Top Ten Patriotic Movies For the Fourth

For those of you who want some patriotic movies to watch over the  Fourth of July, here are some suggestions for viewing.  Feel free to suggest additional movies in the comboxes.

10. National Treasure (2004)-Sure it’s cursed with a ridiculous plot involving the masons and a treasure, it is still a lot of fun and calls us back to the foundation document, the Declaration of Independence, that is the cornerstone of our Republic.


9. Hamburger Hill (1987)-Content advisory: very, very strong language in the above video clip.  All the Vietnam veterans I’ve mentioned it to have nothing but praise for this film which depicts the assault on Hill 937 by elements of the 101rst Division, May 10-20, 1969.  It is a fitting tribute to the valor of the American troops who served their country in an unpopular war a great deal better than their country served them.


8.    Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)-James Cagney in perhaps the greatest film bio of them all, a salute to George M. Cohan, the legendary composer, playwright and patriot.


7.      Saving Lincoln (2013)-  Overshadowed by the Lincoln film of 2012, this rendition of Lincoln’s years as President is first rate.

The human cost of the War is always at the core of the film, as we see in the delivery of the Gettysburg Address where some of the members of the crowd hearing Lincoln are holding pictures of soldier relatives who have died.

Lincoln in the film comes to believe that he will die in office and accepts his fate, hoping that God will spare him until his work is accomplished.


6.    Gettysburg (1993)-The movie that I think comes the closest to conveying to us the passions of the Civil War.  You really can’t understand America unless you understand the Civil War.  As Shelby Foote, one of the greatest historians of the war, said:  “Any understanding of this nation has to be based, and I mean really based, on an understanding of the Civil War. I believe that firmly. It defined us. The Revolution did what it did. Our involvement in European wars, beginning with the First World War, did what it did. But the Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things. And it is very necessary, if you are going to understand the American character in the twentieth century, to learn about this enormous catastrophe of the mid-nineteenth century. It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”

5.    Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)This movie came out at a time when fascism and communism seemed to be the wave of the future.  In the face of that dark reality, Mr. Smith is a brilliant paean to American democracy, and the idealism and devotion to the principles of the Founding Fathers that constantly battles against political corruption.

4.    Glory (1989)-The tale of the 54th Massachusetts in the Civil War, and a long overdue salute to the black troops who fought for the Union.  A superb film in every regard, and a model of  how history should be recreated on film.


3.     Lincoln (2012)-Daniel Day-Lewis is simply magnificent in the role of Lincoln. He captures well both Lincoln’s role as a far-seeing visionary and a master of mundane nuts and bolts politics.  Day-Lewis portrays Lincoln as he was: a very humane man waging the bloodiest war in our nation’s history and trying to lance the boil of slavery that had poisoned and embittered American life for a quarter of a millennium. He conveys well the human toll that all this imposed upon Lincoln.

The film takes place near the end of the War. Lincoln has been reelected and is now attempting to have Congress pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln is concerned that if the War ends before the Amendment is passed through Congress, the impetus behind it will fade away since it will no longer be regarded as an essential war measure. He is worried that his Emancipation Proclamation, taken as a war measure, might not hold up in peace time, once the former Confederate States are back in the Union, with laws still allowing slavery on their books. The film centers on his efforts to convince enough Democrat Congressmen, by fair means and by foul, to vote for the Amendment.

2.  Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940)-Raymond Massey gives the performance of a life time as the greatest President this nation has ever had, save, perhaps, for George Washington.


1. 1776  (1972)-Singing and dancing Founding Fathers!  What’s not to love?  The film does a good job of depicting what a leap of faith the Declaration of Independence was.  For all the Founding Fathers knew, they could have all ended up dangling from British nooses, and cursed by their posterity.  They banished their fears and went boldly forward with their revolution, the most successful revolution in history, and which is still underway.


Honorable Mentions:

Red Dawn (1984)-An alternate history depiction of high schoolers taking up arms in the aftermath of a Soviet invasion, it seems over the top, until I recall the ages of partisans who fought in the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)-An English butler reminds Americans of one of the high points of their history.

Sergeant York (1941)-A masterful look at both religion and patriotism.

Meet John Doe (1941)-Frank Capra’s flawed masterpiece, it evinces his faith in American democracy at a time when it was under threat.

They Were Expendable (1945)-John Ford’s salute to the American PT boat sailors in the Philippines  who fought to buy us time in the Pacific.

Rocky (1976)-A good film to come out during the American bicentennial, it evinces two great American characteristics:  Optimism and a fondness for underdogs.



The Wind and the Lion (1975)-Brian Keith captures perfectly Theodore Roosevelt, the man who in most ways represented the best in the American spirit.


Give Me Liberty (1936)-A fine salute to Patrick Henry, perhaps the most eloquent American who ever lived.

One, Two, Three (1961)-Billy Wilder’s hilarious Cold War spoof which showed why the Soviets were going to ultimately lose their contest with the US.



Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)-John Ford’s celebration of young Mr. Lincoln and a young America.

More to explorer


  1. Thank you for a wonderful list.

    “They Were Expendable” is one of my top ten. It is valuable in that we see the visceral courage, skill, and humanity it took to hold out to the end in the PI at throughout the war.

    “Hamburger Hill” is another good one on the common soldier, his love for his brothers, and his uncommon valor. That battalion was 3/187, 101st Div. This war my son was with 1/187/101. The Warden and I were at the homecoming ceremony – heartwarming and touching, especially for the young families.

  2. Took the plunge last year and watched 1776 with the kids— it was a blast.
    “You are obnoxious and disliked.”
    “Yes, yes I know!”

  3. I’ve seen most, even Ruggles. Though I have a question. Years ago, when The History Channel had shows about history, there was a series where they showed movies and then had historians analyze their impact, accuracy and so on. They showed Glory, and one of the historians said that the scene where the black soldiers demand more was inaccurate, since in fact it was as much the white soldiers demanding equal compensation for the black soldiers. I wonder if that is true. I’ve never been able to find anything about that from a source I consider credible, but then the Civil War not being my forte, I might just not know where to look.

  4. Don, many thanks for this list. We listen to the original cast recording of 1776 every July 4th (it’s better than the movie). By the way, as Adams predicted, the erasure to ensure South Carolina’s “Yea” had its terrible consequence in the Civil War and the ensuing race problems in the South and then the North.

  5. The Patriot with Mel Gibson, and if I can suggest another…Unconquered with Gary Cooper. Unconquered was set in the French & Indian War, includes a short discussion involving Ben Franklin over who owns the Forks (Pittsburgh) – Virginia or Pennsylvania, which was one of the big reasons for that war, as France held Fort Duquesne until the end and defeated General Washington in a skirnish along the present day National Pike.

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