Independence Day, the Fourth of July, is one of the most salient days in the American calendar. It commemorates the Declaration of Independence, which the Second Continental Congress ratified on July 4, 1776, and established the United States of America.
It's a day of celebration, with parades, music, fireworks, and general festivities across the country. But if you prefer a more relaxed and peaceful Fourth of July, you should spend the day watching movies, and we're here to help you in that regard.
These are the 22 best movies to watch on the Fourth of July.
1. Holiday Inn (1942, directed by Mark Sandrich)
- Image Credit: Paramount Pictures
Holiday Inn is a musical movie about an inn open only on holidays. The film tells the story of a crooner and a professional dancer who compete for the affection of a beautiful up-and-coming performer.
It's one of the few films suitable for viewing on most national holidays, as it features scenes on all of them, including the Fourth of July (the song that goes with it is hugely rousing). Holiday Inn stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, so you know it's good. It received three Academy Award nominations and won Best Original Song for the iconic “White Christmas.” It's beautifully performed and funny, with a great setting, fabulous dancing, and excellent songs.
2. The Return of the Living Dead (1985, directed by Dan O'Bannon)
- Image Credit: Orion Pictures
The Return of the Living Dead is a comedy horror movie in which two incompetent medical supply warehouse employees accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, which causes the dead to rise again as zombies.
This punky take on the zombie genre is a riot and genuinely brilliant. It's teeming with 80s wackiness, but that's part of its charm. It's stylish, funny, and deliciously gruesome. Most of it takes place the day before the Fourth of July, but there's a nuke drop on the day itself that provides all the fireworks you'll ever need.
3. The Bay (2012, directed by Barry Levinson)
- Image Credit: Roadside Attractions
The Bay is a mockumentary horror movie depicting an ecological disaster in a small coastal Maryland town, whereby isopods have infected the local population and started eating people from the inside out.
It takes place during the Fourth of July celebrations, so if you're into being disgusted, you could spend your Independence Day watching giant lice dine on human innards. The Bay is an atmospheric, gruesome movie that will chill you.
4. Zero Dark Thirty (2012, directed by Kathryn Bigelow)
- Image Credit: Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc
Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller movie dramatizing the almost decade-long search for the leader of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, including discovering his compound in Pakistan, where American forces killed him in May of 2011.
It depicts one of the proudest moments in American history, when the U.S. brought the orchestrator of the September 11 attacks to justice. It is, therefore, ideal Independence Day viewing. In addition, it won Best Sound Editing at the Academy Awards, having received five nominations in total. This movie's incredible cast includes Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Kyle Chandler, Chris Pratt, and Frank Grillo. It's suspenseful, expertly acted, and entirely gripping.
5. Hidden Figures (2016, directed by Theodore Melfi)
- Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Hidden Figures is a biographical drama movie loosely based on Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 non-fiction book. It tells the story of three African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.
It's a real celebration of American history and three of its unsung heroes. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe are sublime as the mathematicians who helped to make space travel possible. Hidden Figures is a beautiful movie that received three Academy Awards nominations without winning any, and it's a bona fide heartwarming crowd-pleaser.
6. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997, directed by Jim Gillespie)
- Image Credit: Columbia Pictures
I Know What You Did Last Summer is a slasher horror movie loosely based on Lois Duncan's 1973 novel. It's about four young friends who cover up a car accident in which they seemingly kill a man, only to be stalked by a hook-wielding killer precisely one year later.
The film takes place on the Fourth of July, so this could be your Independence Day pleasure if you're a horror fan. I Know What You Did Last Summer is an intelligent, polished slasher with a talented young cast that performs brilliantly in it. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. are all fabulous.
7. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942, directed by Michael Curtiz)
- Image Credit: Warner Bros.
Yankee Doodle Dandy is a biographical musical movie depicting the life and music of George M. Cohan, the entertainer who was affectionately known as “The Man Who Owned Broadway.”
It was due to be released on the Fourth of July because of its patriotic themes, but it was released a few weeks earlier due to Cohan's ailing health. Still, it's a perfectly suitable film to watch on Independence Day. Yankee Doodle Dandy is an affectionate tribute to an entertainment legend. It's delightful, and James Cagney's impersonation of Cohan is uncanny.
8. Girls Trip (2017, directed by Malcolm D. Lee)
- Image Credit: Universal Pictures
Girls Trip is a comedy movie about four female college friends heading to New Orleans over the Fourth of July weekend to reconnect with each other and attend the Essence Music Festival.
It's a rip-roaringly fun watch with a lively core cast of Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, and Jada Pinkett Smith. If you're not in the mood for the Fourth of July festivities but still want to get in the party mood, this legitimately hilarious film is the ideal way to do so.
9. National Treasure (2004, directed by Jon Turteltaub)
- Image Credit: Disney Enterprises.
National Treasure is an action-adventure heist movie about a historian, his friend, and an archivist searching for a considerable amount of lost Freemason treasure, the directions to which are secretly drawn on the back of the Declaration of Independence.
The impressive ensemble cast includes Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Christopher Plummer, and Sean Bean. National Treasure could be a better movie, but it's fun and worth watching for its cast alone. Its plot relating to the Fourth of July makes it a suitable viewing for that day.
10. The American President (1995, directed by Rob Reiner)
- Image Credit: Castle Rock Entertainment
The American President is a romantic comedy-drama about the fictional eponymous Andrew Shepherd, a widower pursuing a relationship with an environmental lobbyist while simultaneously trying to win the passage of a crime control bill during a re-election year.
This movie's brilliant ensemble cast includes Michael Douglas as the president, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, and Richard Dreyfuss. While it isn't a Fourth of July movie, it's wholly patriotic, and if you're looking for a sweet, powerfully performed, poignant film to watch on Independence Day, this one's perfect.
11. Harriet (2019, directed by Kasi Lemmons)
- Image Credit: Focus Features
Harriet is a biographical movie about abolitionist Harriet Tubman who escaped from slavery and, through her courage, tenacity, and ingenuity, set hundreds of enslaved people free and altered the very course of American history.
Cynthia Erivo is outstanding in the eponymous role and received an Academy Award nomination for her efforts. Harriet is a powerful and sincere tribute to a real American heroine and is ideal for watching on the Fourth of July. It's hard-hitting but thoroughly entertaining and enlightening.
12. Team America: World Police (2004, directed by Trey Parker)
- Image Credit: Paramount
Team America: World Police is an adult puppet comedy movie about the eponymous paramilitary police force recruiting a Broadway star to help them save the world from Kim Jong-il and his conspiracy of Islamic terrorists and liberal Hollywood actors.
Made by the creators of South Park, Team America: World Police is a hoot. It brilliantly satirizes action movie tropes, American militarism, and how U.S. politics implicate the world. It has catchy songs, countless quotable lines, and an epic car chase. What could be more American and, therefore, suitable for the Fourth of July than that? Don't watch it if you're easily offended, though.
13. The Sandlot (1993, directed by David Mickey Evans)
- Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.
The Sandlot – also known as The Sandlot Kids – is a coming-of-age sports comedy about a rowdy group of young baseball players, including the new kid in town, and their many adventures during the summer of 1962.
The Fourth of July falls right in the middle of summer, and this movie perfectly captures that period's feel. Moreover, it has a fantastic Independence Day scene, complete with fireworks, to set the celebratory tone aptly. The Sandlot is sweet, funny, nostalgic, and admirably performed by its talented young cast.
14. 1776 (1972, directed by Peter H. Hunt)
- Image Credit: Columbia Pictures
1776 is a musical drama based on Peter Stone's book for the 1969 Broadway musical of the same name. It takes place in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776 and depicts a fictionalized version of the events leading up to the Declaration of Independence's signing.
The above synopsis specifies why it makes for an ideal Fourth of July viewing. 1776 has a talented cast with good voices and excellent comedic timing. It's an entertaining, sometimes a little moving, mostly historically accurate film that's a nice easy watch.
15. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, directed by Frank Capra)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political comedy-drama movie based on Lewis R. Foster's unpublished story “The Gentleman from Montana.” It's about a newly appointed United States Senator's fight against a corrupt political system.
It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards but only won one for Best Story, which was a real shame. Nevertheless, it's a fantastic, uplifting, and romantic film, and James Stewart is magnificent in it, as he always was. On the Fourth of July, watching it is a great way to remind patriotic viewers that American politics can be a force for good.
16. Top Gun (1986, directed by Tony Scott)
- Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
Top Gun is an action movie inspired by an article in California magazine titled “Top Guns.” It's about a young naval aviator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise who, alongside his radar intercept officer, is given a chance to train at the United States Navy's elite Fighter Weapons School (Top Gun).
While it's not a Fourth of July movie per se, it embodies America's spirit perfectly. Top Gun features a star-making performance from Tom Cruise and an excellent supporting cast, and it's high-octane with some of the most incredible aerial action scenes ever filmed.
A 2022 sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, also fits the bill for Independence Day viewing. It is, in fact, an improvement on Top Gun with all the thrills of the original and more.
17. The Patriot (2000, directed by Roland Emmerich)
- Image Credit: Columbia Pictures
The Patriot is an epic historical American War of Independence movie about a peaceful farmer driven to lead the Colonial Militia when a sadistic British officer shoots and murders his son and burns his house down.
It's satisfying and appropriate Fourth of July viewing, given that it depicts the brutal fight that saw America win its independence, but it's undoubtedly historically inaccurate. Still, it received three Academy Award nominations (winning none), and its all-star cast, including Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Joely Richardson, and Chris Cooper, performs fabulously.
18. Lincoln (2012, directed by Steven Spielberg)
- Image Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
Lincoln is a biographical historical drama loosely based on Doris Kearns Goodwin's 2005 biography Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It chronicles the final four months of Lincoln's life, focusing on his efforts to abolish slavery.
It's an excellent movie with twelve Academy Award nominations and two wins, including Best Actor for the phenomenal Daniel Day-Lewis. Seeing how American politics can be a force of good and watching the eponymous former president working tirelessly to put the Thirteenth Amendment in place is a great way to spend the Fourth of July. Lincoln is powerful, nuanced, witty, eye-opening, and completely compelling.
19. Hamilton (2020, directed by Thomas Kail)
- Courtesy of Disney+
Hamilton is a historical musical drama movie consisting of a live stage recording of the 2015 Broadway musical of the same name, inspired by Ron Chernow's 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton. It depicts a fictionalized account of the life of the eponymous man, one of America's foremost founding fathers and the first Secretary of the Treasury.
A diverse movie in more ways than one, Hamilton's cast and music celebrate America's multicultural society, making it ideal for watching on the Fourth of July. It's entertaining, humorous, brilliantly performed, features some genuinely catchy tunes, and the whole thing is incredibly infectious.
20. Jaws (1975, directed by Steven Spielberg)
- Image Credit: Universal
Jaws is a horror thriller based on Peter Benchley's 1974 novel. It's about a man-eating great white shark terrorizing beachgoers at a summer resort town and the subsequent hunting of the beast by a police chief, a marine biologist, and a professional shark hunter.
It started the concept of summer blockbuster season, and its events occur around the Fourth of July weekend. It is, therefore, essential for Independence Day viewing. The chemistry between Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw is second to none. Jaws is a suspenseful, entertaining, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying movie that made millions avoid swimming in the sea. It's a masterpiece.
21. Born on the Fourth of July (1989, directed by Oliver Stone)
- Image Credit: Universal Studios.
Born on the Fourth of July is a biographical anti-war drama based on activist Ron Kovic's 1976 autobiography. It depicts a 20-year period, from his childhood and paralysis during the Vietnam War to his anti-war activism.
The title of this one says it all. What better way to spend the Fourth of July than watching a movie about an American hero born on that day? Tom Cruise is breathtakingly excellent as Kovic, and this movie is thought-provoking, powerful, and sometimes heartbreaking. However, it is a brilliant piece of filmmaking.
22. Independence Day (1996, directed by Roland Emmerich)
Independence Day is a sci-fi movie about a coordinated worldwide attack by a powerful alien race. The film focuses mainly on a small disparate group of people converging in the Nevada desert and a counterattack launched on the eponymous date.
As with Born on the Fourth of July, the title of this one is a dead giveaway as to why you should watch it on that date. Independence Day is fun and stylish, and its ensemble cast that includes Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, and Robert Loggia are all great. In addition, very few movies have as much American patriotism as this one.
In 2016 a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, was released. While it's still suitable for Fourth of July viewing, its predecessor is far superior.