Star-spangled cinema: Best movies to watch for the Fourth of July

For film fans looking for something fun to watch this weekend in between barbecues and fireworks, Entertainment Weekly’s recent issue includes a list of the top 25 most patriotic movies. The complete list includes films such as “Top Gun,” “Patton,” and “Stripes,” but I’ve highlighted a few of my personal favorites. This list also serves as a shameful reminder of the fact that I still haven’t watched “Saving Private Ryan.” Maybe that should be my Fourth of July movie this year!

Apollo 13

I’ve always loved reading about the NASA space program, and I remember geeking out as a kid when I got to do a report about the Apollo 11 moon landing for school. Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” is one of my favorite space movies that doesn’t happen to be science fiction. Apollo 13 was supposed to be a routine lunar mission — until it wasn’t, and three astronauts had to trouble-shoot in space in order to survive, with the help of Mission Control back home. Even though I know from history how the story ends, it’s a nail biter for me every time. Entertainment Weekly calls it an “ode to a bygone era of space exploration and American optimism”; every time I watch it, I hope that humanity won’t give up on its quest to explore the stars.

Air Force One

Harrison Ford’s badass fictional president James Marshall is a politician everyone can agree on: when Air Force One is taken over by terrorists, he refuses to give in to their demands. He fights to regain control of the aircraft, saving lives and just generally being awesome. It’s a great action movie and tense thriller up until the final moments when Marshall (spoiler alert!) saves the day.

Independence Day

No Fourth of July movie list would be complete without “Independence Day,” right? “Independence Day” is the quintessential summer blockbuster, with Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum facing off against a fleet of aliens attacking Earth. Plus, Bill Pullman also co-stars as my personal favorite fictional president, Thomas J. Whitmore, who actually climbs on board a fighter jet and goes to war against the aliens himself. After making a totally epic speech, of course.

Captain America: The First Avenger

“Captain America: The First Avenger” was my first real introduction to “the star-spangled man with a plan,” who has now become one of my favorite superheroes. What makes Captain America such a powerful symbol is that he doesn’t begin his story as a beefed-up superhero with muscles or cool powers. Instead, he’s a man with a good heart and a sense of justice who is unafraid to stand up to bullies. Steve Rogers is the moral compass of the Marvel movies, and his next two films — “The Winter Soldier” and “Civil War” — are so fascinating because we see circumstances challenge his ideals. Yet he continues to hold to those ideals, even when it requires great personal sacrifice.


Time for another confession — I’m not sure if I have watched “Gettysburg” all the way through, as I’ve seen it mostly in parts. It’s a long movie, but this American epic is worth a watch, memorializing one of the most violent and tragic periods in American history. Jeff Daniels’ Union commander Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is the heart and soul of this movie; his idealism is an inspiration to the soldiers around him.

The Right Stuff

The U.S. achieved an important milestone by landing an astronaut on the moon in 1969, but the space program got off to a much rockier start. Delays and technical problems plagued the program. Yet there was plenty of determination in the early days of NASA, and “The Right Stuff” chronicles the cocky pilots who dared to become astronauts and risked their lives as brave explorers. They were made of the “right stuff,” indeed.

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