The Fourth of July is about America, but not every movie involving Independence Day is about America. The following list contains five movies of varying Fourth-of-July-ness, from “The Sandlot” to “1776.”
Whether the crux of the plot or an afterthought, all these films involve July 4 in some way, and they’re all good movies to watch with family or friends this Fourth of July. (Shark warning: Small children might not want to swim post-viewing.)
“Born on the Fourth of July” (1989): Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) was … born on the Fourth of July. Raised in a Catholic family in Long Island, he is deeply patriotic, almost emotionally. An intelligent and physically adept youth, his love for his country drives him to enlist in the Marines. After graduating high school, he ships off. The story picks back up in 1968. Now an experienced Marine fighting in Vietnam, Kovic commits a series of disillusioning acts, which he is told to simply forget, and is left guilty, distraught and confused.
Shortly thereafter, Kovic is injured while on patrol. He is sent back, paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair. After some time in a horrible military hospital in New York, he returns home but finds himself struggling to reconcile his life in Vietnam with home life and the active anti-war movement, which many of his former classmates are involved with now. The remainder of the film follows Kovic’s journey of disillusionment and his eventual involvement with anti-war movements.
Cruise’s Oscar-nominated performance is one of this film’s highlights, as he plays Kovic as young and aged, trim and dejected. What is initially overtly patriotic becomes inevitably complicated by the moral happenings of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
“Independence Day” (1996): A mysterious signal wreaks havoc on global communications, which the U.S. military soon discovers to be some large objects headed for Earth. But this is much worse than a repeat of the death of the dinosaurs; it’s a bunch of bloodthirsty aliens. The attack on Earth begins on July 2. Within 24 hours, they have leveled several major world cities (most of which are in America, the rest of which are European). After millions of fatalities, Earth needs to launch some kind of counterattack or else face total annihilation.
Thankfully, a satellite engineer, an Air Force pilot, the president and folks at Area 51 have a plan. Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell and many more join together in this patriotic science-fiction classic. It’s a satisfying succession of explosions, battles, ’90s CGI aliens and more. Plus, the epic daylong battle for Earth takes place on … Independence Day.
This movie takes cliché cheesy alien movies to the extreme. It’s the epitome of escapist entertainment, and it’s filled with humorous moments sprinkled in between the destruction of major American monuments like the Empire State building.
“1776” (1972): In May of 1776, the Second Continental Congress is ignoring John Adams’ proposal to debate a move for independence. Naturally, to tell Adams to sit down, the congress sings a song. At this point, it becomes clear that “1776” is a musical rendition of the two months leading to the July 4, 1776, signing of the Declaration of Independence. The movie is an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name, and many of the song lyrics are taken from actual correspondences of the members present.
Filled with history, this movie details the foundation of America, from the military failures that plagued Washington’s pre-declaration fighting to the historically significant and upsetting telling debate of the declaration, and is frighteningly indicative of what was to come.
William Daniels, Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard are some of the many white men who form this historically accurate depiction of the Second Continental Congress. In some ways a precursor to “Hamilton,” this historical-themed musical movie is one to watch with the whole family.
“The Sandlot” (1993): Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry) and his mom (Karen Allen) move into a new neighborhood. Smalls is an intelligent but not very social boy, and his mother encourages him to go out and make friends. He ends up following some of the local boys to a nearby field, which they call the Sandlot where they play baseball. When he arrives, Scotty is a complete novice, but with the guidance of Benjamin Franklin Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) – the best local player – he becomes an integral part of the group.
When the group is out of a ball after Benny hits a ball so hard the skin rips off it, Smalls delivers with one borrowed from his stepfather. Little does he know the ball is signed by the legendary Babe Ruth. When the ball is hit over the fence and into the yard of the frightening dog they call “The Beast,” the team learns of the ball’s special trait and vows to get it back. A series of ridiculous attempts to retrieve the ball ensues.
One of the movie’s unforgettable scenes takes place on the Fourth of July when the Sandlot boys go out and play under the fireworks. This family classic is an essential summer movie about fun, friendship and America’s favorite pastime.
“Jaws” (1975): Amid a hot summer, Independence Day weekend is nearly upon the happy East Coast island of Amity. When a young woman (Susan Backlinie) goes missing one night, Amity chief of police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) discovers her remains and deems it a shark attack. However, in a poignant depiction of American priorities, the mayor refuses to close the beaches since mainlanders coming to the island for the Fourth is the island’s main source of economy.
The situation worsens when another victim is taken, and a bounty is placed on the shark’s head. The cast expands to include an oceanographer vital to the shark’s defeat (Richard Dreyfuss) and a weathered fisherman (Robert Shaw). Brody – who is afraid of the ocean – is required to pursue the shark.
All the while, tensions ratchet up as more and more mainlanders come to Amity, and the locals urge the mayor to open the beaches back up. The oceanographer, however, assures Brody that the shark won’t leave until its feeding supply empties, leaving them no choice but to hunt the shark. A masterful work of suspenseful directing, social commentary and thrill, plus that memorable score by John Williams, “Jaws” is the greatest Fourth of July movie in the same way that “Die Hard” is the greatest Christmas movie.
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