10 Movies to Help You Celebrate the 4th of July

When we think of the ways we celebrate the 4th of July, we usually conjure up images of picnics, fireworks, barbecues, and parades. How about also watching a movie that suits the holiday spirit, films such as “The Patriot,” starring Mel Gibson or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” with James Stewart? Here are 10 other 4th of July movie picks that are sure to get you into a patriotic mood. Not only are these movies entertaining, they also celebrate many of the ideals of our founding fathers. With the exception of one, all are available on DVD:

1. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
James Cagney portrays the legendary Broadway songwriter and performer George M. Cohan in this rousing, flag-waving classic. This was Cagney’s favorite film role, and it shows; he’s obviously having a blast…singing, dancing and cracking wise. He burns up the screen like a two-legged firecracker and deservedly won the Best Actor Oscar. The toe-tapping score includes the title tune, “Harrigan,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Over There,” and “Grand Old Flag.” Pay particular attention to the final scene as Cagney dances down the White House staircase after being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His dance was completely improvised and is absolutely brilliant.

2. 1776 (1972)
This movie version of the Broadway musical depicts the events leading up to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s first 4th of July. Ken Howard plays a handsome, stately Thomas Jefferson, Williams Daniels is an irascible John Adams, and Howard da Silva is the witty, proverb-spouting Benjamin Franklin. Many of the song lyrics are based on actual correspondence of the time and include ” The Lees of Virginia,” “But Mr. Adams,” “He Plays the Violin,” and “Molasses to Rum.” American history has never been so much fun.

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3. The Music Man (1962)
This movie version of the Broadway hit is a nostalgic slice of Americana, circa 1912. Robert Preston stars as Professor Harold Hill, a slick con man determined to fleece the good people of River City, Iowa with promises to form a boys’ band, while secretly planning to flee with the money for the instruments. Shirley Jones plays his would-be foil, Marion the Librarian, who soon finds herself falling for the charming rogue. Highlights include, “Trouble,” (sung by Preston like a Pentecostal preacher looking to convert the masses), “Til There Was You,” and the rousing “Seventy-Six Trombones,” performed during the movie’s Fourth of July celebration.

4. Johnny Tremain (1957)
Disney adapted this film from Esther Forbe’s classic novel about a boy’s coming of age in the days leading up to the War of Independence. Johnny Tremain is apprenticed to a Boston silversmith, but a tragic accident leaves him without a trade. He’s befriended by Paul Revere and other Sons of Liberty, and takes part in the Boston Tea Party and the battle of Lexington and Concord. A good 4th of July movie pick for younger family members.

5. The Stars and Stripes Forever (1952)
Clifton Webb plays march master John Philip Sousa in this enjoyable film which focuses mostly on Sousa’s home life and as conductor of the Marine Corps Band. Webb is his typically droll self, and a young Robert Wagner plays Willie Little, a fledging Marine band member and inventor of the Sousaphone. Debra Paget portrays Lilly, a showgirl that Willie wants to marry, but Sousa’s rules forbid married couples from touring with the band. The movie is a wonderful mix of comedy, drama, and, of course, Sousa’s glorious marches, including “The Washington Post March,” “El Capitan,” “Semper Fidelis,” and the title tune. The film is only available on VHS, but it’s definitely worth the search.

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6. The Fighting Sullivans (1944)
The five Sulllivan brothers join the Navy during W.W.II and insist on serving on the same ship with devastating consequences. The movie follows the brothers’ adventures growing up in Iowa as inseparable comrades-in-arms. It’s a surprisingly unsentimental film for its time in its depiction of a working class family, and its themes of loyalty, sacrifice and love of country reflect the ideals we celebrate on the 4th of July.

7. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
The character of Atticus Finch, played by Oscar winner Gregory Peck, was voted cinema’s top hero by the American Film Institute in 2003 and rightly so. Atticus embodies the qualities which with America prides itself: decency, fairness, tolerance, courage and the conviction to always do what is morally right. As a small town lawyer in the Depression-era South, Atticus defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. He challenges the jury to put aside its prejudices and judge the accused based on the central principle of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal…That’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality!” For this powerful and moving scene alone, this wonderful film deserves a spot on the “must-see” 4th of July movie list.

8. The Great Escape (1963)
This is the riveting true story of 250 Allied soldiers plotting a massive escape from a German P.O.W. camp during W.W.II. The movie depicts the ingenious details of the escape exactly as it happened. The all-star cast includes Steve McQueen (watch him in the famous motorcycle chase across the German countryside), James Garner, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn. In one lighthearted scene, the only three Americans in the camp invite their fellow prisoners to celebrate the 4th of July with some homemade moonshine. This exciting movie reminds viewers of the importance of human freedom and what one will do to attain it, no matter how high the price.

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9. All the President’s Men (1976)
Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman star as Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, whose investigation into the Watergate cover-up led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon. It’s an engrossing mystery that reminds us why the founding fathers placed such great value on freedom of the press. But more importantly, this movie emphasizes the American principle that no one, not even the leader of the free world, is above the law.

10. Rocky (1975)
Rocky Balboa, a second-rate boxer and self-described “bum,” is offered the chance of a lifetime: an invitation to fight the world champion, Apollo Creed, for a shot at the heavyweight title. The venue? The city of Philadelphia on the 4th of July. Sylvester Stallone, who also wrote the screenplay, is perfection in the title role as the goodhearted underdog pursuing his American dream. And because America loves an underdog, this inspiring movie completes the list.

So, in honor of Independence Day, keep the spirit of the holiday alive by treating yourself and your family to a movie or two from the above list… and have a very happy 4th of July.