July 4th is upon us, and people across the good ol’ U.S. of A. are gearing up to celebrate. Some of us plan to cook outside with our families and watch a dazzling fireworks display. Others might crack open a beer and some cracker jacks at their favorite baseball team’s diamond. Many will visit memorials for the men who fought for America’s independence. You know, the standard stuff. But there’s another 4th of July tradition that shouldn’t be forgotten: watching patriotic movies. For a lot of people, Independence Day is an annual excuse to turn on a great movie about our great country and appreciate the land where we live.
I’ve been thinking about which movies tug my American heartstrings the most. The first that came to mind were the sports classics: Rocky, Miracle, and Remember the Titans. American audiences love an underdog story — after all, America was the underdog at one time — so when Rocky Balboa fights on against Apollo Creed, when the U.S. hockey team overcomes the Soviets, and when the united T.C. Williams High School football team takes the state championship, I can’t help but cheer.
The next movie I thought of was less dramatic, but equally awesome: Independence Day, Will Smith’s iconic action movie. In the best moment of the film, with the world under a massive alien attack, President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) delivers an undeniably exhilarating motivational speech to the U.S. fighter pilots: “We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today, we celebrate Independence Day!” Is it cheesy? Absolutely. But, man, do I love American cheese.
There were other patriotic movies that ran through my head, too: To Kill A Mockingbird (overcoming racism), Forrest Gump (pure Americana), Apollo 13 (perseverance through chaos), An American Tail (don’t judge), and while all of the films I’ve named are great, none of them make me feel as authentically proud to be an American as Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg’s epic World War II film fleshes out the unbelievable level of sacrifice that thousands of American soldiers endured on D-Day and throughout every war in American history. Saving Private Ryan reminds you that the United States has always had to fight to preserve freedom and life within its borders, and I don’t know about you, but that makes me proud to be an American.
But there are also a slew of movies that make me a little less proud. Satires like Team America: World Police, comedies like The Waterboy, and even blockbusters like Avatar often reinforce stereotypes that Americans are stupid, selfish, destructive, completely uncultured, and obsessively consumerist. While there may be some truth in those implications, they don’t exactly leave me singing “God Bless The U.S.A.” as I walk out of the theater.
Now it’s time to exercise your freedom of speech, PopWatchers. What movie makes you proudest to be an American? Which makes you feel a little ashamed? Sound off in the comments below!