sound designer (John Travolta) for horror movies is out in a park collecting sounds for a new movie when he hears a car tire blow out and sees it crashing into the river. When he compares his audio with footage of the incident, he uncovers that the tire didn't explode on its own accord, but rather was shot out, as the car contained a presidential hopeful. Through his own investigation, the sound man attempts to get to the bottom of the conspiracy without the help of the police, who he believes to be in on the assassination.
The film's climax is set at the Philadelphia "Liberty Day" celebration, which is held on March 16, and honors the birth of James Madison. The festivities looks similar to an Independence Day celebration, from flags to fireworks, so it's easy to see how people could confuse the two. Making the film's climax even more memorable is a sequence in which a woman is being attacked while fireworks are going off, making it hard for anyone to hear her cries for help, with De Palma's lens capturing both the desperation of the attack and the jubilation of the explosives.
No matter what day of the year the film takes place on, Blow Out is sure to make you look over your shoulder at any fireworks festivities you attend.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Through Forrest Gump, audiences were able to experience some of the greatest American moments during the second half of the 20th century. It's like a stroll through U.S. history and along the way, Forrest indirectly has something to do with every major thing that's gone down, from meeting presidents to fighting in Vietnam to teaching Elvis how to dance.
Top Gun (1986)
No movie in the history of movies has ever made being a U.S. pilot look so freakin’ cool. The movie that became a pop culture staple since its release in 1986 and launched Tom Cruise into superstardom is a favorite to watch on the Fourth.
And with the movie and its lead stars now prepping for the anticipated sequel set to hit theatres next year, Top Gun 2 - aka Top Gun: Maverick - has now been confirmed for a release date of July 12, 2019.
As Deadline reports, the rumored director for the project, Oblivion's Joseph Kosinski, has now been confirmed to be re-teaming with Cruise for this long-awaited sequel.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Saving Private Ryan is arguably the greatest World War 2 film ever made. Also, considering the fact that this is the THIRD film on this list with Tom Hanks (and we're not even including A League of Their Own), it might be time to accept this as proof that Tom Hanks is probably the single greatest American living today.
Rocky IV (1985)
In Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa single-handedly ends the Cold War by defeating Ivan Drago with such a vigorous spirit and makes Russia realize Americans are the good guys! But seriously in a moment that is iconic in its own right, Rocky, the greatest American under-dog of all time, is literally wrapped in an American flag while wearing American flag trunks... this guy bleeds red, white, and blue.