July 4th seems like the perfect cinematic holiday. Whether we’re talking about Redcoats, tri-corner hats and muskets, or barbecues, bikinis and Budweisers, the red, white and blue imagery is perfect for the screen.
The Fourth of July is also the traditional kick-off of the big summer movie season. Since the age of the blockbuster began, Americans have flooded air-conditioned movie theaters to escape both the heat and the humdrum. There are probably more explosions on the screen than in the sky during Independence Day weekend.
That’s why it is so surprising that there are so few films actually set on the holiday.
The Revolution has always been problematic for Hollywood, particularly in the post-Watergate era. The politics are much simpler in Civil War films (slavery = bad, freedom = good) or WWII films (Nazis vs. Allies), whereas, to the modern eye, the Revolution can look like wealthy lawyers and plantation owners convincing the populace to fight for their right to not pay taxes.
The characters must also balance the reverence with which our founding fathers are held with the historical fact that several of them were slave owners, including George Washington, who had few pangs of conscious about the matter.
Plus, the costumes can look silly. They just do.
As for modern films set on the holiday, perhaps the technical difficulties of rounding up crowds and fireworks are too much for directors. Or perhaps the nods to rousing patriotism are too complicated for our cynical age. Or maybe there is a fear of alienating an increasingly important international audience. Regardless, the pickings are slim.
As such, we present you with a list of the best films (and one mini-series) to watch on the Fourth of July. Some are set on the holiday. Some are set during the Revolution. Some just capture the spirit of the day. But all of them say something quintessential about the United States of America.