America is a proud country with a storied history. We’ve had a war of revolution, a civil war, and fought our way through two World Wars. These United States were founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and remains true to those ideals to this day.
Even many of our international readers are probably aware that on July 4th of every year, America celebrates our independence from the British Empire. There are fireworks, multiple flavors of pie, and every variation of the colors red, white, and blue.
It is also around this time of year that we have the privilege of viewing the occasional patriotic film: one that proudly displays purple mountains majesty or documents the life of an American hero. While some tend to be a bit melodramatic, and even veer on the blindly patriotic, each film shares a love of the country that we (Americans) call home.
Here are the 12 Most Patriotic (American) Movies of All Time.
Olympus Has Fallen, White House Down, Act of Valor, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, Clear and Present Danger, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Glory, Pearl Harbor, Unbroken, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima
12 The Patriot
Roland Emmerich’s historical drama about the American Revolutionary War is perhaps one of the most obvious choices for this list. Though its history is far from accurate, causing numerous controversies in its portrayal of both British and American sides of the war, the film’s emphasis on patriotism is inspiring.
Mel Gibson stars as the fictitious Benjamin Martin, a man who joins the war to protect his family. He fights alongside his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) against the charismatic and violent Colonel Tavington (Jason Isaacs).
The Patriot is a film that illustrates the best of American patriotism; more of an ideal than an actual truth. Martin fights for the freedom and well-being of his family, representing the everyman American patriot Emmerich implies we should all aspire to be.
11 American Sniper
Starring Bradley Cooper as Kyle, the film tells the true account of Kyle’s several tours in Iraq, where he became the most lethal sniper in American history. Throughout his four tours, Kyle eliminated 255 enemy combatants. Kyle received many accolades for his service, but was left emotionally scarred by the experience, his family life crumbling.
Eastwood’s depiction of Kyle’s life took some liberties, expanding certain characters for dramatic effect, but also needlessly glossing over more controversial aspects of Kyle’s high kill count. American Sniper is patriotic to a fault, depicting Kyle as an American hero in a very similar way to Sergeant York. Though there are moments when viewers are left to question the moral ambiguity of Kyle’s service and the effects of war, for the vast majority of the film, Eastwood's stance on American patriotism remains ever forward facing.
10 10. A Few Good Men
With an all-star cast (Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Keifer Sutherland) and a screenplay written by Aaron Sorkin, A Few Good Men is certainly one of the most critically acclaimed films on this list.
Director Rob Reiner adapted Aaron Sorkin’s play about a trial of misconduct among the U.S. Marine Corps into a masterful drama with beautiful performances. Cruise portrays Lt. Dan Keefe, an inexperienced Naval lawyer tasked with defending two marines from murder charges against a fellow marine. As he combs through the evidence with the help of Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Moore), the two search for justice where it appears there is none.
A Few Good Men is far more morally complicated than the other additions to this list, a story of the corruption of American nationalism. In the end, the movie is about standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, and as the flag waves in the background, this theme rings true. As long as there are Americans who fight for justice, justice will be served.
9 Team America: World Police
To be clear, this film is less a celebration of the patriotism and “world policing” of the United States, and much more of a parody mocking some of the more questionable decisions of our country. Team America also satirizes the big-budget action movies that dominate this very list, with outrageous action scenes choreographed entirely with marionette puppets.
It comes as no surprise that this film parodies American government and global efforts; directors and writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone are the creators of the lampooning series, South Park. Many would argue that they top themselves with Team America. Its hilarious musical numbers and pitch-perfect mockery of action films like Pearl Harbor and The Day After Tomorrow offer the greatest send up to the patriotic action drama we have today.
So despite it not truly representing “patriotism,” Team America is still a great film to watch on the 4th, if you enjoy a little self-deprecating humor.
8 Captain America: First Avenger
Though its subsequent sequels seem to address a growing disillusionment with America’s governmental policies, the first film of Marvel Studios Captain America trilogy is a superb film to watch this 4th of July.
Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers, a young man whose dream is to fight for the little guy. At first, he is that little guy himself, but after a quick dose of Super Soldier serum, Rogers becomes Captain America. He parades around the country, inspiring leagues of young men to volunteer to fight in World War II against the Germans.
Rogers himself eventually enters the battle, dueling the evil Nazi scientist, Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). He, alongside his Howling Commandos, lay waste to the German (Hydra) forces, all in the spirit of making America safe again.
From his Betsy Ross colored costume to his physics-defying shield, Cap is truly the most patriotic superhero (ignoring a recent comic book reveal). So while Civil War might not be the most shiny example of the pro-America blockbuster, First Avenger has more than enough flag-waving to spare.
7 Patriot Games
There is no modern American writer more patriotic than Tom Clancy. His stories have been adapted into numerous games and films that all embody Clancy’s idea of the American hero. This of course often involves one lone man taking on an army of international terrorists or a cell of covert Russian spies.
Patriot Games (1992) is technically a sequel to The Hunt for Red October (1990), both based on Clancy novels. We say 'technically' because every major actor was re-cast, with Harrison Ford stepping in to play Jack Ryan after Alec Baldwin. The only actor to hold over was James Earl Jones as Admiral Greer.
Jack Ryan is one of Clancy’s most popular character, a retired CIA-analyst, with a penchant for finding trouble. This particular adventure finds him in London pursuing a terrorist from the Irish Republican Army, Sean Miller (played by Sean Bean).
Patriot Games is about the triumph of the singular American hero over the efforts of dastardly forces that threaten his own and his family’s freedom. It’s incredibly patriotic; it’s right in the title.
6 Sergeant York
The third film on this list to join the National Film Registry, Sergeant York also landed star Gary Cooper the award for Best Actor at the 1942 Academy Awards.
Fun fact: Cooper was originally set to play Mr. Deeds in Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington, the original title of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, planned to be a sequel to Cooper’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.
Sergeant York is based on the true story of Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I. The screenplay is largely adapted from York’s diary, and he was largely involved in the production.
York is a Tennessee hillbilly and talented marksman whose life is going nowhere. Though he attempts to avoid the WWI drafts because of his religious beliefs, he is drafted and sent off to Europe. Surrounding by enemy German troops, York sacrifices everything for his country, firing shot after shot to protect his fellow soldiers.
York, both in real life and the film, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery. Sergeant York is a touching story of courage and American bravery and rightfully earns a spot on this list.
5 Air Force One
Harrison Ford makes his second appearance on this list, this time playing the big man himself, President of the United States. When the POTUS’s plane, Air Force One, is hijacked by Russian terrorists, the only man able to stop them is the President himself.
Ford is excellent as President James Marshall, and surrounded by a talented supporting cast including Gary Oldman as Ivan Korshunov, Glenn Close as the Vice President, and William H. Macy as a military aide.
Air Force One is about “’merica!” as a film can get, one where the president battles the terrorists threatening the safety of his country with his own two hands. Upon release the film was reportedly well-received by the real president, Bill Clinton.
4 Top Gun
Just last year, the United States Library of Congress inducted Top Gun into the National Film Registry for its cultural significance. So for what director Tony Scott’s most well-known film lacks for in rewatchability today, it makes up for by being a touchstone of 1980s American cinema.
The Tom Cruise vehicle tells the story of Maverick, a hot-shot Navy pilot who is selected to attend the Flight Weapons School in San Diego. He, along with his friend Goose, instantly get into shenanigans, amusing and impressing their instructors with their aviation skill.
The film is notable for getting the actual US Navy to participate in the filming process, from editing and toning down language in the script, to assisting on the filming of many flight sequences. Though Top Gun airs on the more adolescent, it is nonetheless a charming movie with beautifully shot aerial dog-fights. It quickly became the highest grossing movie of 1986, and is still beloved to this day.
3 Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
For a very different slice of American patriotism (read: replace action with humble politics) look no further. Frank Capra’s masterpiece starring the affable Jimmy Stewart is a comedy about how one man can change a country for the better with ideas instead of gunfire.
Like Top Gun, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington belongs in the National Film Registry due to its historical significance. Capra’s film received 11 Academy Award nominations in 1940.
A young Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a country boy idealist who becomes a Senator due to sheer dumb luck. When he is whisked away to Washington, D.C., he quickly learns of the corruption that occurs in government.
The film was first screened in Constitutional Hall in Washington before an audience of senators and diplomats. They were outraged, believing the film portrayed the Senate and government inaccurately and to the detriment of the American public. Many lawmakers fought to even ban the film from showing in theaters, due its “unconstitutional” and “pro-Communist” views.
The years have given contemporary critics perspective, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is often considered one of Capra’s greatest works and Stewart’s finest performances. The “whistle-blower” film may not display the most trustworthy politicians, but its message is clear: the common man can triumph and make a change for good. And really, that is what America is all about.
2 Rocky IV
This film has a scene where a boxer is lifted in to the air, draped in an American flag, and that could be all that needs to be said.
Rocky IV was the most successful film in the franchise, remaining the highest grossing sports movie of all time for 24 years after its release. It tells the story of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) battle with Ivan Drago, the best boxer in Russia. There are obvious parallels in their rivalry to the Cold War and the ideals of the American hero versus Soviet power.
Rocky’s fight with Drago in the ring highlights the idealism and determination of the American man and how they can triumph over insurmountable odds. After his victory, he gives a speech that gets even the Soviet general to stand up and applaud.
Along with being a superb sports film, Rocky IV is also a perfect portrait of what it means to be an average American.
1 Independence Day
Quite simply, this film is the reason lists like this exist. With a long-awaited sequel finally arriving on June 24th, 2016, Independence Day is the pinnacle of patriotism.
If Top Gun is a time capsule of the 80s, ID4 is the epitome of 1990s Hollywood. Roland Emmerich (making his second appearance on this list) loads the movie with enough explosions and action to make Michael Bay giddy with glee. The cast includes Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and as the POTUS himself, Bill Pullman.
When aliens attack every major city across the globe, the American government must band together and use every resource necessary to defeat their insurmountable foe. ID4 celebrates the many different types of families and people that reside in our country and proudly emphasizes a very pro-defense and patriotic message.
Pullman’s speech towards the climax of the film is perhaps ID4’s greatest moment. And it wouldn’t be a patriotic film without ending with literal fireworks: the exploding alien spacecraft. Top honors for serving our country go to ID4. Here’s hoping the sequel can live up to it.