While some families prize their Christmas or Thanksgiving traditions, my little fire team has long treasured our tradition of spending some time together on the couch over the 4th of July weekend. Sure, we may barbecue or go on a nice picnic, but gorging myself on ribs and hot wings isn’t the only way I like to get down on America’s birthday.
I also like watching some great military movies with my family–to remind us of what this holiday is all about (freedom), and of course, to give me the excuse I need to lay on my back while I convert hot wings into love handles.
There’s no shortage of military movies out there to choose from, and your particular tastes may vary from mine. Some people prize realism in their military movies, others prize how emotionally invested the story makes them. I love both of those, but when it comes to holiday-watching, I hold one trait in higher esteem than all others: Having a good time.
A military movie doesn’t have to be realistic to be a good time. Heck, it doesn’t even have to be good to be a good time. It just has to catch my attention, keep me interested, and preferably, highlight some of the things I love about this great nation of ours, flawed as it may be.
So, if you’re stuck at home because of coronavirus lockdowns, avoiding the outside world for a few days of R&R, or you’re just on the hunt for a good movie to fill your 4th of July evening, here are your best options.
Top Gun (1988)
What is there to say about Top Gun that hasn’t already been said? This movie pits a mentally unstable fighter pilot against a fictional aircraft hailing from an unnamed enemy nation in the first few minutes, then spends most of the run time of the movie in a school house environment before closing with yet another dogfight with mysterious opponents that still go unidentified.
And yet, somehow, it’s still the coolest fighter-jet movie ever made (eat your heart out Iron Eagle). With the long awaited sequel now pushed back to December, the 4th of July weekend is a great time to brush up on Maverick’s entirely unprofessional behavior (Iceman is the real hero of this movie).
Independence Day (1996)
It’s hard to beat timely titling, and “Independence Day” is a great flick to watch on Independence Day. Those of us who can remember the 90s will tell you that, in a lot of ways, this film came out during the twilight years of big budget blockbusters being a complete cultural phenomenon.
Back then, the internet was something only nerds knew how to access and you had to stare at the preview channel for twenty minutes just to find out what was going to be on Nickelodeon next. “Independence Day” absolutely dominated American culture with ads running on all 60 TV channels and a toy line that was all but inescapable for parents trying to maintain a budget. Today, I’m not sure if I love this movie because of how crazy it seemed when I was a kid, or just because I can’t watch Bill Pullman give his legendary speech without getting the itch to visit my local recruiter’s office to sign up for another hump.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
As a lifelong Captain America fan, I’ll admit that I had some reservations about Chris Evans in the role back before this movie was released. My idea of Cap was always an older, grizzled war veteran that carried in him the powerful dichotomy of American idealism and an almost pessimistic pragmatism when it came to the realities of war. I didn’t realize it at the time, but a decade later, Evans would come to play the very Captain America I wanted, and in a way that’s true to the character, that grit had to be developed through pain and sacrifice.
This movie’s timeline carries you through a fictional version of World War II that still places an emphasis on the heroism at play among ordinary men thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Upon re-watching it recently, the film, its special effects, and character arcs all still hold up… and Captain America is in it, so it’s a no brainer for the 4th of July weekend.
As of July 3, Disney+ is now streaming Hamilton the musical, giving us all a chance to see the Broadway smash that sold so many tickets people had to get on waiting lists for a chance to see it in person. Maybe it’s not exactly a movie, but it’s streaming and takes a few hours… so that’s close enough for me.
I’ve had the soundtrack to “Hamilton” on my workout mix for a few years now. It’s hard to beat the combination of patriotism, heroism, modern music, and classic history all combined into a single album, and while I haven’t seen the musical myself yet, I’m already certain I’ll enjoy it.
What better way to ring in the 4th of July than singing along with your favorite founding fathers as they fight for America’s independence?
Feature image courtesy of Steve Jurveston on Flickr