Before we jump into the top retro movies for Independence Day, let’s have a quick history lesson.
Nothing says America like the 4th of July. It’s the celebration of the Thirteen Colonies victory from the oppression of the British Empire.
On July 4th, 1776 the Thirteen Colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a document telling King George III the Thirteen Colonies were sovereign states and no longer part of Great Britain.
On July 4th, 1777 ships docked in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard fired 13-gun (cannon) salutes and the Sons of Liberty set off fireworks in Boston Commons.
In 1778, George Washington gave his men double rum rations on July 4th, maybe that’s why alcohol flows freely on the 4th.
In 1870 Congress made July 4th a National Holiday.
Over the years the importance of the 4th of July has ebbed and flowed. Usually getting more attention after major events like wars or 9/11.
Nowadays the 4th is filled with leisure activities, barbecues with family and friends and fireworks, always fireworks.
I grew up in a state that banned all the good fireworks, firecrackers and projectiles. But that didn’t kill the fun. As a kid I burned more sparklers than I can count, drawing designs in the air or spelling my name. Dad always had a coffee can full of water to put the leftover hot metal stick into.
The street was covered in black spots from the black snakes. Pro tip: if you light a black snake on the front porch and your dad sees the mark, don’t blame it on your sister. The beat down from my sister was much worse than anything my dad would have handed out!
As a young kid it was fun; sparklers, jumping jacks, fountains, wheels, spinners. All of them fun and relatively safe. Moving into the teenage years those same fireworks were for kids, not cool teenagers.
There was one bordering state where all fireworks were legal, it was the promise land! If only I could get there, my parents would never take me, nor would my sisters.
Then I turned 16 and started driving. My friend and I would make the 6-hour round trip drive to buy bottle rockets, roman candles, black cats and M-80s.
We’d buy bottle rockets in gross, that’s a dozen dozen, 144 bottle rockets and we’d buy 5-6 packs each! Two teenage boys armed with over 1,000 bottle rockets is never a good thing. But man was it fun!
Another tradition I have around the 4th of July is watching movies. The concept of a blockbuster movie is relatively new, dating back to 1975. Today summer blockbusters are common place, or at least the desire for a movie to become a blockbuster. Back in the 70s and 80s it was a new trend.
The first summer blockbuster, Jaws was released in June 1975. Jaws, which takes place over the 4th of July weekend, is an epic film by master filmmaker Steven Spielberg. Since then directors and studios have been releasing movies in the summer months hoping for the next blockbuster.
The movies on my list include both summer blockbusters and some that didn’t achieve that status. But they are all great movies to watch over the 4th of July weekend.
First we’ll start with a some of honorable mentions…
Retro Movies for Independence Day Honorable Mentions
This is America, Charlie Brown (1988)
It’s Charlie Brown! This eight part miniseries originally aired in the Fall of 1988 and Spring of 1989. It starts with the Mayflower, covers the Constitution, Wright Brothers, NASA and more. It’s a great trip through the history of America told by the Peanuts Gang.
I own over a dozen Peanuts specials, unfortunately this isn’t one of them.
National Treasure (2004)
This one has ties to the American Revolution. During the Revolution the Freemasons hid a valuable treasure of jewels, precious metals, artwork and historic artifacts. Or so the story goes.
In the modern world Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) is an amateur cryptologist searching for the hidden treasure. Gates’ treasure hunt takes him to the National Archives, Independence Hall, the USS Intrepid and even the Oval Office.
National Treasure falls outside our retro timeline which is why it’s an honorable mention. It’s a fun scavenger hunt movie with lots of references to American History. Well worth watching.
Rocky IV (1985)
This is the last honorable mention on the list and technically it’s a Christmas movie. Apollo Creed’s walkout music for his fight against Drago is a full fledged James Brown music video, right in the middle of the move!
Brown belts out “Living in America” while showgirls dance around with American flags and Apollo Creed is draped in Red, White and Blue. The entire scene screams ‘MERICA!
Alright let’s get on to the official list…
Top 10 Retro Movies for Independence Day
10. A League of Their Own (1992)
What happens to baseball when all the players are drafted into World War II? Well, P.K. Wrigley starts an all-female baseball league. Yes, Wrigley is the gum mogul and owner of the Chicago Cubs. His father William Wrigley started the gum empire and owned the Cubs. Both were passed down to P.K. when William died.
Tom Hanks plays the down-and-out alcoholic manager of the Rockford Peaches. Geena Davis, Lori Petty and Madonna make up the star power for the movie and the Rockford Peaches.
The story is based on the real all-female league started in 1943. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League consisted of 15 teams and the Rockford Peaches were the most successful team, wining four Championships. The AAGPBL ran for 11 years, from 1943 until 1954.
A League of Their Own is a fun movie to watch and one for the entire family.
9. The Sandlot (1993)
The Sandlot is a great coming-of-age movie. It follows a group of boys throughout the summer of 1962 exploring how friendships are forged for a lifetime.
My kids love the scene where the boys take the Big Chief chaw and get on the carnival rides. And who doesn’t respect the sheer audacity of Squints at the pool.
Sometimes getting banned from the pool for life is worth it!
8. The Music Man (1962)
I watched The Music Man every year from kindergarten through eighth grade and a few times in High School. It was mandatory viewing in my town. The man who wrote and composed The Music Man, Meredith Wilson, was born and raised in my hometown.
The events of The Music Man take place in River City, a nickname for my town. It tells the tale of a con-man trying to swindle the townsfolk out of their money. The Music Man is great movie (I’m required by law to say that), but really it is. And it’s a great movie to watch over the 4th of July weekend.
I’ll leave it up to you to discover the real name of River City. Also, if you’ve seen the movie, my dad currently lives two blocks from the library and the famous footbridge. If you don’t know what I’m talking about watch the movie.
One more note, there is only one movie, that’s the 1962 movie with Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett and little Ronnie Howard. If anyone tells you there is a 2003 remake call them a dirty liar and walk away.
7. The Patriot (2000)
This one hearkens back to the original 4th of July. In 1776 South Carolina, Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) wants to live a peaceful life but is pulled into the war against Britain when his son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) is brutally murder by a British officer.
Gibson’s character is based on real life patriot Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion. Marion harassed the British endlessly during their occupation of South Carolina. Marion is one of the founders of modern guerrilla warfare. He was an officer in the Continental Rangers and is credited as a founding member of the U.S. Army Rangers.
Watch this movie and see how our founding fathers sacrificed everything to free America from the tyranny of Great Britain.
6. Red Dawn (1984)
I love this movie!
The Soviet Union invades a small Colorado town in an attempt to take over America. A group of high school kids head to the mountains and organize a resistance force. Red Dawn is packed with 80’s stars that every teenager at the time would know; Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey.
The group of kids, dubbed the ‘Wolverines’ launch a guerrilla warfare campaign against the Soviets and their Cuban allies. It’s a movie that draws on the Founding Fathers values of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and brings it to the modern day.
The Wolverines aren’t going to let a bunch of commies take over their town or their country! They are willing to sacrifice everything so the country can be free.
5. Jaws (1975)
This is the one that started the blockbuster craze and for good reason, it’s a great movie. After a shark attack on the local beach police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) closes the beach. The mayor persuades Brody to reopen the beach so the town can attract tourists for the upcoming 4th of July weekend.
Brody relents and reopens the beach. The town and beach are packed and the shark strikes again. Brody enlists the help of Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a marine biologist and Quint (Robert Shaw), a World War II veteran and survivor of the USS Indianapolis, to track down and kill the shark.
I met a survivor of the USS Indianapolis, the stories he tells will keep you up at night and even 60 years later still brought tears to his eyes. Quint gives a brief overview of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the movie but for those who don’t know the ship was torpedoed by the Japanese Navy near the Philippines in July 1945.
It only took 12 minutes for the USS Indianapolis to sink. The ship held a crew of 1,195 sailors, 300 went down with the ship the remain 900 or so sailors were adrift in the ocean with only life jackets, no life rafts, for over four days before help arrived. Of the 900 sailors in the water only 316 survived. The rest died from hypothermia, saltwater poisoning and mostly from shark attacks.
Quint does a good job of describing the shark attacks in Jaws and the survivor I met described them too. Without going into detail I’ll say the description in Jaws is the G-rated version of what actually happened. If you want to learn about the USS Indianapolis I’d encourage you to read In Harm’s Way by Doug Stanton, it’s a harrowing tale
Making Quint a survivor of the USS Indianapolis is great writing. He’d hate sharks and have tons of motivation to kill it.
The real trick is watching Jaws and then going swimming. I couldn’t do it when I was a kid. There was at least a one day waiting period before I’d go in the lake. Yeah, yeah, I know sharks don’t live in Midwest fresh water lakes, tell that to 9-year old me…
4. Miracle (2004)
This one falls outside the retro time frame too but I don’t care. This is a great movie and a great moment in American history.
The underrated U.S. Hockey team takes on the dreaded Soviet Union hockey team. The Soviets used professional players on their hockey team and four of the starters for the Soviets are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Contrast that with the U.S. team who had a group of college and ex-college players, no professionals. Most of the players picked by coach Herb Brooks (played perfectly by Kurt Russel) were from the University of Minnesota and Boston College. Those two colleges are fierce hockey rivals and the players did not like each other.
The way Coach Brooks brings them all together onto one team is a miracle unto itself.
Through true American grit and determination Team USA defeats the Soviets in the upset of the century. The game wasn’t even for a medal. Team USA would go on to win the gold medal but even if they hadn’t, beating the Soviets was victory enough. The gold medal was icing on the cake.
Just thinking about this movie gets my blood pumping Red, White and Blue!
3. Forrest Gump (1996)
Forrest Gump is a fun trip through American history led by the most unusual person. In the movie, Gump is waiting for a bus and tells his life story to strangers at the bus stop.
Through his stories we learn Gump has been part of the biggest stories in American history since the 1950’s. He teaches Elvis to dance, meets JFK, drafted into the Army, serves in Vietnam, wins the Medal of Honor and shows LBJ his buttock.
He’s a ping-pong champion, buys a shrimp boat, becomes a shrimp mogul and starts Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, invents the smiley face symbol and invests in “some kind of fruit company” making billions on Apple.
He is part of every major story over a 30 year period. The whole time though Gump just wants to reunite with his childhood friend and love of his life, Jenny.
I saw this movie at the Drive-In one week after my son was born. He slept in his car seat the whole time while his mom and I sat in lawn chairs in the bed of my pickup. It was a double feature; Patriot Games and Forrest Gump.
It’s a fantastic movie that I’ve seen multiple times over the years. Forrest Gump also has one of the best soundtracks of any movie on this list. It’s a a phenomenal 32-song soundtrack.
2. Top Gun (1986)
Top Gun is a two hour promotional video for the US Navy! I’ve met several people over the years who say they joined the Navy because of Top Gun.
I hope you know the story, Naval aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) and Nick “Goose” Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards ) attend Top Gun school at Naval Air Station Miramar. They buzz the tower, serenade women in bars and play volleyball all while trying to win the Top Gun trophy.
Maverick’s arch-rival, Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer), doesn’t buy into Maverick’s rogue demeanor and is determined to beat Maverick. Along the way Maverick falls in love, endures tragedy and struggles with his inner demons.
When Top Gun hit the theaters in 1986 I was in line, buying a ticket the first night. I saw it twice the first weekend and multiple times over the summer. I’ve seen this movie more times than I can count and I quote this movie almost daily.
There are endless quotes from this movie:
- I feel the need…the need for speed!
- Take me to bed or lose me forever.
- Talk to me, Goose.
- I’ll hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by.
- Slider… You stink!
- This is what I call a target-rich environment.
- Your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!
- Too close for missiles, I’m switching to guns.
- Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.
The list could go on and on.
Top Gun was nominated for four Academy Awards and won one for Best Original Song, “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. It also holds the record for best selling VHS of all time.
After numerous delays Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel to Top Gun, is scheduled to hit theaters in November 2021
1. Independence Day (1996)
You knew this had to be number 1!
It’s all about Independence, not from a tyrannical government but from an invading alien life form hellbent on killing the human population.
I saw this the day it came out at The Continental Theater, Denver’s only 70mm movie screen. The Continental Theater in south Denver opened in 1966-ish with a screen measuring 35 feet tall by 83 feet wide. A normal movie screen is about 15 feet tall by 45 feet wide, the Continental was over twice the size of the average movie screen and it was the go-to theater for blockbuster movies.
In July 1996 Independence Day opened at the Continental Theater and I was in line with a few friends, ready to watch Will Smith kick some alien butt. This movie didn’t disappoint, filled with comedy, suspense and endless action it’s no wonder it was the highest grossing movie of 1996.
It has great quotes that I use regularly too…
- I picked a hell of a day to quit drinkin’
- Welcome to earth!
- Now that’s what I call a close encounter.
- Let’s kick the tires and light the fires
- What the hell is that smell?
- I could’ve been at a barbecue!
- We’re gonna have to work on our communication
Last year I setup a projector and giant movie screen for the kids and we all watch Independence Day on Independence Day! It was their first time seeing the movie and they loved it as much as I do.
I hope you’ve seen this movie, if not make it a priority to watch it this year. If not over the 4th of July weekend, then sometime this summer. You won’t regret it.
It also features the best movie presidential speech ever.
Man that gets my blood pumping. I’m ready to fly a plane into the mothership!
Those are my top retro movies for Independence Day. What movies do you watch for Independence Day? Did I miss your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.
Whatever you do to celebrate Independence Day; watch a movie, enjoy time with family and friends, watch a fireworks show or a mixture of all those things, have a great 4th of July weekend.