The Fourth of July is traditionally a time for barbecues, getting together with the family, and going to the beach. But with everything going on in the country right now, some of us will be unable or unwilling to get out of the house this weekend. Why not kick back with a good movie instead? Here are some awesome American films to watch this Fourth of July.
This 2016 drama tells the remarkable true story of the Black female mathematicians who helped the U.S. win the Space Race. Featuring an impressive triad of performances from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, this consistently fun and entertaining film displays the remarkable skill of these women: both in the realm of mathematics and in their ability to navigate and overturn the racist structures of their day-to-day experience. Its depiction of uniquely American ingenuity makes it the perfect Fourth of July watch.
It’s finally here! The long-awaited filmed version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical will be dropping on Disney+ on Friday. Telling the story of the founding fathers through impeccably choreographed hip-hop numbers and featuring an incredible cast composed mostly of people of color, Hamilton is a compelling contemporary take on one of America’s foundational figures. Don’t throw away your shot: this isn’t one to miss.
Captain America: the First Avenger
Who doesn’t like a good superhero movie? Marvel’s Captain America: the First Avenger tells the story of one of America’s cultural icons: Steve Rogers, a sickly solider during World War II who is transformed into the titular Captain America to fight the evil conspiracy HYDRA. A core film in the MCU, this one’s worth checking out for an absorbing central performance from Chris Evans and its impressive action sequences.
This 1994 classic from Robert Zemeckis covers the epic scope of 20th century American history and culture through the eyes of one man: the titular Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks in an Oscar-winning performance. Sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking, but always entertaining, here’s an exemplary American film for the ages.
Roland Emmerich’s beloved 1996 sci-fi film boasts an epic premise: terrorized by a massive alien invasion, the denizens of Earth decide to fight back on the Fourth of July. This ceaselessly entertaining film features a knockout ensemble cast that includes Will Smith, Judd Hirsch, and Vivica A. Fox. With its inspiring patriotic message of national unity and solidarity, it’s the perfect watch for our own apocalyptic moment.
12 Years a Slave
Adapted from the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, this challenging but essential film plunges us into the darkest depths of United States history: the barbaric practice of slavery. Though often brutal and unflinching, masterful director Steve McQueen remains empathetic and clear-eyes throughout. And the overwhelming conclusion offers a window of reunion and escape from this historical abyss. Winning multiple Oscars in 2013, including Best Picture, this is formidable but absolutely necessary watch for anyone seeking to understand American history—and the present moment.
An American President
This rom-com from director Rob Reiner and writer Aaron Sorkin charts the knotty intersection of politics and relationships. Annette Bening plays Sydney Ellen Wade, an environmental activist who finds herself in a complicated affair with widowed President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas): her political opponent. Released to critical acclaim in 1995, this humorous and touching film remains a worthwhile watch to this day, both for the charming chemistry between Bening and Douglas and the continuing relevance of its political concerns.
Great Gerwig’s sophomore feature as a solo director is a warm, generous, and moving retelling of a beloved American classic. Little Women follows the relationships of the four March sisters during the Civil War, as they weather tragedy, unrequited love, and poverty through the strength of their humor, creativity, and love. Boasting a phenomenal cast including Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet, this poignant and emotional film—which emphasizes a message of hope and familial resilience in times of struggle and anxiety—can prove a welcome inspiration to us all. A perfect watch for the family.
If Beale Street Could Talk
An adaptation of James Baldwin’s classic novel, Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk is a breathtaking and sumptuous romance that explores the many trials and tribulations of a Black family living in 1970s New York. Viewers will be swept away by the bottomless love between Tish, played in an astonishing feature debut by KiKi Layne, and her childhood friend Fonny. And Jenkins’ sobering look at the realities of mass incarceration in communities of color has a powerful social prescience in our contemporary moment. Highly recommended, but bring a hankie.
And finally, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” Steven Spielberg’s beloved 1975 thriller, set in a summer resort town plagued by a giant man-eating shark, remains as scary, funny, and engrossing as it did when it first came out. With its beautiful New England scenery and terrifying scenes at the beach and on the ocean, this provides a reliable and enjoyable alternative for those avoiding the beach this weekend. Just don’t go in the water—or go out without a mask.