For the Fourth of July, let’s get into the All-American spirit with good old-fashioned patriotic movies? Whether you’re an astronaut, a Congressman, a mathematician or a hockey player, you typify the kind of best Americans that the movies want to celebrate on Independence Day.
The theme of our photo gallery above is all about the American spirit, which can be a rah-rah film (like “Miracle” or “Top Gun”), fighting for the people back home (“Patton,” “Born on the 4th of July”) or even going against the grain to fight for what’s right in society (“Norma Rae,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). Our gallery also includes “The Right Stuff,” “Field of Dreams,” “Forrest Gump,” “Hidden Figures” and more. James Cagney, Kevin Costner, Tom Cruise, Sally Field, Tom Hanks, Taraji P. Henson, James Stewart and Denzel Washington are some of the big names in starring roles.
Enjoy a hot dog and sit back to peruse (or even watch again) these 15 wonderful movies that capture what’s great about the American spirit.
15. TOP GUN (1986)
Of the films on this list, “Top Gun” is probably the most overt celebration of Americanism, but there’s much more to this film than that. In it, Cruise plays Maverick, a reckless young aviator in the Navy, who is sent back to Top Gun school where he meets instructor Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), and sparks fly. Tony Scott‘s film captures a gung-ho pre-9/11 patriotic optimism that becomes infectious.
14. THE PATRIOT (2000)
Roland Emmerich‘s film, set in late 1770s America, focuses on Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson), a veteran of the French & Indian Wars, who is loyal to England but becomes a renegade in the Revolutionary War when his family is threatened. What’s interesting about Emmerich’s film is that it takes the time to depict what everyday life was for American patriots in the 1770s, something you rarely get to see in films.
13. MIRACLE (2004)
As divided as the country might be today, in 1980 we were united in cheering on the U.S. men’s hockey team in the Olympics when they faced off against their rivals from the then-Soviet Union. Gavin O’Connor‘s film recalls that comparatively magical time when Americans were gathered around their TV sets as one cheering the team representing the red, white and blue.
12. BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989)
Cruise portrays co-writer Ron Kovic, a U.S. veteran who was wounded and paralyzed during his service in the Vietnam War. Once he recovered from his wounds, Kovic, even from his wheelchair, summoned his American spirit and became a tireless activist toward ending the war in Vietnam. For his performance as Kovic, Cruise earned his first Golden Globe Award and garnered his first Academy Award nomination.
11. GLORY (1989)
In Edward Zwick‘s Civil War-set drama, Matthew Broderick plays a Union Army officer who is placed in charge of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first all-black units fighting for the Union side. Zwick crystallizes the struggle to bring the unit together in the guise of Broderick’s colonel butting heads with stubborn Private Silas Tripp (Washington in his Oscar-winning role), as they finally join forces to fight for the preservation of the Union.
10. NORMA RAE (1979)
In a day when unions are under attack, it’s important to see the desire and need for American workers to unionize, and no film does it better than Martin Ritt‘s “Norma Rae.” In a story based on real-life events, Field (in her Oscar-winning performance) plays a North Carolina factory worker concerned about her poor working conditions at her factory. She takes the first steps to form a union, an action that brings the wrath of management down upon her.
9. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK (2005)
George Clooney‘s celebrated film chronicles a dark chapter in American history and the courage of a few brave souls to stand up to what, in this case, was truly a witch hunt. CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow (David Straithairn), concerned about the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who sees Communists under every throw pillow of his enemies, and takes a courageous stand against what he perceives as an attack on American values.
8. HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)
Were it not for “Hidden Figures,” America may never have known the names of Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), three heroes of the American space program. The three black women are mathematicians working on the U.S. Space program, and it is their efforts that helped to get John Glenn into space, even while having to undergo the humiliations which black women in the South endured, that is their legacy.
7. THE MUSIC MAN (1962)
Set in 1912 in the town of River City, Iowa, Meredith Willson‘s award-winning musical is set in a bucolic vision of Americana, a quiet town upended by the appearance of a flim-flam man (Robert Preston) who cons the locals into funding his scheme of a high-school band. But love gets him to change his mind, culminating in an all-American parade down Main Street that is arguably one of the most exhilarating in all of cinema.
6. PATTON (1970)
“Patton” was released by 20th Century-Fox within weeks of the studio’s other war film, Robert Altman‘s “M*A*S*H,” and, being in theaters in the midst of the Vietnam conflict, was seen as being pro-war and derided for it. Yes, George C. Scott‘s Oscar-winning performance as an American hero is commanding, but you have to look past the politics to look at the craft.
5. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942)
Michael Curtiz‘s biography of song-and-dance man George M. Cohan (Oscar winner James Cagney) is a paean to Americana. He comes out of retirement to entertain America during World War II at the request of President Roosevelt. Inspiring America with his famed rendition of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which Cagney socks over with power, and “Over There,” which Cohan composed, Cagney really sells the importance of his music in raising the spirits of Americans during the great conflict.
4. FORREST GUMP (1994)
I have heard that Robert Zemeckis‘ “Forrest Gump” is dismissed in some quarters as being just the “Life is like a box of chocolates” movie, but if you come upon it again, look closely. It’s really a character study of a man with marginal intelligence who happens to find himself in the midst of the world’s most earth-shaking events of his past two decades. Zemeckis tells this story with by inserting Forrest with the great figures of the era and on a memorable run across America, again and again.
3. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)
The power of a father and son simply playing a game of catch. What could be more all-American than that? That’s what’s at the emotional core of this Phil Alden Robinson beloved baseball fantasy that focuses on Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Costner) who is still troubled by his relationship with his late father, troubles that Ray wishes he could now undo. While walking through his cornfield one night, Ray hears a voice saying the now-iconic line “If you build it, he will come,” and he sees a vision of a baseball diamond where his cornfield now stands. And one night, the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson and more do come, including the one man whom Ray wants to impress most.
2. THE RIGHT STUFF (1983)
Few programs have done America more proud than the efforts to launch a human into space in the 1960s through the 1980s. That period of American exceptionalism was captured to a precise degree by Phil Kaufman in his 1983 film of the origins of the NASA space program and the seven astronauts chosen to be the first American pioneers launched into space. What Kaufman does here is terrific, never emphasizing the jingoistic aspects of the story but instead focusing on the ordinary men who are faced with an extraordinary task.
1. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
One of the most beloved American political films of all time, Frank Capra’s classic focuses on Jeff Smith (Stewart), a reformist who is picked over the political machine stooge to fill a Senate seat with the hope that he can be easily manipulated. It turns out, he cannot. The film’s most memorable moments involve a lengthy filibuster where Mr. Smith speaks for an exhausting numbers of hours on behalf of an appropriations bill and against efforts to disgrace him on a bogus charge. The film captures American democracy at its finest and is, simply said, an American classic.