Captain America: The First Avenger
Photograph: Marvel

The best 4th of July movies to watch on Independence Day and feel patriotic

Even political cynics will be stirred by these patriotic movies and paeans to American virtue. (USA! USA! USA!)

Advertising

Patriotism is a tricky thing, and if you live In the United States, it hasn’t been particularly easy to come by in recent years. On the Fourth of July, though, even the most cynical among us will usually take a day off from criticising the concept of ‘American exceptionalism’ and give in to grilling up some barbecue, tossing around the old hardball and, of course, blowing up stuff real good – and then, when the sun goes down and the hot dogs have digested, watching a movie. 

But what, exactly, is the best kind of movie to watch on the Fourth of July movie? Need it be an exercise in blind, red-blooded patriotism? Does it need to actually take place on Independence Day? Can it express more complicated feelings about this place 329 million of us call home? After giving it some thought, we came to the conclusion that you know a good Fourth of July movie when you see one – and no matter how you feel about America these days, you can’t go wrong with these 20. 

Recommended:

🪖 The 50 best World War II movies
🇺🇸 The best Memorial Day movies
👨‍🍼 The 15 best Father’s Day movies to watch with your dad

Most patriotic movies ever

  • Film
  • Drama
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

The country was still reeling from Pearl Harbor when this look at the life of George M. Cohan—arguably the most patriotic songwriter ever—provided the Stars and Stripes salve our nation needed. (That Michael Curtiz’s rah-rah film premiered less than a week after Memorial Day was far from coincidental.) It’s an aggressive, toe-tapping ode to the red, white and blue that has everything: James Cagney in full-blown hoofer mode, pro-USA sentiment as thick as hasty pudding, and musical numbers less subtle than a ticker-tape parade led by Uncle Sam. Only baseball and apple pie can be considered more American than this.

  • Film
  • Science fiction
Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day (1996)

Technically, it’s about mankind declaring its independence from the aliens that have come to subjugate us, but it’s the Americans that lead the way. Bill Pullman gives a more inspirational speech than basically any real president has managed since. And if Will Smith punching an alien right in its ugly mug doesn’t make your heart swell with pride, go ahead and deport yourself to Mars now. 

Advertising
  • Film
Jaws (1975)
Jaws (1975)

Sure, its main comment on America is that capitalism will kill you, but c’mon – it’s Jaws, y’all. It’s a movie about a big ass shark eating visitors to a coastal tourist town on Fourth of July weekend. If you don’t watch it around this time every year, do you even count as a citizen?

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

It’s American military propaganda that’ll have even pinko commie leftists hooting and hollering! For real, though, the sequel to the jet-flying, sexy-volleyball-playing 1986 original is one of the best blockbusters Hollywood has produced in ages, and its zoomtastic flight sequences are more exhilarating than any fireworks display.   

Advertising
  • Film
  • Drama
Sergeant York (1941)
Sergeant York (1941)

A beautifully complex film about why we fight, Howard Hawks’s WWI heart-stirrer comes from the diary of Alvin York, a poor Tennessean and religious pacifist who nonetheless took up a rifle and became an ace marksman. The real-life York refused to let his life story be turned into a movie unless Gary Cooper agreed to play him; call it an uncanny bit of chutzpah. The actor was never more sensitive to the stuff of heroism than he is here.

  • Film
  • Drama

It depicts one of the darkest scandals in American political history, but there are few more fundamental American principles than freedom of the press, and no film pays better tribute to the fourth estate than Alan J Pakula’s no-nonsense journalism procedural. Sure, watching two dogged reporters (Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) take down a criminal President through the power of the printed word doesn’t sound like a pulse-pounding thrillride, but damn it if it doesn’t make your heart race all the same. 

Advertising
  • Film
  • Comedy

Baseball is America’s pastime, but the best movie about the country’s foundational sport doesn’t involve Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle or Major League Baseball at all. Instead, this Penny Marshall-directed classic takes inspiration from the 1943 Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional League – a real team of all-women sluggers that briefly became a sensation during World War II. It’s more than a bit sentimental, but its well-studied nostalgia feels like slipping into a bath full of warm apple pie.

  • Film
Lincoln (2012)
Lincoln (2012)

He wasn’t a Founding Father, but the GOAT president doesn’t need any singing or rapping to convince folks to sit down and watch a two and a half hour movie about him - especially when he’s played by the GOAT actor (Daniel Day-Lewis), with the GOAT director at the helm (Steven Spielberg) and a screenplay from maybe the GOAT modern playwright (Tony Kushner).

Advertising
  • Film
  • Comedy

Sort of like how Stranger Things has successfully made zoomers nostalgic for the ‘80s, this cult favorite comedy about a group of baseball-obsessed preteens in the 1960s made ‘90s kids pine for an era they never actually experienced. The scene where the gang play a night game on July 4, illuminated by neighborhood fireworks, is some of the purest Americana ever caught on film.  

  • Film
  • Drama
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Some films, like Saving Private Ryan, salute our troops’ sacrifice in WWII; this classic reminds us of exactly what they were fighting for. William Wyler’s Oscar-winning drama deals with psychic wounds and physical trauma, but it gives equal emphasis to what these veterans came home to: family, community, the everyday Midwestern life that others died to defend. That the movie favors domesticity and healing over battlefield victories only makes this look at the postwar American Dream that much more stirring.

Advertising
  • Film
  • Animation

Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s a puppet-based send-up of Bush-era imperialism, and all its flag-waving, mortar-exploding, projectile-vomiting patriotism is delivered with heavy amounts of sarcasm. But after slamming a case of White Claws and enough ribs to tranquilise a giant sloth, you won’t know the difference.  

  • Film
  • Action and adventure
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

One of John Ford’s greatest achievements, this quiet, dignified portrait stars Henry Fonda as a shrewd Illinois lawyer hoping to make a name for himself. When Steven Spielberg made his own Lincoln, we were knocked out by Daniel Day-Lewis, but this older drama actually says more about character, integrity and ethics.

Advertising
  • Film
  • Comedy
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

As the years go on, Frank Capra’s dramedy about a decent man elected to the US Senate trying to do good by his constituents seems more and more like a fantasy from a bygone era. But if you want to stoke the dying embers of your belief in a functioning government where politicians stand up to corruption, there’s no better film.

  • Film
  • Drama

Vincente Minnelli’s musical is the ultimate hymn to the all-American family. Our heroes, the Smiths (of course), live a comfortable life in the U.S. heartland, the daughters’ pining for boys next door and having themselves merry little Christmases. There’s no problem they can’t overcome through the power of kinship.

Advertising
  • Film
  • Drama
Apollo 13 (1995)
Apollo 13 (1995)

Ron Howard’s most entertaining movie, about the heroic 1970 rescue of the troubled lunar mission, succeeds despite an overindulged Tom Hanks. The subtext is American ingenuity: When the proceedings focus on ground-based techies desperately spinning innovations out of nothing, it’s inspiring.

  • Film
  • Drama

Granted, while the title alone makes it a no-brainer, this Oliver Stone-directed antiwar flick is like ‘Born in the USA’ - it’s only ‘patriotic’ if you disregard literally everything else about it. In fact, it tells a similar story to the Springsteen song: a soldier (Tom Cruise) returns home from Vietnam, now paralyzed and disillusioned by his country and the war he was sent to fight. But hey, dissent is as American as apple pie and cheap fireworks. At least, it used to be.

Advertising
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The whole Captain America series will have flags flying at full mast, but the original’s well-executed evocation of the 1940s remains an MCU standout, as does Chris Evans’s star-making turn as puny soldier turned supercharged mega-patriot Steve Rogers.

  • Film
  • Action and adventure

No list would be complete without a sports movie, and while baseball looms large in our national consciousness, it’s this Stallone-scripted boxing drama—about “going the distance”—that feels most emblematic. A scrappy rejoinder to Watergate and Vietnam, Rocky depicts a warrior refusing to take a dive.

Check out the best action movies of all time

Recommended
    You may also like
    You may also like
    Advertising