The 4th of July is a lot of things: a celebration of the forming of our nation, a chance to reflect on how far our country has come, and for many of us, a rare day off, free from the gift-giving and other social obligations that come along with most holidays.  Indeed, aside from some fireworks after dark, or maybe a barbecue to attend, July 4th offers the freedom to spend your day as you see fit… so why not spend it on the couch catching up on some great movies?

The internet’s proclivity for lists means there are a number of places that you can go to find exhaustive recounting of every movie that meets a certain American flag quota, or that successfully imparts the horrors of war men and women have faced on our behalf over the ages.  It’s tougher, however, to find movies or TV shows you can watch that successfully capture the inherent positivity, the blessing, or the joys that come with being a U.S. citizen.  July 4th seems like a great opportunity to explore the more positive side of this great experiment in democracy, and the movies that depict a lighter side to the fight for freedom.

So without further ado, here are five movies for you to watch on July 4th that capture parts of why America is so great:

“Captain America: The First Avenger”
  1. Captain America’s first solo outing isn’t the best movie to come out of Marvel studios, heck, it wasn’t even the best Captain America movie, but the depiction of Steve Rogers as he repeatedly attempts to sneak his way into serving his country during a time of war is an important demonstration of the nobility we prize in a hero.  His selflessness and courage, as a skin and bones weakling, and again as a super powered mascot, earn him the respect of the United States military, while simultaneously giving us a live-action recreation of Captain America punching an Adolf Hitler impersonator in the face – which is something to be celebrated on any day of the year.
“Independence Day”
  1. The name of this movie alone begs its inclusion in a list of fun-flicks-for-the-fourth, but it’s Bill Pullman’s speech near the end that actually earned it a spot.  This alien invasion blockbuster from the mid-1990s reminds us of a time when a movie could be the biggest thing going on in the country, back when the internet was barely a thing and we only had a hundred channels to choose from.  While our telephones were all still securely attached to a wall in the kitchen, Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum saved the world from alien invaders using an Apple laptop, some great one liners, and an insistence on calling cigars a “victory dance” that left me utterly confused as a child.  Pullman’s speech as President Whitmore just before the final battle is possibly one of the best of all time – and might make you forgive him for last year’s sequel.
“Top Gun”
  1. “Top Gun” was such an influential movie that Navy recruiters began setting up shop in front of theaters.  The massive influx of military aviators that resulted in the movie’s popularity could arguably by credited with helping the United States establish itself as the global leader in military aviation throughout the 80’s and 90’s.  In this crazy world, full of reality mixing with fiction and shaping perception, Maverick’s make-believe story about Navy pilots at the real Top Gun school could have actually resulted in making the U.S. military even more formidable – which is all the more impressive, because, as well all know, he was inverted at the time.
“Rocky IV”
  1. “Rocky IV” is the kind of classic piece of Americana that it’s hard to accept when someone tells you that they haven’t seen it.  If you happen to be one of those people, don’t be dissuaded by the number four – you don’t need to see the first three Rocky films to appreciate how great this one is (though I recommend it nonetheless).  With twice the workout montages of a normal Rocky movie, and clever plotlines used to make the United States feel like the underdog in a fight against the personification of the Soviet Union (Ivan Drago), “Rocky IV” reminds America of our love affair with being the underdog, and serves as a metaphor for winning peace with our enemies by earning their respect… with punches.

It doesn’t have to be realistic to be awesome, guys.  “Independence Day” is about aliens.

“Air Force One”
  1. Harrison Ford spent the nineties perfecting the art of pointing at people in a way that was somehow more powerful than some of Rocky’s punches (if you don’t believe me, go back and watch his movies again).  He also played the role of the President of the United States of America in “Air Force One,” a movie about what would happen if our elected officials reflected Rocky’s foreign policy strategy of ending conflicts through severe head trauma.  Harrison Ford’s President Marshall won’t negotiate with terrorists, but he will punch them in the face, which is reason enough to give this flick another watch on your day off.

This, of course, is far from an exhaustive list of movies that highlight the fun in the Fourth of July, but they’re a great place to start.  Remember, while we relax, there are men and women in harm’s way, fighting on our behalf – but they aren’t doing it so you’ll spend your July 4th in mourning.  Make sure to raise a toast to them if you see fit, but don’t forget to enjoy that freedom they’re fighting to keep secure on our behalf.  Celebrate your country for whatever reason – be it our history, our present, or our future, and allow yourself to embrace the positivity, the fun, or just the entertaining face punches, that we’ve come to treasure in this great country of ours.


Theatrical posters courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons (cropped)