Here are 15 movies, some much better than others but all pretty good choices for viewing on Independence Day, better known as Fourth of July in the old days. If folks are finding themselves home alone when the fireworks start soaring or better yet if you’re together with friends and family, these fine films (and some that are not so fine) are presented for your consideration in no particular order. Feel free to add your suggestions for viewing on this uniquely American holiday.
Broadway’s rousing musical celebration of the Founding Fathers and the birth of America was brought to the screen by legendary producer Jack L. Warner. The raucous, rancorous debate over independence comes to life with a cast that includes William Daniels as John Adams, Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin and Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson. If you can handle grown men in funny looking pants, breaking into song whenever the mood strikes, this historical and colorful film shows how it all began more than 235 years ago.
A relentless, 25-foot-long “killing machine” is on the prowl off the coast of a New England resort town, and no one in the water is safe… and Bruce the shark plays himself in director Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece of action and suspense. Maybe it’s a stretch but this one is a no-brainer because the big bad shark eats someone on July 4th.
The first of the series and the best! Writer/star Sylvester Stallone is the Philadelphia pug boxer who gets a dream shot at fighting the heavyweight champion in this rousing drama that struck a chord with audiences around the world, made Sly a superstar, and won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has a significant holiday references — Sly’s big fight with Carl Weathers is on New Year’s Day (not on the Fourth of July) but the movie was released 200 years after the very first Independence Day!
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
The gut-wrenching true story of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam vet who was left paralyzed by a sniper’s bullet in battle and returned home to eventually become an outspoken opponent of the war, is fueled by a knockout performance by Tom Cruise as Kovic and Oscar-winning direction from Oliver Stone.
Ah, Wilderness! (1935)
The movie version of Eugene O’Neill’s sweet-natured comedy about the funny, warm adventures that welcome a teenager to adulthood: his first romance, his senior year in high school, and his relationship with his cantankerous uncle. Any movie with a cast including Wallace Beery, Aline MacMahon, Mickey Rooney, and Lionel Barrymore can’t be all bad — and it takes place on the Fourth of July.
The Sandlot (1993)
Whimsical family comedy set in the summer of 1962 in which a nerdy boy decides to join the neighborhood kids in playing baseball at a decrepit lot. When the boy borrows his stepfather’s prize baseball-signed by no less than Babe Ruth-and it lands in a yard inhabited by the mysterious “Beast,” it must be retrieved at any cost. Nice touch when the kids use the light from the Fourth of July fireworks to play ball.
Fifty years and three generations in the life of an immigrant family’s quest of the American Dream are eloquently recounted by writer/director Barry Levinson in this seriocomic capstone to the “Baltimore Trilogy” that began with Diner and Tin Men. The family dream takes a tumble on the Fourth of July but don’t let that get in the way of a really good movie. Nice fireworks!
The Music Man (1962)
Robert Preston is the definitive Professor Harold Hill, a sly salesman who cons the good folk of 1910s River City, Iowa, into forming a youth band so he can sell them instruments and then skip town…until he falls for lovely librarian Shirley Jones. Enjoy the colorful, fun pyrotechnics sequence and the great Meredith Willson music including “76 Trombones,” “Trouble,” “Till There Was You.” Catch co-star Ron Howard when he was called Ronny — and Buddy Hackett even sings! (Author’s note: Originally the 2003 version of the film starring Matthew Broderick occupied this space but was changed in agreement that the 1962 movie is the more popular choice).
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
One of Hollywood’s liveliest and best-loved musicals is about a guy who was born on the Fourth of July. James Cagney is a bundle of energy in his Oscar-winning portrayal of Broadway legend George M. Cohan, from his vaudeville days with his family to fame as the writer of “Over There,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and countless other classic songs. Everyone remembers “My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.”
Independence Day (1996)
Who will save the Earth after huge alien spacecraft demolish the Empire State Building, the White House, downtown Los Angeles and most of the world’s major cities? How about brave pilot Will Smith, satellite specialist Jeff Goldblum and U.S. president Bill Pullman? The smash-hit mixture of sci-fi thrills and disaster movie dramatics was a huge success — and it all comes to a head on July 4th. Remember ID4? 20th Century Fox thought it was important to give this movie a code name. Heck, it worked at the time.
Red Dawn (1984)
Exciting action hit set against a Communist invasion of the United States. With Russian forces taking over the country, our only hope rests with a small band of plucky Midwestern high school students who must become daring freedom fighters to defend their nation. Early roles for Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson. How is it possible to not love a movie about kids defending the USA?
The Patriot (2000)
The tale of Benjamin Martin, the legendary “Hero of Fort Wilderness” who has left military life to raise his family on his South Carolina farm in 1776. But after a British commander torches his home and kills one of his sons, Mel Gibson joins with oldest son Heath Ledger to lead a ragtag militia against the Redcoats. A stirring, action-packed epic about the first year of Independence.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Steven Spielberg’s WWII epic is a stunning experience, telling the emotional story of an Army captain who, after facing the horrors of Omaha Beach on D-Day, receives orders to lead his troops on a search for a lost paratrooper whose three brothers were killed in combat. The first 25 minutes shows reasonbly well why freedom can’t be taken for granted.
The Fighting Sullivans (1944)
Patriotic, emotional WWII melodrama recounts the true story of five close-knit brothers who served and died together at Guadalcanal, from their small town boyhood to their final battle in this sentimental favorite.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Frank Capra’s classic comedy-drama about government and the American spirit. Jimmy Stewart is an idealistic senator who tries to stem the tide of graft he finds around him. Claude Rains is a corrupt colleague, Jean Arthur a jaded secretary who joins Stewart’s crusade. No Independence Day sequence but a lot flag waving and some old-fashioned feel-good Americana. Might be a little heavy-handed for the under-thirty crowd but given a chance, it grows on you.
What’s that you say? Fifteen movies aren’t enough? Then, here’s another crowd-pleaser making it sweet sixteen: Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) is a lively, tuneful biography of “the March King,” John Philip Sousa, stars Clifton Webb as the 19th-century Marine Corps band leader who started his own concert band and wrote some of America’s most beloved patriotic songs. While entertaining audiences across the country, his “no wives” restriction placed upon his group causes more than a little trouble for young lovers Robert Wagner and Debra Paget.
Now, get a glimpse of what the Fourth of July looked like in 1996 with this theatrical trailer from Independence Day. Have fun!