30 Patriotic Movies to Watch on the 4th of July
Between the fireworks and other festivities, settle in for a little slice of film Americana on Independence Day.
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The perfect patriotic addition
Everyone has their own Independence Day traditions: gathering with family and friends at the beach, indulging in delicious 4th of July food at a barbecue, taking in a local fireworks display, shopping the holiday sales, or engaging in some good-natured competition with outdoor games. However you celebrate, there’s always room to add a few new 4th of July ideas to your usual roster, like a mini-marathon of 4th of July movies.
Some of the flicks on our list may be more overt in their patriotism than others, but they all educate us on or celebrate the United States in some way. You’ll find everything from the Tom Cruise drama Born on the Fourth of July to toe-tapping musicals like Hamilton—perfect for one-off viewing when you need a break from the other festivities or if you want to plan an extended weekend binge session. And with many of these movies, whether or not they’re actually musicals, you’ll end up humming along to the soundtracks and maybe even adding some of their songs to your playlist. Between your holiday activities, keep the smiles going with these July 4th memes and jokes everyone will find funny.
If you never had the chance to catch Hamilton on Broadway, watching this recorded version from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the musical’s original cast is the next best thing. The Tony Award-winning show created by the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of our country’s first Secretary of the Treasury, and Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton—in a way that will keep you glued to your seat (or, in this case, sofa). With a score that fuses hip-hop, R&B, and jazz with a Broadway flair, it’s never been more fun to learn history.
Long before there was Hamilton, another historical musical was a hit on Broadway: 1776. The show, which opened in 1969 and enjoyed a revival in the late ’90s, covered the political plight in the Continental Congress to declare independence, making it incredibly apropos viewing for July 4th. It became a film in 1972 starring Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson and Blythe Danner (that’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s mama) as Martha Jefferson, among other distinguished actors. This was Danner’s first major movie role, and the film was nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical category, but ultimately lost out to Cabaret. This film may inspire you to learn more about the history of the 4th of July and why we celebrate it.
America’s space program is a huge source of national pride, so we’d be remiss not to include Apollo 13 as one of our must-watch 4th of July movies. The plot centers on NASA’s attempt to strategize a way to bring the spacecraft back to Earth after experiencing damage that threatens the lives of the three astronauts on board. With an all-star cast including Tom Hanks, Ed Harris, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, and Gary Sinise, it’s the type of movie that will keep you in suspense, even if you already know exactly how it will play out.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Hop in the way-back machine for a true American classic. Iconic actor James Cagney stars in this film about the life of triple-threat entertainer George M. Cohan. Yankee Doodle Dandy hit theaters in 1942, and Cagney won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the late composer. (Not surprisingly, it also won the statue for Best Music.) It’s a fantastic look at the man behind the music, and it even calls out the moment when Cohan received a presidential medal for his contributions to the country. That sounds pretty patriotic to us.
The American President
Not since Grover Cleveland in 1886 have we seen a sitting United States president get married while in office. President Cleveland, for his part, married Frances Folsom in the White House’s Blue Room. However, in the Michael Douglas flick The American President, we get to watch a POTUS’ dating life unfold as he falls for an environmental lobbyist, played by Annette Bening. Romance, politics, and an opposites-attract match? We’re all in! This one is definitely for the rom-com aficionados. You’re not going to learn a whole lot about history here, but that’s totally OK.
In 2016’s Hidden Figures, the incredible female African American mathematicians who played a prominent role at NASA during the space program’s early years finally get their time in the spotlight. Previously, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson had remained in the shadows of their male colleagues, despite being tasked with the job of calculating John Glenn’s launch and return from space. This is a wonderful story to remind us that heroes are among us everywhere and every single one of their stories should be told. You might want to start with more amazing facts about the women of NASA.
Air Force One
What do you get when you put Harrison Ford in a presidential aircraft and then throw in some bad guys? A must-see movie that’s great for the 4th of July or any other day. Ford plays President James Marshall, who finds himself in the harrowing predicament of battling it out with a group of hijackers in order to save his family and advisory board without compromising the ideals of the country. Thankfully he has his vice president, played by Glenn Close, on the ground to help make some tough calls.
There might not be a more American sport than baseball, and The Sandlot uses it as a thread to bring its main characters together. This 1993 classic—which is filled with baseball, swimming pools, fireworks, and barbecues—is the epitome of summertime nostalgia. While it’s fun to watch at any time of the year, the crew plays their rival team in the annual Independence Day baseball game, so it’s particularly perfect for your 4th of July movie night. Since it takes place in 1962, you’ll also enjoy it as a throwback to a bygone era. Plus, it’s got one of the best movie soundtracks, so you’ll be humming along to its tunes all weekend.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
James Stewart stars in this 1939 film by Frank Capra about a young man, Jefferson Smith, who gets more than he bargains for when he’s appointed to fill a vacant seat in the United States Senate. Instead of falling in line with the politics at play, Mr. Smith stands tall and goes head-to-head with the institution, standing up for what he believes in. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was nominated for an impressive 11 Oscars, but it only took home one trophy. That statue went to Lewis R. Foster for Best Writing, Original Screenplay.
Born on the Fourth of July
This 1989 film, based on the biography of paralyzed Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic, introduces us to the soldier as a young man who is excited to serve his country. When he returns from the war as a quadriplegic, Kovic is, understandably, forever changed. The film follows his story through Kovic’s journey to become both anti-war and pro-human rights as a political activist. Born on the Fourth of July won two Oscars—Best Director (which went to Oliver Stone) and Best Film Editing. While it was nominated for Best Picture, it lost out to Driving Miss Daisy.
A League of Their Own
Sure, we already have an all-American baseball movie on this list, but A League of Their Own is on a completely different playing field (see what we did there?) than The Sandlot. This one is all about female empowerment. Set during World War II, when most major league baseball players were sent away to fight, an all-women baseball league formed in the midwest. This is a great choice to watch with the strong women in your life. Starring Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty, and Tom Hanks, it’s both a fun and emotional romp through the time period. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you probably already know the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” It’s definitely one of the funniest and most famous movie quotes of all time.
Flags of Our Fathers
In this drama from Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, we have the opportunity to follow the lives of the six men who would go on to raise the flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. For those familiar with World War II, this was a major turning point. Starring Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Paul Walker, Jamie Bell, and Jesse Bradford, the picture of the six men who raised the flag in real life became an inspiring symbol in America after the Great Depression. Eastwood nabbed a Best Director nomination for the movie at the Golden Globes but did not win. Don’t miss these American flag photos that will also stir your patriotic spirit.
This coming-of-age classic follows a group of teenagers in the 1960s on their last night before heading off to college. Typical teenage shenanigans, dating, and drag racing are just some of the ways the group spends their evening. Making its theater debut in 1973, it has a pretty great cast: Ron Howard (Happy Days), Cindy Williams (Laverne & Shirley), Mackenzie Phillips (One Day at a Time), Richard Dreyfuss, and Harrison Ford. It may not be patriotic so much as a fun bit of teen Americana, but it’s still a must-see.
America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, is a major player in our country’s early history, and the 2012 film Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis does its best to portray his struggles, even when dealing with his own Cabinet, to emancipate slaves. Day-Lewis won a Best Actor Oscar for his role in the film, and it was also nominated for Best Picture. To celebrate our country on the 4th of July is also to know its history—both the good and the bad. Lincoln is a compelling look at the president’s time in office until his assassination in 1865.
The 4th of July is a celebratory day, so a feel-good movie like 2004’s Miracle should definitely on the watch list. Kurt Russell stars in this real-life story of Herb Brooks, the man who coached the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to compete against the formidable Soviet Union team. With the odds against them, Brooks (once a hockey player himself) provides the kind of inspiration that will give you all of the patriotic chills. Bonus: Maybe, just, maybe watching all of that action on the ice will cool you off from the July heat.
If action, adventure, and the possibility of life on other planets are your thing, then add this one to your list of 4th of July movies. Will Smith fights off aliens looking to take over planet Earth in this wildly entertaining tale that takes place on July 2, July 3, and July 4. Bill Pullman is president, Jeff Goldblum plays a huge role in defeating the aliens, and the survivors of this interplanetary invasion are in for the fight of their lives. You’ll be inspired by Pullman’s speech right before the big battle, and in real life, these 4th of July quotes will also hit just the right spot.
Stand by Me
Based on the novel by Stephen King, four young boys go on a hunt to see a dead body after they hear someone has been murdered near their small town in Oregon. The adventure continues to evolve as the friends learn more about themselves and one another along the way. You’ll love watching (or rewatching) this 1986 hit, which features a young Jerry O’Connell, Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, and Corey Feldman. The film, whose screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, is set back in 1959, so its backdrop is really an ode to America in the late ’50s.
Captain America isn’t the only patriotic superhero in our cinematic universe! Before Cap came to the big screen, we had Superman, and in the franchise’s second film, the red-caped protagonist returns an American flag to the White House. In the 1980 film, Christopher Reeve reprised his role as Superman, with Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, who recently escaped from prison. Whether you watch it as one of your 4th of July movies or save it for another day, you’ll see how the success of those early Superman movies paved the way for some of the great superhero movies we have today.
This true story follows the first Black regiment in the Union Army and stars Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman. The esteemed actors play former slaves who work to prove themselves and push for the freedom of those who are still enslaved. Other notable actors in this film, which won three Academy Awards, include Matthew Broderick and Andre Braugher. Following this company and their leader, Robert Gould Shaw, through Glory’s cinematic account is both entertaining and educational, offering a perspective not often told.
If you want to get an idea of what a little slice of small-town America is like (at least if film director Wes Anderson was mayor), then Moonrise Kingdom is a funny, sweet, and sometimes confusing escape. In a community that is seemingly untouched by the world’s negativity on an island off the coast of New England, two tweens decide to run away. As a violent storm approaches, the quirky adults rush to find the children before disaster strikes. The film has some big names in the credits, like Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Edward Norton.
Most historical or period pieces are filmed on a soundstage or someplace other than where the events actually occurred. But that’s not the case with Gettysburg, which was shot on the battlefield where the event took place. That, in and of itself, is a pretty great reason to watch this 1993 movie, which focuses on the monumental Civil War battle of 1863. Starring Martin Sheen as General Robert E. Lee and Tom Berenger as Lieutenant General James Longstreet, the North and South go head-to-head, marking a turning point in the war.
Based on Chris Kyle’s autobiography, American Sniper takes us into his life as a U.S. Navy SEAL sent to Iraq with the express purpose of protecting his fellow servicemen and women. His incredible accuracy when doing his job saves countless lives, but his four tours of duty change Kyle, portrayed by Bradley Cooper. After he returns from Iraq, he’s no longer the same young man who left his family behind in Texas to defend his country. The film, directed by Clint Eastwood, also stars Sienna Miller.
Saving Private Ryan
You’ll find a lot of war films on this list of 4th of July movies, and for good reason—it’s impossible to talk about patriotism without looking at the sacrifices made by our military. In Saving Private Ryan, which premiered in theaters in 1998, a troop of U.S. soldiers risks their lives once again to cross enemy lines in the hopes of rescuing a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in combat. The story takes place just after the Normandy landings in 1944 during World War II. The movie won an astounding five Oscars, including Best Director, which went to Steven Spielberg.
With the long-awaited sequel set for release in November 2021, it’s a good idea to brush up on your knowledge of the original 1986 film. Flyboys at the Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School work to compete for the top slot in their class, with Maverick (Tom Cruise) going head-to-head with rival pilot Iceman (Val Kilmer) and wooing a gorgeous instructor (Kelly McGillis). If you feel the need for speed, buckle in because you’re in for a fun ride.
To Kill a Mockingbird
While we would always strongly advise reading the book upon which a movie is based before diving into the film itself, To Kill a Mockingbird is an absolute marvel in either form. Based on the classic novel set in 1930s Alabama, Atticus Finch works to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson, a Black man falsely accused of raping a White woman. Scout Finch, Atticus’ daughter, comes of age in the dark world of prejudice and learns about the consequences of racism. It’s fascinating to watch Gregory Peck (in the role of Atticus) and Robert Duvall (as Boo Radley) bring author Harper Lee’s story to life. Check out these things you never knew about Harper Lee and her famous story.
Arguably one of Tom Hanks’ best movies, this comical yet heartwarming film follows Forrest Gump (an Alabama man we’re introduced to as a young boy) through some of history’s most iconic moments, like the Vietnam War. He also encounters some famous figures such as John Lennon and Elvis Presley along the way, though he is largely unimpressed by these meetings because all he really wants is to see Jenny, his childhood sweetheart, again. Jenny is portrayed by Robin Wright, and Sally Field plays Gump’s incredible mother. The film won the Best Picture Oscar in 1995, with Hanks securing the trophy for Best Actor in a Leading Role. Don’t forget to test your 4th of July trivia after watching this classic film.
There are a lot of heavy dramas on this list of 4th of July movies, but National Treasure: Book of Secrets isn’t one of them. When you’re prepared to lighten things up, give this sequel to the original film a whirl. In the movie—which stars Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Helen Mirren, and Ed Harris (not a shabby cast)—protagonist Ben Gates attempts to clear his ancestor’s name in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. He takes a clue from John Wilkes Booth’s diary to lead him on an adventure that he hopes will prove his long-lost relative’s innocence. Take this quiz to see how well you know the Declaration of Independence.
Captain America: The First Avenger
As a staple of Marvel’s Avengers franchise, Captain America, played by Chris Evans, has become one of the most iconic superheroes. His American spirit while fighting in World War II will bring a patriotic feel to your home this Independence Day. Or, you can follow the newer adventures of Falcon and Winter Soldier, which introduces the world to a new Captain America after…well, you aren’t going to get any spoilers from us. You’ll have to watch for yourself—and trust us, you’ll be glad you did. All of the red, white, and blue in the film may inspire you or the little superheroes in your life to make a few of these festive 4th of July crafts.
Patriotic? That’s debatable, although Jaws is the reason why many Americans were scared to go in the water after its 1975 theatrical release. The thriller is set against a 4th of July backdrop on Amity Island, a fictional community off the coast of New England. When beach revelers find themselves confronted with a killer shark, it’s up to a local sheriff (played by Roy Scheider), a marine biologist, and a local familiar with the area’s waters to bring the creature’s reign of terror to an end. Jaws 2 and Jaws 3D followed the success of this original movie directed by Steven Spielberg.
Strength, perseverance, and unwavering grit are the characteristics on display by one Jordan O’Neill (aka G.I. Jane), played by Demi Moore in this 1997 flick. When O’Neill enrolls in the Navy’s Combined Reconnaissance Team Training, no one expects her to succeed. In fact, she’s surrounded by many rooting for her to fail. But with determination and a desire to serve her country, the recruit surprises even herself. Is there anything more American than that? Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, and Morris Chestnut also star in this action-drama that proves you should never underestimate a woman. Next, check out these patriotic quotes that honor America.