America throws a heck of a birthday party. Mirth and merriment run amok during the annual celebration of our nation's independence. As the star-spangled skies are overrun with fireworks and the grill is thrown into overdrive, we're making a play for some quality time with one of the country's favorite exports: moving pictures. These tried-and-true films warm our hearts, steal our pride, and inspire our heroes alike. In case our animated GIF hadn't tipped you off, we're feeling pretty hyperbolic about the following lineup of freedom-centric favorites. Clear your schedule and indulge in our must list of all-American classics.
Set during the Fourth of July weekend, Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws is widely regarded as one of the best horror films of all time. It opens with a late-night beach party turned tragic when a young woman meets a violent death while skinny dipping off the coast of small fictitious New England tourist town, Amity Island. Praised for its Hitchcockian suspense, an epic saga of man versus nature unravels as a police chief (Roy Scheider), ichthyologist (Richard Dreyfuss), and salty ship captain (Robert Shaw) take to the open sea to capture the rogue great white predator. (In reality, the film’s animatronic sharks that malfunctioned so regularly during production that Spielberg famously held the shark’s cameo until the film’s final battle sequence.) This is a must for any beach day barbecue.
The story of a comedic radio host shipped to Vietnam to bring some much-needed levity to American troops overseas, Good Morning, Vietnam pairs the whip-smart, quicksilver genius of Robin Williams with a poignant and sobering look at the atrocities of wartime. Directed by Barry Levinson, it is one of the most deserving films ever of the expression you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Both sentiments will be significant.
It’s impossible to pinpoint the true MVP of Penny Marshall’s 1992 dramedy, A League of Their Own. Is it Tom Hanks as lovable washed-up pro ball player–turned–grizzled coach Jimmy Dugan? Geena Davis’s impossible cheekbones? An entire baseball diamond adrift in a sea of blush pink–uniformed babes? Or a soundtrack headlined by original and sweepingly majestic Madonna tunes (she also stars in the film)? We know not. Fictionalized around the very true story of the all-female baseball league that served to quench America’s thirst for the greatest game ever played while the menfolk were off fighting World War II, A League of Their Own is ultimately a story about feminism, sibling rivalry, and the unshakable bond of family.
Starring Harrison Ford and adapted for the silver screen from Tom Clancy’s books, Patriot Games is the first installment of the Jack Ryan franchise and subsequent reboot. As a former CIA agent Ryan, Ford unwittingly finds himself besting IRA terrorists mid–family vacation in London. The action-packed ’90s gem is an adrenaline-fueled romp packed to the gills with plenty of signature, quotable deadpan Ford catchphrases.
The grossly underrated 1999 comedy Dick is based on the true events surrounding the Nixon Watergate controversy, with an imaginative twist. Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst star as a pair of ditzy teenagers who aimlessly wander into the conspiracy during a class field trip to the White House. The film manages to make a guileless and endearing punchline out of a dark moment in U.S. history, all while peppering in roller skating to ABBA in the Oval Office.
Katherine Bigelow’s 1991 action crime thriller about a band of bank-robbing surfers is a seminal ’90s classic everyone should know about. Keanu Reeves stars as gosling FBI agent Johnny Utah, who boldly goes undercover to infiltrate a band of extreme sports–enthusiast thieves led by Patrick Swayze who call themselves the ex-presidents. The name is derived from their flamboyant choice of heist attire: Halloween masks of former commanders in chief. Far-fetched? You bet. Rife with arguably the most incredulous and quote-worthy dialogue of the decade? Certainly. We didn’t even mention the sky-diving group hug finale.
The follow-up to the 1996 alien invasion film Independence Day starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman is currently in theaters, and we’re advocating for a return to the source material. Over the span of two decades, Smith has maintained his status as the poster child for extraterrestrial battle cool. Starring as his love interest, Vivica A. Fox never slows down in her Timberlands and tanks for the duration of what may or not be the apocalypse. Sartorial flair and explosions: double check.
Wolfgang Peterson’s 1997 thriller, Air Force One, explores the intricacies of what might occur should Air Force One be hijacked by a group of terrorists led by Gary Oldman. All bets are off with Harrison Ford on board as an American president with a “zero-tolerance” policy for negotiating with said terrorists. There’s no need to belabor the point. You should be sold by now.
Among the best political satires of all time, Wag the Dog culls inspiration from the Clinton-Lewinsky intern drama. When an incumbent president finds himself in the midst of a sex scandal weeks before reelection, he hires a publicity team and Hollywood producer to make over his image for a Hail Mary pass at the 11th hour. The elaborate smokescreen rebranding effort descends into a spiderweb of diversion and media manipulation, involving everything from falsified news footage to Willie Nelson songs. Starring Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Heche, Andrea Martin, and Kirsten Dunst, it is an embarrassment of riches for any cynic politico.
The Ides of March is a film about a charismatic gubernatorial frontrunner (George Clooney), his wide-eyed idealist press secretary (Ryan Gosling), and the unraveling of truth that transpires during the race for the Democratic primary nomination. It’s twisted, stylish, and as devilishly magnetic as a Gosling brow furrow (a prominent fixture throughout). Spotlighting the corrupt, cutthroat underbelly of the American political system, and the disillusionment it trails in its wake, the film is well worth revisiting during any election year.
We saved the best for last. If you’re thinking, That’s pretty arrogant, considering the company you’re in, touché. We like that in a pilot. Tony Scott’s masterful opus chronicling the journey of Naval Air Force pilots as they execute war games, frolic shirtless through beach volleyball montages, and ride off into the sunset to original Kenny Loggins jams is the ultimate in patriotic flair. Top Gun also features Kelly McGillis in one of our favorite onscreen boss lady rolls of all time. Download the soundtrack on iTunes for a perfect barbecue pre-game.
What are your must-watch summer films? Tell us what’s in your queue.