Each 4th of July, Americans gather with family and friends to barbecue, watch fireworks, frolic in the pool and celebrate their independence. But just in case you’re tired of the same old thing, MovieMaker is here to offer an alternative way to party: Instead of boiling in direct sunlight during the day or braving thirsty mosquitoes as night falls, spend some time inside with these American movie classics. Unabashedly patriotic, these 13 movies—one for each stripe on the country’s flag—will remind you exactly what it means to be an independent citizen… and maybe even an independent moviemaker.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
This Academy Award-winning drama follows naive Jefferson Smith as he’s appointed to the United States Senate on a lark. Smith soon discovers the government’s shortcomings, yet refuses to succumb to the political corruption. A bold political statement back in the day, many believe Mr. Smith Goes to Washington can still be applicable today as a criticism on the United States government.
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Not only does the title ooze red, white and blue, Michael Curtiz’s biopic of renowned Broadway songwriter and performer George M. Cohan is bursting at the seams with patriotism. Consisting of the well-known tunes “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Grand Old Flag,” it’ll be difficult to keep your toes from tapping when watching this flag-waving songfest that garnered James Cagney an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Though released nearly 200 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, this film adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name captures that boldly independent spirit of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin as they dance and sing through the halls of the Continental Congress and the streets of Philadelphia. While the real Adams may have been too refined to dance among his peers, most of the song lyrics are taken directly from the letters and memoirs of the actual Congressmen.
American Graffiti (1973)
Complete with cruisin’, drive-ins and rock ‘n’ roll, George Lucas’ classic, which stars Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss, encapsulates what it means to be a teenager coming of age in America. Though the film is set during the 1960s, that sense of freedom that arises on the verge of growing up is universal to every young American.
The residents of Amity Island will never forget that 4th of July when a great white shark ravaged their quaint summer residence. This Steven Spielberg classic also caused some serious damage to the box office, drawing in more than $260 million in its initial U.S. release and thus claiming the title of First-Ever Summer Blockbuster.
The Bad News Bears (1976)
Baseball and underdogs are two things that are enjoyed by every American. When they’re combined together, like in the original 1976 version of The Bad News Bears, the result is a fun and heartwarming flick of little league misfits proving how a little hard work can go a long way.
Born on the 4th of July (1989)
The ever-controversial Oliver Stone stirred things up once again with his 1989 Academy Award-winning film starring Tom Cruise as a paralyzed Vietnam veteran-turned-human rights activist. Yet with all its critical acclaim, this member of Stone’s “Nam Trilogy” may leave you more anti-America than patriotic.
Apollo 13 (1995)
As Americans always seemed to have a thing for space, this compelling film about the true rescue of the failed moon-bound mission will no doubt make you feel proud to be an American. If not, the mesmerizing images of the American flag waving on the moon’s surface are sure to take your breath away.
Independence Day (1996)
Nothing gets more American than Will Smith saving the fate of mankind from a clan of tentacle-laden aliens. With help from Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman and Randy Quaid, this 1996 box office hit raked in more than $300 million at the U.S. box office. The fact that the fireworks watched by the survivors on 4th of July are actually the alien’s destroyed space ships falling to Earth makes it that much better.
Who says you have to be a war hero to be a patriot? Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams team up in their best red, white and blue gear after a chance meeting with Richard Nixon leads them to a gig as the president’s dog walkers. Yet when they find themselves in the midst of the Watergate scandal, the patchwork, peace-loving duo proves to be trickier than Nixon in this 1999 screwball comedy that also stars a young(er) Will Ferrell as Bob Woodward.
The Patriot (2000)
Part historical drama, part action flick and a story that’s 100 percent American, this film stars Mel Gibson as a respected war hero reluctant to fight in the American Revolution. He enlists only once it claims the lives of his two eldest sons, played by Gregory Smith and the late Heath Ledger. Before we know it Gibson is on the frontline leading the rag-tag Colonial Militia to independence and providing Americans with further satisfaction in knowing that we beat those snooty red coats.
National Treasure (2004)
Nicolas Cage is able to hold our attention longer than most history professors in this enjoyably hokey film from 2004, about a group of treasure hunters searching for a secret treasure hidden by our Founding Fathers. As Cage leads audiences on an atypical tour through Washington, D.C. and historic Philadelphia (complete with presidential jokes galore) National Treasure can almost double as a college-level United States history class, if only there were such a thing as a map on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
Team America: World Police (2004)
In their highly vulgar yet critically acclaimed puppet satire, “South Park” co-creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone not-so-secretly speak for every American when their puppets sing, “America, fuck yeah!”