It’s the July 4 weekend and if heading to the beach for an all-day celebration out in the sun isn’t your thing, why not get in the mindset of the holiday by revisiting one — or a few — of your favorite patriotic movies instead? These films all make their way through some of the country’s most important historical events. By the end of this movie marathon, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be feeling just as proud and protective of your nation as the main characters in these movies are. Below, check out seven patriotic films that will have you feeling that Fourth of July spirit in no time.
1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Playing Jefferson Smith, a man who is appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate pretty much cemented James Stewart as one of the leading actors of his time. Though Smith starts out idealistic and naïve, he quickly becomes privy to the corruption and multitude of political shortcomings of the government once in Washington. The role became one of the defining ones of Stewart’s career, not in small part because of its universal themes of democracy and the American dream.
2 . The Patriot (2000)
This American Revolutionary war film, starring Mel Gibson and the late Heath Ledger, portrays the story of Benjamin Martin, a former military man who is trying to raise his seven kids after their mother passes away when his eldest son eventually joins the Continental Army. While its portrayal of real-life historical figures and events has been accused of inaccuracy, the film does serve to give insight into the American ideal. According to the scriptwriter, Robert Rodat, the character of Martin was based on four real war heroes of that time period.
3. Forrest Gump (1994)
Tom Hanks stars as Forrest, a man who makes up for his below-average intellectual capabilities with loyalty and a heart of gold. In the film, based off the 1986 novel of the same name, Forrest receives a Medal of Honor as a solider in the Vietnam War, helps expose President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, gets invited onto the The Dick Cavett Show with Jon Lennon, and even becomes an international ping-pong player. In one particularly memorable scene, he gets swept up in an anti-war rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and ends up splashing into the reflecting pool after spotting his longtime love and future wife Jenny, played by Robin Wright. The movie features scenes all over the nation’s capital, but it’s the feel-good way Forrest’s life intersperses with some of the defining historical events of the nation that truly makes it patriotic.
4. Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, this war film, set during the Invasion of Normandy, has been critically acclaimed for its realistic, if graphic, portrayal of war. It follows John Miller (Tom Hanks) and the rest of his squad as they risk their own lives to find the Private Ryan (Matt Damon), the only suvriving brother of four servicemen. While difficult to watch at times — within the first half hour viewers see the Omaha Beach attack of June 1944 — the movie does a powerful job at giving a look into the bravery of men who sacrifice themselves in the fight for freedom.
5 . Captain America (2011)
What’s more American than a Hollywood superhero franchise? Captain America is particularly appropriate for the holiday as it centers around Steve Rogers (played by Chris Evans), a man who volunteers for a top research project after being rejected for military service during World War II. The project ends up turning him into a celebrated superhero, who dedicates himself to upholding the country’s ideals and defending its citizens.
6. Independence Day (1996)
Nothing screams patriotism like defending your nation against a slew of enemy invaders…especially when Will Smith plays the leading hero, Captain Steve Hiller. OK, so in this case, the enemies aren’t foreign soldiers, but aliens that deploy dozens of saucers to threaten — and eventually destroy — parts of world, including New York, Paris and London, just days before the Fourth of July. Still, it’s Hiller and the other survivors’ refusal to go down without a fight that helps humanity try to regain their freedom and defend themselves against the otherworldly creatures.
7. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
The war drama, based on the best-selling autobiography of the same name, stars Tom Cruise as suburban New York teenager Ron Kovic, who enlists in the Marines, fulfilling what he sees as his patriotic duty. During his second tour in Vietnam, he accidentally kills a fellow soldier and later becomes permanently paralyzed in battle. When he turns home to no help from the VA office and no one who can understand what he’s been through, Kovic becomes an impassioned critic of the war. The powerful movie earned an overwhelmingly positive critical response and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, two of which it won.