Pop Culture 4th: The 10 best movies for ringing in Independence Day

By Nick Givas

Certain movies have the power to reach us on a level we never thought possible. There are also those precious few that manage to blow us away emotionally and evoke a sense of patriotism not found in many other places. Here are 10 films that are guaranteed to pump you up and remind you of how awesome it is to live in America.

#10 – Independence Day (1996)

We are going to start off with an easy one. You can’t say July 4 without “Independence Day.” Despite sub-par special effects that haven’t stood the test of time, Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum have burned this one into the zeitgeist with their 90’s humor and a ton of explosions.

The high-octane action coupled with the USA rally cries will have you bleeding red white and blue by the end credits. Let’s forget about the terrible sequel and just remember the famous speech given by Bill Pullman that made us all feel like launching some nukes and kicking some alien rear.

 

#9 – Stripes (1981)

Bill Murray is one of the most all-American actors of our generation, and the movie “Stripes” is one of his crowning achievements.

Paired with Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters and John Candy as “Ox,” this Chicago comedy team managed to salute American patriotism while satirizing the military in a way that was unprecedented in its time.

The best moment of the film comes when Murray is forced to give a motivational speech before basic training graduation in which he reminds the troops that “We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years!” Add to that machine guns, some cute MP’s, explosions and an “urban assault vehicle” and you are ready for a good time America style.

 

#8 – Sandlot (1993)

This one is fun for the whole family and still manages to get a little raunchy…but hey, that’s America. A ragtag group of misfits spends a magical summer on the baseball diamond managing to find time to kiss the cute older lifeguard, steal a Babe Ruth autographed ball and take on the infamous “Beast.”

We get a shoutout to the famous Murders Row team from the 1927 New York Yankees and are also graced with a James Earl Jones cameo. What could be more American than that? The highlight comes, however, during the July 4 block party when the kids play a night game while fireworks explode overhead to Ray Charles singing “America the Beautiful.” This film reminds us of the simple pleasures and freedoms we take for granted every day. So grill up some burgers, grab your mitt and bust out your old VHS copy of this classic to celebrate the greatness of America.

 

#7 – Top Gun (1986)

This is the first of two Tom Cruise films on our list. Nothing says America like seeing some hotshot ace fighter pilots dispatch “enemy boogies” and look good doing it. Cruise delivers a hallmark performance as Maverick “writing checks his body can’t cash.”

Maverick speaks to the rebel in all of us as a man who gets the job done but pisses off every one of his bosses in the process. Suit up and hop on the highway to the danger zone with some 80’s gold.

 

#6 – Hunt For Red October (1990)

This one might surprise some, but the themes of American exceptionalism that drive this film are impossible to ignore. For starters, the film is based on a Tom Clancy novel and is an installment in the Jack Ryan series. The premise sees a Soviet submarine captain plan a defection to America without telling the enlisted men. During his attempt to turn the submarine’s technology over the the Americans, Sean Connery’s executive officer, played by Sam Neil, asks Connery what it’s like to live in America.

He asks if he would be allowed to live in two different states during different times of the year, and is surprised to learn that he can cross state lines freely and fulfill all of his lifelong dreams. Neil wishes to live in Montana and Arizona and asks, “No papers? State to State?” Connery smiles and replies, “No papers…state to state.” Fire this one up to remember that in America we can travel when we want, live where we want, and be whomever we wish to be.

 

#5- Die Hard Franchise (1988-2013)

This one is cheating a bit but we couldn’t resist giving you the full flavor of John McClane and the Die Hard franchise. High-paced action and city-wide movie violence in the name of the New York Police Department is more American than apple pie. Bruce Willis has crafted an iconic character in McClane who represents the best of America. He doesn’t have time for small talk, curses like a sailor and always gets the job done. He also pops off hundreds of machine gun rounds and manages to never hit civilians.

You can go the old fashioned route and watch all of them in order, but we recommend watching the first film, then skipping to “Die Hard: With A Vengeance,” and finally finishing up with “Live Free or Die Hard” for the name alone. The rest are optional, but even if you picked one at random, odds are you’ll get that rush of patriotism that only McClane can deliver. “Yippie Ki Yay!”

 

#4 – Miracle (2004)

There are few moments of national pride that united our country the way the 1980 Olympic hockey team’s victory did. “Miracle” tells the story of coach Herb Brooks’ mission to beat the Soviet Union at their own game and walk away with a gold medal. At a time when pride in American exceptionalism was hitting the skids, the U.S. was in desperate need of a victory.

The country was still locked in a Cold War with “The Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union while dealing with the Iran hostage crisis, an oil shortage and everything in between. Brooks and his group of young college students managed to defeat the best hockey team in the world and then went on to beat Finland in a come-from-behind win to clinch the gold medal.

 

#3 – Braveheart (1995)

Despite taking place in Scotland, the spirit of “Braveheart” is something to which every American can relate. Mel Gibson won two academy awards for producing and directing this cinematic gem and it has since taken its position as one of the best movies about freedom in the history of film. The famous scene of Gibson on horseback saying, “they can take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” speaks to America’s refusal to be ruled by anyone other than themselves.

The film also references corruption in positions of power, with Wallace stating, “You think the people of this country exist to provide you with position. I think your position exists to provide those people with freedom! And I go to make sure that they have it.”

The villainous Longshanks add a level of evil to the movie that wouldn’t have been there without the skill and precision of veteran actor Patrick McGoohan. And lest we forget the film’s closing line that sums up what it means to be a patriot: “In the year of our lord 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen…and won their freedom.”

 

#2 – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the most critically acclaimed war epics of our time. The all-star cast of Tom Hanks, Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Ted Danson, Barry Pepper and Matt Damon executed their roles in a way we had never seen before. They accurately depicted the horror of war and the sacrifices America made to help save Europe and the world from Nazi Germany.

Spielberg used this film as a way to pioneer a new shaky camera technique that various television shows and movies replicated in the years that followed. The violence and gore are difficult to watch, but it lines up with reality and reminds us of how ugly war can be. It also highlights the bravery of all those who fought, giving us reason to ponder why we celebrate this week.

It may take awhile to get through this one, but if you’re not in the mood for a comedy this is certainly a film that will remind you of what it means to be an American.

 

#1 – The Patriot (2000)

It was a tough call, but we decided to double dip into Mel Gibson’s filmography and name “The Patriot” number one. Gibson plays an intelligent capable man who just wants to be left alone to enjoy the good things in life with his family.

It’s only when society, criminals, or in this case British redcoats, disturb his privacy that he is forced to play the reluctant hero. We usually feel bad for Gibson, but boy are we glad they decided to piss him off.

This diamond-in-the-rough from 2000 sees Gibson take on the persona of “The Ghost,” the tomahawk wielding veteran who isn’t afraid to kill a dozen men any which way he can. The film also features the late Heath Ledger as Gibson’s son. The chemistry between the two carries the film for most of the way and shows why they are both considered acting giants.

The best way to describe “The Patriot” is “‘Braveheart’ on American soil.” Violent, heavy, but oh-so awesome. It may not be 100 percent historically accurate, but like any great American movie, it proves the point that you don’t want to mess with the U.S., and that the best bet is to let America do her thing.

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