“Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” Immortal words from our greatest president, Bill Pullman. This Thursday is sure to be full of activities, drinks, family, awkward political conversations with a said family fueled by said drinks, and more-or-less controlled explosions (depending on the amount of said drinks and anger at said family).
While we may not generally think of the 4th of July as a movie-watching holiday, it does have some truly great flicks associated with it. If like me, you live in the Midwest, it will probably be raining which will put a damper on the more explodey parts of the holiday. Or maybe you’ve had enough of Uncle Greg’s thoughts on why millennials are too addicted to technology but also can you fix his phone because his Facebook tweets won’t google to Instagram. Or maybe you just prefer your explosions to occur safely on a screen. There are all kinds of good excuses to watch movies on Independence Day.
And for our non-American readers, I promise that these are also great movies for a lazy Thursday afternoon. Also, why did you click this headline, weirdo?
So here they are, in no particular order: the best movies to watch on Independence (Thurs)Day or we often say 4th of July!
We are going to save the suspense and put this one right up top. You knew it was coming anyway.
Roland Emmerich has four great movies* and then a whole lot of garbage and I honestly don’t know what separates the two. He was Michael Bay before Michael Bay. He makes big dumb spectacles that sometimes catch lightning in a bottle. Looking at his timeline one can see the hits came early, so maybe it’s just a matter of freshness that makes his early stuff work better.
One thing this movie has going for it is its cast. Will Smith, in particular, is riding his rising star so hard he manages to out-charisma peak 90s Jeff Goldblum AND professional charmbot Harry Connick Jr. Emmerich fills out his cast with amazing character performers like Vivica A Fox, Harvey Fierstein, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Mae Whitman (her?), Bill Pullman, Brent Spiner, and real-life crazy people Randy Quaid and Adam Baldwin.
The visuals in Independence Day are also astounding and mostly hold up to this day. This is probably due to the fact that Emmerich seemed to want to use practical effects whenever possible. He couldn’t actually use a laser weapon to blow up the White House, but he did build miniatures and calculate the angles of the model streets so that the fire would flow through them in a satisfying way. This is a movie that’s visually stunning in a way that makes it a good background flick for a rained out party.
*Independence Day, Universal Soldier, Stargate, The Patriot
Speaking of Roland Emmerich, let’s get on to what may be his least Roland Emmerich-y movie, The Patriot. Sure, there’s lots of battlefield spectacle, cartoonishly one-dimensional characters, and emotionally manipulative deaths. But I didn’t spot a single alien or impossible weather phenomenon.
Again, we have a great cast. Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Chris Cooper, Tom Wilkinson, and Adam Baldwin (hey again!). Mel Gibson may be problematic (much like the lead in my next pick), but dammit if he’s not fun to watch, especially at his peak around this time.
This story, very loosely based on real-life characters in the American Revolution, will have you chanting “U-S-A!!!” all day. Bonus (SPOILER for a 20-year-old movie): the sequence where Heath Ledger’s character finds the charred remains of his new wife and confronts Isaac’s evil Colonel Tavington is sure to elicit uncontrollable sobbing from even the most hardened firework thrower.
Some may consider this pick a bit taboo considering both its star’s role in popularizing an alleged cult and also his involvement with Scientology (ZING!). But this movie is too great to ignore for every American’s favorite jingoist holiday.
Honestly, it’s hard to hold the military propaganda thing against Top Gun. Aircraft carriers are hard to come by and if you want to film on one, you pretty much have to appease the US military. Also, this year’s second highest grossing movie so far–Captain Marvel–was basically an Air Force recruitment commercial. So maybe let’s get off our high horse about that bit.
Top Gun is the perfect blend of cheese, flag waving, and homoeroticism. And if you don’t want to watch the movie, the Kenny Loggins heavy soundtrack is sure to fire up everyone’s jets for party time.
Captain America: The First Avenger
We already touched on Marvel’s foray into Air Force recruitment, but let’s not forget that they were recruiting for the Army as far back as 2011 with Captain America: The First Avenger.
This is a movie that often gets overlooked in favor of the later, more spectacular Cap films. And rightly so in some cases. The plot is a mess. The villain is not very well fleshed out (pun intended). And the ending leaves something to be desired.
However, this is our introduction to Chris Evans as Captain America. Aside from Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, I would argue that Evans’ Cap is the most irreplaceable face of a character in the MCU. Real life Chris Evans oozes the earnestness, kindness, and hunky-yet-approachable-ness of the character.
For all the movie’s issues, it’s still very entertaining. It’s hard to go wrong with the classic hometown boy turned hero storyline. And the supporting cast is, again, fantastic. So fire up Captain America this Independence Day (4th of July) for a reminder of our humble roots (of the MCU).
Jaws remains one of the greatest movies of all time. Full stop.
Unfortunately, I think the high praise of a movie brings with it a reluctance to watch it. I was in my 20s before I watched Jaws or Citizen Kane (the latter of which I do think is a little overrated). Part of the issue is that great and/or seminal movies often get parodied and imitated to the point where watching them feels like seeing a hack amateur comedian at an open mic. It’s the reason my wife has never been able to sit through a full viewing of The Matrix.
Another problem is that I think we just kind of always assume that a movie can never live up to the hype at that level. But I assure you, Jaws can. It is expertly acted, filmed, and paced. The story is simple and straightforward while also giving just enough twists and turns.
Jaws may seem like an odd choice for a 4th of July movie until you remember that the main thrust of the plot involves the mayor insisting on keeping the beaches open for the 4th, which is the town’s biggest time of year for tourism. If you’re brave and/or stupid enough, it might even give you the idea to outdo all your fireworks by blowing up some compressed air tanks! (note: DO NOT DO THIS!!!)
We here at the Nerd Stash would like to wish everyone a safe and Happy 4th of July! What are some of your favorite traditions? What movies would you add to this list?
Billy is a freelance writer living in Indianapolis with his dog, BoJack. He enjoys TED talks, video games, sunny days, football, and the salty tears of his enemies.