Fireworks are a Fourth of July staple, but if you’d rather stay indoors, put on a show with one of these four films to celebrate American independence.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Just as “Huckleberry Finn” is considered one of the great American novels, “Forrest Gump” should be considered one of the great American films. Few pictures encapsulate 20th-century America so poetically.
In “Forrest Gump,” we see everything from the perspective of its titular character (Tom Hanks), a dull-witted but kind Alabama man whose loyalty knows no bounds. We see the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, 1970s counterculture and Hurricane Carmen through his eyes. All the while, Forrest tries to win the heart of his childhood friend Jenny (Robin Wright).
“Forrest Gump” begins with youthful vigor and has some goodhearted fun with Forrest’s naivety as he wanders through small and titanic American events. In the latter half of the film, Robert Zemeckis slows the proceedings down, and Forrest comes to contemplate the nature of life and destiny. His ponderings reflect American attitudes toward the changing world around them. Perhaps, like Forrest, the rest of the country was floating on a breeze.
Air Force One (1997)
U.S. President Harrison Ford kicks terrorists off his plane in “Air Force One,” a hard-edged thriller in which the villains mistakenly pick on cinema’s most badass world leader.
President James Marshall (Ford) is on his way home from a function in Russia when terrorists take over his aircraft. Their leader, Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), wants to hold the president hostage to force the release of a rogue dictator. Unfortunately for him, Ford warmed up playing action heroes Han Solo and Indiana Jones — in other words, this president isn’t going down without a fight.
Tightly staged and well-acted, “Air Force One” is a suspenseful cat-and-mouse game between the president and his sadistic opponents. Ford capably plays a man forced to the brink, while the crazy-eyed Oldman relishes in the bloody mayhem. As the president dispatches the bad guys one by one, “Air Force One” builds to a rousing, fist-pumping conclusion that would make any American proud.
Top Gun (1986)
If you feel the need for speed on your Fourth of July, “Top Gun” is the fast and exciting movie to cap off your night.
This is the flick that made Tom Cruise an action hero. He stars as Maverick, a young Navy pilot-in-training on the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Maverick wants to prove himself among the other trainees, focusing on his own skills while neglecting the value of teamwork. Maverick’s recklessness leads to an accident which shatters his confidence, but he must regain it when a real combat situation arises.
“Top Gun” is an unabashed product of the 1980s, with its heavily electric score and a ridiculous volleyball montage. However, the dogfight sequences remain impressive to this day. “Top Gun” is nowhere near substantive, but it is one darn excessive and enjoyable ode to patriotism and the American “can-do” attitude.
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Marvel’s most patriotic hero earns his stars and stripes in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Set during World War II, “The First Avenger” introduces Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) as a small, sickly man who wants to enlist. He’s refused time and time again, but his perseverance pays off when he is recruited into a super soldier program that will “deliver Adolf Hitler to the gates of Hell.” Once Rogers becomes Captain America, he discovers a greater threat in Hydra, a rogue Nazi organization led by the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).
“The First Avenger” is a good old-fashioned action picture with a strong moral center. Evans is inspiring as the noble Rogers, who embodies President John F. Kennedy’s declaration that we ask what we can do for our country. “The First Avenger” calls upon the unlikely heroes, because they might be the ones to change the world.