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Patriotic Movies to Watch on the 4th of July

Celebrate America’s birthday with any of these patriotic films.

Captain America

Independence Day is a time for grilling hot dogs, watching fireworks, and wakeboarding in a tuxedo while drinking beer and waving the flag, apparently (Mark Zuckerberg knows how to celebrate in style). And, if you’re anything like me, it’s a time for watching movies that celebrate (and examine) America, the country we call home.

Perhaps you’ve seen Independence Day, Saving Private Ryan and Captain America: The First Avenger enough times, and you’re wondering what other films are out there that fit the spirit of the holiday. Well, you’re in luck! Here are 4 patriotic movies that will have you pledging allegiance to the flag this 4th of July.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Jefferson Smith on the Senate floor. Credit: Columbia Pictures

James (Jimmy) Stewart, known for such classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo, stars as an idealistic young senator in this Frank Capra-directed political dramedy. Naive about how things work in Washington, he innocently proposes a bill to build a boys’ campsite in his state. But the corrupt political machine was already planning a more lucrative project on that land, and they conspire to tarnish his name. What follows is an inspiring ode to American democracy. As bad as things may look right now, this film asks us to believe that the system can work. I can’t guarantee that you’ll believe it, but I can almost guarantee that it’ll put a smile on your face. We could all use a couple hours of optimism and hope.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

1776 (1972)

Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson in 1776
Thomas Jefferson at his desk. Credit: Columbia Pictures

Before there was Hamilton, there was 1776. This musical follows John Adams, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and many more famous founding fathers, as they bicker and debate during the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. A favorite of history teachers for decades, it includes actual words from the letters and memoirs of these men in its dialogue and lyrics. If you’re looking to learn American history through song, and you’ve already seen enough of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the gang, consider checking out this fun and educational classic.

1776 is available to stream on Tubi.

Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July
Ron Kovic expresses his opposition to the Vietnam War. Credit: United International Pictures

Oliver Stone, known for such films as Platoon and JFK, directs this drama based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam vet turned anti-war activist. Tom Cruise stars as Kovic, and gives one of the best performances of his career. His character suffers greatly in Vietnam, and is left paralyzed and with PTSD. He comes home to find countrymen who either want the war to continue, or spit on returning soldiers. Responding to the accusation that anti-war activists hate America, he famously declares, “I love America!” It’s important to stress that criticizing your country’s leadership and their decisions does not have to be paired with hating your country. In fact, it can be motivated by the greatest love for your country. While many might prefer to put on one of the Top Gun movies for some simple patriotic fun (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), consider checking out this more intelligent, but no less patriotic Cruise film.

Born on the Fourth of July is available to stream on Netflix.

National Treasure (2004)

Nicholas Cage in National Treasure.
Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

While 1776 is about the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, National Treasure explores the significance of the document in the 21st century. The legendary Nicholas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a historian who steals the Declaration, because on its back is a hidden map to lost Freemason treasure. An incredibly fun action-adventure, National Treasure is a staple of a 2000s childhood. If you haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet, perhaps this Fourth of July is the perfect time to see why it’s so fondly remembered.

National Treasure is available to stream on Disney+.

First Man (2018)

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man.

Before going to see Fly Me to the Moon next week, a film exploring the hypothetical process of staging a fake moon landing, perhaps check out this more conventional take on the event, starring Ryan Gosling of Barbie fame as astronaut Neil Armstrong. From filmmaker Damien Chazelle, who previously directed Whiplash and La La Land, this film is an inspiring ode to what Americans can achieve. Whether you believe we went to the moon in 1969, or are a little skeptical, it’s well worth a watch for Literally Me‘s incredible performance, its great cinematography and score, and its inspiring, patriotic spirit.

First Man is available to stream on Hulu.

Why Watch a Patriotic Movie?

Mel Gibson in The Patriot.
Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Credit: Columbia Pictures

Perhaps you’re currently trying to decide which of these films you’d most like to watch this week, or if you should go ahead and marathon all of them. Or perhaps you’re instead wondering, “Why bother?” It would be no surprise. Pride in America is the lowest it’s ever been these days. And I’ll be the first to admit there’s very good reason for that.

So you may be asking, “What’s the point of watching any of these films, or celebrating this holiday at all?” I get that. But I would argue that it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves that there’s so much to love about America. An ever-flawed but ever-striving nation, our history is populated by so many good people who have endeavored to make this country a better place. We shouldn’t let the greatness of our nation slip away, but fight for it. There is something wonderful here, something worth preserving.

I could go on, but we have four months of election year ahead of us to discuss America’s problems and their potential solutions, and I’ve chosen to write for the Entertainment, not the Politics section. Now, it’s time for me to go to Coney Island, get a Nathan’s Famous hot dog, see some fireworks, and then decide which patriotic movie I’m going to end the day with. I hope I’ve given you some good ideas if you decide to do the same.

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Written By

Jonathan Bellony is a senior at Binghamton University, double-majoring in English and Philosophy, Politics and Law. He has a lifelong passion for television and film.

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