Five Great Films for the Fourth of July

These patriotic adventures in cinema are perfect for celebrating and remembering the glory of the United States of America

If you could go back in time about 250 years, you’d find a very different America. We were a colony of Great Britain, most people spoke with an English accent, there were few villages dotting the eastern seaboard — and huge tribes of Native Americans were spread westward into uncharted territories.

There were also scores of people dissatisfied with paying taxes to a faraway king and ready to fight for their independence.

Oh — and aliens. Don’t forget the aliens! Yep, all those years ago, aliens were poised to appear out of the clouds just as terrifying prehistoric monsters would erupt from beneath the ground.

OK, maybe that’s not quite historically accurate. But it sure works for today’s Hollywood crowd — and it’s exactly the kind of movie that (depending on your taste) can make for fun viewing during the Independence Day holiday.

Here’s a look at five terrific movies to help you, your friends and your family celebrate the Fourth of July.

1.) “Independence Day” (1996). It’s business as usual here on Earth until an unknown object is detected heading straight for the planet. It’s not just an inert hunk of rock; it’s actually an alien invasion force with ships large enough to cover our largest cities.

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Worse, these aliens have tech far superior to our own weapons — and it’s clear their intentions are not friendly.

So what’s a hip, wise-cracking young Air Force pilot to do when faced with the imminent destruction of his planet? If you’re Capt. Steven Hiller (Will Smith), you engage the enemy one-on-one with all sorts of unorthodox strategies, hoping you’ll catch these creatures off guard. Hiller is accompanied by a smart and quirky scientist (played by Jeff Goldblum), who provides the movie with great laughs and plenty of heart.

There’s not a lot of logic to this film, but it’s got nonstop action plus Academy Award-winning visual effects — and it’s lots of fun. And isn’t Independence Day fundamentally all about fighting off the aliens anyway?

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2.) “The Patriot” (2000). Martin (Mel Gibson) is a South Carolina farmer who is trying his best to ignore America’s battle for independence, having renounced violence after fighting in the French and Indian War. He’s focused only on farming, even as his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) is eager to enlist and join the revolution. When the Brits come and murder his son and threaten to take over his land, Martin rages — and joins the fray, fighting the vicious redcoats with all he’s got.

If you’ve never seen it yet, be warned that “The Patriot” is very violent and earned its R rating through savage battle scenes. It’s likely not appropriate for younger members of the family and not necessarily uplifting in a holiday movie sort of way. Yet few Hollywood films are as unapologetically patriotic as this.

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3.) “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007). There’s something quintessentially American about veteran New York City cop John McClane (played by Bruce Willis), who is quick to make a wisecrack, is a bit slovenly, knows a whole lot about the Yankees, and will go up against anyone to defend his family and friends. He’s the kind of police officer you want to help you out, fearless and just a bit off-kilter in his approach to problem-solving.

In this fourth installment to the “Die Hard” series, McClane is out to arrest nerdy computer hacker Matt Farrell (Justin Long). Farrell’s just the tip of the hacker iceberg, though, and soon the nation’s thrown into disarray by nefarious terrorist Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant). It all takes place around the Fourth of July, too, as an added bonus.

This is one of the best entries in the “Die Hard” series, and there’s an undeniable appeal to the brash, straightforward McClane character that makes this fun and breezy viewing.

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4.) “Top Gun” (1986). In this over-the-top bit of patriotic fluff, a young Tom Cruise plays Maverick, a big-headed, wisecracking fighter pilot who is learning his skill at the Top Gun Naval Fighter Weapons School. Most everyone dislikes him for his cocky attitude, but the man can sure fly a plane, much to the disgust of the cool and collected Iceman (Val Kilmer). They’re not just learning to be the best-of-the-best fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy, however; they’re also competing for the attention of, you guessed it, the girl. In this case, it’s flight instructor Charlotte Blackwood (Kelly McGillis).

There’s a lot to like in “Top Gun,” particularly the fantastic flying scenes. It’s a corny but lovable patriotic salute to the American military that will most certainly get you in the right mood for the Fourth of July.

As an added bonus, popping this movie in will help you prep for the sequel, which is currently in production, with Cruise and Kilmer returning to their respective roles.

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5.) “Lincoln” (2012). Far more serious than previous entries on this list, “Lincoln” explores the inner conflicts and challenges one of our most fascinating presidents, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, faced. Rather than offer yet another biopic, this Steven Spielberg movie more specifically focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to craft and get approval for the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

“Lincoln” trades in the action of the previous films on this list for thoughtful dialogue and the exploration of a topic abhorrent to some and a matter of economic necessity to others, all with the growing black cloud of Lincoln’s eventual assassination hanging over the proceedings. There are some slow scenes in the middle of the film that might require a snack break.

But in terms of depicting the soul of our nation, few films are better at reminding us of both the challenges and glory of the United States of America.

Dave Taylor, based in Boulder, Colorado, has been writing about consumer electronics, technology and pop culture for many years and runs the popular site AskDaveTaylor.com. This piece originally appeared in LifeZette last year and has been updated. 

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