If you’re wondering what to do after the fireworks, why not settle down to watch a Fourth of July flick? Here are nine of the most patriotic, revolutionary, and plain fun-to-watch films.
1. The Patriot
In 1776 South Carolina, Benjamin Martin, a French-Indian war veteran haunted by his past, wants to stay out of the American Revolution and live a quiet life on his farm. But when the British Colonel Tavington kills one of his sons, he enlists and becomes the leader of a makeshift militia. During the war, Martin and his men discover that they will pay a steep price for their rebellion, but play a pivotal role in turning the tide against the Redcoats.
Watch the trailer: The Patriot
2. Born on the Fourth of July
This 1989 American film, based on the best-selling autobiography of Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, tells the story of a patriotic, small-town athlete who enlists with the marines to fight in Vietnam. But after he ends up paralyzed and feeling betrayed by his country, he transforms into an anti-war and pro-human rights political activist. This film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Best Director and Best Film Editing. Plus, it stars Tom Cruise! How could you go wrong?
Watch the trailer: Born on the Fourth of July
3. The Devil’s Disciple
Based on the 1897 play by George Bernard Shaw, this film features Dick Dudgeon, a New England revolutionary mistakenly arrested by the British in place of a local reverend. Dudgeon nobly conceals his true identity, as he cannot bring himself to cause another human to suffer. The reverend’s wife, Judith, is moved by Dick’s actions and mistakenly interprets them as an expression of love. In spite of his protestations she finds herself drawn to him. When taken before British commander General Burgoyne, Dudgeon is willing to die for his principles. But at the last minute, he is saved to become a revolutionary leader. The film also features brilliant performances by Laurence Olivier, Burt Lancaster, and Kirk Douglas.
4. John Adams
Paul Giamatti gives an breathtaking performance as John Adams in this TV miniseries, which covers Adam’s life from 1770, when he risked his career by defending the British soldiers accused of murder in the Boston “Massacre,” to his death, along with Thomas Jefferson, on July 4, 1826. In chronicling Adams’ political life, it also tells the story of the first fifty years of the United States. The series has won more Emmy awards than any other miniseries. This is how history should be dramatized.
Watch the trailer: John Adams
5. Drums Along the Mohawk
Based on the 1936 novel of the same name by Walter D. Edmonds, this film portrays the life of a couple of settlers on the New York frontier during the American Revolution. They endure British, Tory, and Indian attacks on their farm in Mohawk Valley before the Revolution ends and peace is restored. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards and became a major box office success, grossing over US$1 million in its first year. Starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.
Watch the trailer: Drums Along the Mohawk
6. Johnny Tremain
This film focuses on the events leading up to the Revolutionary War. It follows the adventures of a Johnny Tremain, a young silversmith who turns to journalism after a crippling injury. He gets involved in pre-Revolutionary Boston politics, becoming a passionate Whig, and falls in love with a woman named Cilia. The film climaxes with the battles of Lexington and Concord, ending on an optimistic note.
7. The Crossing
This retelling of Washington’s crossing of the Delaware on Christmas 1776 and the Battle of Trenton is nothing short of brilliant. Desperately low on men, cannons and supplies, Washington risks everything on one last daring attack on the town of Trenton, where more than 1,000 of the feared Hessian mercenaries are garrisoned. But to do that, the army must cross the Delaware to a seemingly hopeless battle that would turn out to be more successful than Washington had ever hoped.
8. John Paul Jones
This film follows the career of a Revolutionary War naval hero from his youth in Scotland through his service to Catherine the Great of Russia. Robert Stack is phenomenal in the role of the archetypal American sea hero, while Bette Davis is unforgettable as Catherine the Great. The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is especially well done.
Critics call this the best musical about the founding fathers ever written—not that it has much competition. Still, this irresistible film movingly shows how the Declaration of Independence was very much a step into the unknown. After all, the signers could have ended their lives executed as traitors, their cause lost. But they set aside their fears, marshaled their hopes, and gave all Americans a new nation. This film is a wonderful tribute to those extraordinary men who well deserve the title of Founding Fathers. It’s also packed with terrific music and an outstanding performance by William Daniels (a.k.a. Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World) as John Adams.