Patriotism on the Silver Screen: 25 Movies That Set Our American Spirit Ablaze

Patton movie 1970

In these trying, divided times, an unabashedly patriotic movie can be just what the Americans ordered. These 25 movies put their own twist on patriotism, making for quality movies that will make you want to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

1. Gettysburg (1993)

Gettysburg Tom Berenger, Stephen Lang
Image Credit: New Line Cinema.

Critics loved this take on the Civil War starring Martin Sheen and Tom Berenger. While the North-South conflict isn't the most unifying topic of them all, Gettysburg is a necessary reminder of what our ancestors sacrificed to keep the nation together.

2. The Patriot (2000)

The Patriot Chris Cooper
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

This list would not be complete without The Patriot, a Mel Gibson classic about a peaceful farmer who takes up arms against British enemies after they unjustly murder his son.

3. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Frank Capra's classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington dropped during one of the most patriotic eras in cinema history. Even so, it tells the story of corruption in Washington and one man determined to rise above it.

4. Apollo 13 (1995)

Apollo 13 Kevin Bacon, Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Not all space missions succeed. Apollo 13 makes clear what's at stake every time a crew launches off for the skies. Apollo 13 is based on the real-life story of the Apollo 13 crew and their fight to make it back home to Earth safely.

5. Argo (2012)

Argo Ben Affleck
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

While it's not a traditional war film, Argo will have you rooting for the Americans throughout. It's about a CIA agent who has to rescue six Americans being held captive in Tehran. It's based on the 1979 U.S. hostage crisis.

6. Miracle (2004)

Miracle Kurt Russel
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Few arenas crystallize our patriotism like sports, whether it's a pre-Super Bowl flyover or an underdog Olympic hockey team knocking off the Red Menace in 1980. Miracle makes us feel proud of our country and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men's Hockey team who pulled off a stunning win over the Soviets in the midst of the Cold War.

7. They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)

They Shall Not Grow Old
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Peter Jackson's 2018 documentary feels like a movie and an eye-opening one at that. They Shall Not Grow Old portrays the tragedy of young men thrust into war before they've had the chance to live their lives.

8. Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln Sally Field
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

While Steven Spielberg's Lincoln documents one of the most fractured times in our country's history, it's a reminder that we were able to reunite after enduring the deepest of divisions. That's a message we need right now.

9. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks Matt Damon Tom Sizemore
Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures.

Steven Spielberg's hyper-realistic World War II drama-thriller is not for the faint of heart. Those who can stomach it, though, are in for a cinematic marvel and patriotic whirlwind. It's one of the best war movies ever, and once you watch it, you'll understand why.

10. Air Force One (1997)

Air Force One Harrison Ford
Image Credit: Buena Vista International.

Harrison Ford does a great job in Air Force One where he plays a fictional president who has to deal with radicals hijacking the presidential plane. What the terrorists don't know is that this president isn't going down without a fight and will stop at nothing to protect his family and his country.

11. Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima Tsuyoshi Ihara.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

The counterstory to Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima, portrayed the pivotal WWII battle from the Japanese perspective.

12. Top Gun (1986)

Top Gun Tom Cruise
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Top Gun has been making us all dream of becoming pilots since its release in the 80s. The movie follows Tom Cruise's character, Pete, as he and his classmates learn from the best in the elite Top Gun Fighter School. You can swap in Top Gun: Maverick for a more recent iteration of fighter jets flying at speeds that will make your American flag flutter on a windless day.

13. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Hacksaw Ridge Hugo Weaving
Image Credit: Lionsgate.

The degree of patriotism Army Medic Desmond Doss displayed during the Battle of Okinawa is truly unfathomable. It would be impossible to believe if Mel Gibson hadn't brought the story to our attention with Hacksaw Ridge.

14. The Right Stuff (1983)

The Right Stuff Ed Harris, Lance Henriksen, Dennis Quaid, Scott Glenn, Charles Frank, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

The Right Stuff takes patriotism into liftoff, telling the story of the Mercury Seven astronauts led by Chuck Yeager. This historical film dives into the origins of American aeronautics and how America founded one of the best space programs in the world.

15. Patton (1970)

Patton George C. Scott, Jack Gwillim
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

George Patton remains the most towering general in American history, but his eccentricities, tendency to speak his mind, and clashes with higher-ups make him a polarizing figure.

16. The Longest Day (1962)

The Longest Day Wolfgang Preiss
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

The Longest Day is the film you get when you combine John Wayne, 1962 cinematic technology, and D-Day. It's not the most technically advanced war film, but it is a great one.

17. Glory (1989)

Glory
Image Credit: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.

The true story of the United States' first all-Black Army regiment is impeccably cast, with Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman taking the lead. The movie follows as the company fights for the Yankees in the U.S. Civil War and their want to defeat the Confederates.

18. Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone Survivor Eric Bana
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

Lone Survivor brings Marcus Luttrell's account of seeing his brothers-in-arms killed pursuing a Taliban leader in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley to the big screen. A combination of camaraderie, action, and ultimately heartbreak, Lone Survivor is a sobering nod to veterans of conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

19. G.I. Jane (1997)

G.I. Jane Demi Moore
Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.

Critics didn't love G.I. Jane, despite Ridley Scott manning the camera, but we need more female-led patriotic films in this world. This movie stars Demi Moore in the lead role, as she leaves her life as a Senator and joins a combat training group.

20. Flags of Our Fathers (2006)

Flags of Our Fathers Ryan Phillippe, Adam Beach, Jesse Bradford
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

An epic WWII film that doesn't seem to get as much praise as Saving Private Ryan, Flags of Our Fathers is Clint Eastwood's take on The Battle of Iwo Jima. It's stirring and, at times, gruesome, but Flags of Our Fathers is very much worth your time.

21. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Yankee Doodle Dandy Irene Manning
Image Credit: Warner Bros.

1942 was an immensely appropriate year to release Yankee Doodle Dandy, a lighthearted piece of World World II propaganda (in the best sense) starring James Cagney.

22. Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire
Image Credit: MGM/UA Entertainment Co. and United International Pictures.

Rocky IV wasn't just another movie about fighting. This installment of the franchise captured the nationalism that was flooding the United States at the time as the Cold War with the USSR played out. While Rocky movies might not seem like your first choice for a patriotic movie, this one surely stands out as one.

23. A League of Their Own (1992)

A League of Their Own Geena Davis, Megan Cavanagh
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

What happens to baseball when the men of fighting age go to war? The ladies start A League of Their Own, naturally. This fantastic film focuses on the women's professional baseball league that started once the men went off to fight in World War II and what it was like to be a professional female athlete in such a tumultuous time.

24. Selma (2014)

Selma Tessa Thompson
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Selma is a sober depiction of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s march to attain voting rights in 1965. The film is a serious, critically praised period piece that every movie fan should watch.

25. Independence Day

Independence Day
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

In the great American wars of all time, you have Colonial Rebels v. King George, America v. Hitler, America v. Korea, and more. In Hollywood's pantheon of American war movies, you also have America v. The Aliens, and it's chronicled through Independence Day.

Author: Sam Mire

Title: Popular Culture and Film Writer

Expertise: Film and Television, Life Advice, Comedic Writing, Movies, DIY Handiwork, Books, Current Events and Popular Culture

Bio:

Sam Mire is a freelance writer with over seven years' experience writing about entertainment, global events, American law, and sports. With a Journalism degree from the University of South Florida, Sam focuses on popular culture, film and television, and general life advice in his role for Wealth of Geeks.