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"Four for the Fourth": The Best 4th Of July Themed Movies To Watch This Independence Day

July 03, 2018 - 2:19 pm
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By Mark G. McLaughlin

American history has been heavily mined for themes by movie-makers from the very first days of silent films. There are many classic – and controversial – films that make Americans laugh, sing, swell up with pride or become more thoughtful about what it means to be a citizen of this great country. The Fourth of July is a good day to watch one of those; here are “four for the Fourth.”

1776

The Fourth of July is a time for parties and other celebrations, and there are few films more in keeping with the Spirit of '76 than, well, “1776.” Originally an award-winning Broadway musical, the 1972 Hollywood version is an equally amusing, light-hearted romp set in Philadelphia during the American Revolution. Just seeing the Founding Fathers singing, dancing, laughing and otherwise cavorting in wigs and stockings is in itself a joy, and sure to bring merriment to any Fourth of July gathering. The script plays fast and loose with history, and while this story of how the Declaration of Independence was written is done with tongue set firmly in cheek, it does paint a moving picture that both humanizes and demystifies those heady days and the brave revolutionaries who pledged their lives, property and sacred honor to bring about a free and independent nation. The movie stars many well-known actors of the 1970s, including veteran comedian Howard Da Silva as Ben Franklin, and noted television actors William Daniels (who later starred in “St. Elsewhere” and “Boy Meets World”, as well as the voice of the car in “Knight Rider”) as John Adams and Ken Howard (later of “The White Shadow” fame) as Thomas Jefferson.

The Patriot

Mel Gibson grew up in Australia but was born in Troy, New York, and in 2000 he celebrated the land of his birth in this intensely patriotic action epic directed by Roland Emmerich. Gibson plays a southern planter and veteran of the French and Indian War who is caught up in the American Revolution. Hoping to keep his family safe – and his sons from going to war – Gibson's character, Benjamin Martin, tries to remain neutral. Alas, that doesn’t work out too well due to the evil war criminal British Colonel William Tavington, played by Jason Isaacs (currently on CBS's “Star Trek Discovery”). Tavington, whose character is based on the notorious British Tory dragoon Colonel Banastre Tarleton, kills one of Martin's sons (and, later, a second, played by the late Heath Ledger), and burns down his house. Gibson's character becomes a guerrilla leader (based on Francis Marion, known as The Swamp Fox) and eventually takes part in the final key battles of the war. Intensely patriotic and packed with action, it is a stirring way to mark the Fourth of July.

Independence Day

Before Roland Emmerich got behind the camera to direct Mel Gibson, in 1996 he headed up the team that made this delightfully campy science fiction epic. When aliens attack the earth in such overwhelming force as to destroy the White House and flatten just about every city on the planet, a plucky former combat pilot turned president of the United States rallies the country and the world to fight back – and to launch their counterattack on the Fourth of July, no less. The stirring speech by Bill Pullman as the president who not only sends, but also leads the pilots into battle is one of the many highlights in this explosive, CGI and special effects-rich flick. The film also stars Will Smith, Randy Quaid and Judd Hirsch, along with many other well-known actors from the large and small screens.

Born on the Fourth of July

Not everything about America, the wars it has waged, or how it has treated the veterans of those wars is perfect. In the film “Born on the Fourth of July,” viewers follow the life of a young, patriotic and naive U.S. Marine, played by Tom Cruise, who goes to war and comes back a changed and physically crippled man. The film shows not only the dark side of American history, but also how someone can be just as much a patriot for standing up and speaking out against the government as they can be for fighting for it on a foreign field. A heart-wrenching and sobering story based on the autobiography by Ron Kovic and directed by Oliver Stone, this film remains as powerful and as moving as it was when it was first released in 1989.