Independence Day is the day in which Americans celebrate the ratification by the Second Continental Congress of the Declaration of Independence, a document which effectively seceded us from Great Britain and caused us to become a new nation, with our own fate in front of us.
Nowadays, it’s also a day in which we immerse ourselves in American culture, by having parties with friends, eating awesome food, and setting off a lot of fireworks! Sometimes, though, either because fireworks aren’t your thing or you need something to do after all of the dust and gunpowder has settled, you just want to relax and take in a good, solid, and celebratory piece of American cinema. Here are five possibilities for just that occasion!
5) Independence Day (1996)
It’s right in the title, and definitely stands as a bombastic piece of American action. When a group of hostile extra-terrestrials begin an attack that threatens to wipe out the entire planet, a motley crew of people including an ace fighter pilot, a talented computer programmer, and the President of the United States are all that stands between the people of Earth and total annihilation. Roland Emmerich’s 1996 blockbuster isn’t exactly Shakespeare, but it doesn’t try to be, either: it’s a knock-down, drag-out fight between humanity and alien invaders in a struggle for survival, that culminates on “our Independence Day!”
While today ID4 is largely regarded as a very thin piece of film that goes light on story, it’s definitely a solid example of summer blockbuster if ever one existed, easily standing as a forerunner to the bombastic action of modern blockbusters like Transformers or The Avengers. If you’re just looking for a solid action film with a snappy sense of humor and a few fun performances from the likes of Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman, then it’s hard to go wrong with Independence Day.
4) Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
The origin story of the Star-Spangled Avenger in the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems like great 4th of July fair, especially given its World War II setting. When scrawny Steve Rogers attempts to earnestly enlist in the U.S. Armed Forces to do his part in the ongoing war effort and is denied repeatedly due to health reasons, Dr. Abraham Erskine sees the young man’s honesty and integrity as making him a “clear choice” for “Project Rebirth,” a secret government project which will create a super soldier. After Steve undergoes the procedure and Erskine is assassinated by an Agent of the Nazi deep science division Hydra, Rogers proves himself as a symbol of American strength and one of the Army’s most potent weapons when he becomes Captain America.
Director Joe Johnston shows off his strength for creating swashbuckling period action as he did in 1991’s The Rocketeer by giving Captain America a massive canvas on which to make his major motion picture debut (let’s just try and forget the 1990 movie). Solid screenwriting by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are wonderfully accentuated by the great performances of Chris Evans as Cap, Sebastian Stan as Bucky, Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, and Hugo Weaving as the villainous Red Skull. Captain America: The First Avenger showed people why Cap would become the leader of the Avengers, and also stands as an awesome experience to take in on the 4th of July.
3) Jaws (1975)
The original blockbuster that made people afraid to get in the water, Jaws takes place during the 4th of July weekend, and also stands as one of America’s most beloved films. When a massive Great White Shark terrorizes Amity Island during its most popular weekend, the chief of police enlists the aid of an oceanographer and a professional shark hunter to hunt the beast down and end its reign of terror once and for all.
One of the most astonishing things about Jaws is that it still holds up forty years after its initial release. It still manages to be just as thrilling and ominous as it always has been, due in large part to the dedicated performances of the cast, the masterful direction by Steven Spielberg, and the iconic score by composer John Williams. Jaws rightfully stands as one of the greatest, most well-received and broadly successful American films ever made, with its massive box office performance only outdone by the phenomenon that was Star Wars two years later. Jaws is a great choice for the 4th of July, especially if you’re in the mood for some thrills along with your fireworks.
2) Forrest Gump (1994)
The Robert Zemeckis-directed chronicle of a relative simpleton having a front row seat to some formative and transformative American history is still a favorite among many, and makes it kind of an obvious inclusion on this list. As a man is waiting to get on a bus, he regails anyone who sits on the bench next to him with the story of his life. Forrest Gump, from the fictional Greenbow, Alabama, started life as a disabled and mentally slow child who would see his early years defined by speed, and overcoming his initial physical limitations. As he grows older, Gump stands front and center to witness many meaningful moments in American history, from George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in 1963, to becoming an All-American football player and meeting President Kennedy, to serving in the Vietnam War and subsequently meeting President Johnson, to even being the “cause” of President Nixon’s resignation from office.
Forrest Gump plays around some of the big moments of the mid 20th century, and does so with a resonance and clarity made possible by the warmth and curiosity of the film’s narrator. It won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor at the Academy Awards in 1995, and has even ranked on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films ever made. It’s very difficult to go wrong with Forrest Gump, especially on a day like the 4th of July.
1) To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The timeless and iconic adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel of the same name, To Kill a Mockingbird is a bit of a different flavor when compared to other films on this list, but is about as American as they come because of one of itsmain themes: equality. Taking place during a three-year period in the 1930s, Maycomb, Alabama lawyer Atticus Finch is assigned a case by the town judge where he will defend a black man from allegations of rape by a white teenaged girl. Atticus is a fair and just man, believing that everyone ought to be treated fairly under the law, and that turning the other cheek and showing compassion are some of the strongest things that a person can do. Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout, are quickly exposed to the evils of racism, and have to grow up a little faster because of it. As he is in the midst of working this emotionally taxing case, one of the lessons that Atticus imparts to Scout is that, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Why? Because all they do is sing for us.
To Kill a Mockingbird, at its heart, is a story of lost innocence. It’s also a story, though, about how the loss of that innocence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you learn the importance of human decency, and sober to the realities of what that really means. It’s the number one film on this list because, as both an American story and a piece of American cinema, there’s never a bad time to take it in, and on a day like today it couldn’t hurt to remember the words of Atticus Finch, and what they mean on a day like today.
However you wish to enjoy your 4th of July, though, GeekNation hopes you have a great, happy, and safe one. Happy birthday, America! Here’s to 239 more.
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