The 16 Best Movies to Watch on the Fourth of July
There’s always a moment in the throes of summer, right at the start of July, when we all realize that it’s too damn hot to be spending too much time outside. What that translates to is: July is a great time for a movie marathon. Having a backup plan for what comes after grilling hot dogs and hamburgers is always encouraged, so when the temperature gets too high, retreat indoors and prepare yourself for an excellent string of Fourth of July films.
What does “Fourth of July film” mean, exactly? Well, it’s a vibe. A certain je ne sais quoi, but less French. The 16 films below reveal something about America, whether it be its heroism, its resilience, or perhaps the shitty things that America has been guilty of for its 400 or so year tenure. No country is without its layers and foibles. But the Big American queue below recognizes the highs and the lows.
So here’s to America, on its glorious 245th birthday. Here’s hoping we don’t do something awful and miss out on that big 2-5-0. Crack a beer, pick a selection, and keep it red, white, and blue, baby.
Saving Private Ryan
This Tom Hanks and Matt Damon film is an instant classic and highlights the devastation and heroism of war. After losing three sons in battle, Captain John Miller promises a mother that he will bring back her last son, Private Ryan, who is trapped behind enemy lines.
Oh, does this one not make any sense? Well, that whole “Hands Across America” thing was a real event in the 80s where Americans, well, held hands across America. Us of course is the twisted imagined backstory, and a haunting allegory of race in America, so hell yeah. This is a Fourth of July movie.
Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Matthew Broderick star in this powerful retelling of an often overlooked aspect of Civil War history. Following the all-Black 54th regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Glory tells of the heroes often erased in most textbooks—as well as their perseverant courage despite discrimination.
Ava Duvernay’s Selma follows the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Representative John Lewis, among others. The film, nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, remains a powerful portrait of the American spirit and how far this country still has to go.
Lin Manuel-Miranda is practically telling you to make this your 4th of July movie night watch—as the taped production of his Broadway musical hits Disney+ on July 3. The Tony and Pulitzer-winning hit tells the story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton with an innovative blend of hip-hop and storytelling.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
If you’re an It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas type, you might have just found your next James Stewart holiday tradition flick. Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington tells the unlikely tale of a local man who, upon the unexpected death of a state senator, is appointed the interim senator of an unnamed state. As he navigates politics with his initial idealism and patriotic zeal, he soon grows aware of the corruption present in our government, and takes a courageous stand for justice.
Few stories in history possess enough star power to boast Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, and Taraji P. Henson on their leading cast list. Hidden Figures, however, is well-deserving of such accolades. This enlightening and moving historical drama tells the untold story of the Black women mathematicians of NASA who were the brains behind one of the greatest missions in American history: the first successful Earth orbit of astronaut John Glenn.
One man’s conspiracy theory is another man’s comedy, and one man’s National Treasure is … well, another man’s National Treasure—albeit for different reasons. This heist flick follows historian Benjamin Franklin Gates, played by Nicholas Cage, on his quest to steal the Declaration of Independence and decode the encrypted map hidden within the document, leading to a precious treasure.
Team America: World Police
South Park‘s Trey Parker and Matt Stone send up post-9/11 Bush-era international politics in a way only the comic duo can: with a kick-ass paramilitary police force made up entirely of marionettes. Oh, and there’s a lot of puppet sex.
Is there a more iconic image in cinematic history that is more patriotic than the one of George C. Scott (who won an Oscar for this performance) in front of a massive American flag, delivering a stirring and empowering speech for the troops?
Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing the Baby Boomer Everyman in this Zelig-style take on 20th Century American history, in which the lovable Forrest Gump mingles with pop culture and presidents, serves in the Vietnam War, and becomes a national hero multiple times over.
Born on the Fourth of July
Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise) seeks to serve his country in Vietnam. Once he’s paralyzed in the war, however, he returns home to a country he feels has betrayed him. Sometimes the most patriotic thing you can do is speaking out when you witness something wrong.
Young Mr. Lincoln
John Ford’s classic drama stars the legendary Henry Fonda as one of our most legendary leaders. This biopic looks at Lincoln’s early years before he was tasked with piecing back together a torn-apart country, but it’s a moving portrait of a young man who was destined for greatness.
Remember in the ’80s, when Russians were our enemies? In this alternate timeline action movie, Russia invades the United States and takes over. Who’s left to save us? A pack of teens led by Patrick Swayze, of course.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Sure, the Avengers are now trying to save humanity from alien foes, but in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our hero Cap was doing the most patriotic work imaginable: punching Nazis.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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