Summary

  • Some of the best movies to watch on July 4th don’t use the holiday as a major plot point.
  • Movies like
    Magic Mike XXL
    ,
    I Know What You Did Last Summer
    , and
    Brokeback Mountain
    have surprisingly memorable July 4th scenes.
  • The Shining
    ‘s final shot allows the film to be the Fourth of July’s
    Diehard
    — sort of.



Every year, I totally forget that a handful of solid movies are set during July 4th despite having very little — and, sometimes, absolutely nothing — to do with the holiday. Although the Fourth of July is seen as an outdoors-centric holiday, with revelers watching fireworks and lounging by the water, there are plenty of films that can help you celebrate the occasion too. When I think of July 4th films, flicks like the Will Smith-starring sci-fi action movie Independence Day (1996) and the Oliver Stone war drama Born on the Fourth of July come to mind.

Given that the holiday is a celebration of American independence, it’s also easy to turn to patriotic fare, from Saving Private Ryan and Glory to Hidden Figures and Yankee Doodle Dandy. Other times, viewers like myself are drawn to all-American films that center on triumphant stories, like Miracle or A League of Their Own. I also think a third category exists: movies steeped in Americana, from action-adventure romps like National Treasure to Marvel’s Captain America. While those all feel conventionally appropriate, a few less traditional projects are some of the best movies to watch on July 4th.



7 Magic Mike XXL (2015)

Directed By Gregory Jacobs

In 2015, Magic Mike XXL was released in theaters over the July 4th weekend. Clearly, Warner Bros. Pictures had planned for the sequel to be a summer blockbuster capable of tapping into the moment. While the first Magic Mike was a pop-cultural phenomenon that grossed a whopping $167.2 million in 2012, Magic Mike XXL has a slimmer box office draw and received lukewarm reviews. Even so, the second outing in the Magic Mike franchise is a good time — and a well-oiled entertainment machine — thanks in large part to its charming cast.


…that final moment makes Magic Mike XXL a July 4th movie.

The Magic Mike sequel picks up three years after the end of the original movie. Although Mike (Channing Tatum) no longer works as a stripper, the other Kings of Tampa insist that he return for one last show-stopping performance at a Myrtle Beach-based convention. Ultimately, the group’s performance ends up being hugely successful, which leads to a good, old-fashioned Fourth of July fireworks sequence. Aside from the fireworks display, Magic Mike XXL doesn’t give much indication that it’s set around the holiday, but that final moment makes it a July 4th movie.


6 I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

Directed By Jim Gillespie


Penned by Kevin Williamson (Scream), I Know What You Did Last Summer is a trope-filled ’90s horror classic. It may not be the most inventive slasher movie, but I think it’s a great example of the genre at a very particular moment in time. I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s cast is a who’s who of 1990s stars, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. Unlike the self-referential, satirical Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer isn’t looking to reinvent the genre, though it did make an enduring mark on pop culture.

…the teens are haunted by their actions as they navigate the hook-wielding killer, a 4th of July parade, and more.

In the box-office smash, the four teens are stalked by a hook-wielding killer. The film’s title makes the summer setting clear, but I completely forgot about the movie’s Fourth of July plot points. I Know What You Did Last Summer opens on July 4, 1996, in Southport, North Carolina with the four pals driving to the beach, which, ultimately, results in a hit-and-run that they never speak of again. One year later, the teens are haunted by their actions as they navigate the hook-wielding killer, a 4th of July parade, and more.


5 Brokeback Mountain (2005)

Directed By Ang Lee


I think one of the most memorable moments in Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain is also one of cinema’s best fireworks sequences. Adapted from the 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain centers on American cowboys, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) as they navigate their simmering-yet-secret romantic connection over the course of several decades. A commercial and critical success, Brokeback Mountain marked a turning point for mainstream queer cinema — and that kind of makes its striking Heath Ledger scene on the Fourth of July even better.

…an image doesn’t get much more American than a cowboy slugging someone while fireworks rain down around him.


In one sequence, Ledger’s more conflicted Ennis confronts a pair of bigoted bikers. The raucous pair has been drinking and cross a line when they make insinuations about Ennis, who punches them out. Behind Ledger, July 4th fireworks bloom. The image is striking — and I think one that lingers long after Brokeback Mountain‘s credits roll. Plus, an image doesn’t get much more American than a cowboy slugging someone while fireworks rain down around him. Although it’s a small moment in the film, I think it qualifies Brokeback Mountain as a Fourth of July flick.

4 Jaws (1975)

Directed By Steven Spielberg


For some viewers, the summer-set horror classic is probably synonymous with July 4th, but I always forget that Steven Spielberg’s shark attack flick uses the holiday as a backdrop. Based on the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws chronicles the efforts of police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and professional shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to take down a killer great white. Memorably, the 1975 thriller sees plenty of resort-town beach-goers getting gobbled up by the titular shark, adding a horror streak to the best July 4th movies catalog.

…a bloody encounter over the Fourth of July weekend sees the tourist-packed beaches of the New England isle thoroughly terrified.


Shot mostly on location at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, Jaws became the then-highest-grossing movie of all time — a film that helped spawn the notion of the summer blockbuster. Jaws filming locations alone make it a great July 4th watch, but the movie goes a step further by using the holiday as a backdrop. While the shark’s first kill off of Amity Island occurs before the holiday weekend, a bloody encounter over the Fourth of July weekend sees the tourist-packed beaches of the New England isle thoroughly terrified.


3 Blow Out (1981)

Directed By Brian De Palma

A John Travolta-starring neo-noir thriller by Brian De Palma (Carrie), Blow Out is a cult classic that just so happens to unfold on July 4th. The simple-yet-effective premise finds Jack Terry (Travolta), a movie sound-effects technician, heading outside to capture some more authentic noises. As fate would have it, Jack ends up recording audio of the assassination of a presidential hopeful. Slick and stylized, Blow Out is one of Brian De Palma’s best movies — and most underrated. That said, I think it’s worth a watch, no matter the time of year.


It may be an unconventional Fourth of July watch, but De Palma’s thriller is truly great…

Still, the Philadelphia-set movie also features weirdly July 4th-adjacent references to the fictional Liberty Day as well as the so-called “Liberty Bell Strangler,” which feels wildly on-the-nose for a Philly film. Best of all, Blow Out culminates in a truly unforgettable, fireworks-filled ending. Like Brokeback, the fireworks sequence — the explosives are used as the shot’s source of light — is visually stunning. It may be an unconventional Fourth of July watch, but De Palma’s thriller is a truly great and inventive flick with Alfred Hitchcock-level suspense.


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2 The Sandlot (1993)

Directed By David Mickey Evans


Much like Jaws, The Sandlot probably makes a lot of folks’ July 4th movie lists, but I don’t immediately associate the events of the coming-of-age baseball film with the holiday. Fireworks and festivities aside, The Sandlot‘s summer adventure makes it feel like a perfect watch for the Fourth. Set in 1962, the film follows Scott Smalls (Tom Guiry), a fifth-grader who moves to the San Fernando Valley with his mom and step-dad. Soon enough, Smalls winds up befriending a bunch of neighborhood kids who play baseball every day.

The team plays baseball by the light of the holiday fireworks…

Benny Rodriguez (Mike Vitar), the team’s best player and de facto leader, invites Smalls to practice with them — even though the rest of the kids doubt Smalls’ potential. From swimming pool hijinks to a run-in with the neighborhood dog, The Sandlot is full of memorable scenes. Upon a rewatch, my favorite might just be the Fourth of July night game. The team plays baseball by the light of the holiday fireworks, which is when Smalls tells Benny, “baseball was life.” Nostalgic to a fault, The Sandlot is one of the most iconic coming-of-age movies ever.


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1 The Shining (1980)

Directed By Stanley Kubrick


If Diehard is allowed to be everyone’s favorite Christmas movie, I feel totally fine nominating Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as my favorite Fourth of July flick — even if the holiday’s importance doesn’t figure into the movie until The Shining‘s ending scene. A psychological horror film based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, The Shining sees writer-turned-caretaker Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his family, Jack’s wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd), living at the Overlook Hotel during the off-season.

Kubrick zooms in on a photograph hanging in the Overlook’s haunted hallway.


Between Danny’s psychic abilities (or “shining”) and the hotel’s haunted status, things take a dark turn. Namely, Jack’s sanity begins to deteriorate as he’s brought under the influence of the Overlook’s residents. At the very end of the movie, Kubrick zooms in on a photograph hanging in the Overlook’s haunted hallway. Standing front and center amid fellow revelers, Jack grins broadly. In one final twist, the photograph is dated July 4, 1921. So, The Shining is — in a rather roundabout way — a Fourth of July movie.

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