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Ten Great All-American Movies To Enjoy This 4th of July

Updated on July 2, 2011

Americans are celebrating their independence with friends and family this weekend barbecuing, setting off bottle rockets and jumping into pools. While it’s a great way to spend time together outdoors, try to make an effort to relax in front of the TV watching your favorite movies this weekend. The following is a list of 10 great enjoyable movies that celebrate the American spirit.

Forrest Gump (1994)

An unlikely folk hero, the simple-minded Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) experiences an unbelievable life that defined the Baby Boomer generation. From small-town Alabama, Forrest Gump is a college football star, the recipient of the Medal of Honor for heroic bravery in Vietnam, an international ping pong champion, and the owner of a successful shrimp company. Oh, and thanks for innovative film making at the time, Gump got to meet three sitting U.S. presidents. Yet, for such an extraordinary journey, Gump remains oblivious to most of it. He was driven by the love for his mother (Sally Field), his Army buddy Bubba (Mykelti Wiliamson) and his Army superior Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise), all the while chasing for the love of his childhood sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright). The film chronicles such an important time for America that audiences were able to connect to both the time period and the charm of Forrest Gump.

Apollo 13 (1995)

Tom Hanks followed up his Academy Award winning role as Forrest Gump with a suspenseful moment in American history depicted in “Apollo 13.” Directed by Ron Howard, “Apollo 13” chronicles the the nail-biting three days the Apollo 13 crew spent trying to get their damaged space module back to the earth. Hanks plays NASA astronaut Jim Lovell and reunites with his “Forrest Gump” co-star Gary Sinise who plays NASA astronaut Ken Mattingly, who was deemed too ill to fly the mission. Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon play astronauts Fred Haise and Jack Swigert stuck two hundred thousand miles from Earth while Flight Director Gene Kranz (Ed Harris) does his best to get his men home. Kathleen Quinlan rounds out the cast as Lovell’s wife Marilyn who suffers emotionally during this whole ordeal while the press is covering every moment.
The successful moon landing by Apollo 11 in 1969 marked a historical landmark not for just America but also for humanity. Two years later, public support for the NASA program was waning and the Apollo 13 mission didn’t obtain much attention until the module’s oxygen tanks explodes and puts its crew in danger. Cut to the iconic line that defined the movie: “Houston, we have a problem.” In a matter of days, the nation was glued to their TV sets and radios, anxiously awaiting updates on the crew. Historically based on Lovell’s book on his harrowing experience, “Apollo 13” is a terrific film accounting one of the most memorable moments in NASA history.

Field of Dreams (1989)

Baseball has always been the great American past time and one of the best films that chronicles that love affair is “Field of Dreams.” A fantasy about Ray Kinsella, a farmer (Kevin Costner) who hears voices (“If you build it, he will come”) and believes his mission in life is to build a baseball field in his corn field. After several months, baseball legend ‘Shoeless Joe’ Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears in his Chicago White Sox uniform. Soon, the other seven White Sox players who were banned from baseball for claims they threw the 1918 World Series magically appear, all for the simple desire to play baseball again.
“Is this heaven?” Jackson asks Ray. “No, it’s Iowa,” Ray responds. Long dead baseball players get a second chance on their love for the game. Redemption is a common thread in this film, where reclusive author Terence Mann wanted to go to a Brooklyn Dodgers game before Ebbets Field would be torn down while Ray regrets turning away from his father as a youth. By bringing the spirit of his father’s hero Shoeless Joe back to life, Ray undergoes a new awakening. You don’t need to be a baseball fanatic to enjoy this film, but it is a passionate tribute to the spirit of the sport.

Stand By Me (1986)

This coming-of-age film featured four young boys who set out to find the body of a missing local boy in 1959 Oregon. Starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell and directed by Rob Reiner, the film represented a time of innocence and a sense of adventure every kid possesses. After over hearing a tip of where the remains of a recently gone-missing kid laid, four boys set out to discover the body in hopes of getting their names in the papers. What follows is two days of friends bonding, wilderness survival, and nearly getting hit by a train.
The film also showcases the pre-Vietnam War era of simple lives in small towns. Phoenix plays the self-fulfilling prophecy of a troublemaker, Feldman is the smart ass, O’Connell is the chubby one usually at the butt of jokes, and Wheaton plays the quiet bookish boy whose parents are still grieving over the recent death of his older brother. They all have their own personal issues but it’s this trip that ultimately brings them together. Believe it or not, but this film is adapted from a story by horror master Stephen King, who stated this was his favorite film adaptation of all his work.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

This iconic teen comedy that focuses on a school year at a southern California high school remains one of the most endearing from the 1980s. The movie focuses on the lives of several different teenagers who go through hook-ups and break-ups while experiencing the awkwardness of young love. Oh, and Sean Penn’s breakout character Jeff Spicoli has since become a stoner icon. Also starring Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, the movie is based on screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s actual experience as an undercover writer who enrolled himself back into high school. The characters and relationships are based on real life people in that distinct California culture. Interestingly enough, Universal Pictures thought the movie would not translate outside of California and almost restricted its theatrical release to just the west coast. Yet, the film remains a cult favorite that represents what American teenagers experience as they transition into adulthood in any state in any decade.

The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather Part II (1974)

Lumping the first two chapters of one of the greatest cinematic sagas in history, the story of the Corleone family is an unconventional tale of the American Dream. The first Godfather is the quintessential gangster film that gave us Marlon Brando’s most memorable performance as Vito Corleone and made Al Pacino a star as Michael Corleone. While the legality of the Corleone business remains questionable, it’s their family dynamic that has made them so fascinating to watch. Part II is both a prequel and sequel. Half of the film tells the tale of a young Vito Corleone, who escapes Sicily after witnessing his mother’s murder by a local crime boss. Just a kid, Vito is orphaned and alone, living on Ellis Island as an immigrant. In a series of flashbacks, we see Vito’s rise to power as an adult while raising a family.
At the height of his power in the first film, Vito escapes assassination from a rival family. His son Michael, who originally distanced himself from the family business by enrolling in the Marine Corps, reaffirms his loyalty to his father by exacting revenge. He escapes to Sicily to hide out but upon hearing of the murder of his older brother Sonny (James Caan), Michael returns to America and is now caught up with his family’s criminal empire. The winner of numerous Oscars, The Godfather Part I and II are epic tales of another side of America where family is the focus. Part III is a descent conclusion to the trilogy but does not measure up against the first two.

Rocky (1976)

“Rocky” is the quintessential tale of a nobody who had a shot at being a champion. The Philadelphia-bred fourth-rate boxer wasn’t the brightest or the hardest hitting but he had the hunger to be a champion. Sylvester Stallone wrote and created this character after watching boxer Chuck Wepner endure 15 rounds against the legendary Muhammed Ali. Rocky is handpicked by heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a true showman who wanted to celebrate America’s Bicentennial by giving a Philadelphia native a shot at the title. Trained by ex-boxer Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), the gravelly voiced and intense coach, also acts as a father figure to Rocky. Meanwhile, Rocky tries to woo Adrian (Talia Shire), a lonely pet store employee who at first pushes away any advances by Rocky but ultimately begins dating him. During the title fight, Rocky is an unexpected worthy opponent who “goes the distance” by enduring all 15 rounds. Once the fight concludes, Apollo is determined the winner by a split decision but Rocky is not concerned. He calls out for Adrian and professes his love for her in one of the greatest emotional embraces captured on film. “Rocky” represents the underdogs in America who are occasionally given the chance to shine.

A League of Their Own (1992)

While a baseball film has previously been mentioned, “A League of Their Own” represents the willingness of American women to step up to the plate (literally) when needed. Set during World War II, men are set off to war while women go to work, exemplified by the iconic “Rosie the Riveter” poster. Professional baseball players are called to war and Major League Baseball shuts down. However, chocolate tycoon Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) creates the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943 and enlists the best of the best female baseball players to fulfill America’s love for the sport. The film focuses on the Rockford Peaches and the relationship between sisters Dottie Henson (Geena Davis) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty). Pop star Madonna plays tough talking ‘All the Way’ Mae and Rosie O’Donnell as Doris. Tom Hanks plays the alcoholic ex-professional player Jimmy Dugan, who only took the job as team manager for the money while belittling the athletic ability of his own players. The league struggles to be taken seriously by baseball fans but the teammates bond together while the sibling rivalry between Dottie and Kit intensifies. Again, this movie showcases the love of the game, regardless of gender. However, it represents the endurance women have in proving themselves as equals.

Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

This film needs no introduction. If you consider yourself a filmgoer, chances are you’ve seen this movie. The appeal of it is universal. A landmark in the science fiction realm and a trademark of box office success. If you’re channel surfing and this movie is playing on cable, chances are you are going to stop and watch this film no matter what part of the movie you stumble upon. While it takes place “a long time ago in a galaxy far far away,” this is a bonafide American movie. A group of rebels are battling an evil galactic imperialistic empire. Farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and pilots Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca join in the fight against the tyrannical Darth Vader. They rescue Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), who plays against the “female in peril” archetype, and join forces to take out the almighty Death Star. It was the first chapter in an enduring franchise. While “Empire Strikes Back” retains itself as the best movie of six films, the original “Star Wars” is the one that stands out as the most exciting and entertaining film.

Independence Day (1996)

For the final entry in this list, the disaster flick that bares the holiday’s name deserves a mention. Looking back, the dialogue and acting is lame at times, but it represents a defining moment in the action/disaster film genre. The 1970s had a block of disaster films like “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure,” but it was the 1990s that saw improved filmmaking technology to “up the ante” in depicting landmarks being destroyed that wooed audiences. An alien invasion on Earth leaves several cities worldwide under attack. But it’s the perspective of several Americans that propel the ultimate rebellion against the aliens. Will Smith is Marine Corps Captain Steven Hiller, a role that catapulted his status from rapper/television actor to box office icon. Jeff Goldblum is technology expert David Levinson who uncovers the alien threat’s transmission and Bill Pullman as the young President Thomas Whitmore who leads the nation in a counter offensive against the aliens. New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. are destroyed but it’s up to the survivors to fight back. While his call to arms may seem cheesy, you can’t help but feel proud to be an American in a fictional war against aliens.


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    • profile image

      Michael Slotnick 

      7 years ago

      So tired of hearing about how great Rocky is. My favorite review of Rocky was in "The 100 Best Movies Ever Made Mostly Suck": "How many movies can they make about a dumb [expletive] punching?"

    • Darknlovely3436 profile image


      7 years ago from NewYork

      informative, and some great choices on the movies.


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