This Fourth of July weekend, many Americans will choose to spend their time eating barbecue and watching fireworks. But what's an American to do once the thrill of meat and colorful explosions has worn off?
Watch movies, that's what. And not just any movies, but the most patriotic films ever put on celluloid. We're talking about the kinds of films that make you want to jump up out of your seat, thrust your fist in the air, and chant "U.S.A! U.S.A!" at the top of your lungs. (Or, failing that, the kinds of films that make you feel proud to be an American from a comfortable seated position.)
We've taken the liberty of listing a bunch of these inspirational films below, each of which is worthy of occupying the lulls between grilled hot dogs and patriotic pyrotechnics:
'Rocky IV' (1985)
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia were already strained in the late stages of the Cold War, and the death of Apollo Creed at the hands of Russian heavyweight Ivan Drago only made things worse. Rocky Balboa's subsequent decision to beat the blond off Drago didn't exactly bring the conflict to an end, but it was a close second for movie-goers in the mid '80s.
'Air Force One' (1997)
When Air Force One gets hijacked by a group of homicidal Russian radicals, it's up to President James Marshall to stop them before their demands are met. But Marshall just so happens to be an accomplished former military pilot and decorated war veteran (with a Medal of Honor to his name), so you can probably guess how things turns out for those terrorists.
If there's one thing could make our forefathers' pursuit of independence more thrilling than it came across in history class, it's an abundance of song and dance numbers. At least that was the thinking behind "1776," the musical film based on an earlier Broadway production of the same name.
'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939)
Poor Jefferson Smith was thrust into the U.S. Senate by a group of corrupt officials who intended to use him as a pawn. He eventually succeeds in foiling their awful schemes, but not before delivering an impassioned speech on behalf of his constituents during a day-long filibuster.
'Independence Day' (1996)
Though the alien invasion from "Independence Day" was a worldwide concern, it was the good ol' U.S. of A. that figured out how to defeat Earth's attackers with a single laptop and a drunken Randy Quaid. The final blow just so happened to coincide with the anniversary of America's independence, making our victory that much sweeter.
'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)
Military veterans Al, Fred and Homer didn't get the welcome they deserved upon returning home from World War II, instead finding it a struggle to re-establish their relationships with friends, loved ones and employers in Boone City.
'Red Dawn' (1984)
If a foreign army were to descend upon a quiet American city, we'd hope that our military would be able to neutralize the threat. But if for some reason they couldn't, a team of fresh-faced youngsters from the local high school would probably be our second-best bet — or so we've come to believe after watching "Red Dawn."
"Patton" chronicled General George S. Patton's incredible achievements during World War II, but it didn't shy away from his (allegedly) brash behavior. Outspoken to a fault, Patton is depicted as having a big personality, a big ego, and an even bigger appetite for victory. (Warning: NSFW language on this one)
When two affable slackers join the army as a way to better themselves, they soon find out it's not everything they were led to believe. Luckily, they're filled with enough bravado and American ingenuity to get them out of several sticky situations, even if they were the same two idiots who created those situations in the first place.
'Sands of Iwo Jima' (1949)
The recruits under Marine Sergeant John Stryker weren't always thrilled with their superior, but his tough-as-nails approach certainly paid off when his squad saw combat. Plus, Stryker looked and sounded exactly like John Wayne, and what kind of a soldier would dare disobey that?
'Top Gun' (1986)
"Top Gun" follows a cocky young Navy pilot named Pete "Maverick" Mitchell who learns teamwork at the Navy's foremost pilot training academy, mostly through testosterone-fueled dogfights and shirtless volleyball sessions. The film was so patriotic, it was enough to cause a real-life surge in enlistments once it hit the box office.
'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)
While serving in World War II, Steve Rogers (Captain America) thwarts the plans of an evil Nazi officer, rescues an entire unit from behind enemy lines, and successfully steers weapons of mass destruction away from American cities. Not bad for a guy who began his military career as a hundred-pound weakling.
'An American Tail' (1986)
In the late 19th Century, the Mousekewitz family fled Russia in pursuit of the American dream but became separated from their son in the process. Because of this, Fievel witnessed the not-so-welcoming side of the States, but soon learned to embrace his new home while befriending folks from all walks of (animal) life.
'The Patriot' (2000)
Any movie called "The Patriot" should be filled with Revolutionary War battles and inspirational speeches about freedom. Fortunately, this drama delivered on both counts, with the added bonus of militia leader beating back the British forces with an American flag in hand.
'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942)
Though he probably wasn't born on the Fourth of July like he often liked to boast, George M. Cohan was definitely a fan of all things American. "Yankee Doodle Dandy" takes a look back at the life of the accomplished Broadway star, who also penned some of the most patriotic tunes ever performed.
"Glory" is set during a particularly dark time U.S. history, when America and her citizens were divided in more ways than one. But when Colonel Robert Shaw is put in charge of the Union's first all-black infantry, Shaw and his regiment come to respect and support each other while fighting for a common cause.
'The Sandlot' (1993)
A movie about America's favorite pastime is patriotic enough, but it's a must-watch when combined with cookouts, fireworks and a soundtrack including "America the Beautiful" by Ray Charles. Coming-of-age comedy "The Sandlot" features every one of those things — all in the same scene, no less.
Honorable Mention: "Pearl Harbor" (2001), "Flags of Our Fathers" (2006), "Saving Private Ryan" (1998), "American Movie," (1999), and "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde" (2003).