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.
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.