6 All-American Films for Your Family on the 4th of July

You’ve had a fun-filled day with BBQ’s and Slip ‘n’ Slides, maybe an impromptu baseball game or two, and the not-to-be missed fireworks. But while your kids were busy eating and playing and oohing and aaahing throughout the holiday, you might have forgotten to dish out the patriotism alongside the potato salad.
Before you call it a night, gather together for one of these all-American flicks and celebrate your patriotism:

An American Tail

G, 1986

This is a delightful animated film about a family of Russian-Jewish mice who flee to America for a better, cat-free life. After too many run-ins with the cats back home, the Mousekewitz family, with their son Fievel, flee to America on a ship. Disaster strikes just before they land; Fievel gets washed overboard and will have to tough it out in the New World alone. His adventures bring him into contact with the colorful and determined immigrant mice that make up the other New York City – and his ingenuity saves the day!

For viewers of all ages, young ones will love the over-the-top characters like Warren G. Rat and the adorable Fievel himself. The rest of the family will appreciate the big issues and inspirational overtones.

Forrest Gump

PG-13, 1994

This iconic film, about the amazing things that happen in the life of an ordinary American man, is a warm-hearted story that weaves itself in and out of many important events in modern history.

Forrest Gump isn’t the brightest child and he’s teased mercilessly by the other kids at school – his only friend is a girl named Jenny, who herself has problems with her abusive, hard-drinking father. Forrest’s luck starts to change, however, when his amazing running talent lands him on the football team and eventually takes him to the University of Alabama.

His life is changed by major events like the Vietnam War, the easing of relations with China and even the computer revolution, his path crossing with Jenny’s periodically. Theirs is the romance aspect, with Forrest loyally in love with Jenny, that eventually gets him a one-night stand before she does her disappearing magic trick. She does write him three years later, with news of Forrest’s son – and that she’s dying of AIDS. The two marry and Jenny dies, leaving Forrest to raise their son alone. The movie closes with him waiting for his son to come home from his first day of school.

There is definitely a good dose of adult content and language – hence the PG-13 rating – but is a good choice for tweens and teens looking for a fun overview some of the most iconic events in American history between the 1950’s and 1980’s – and the soundtrack itself reads like a course in modern popular music history that only adds depth to the viewing pleasure.


PG-13, 2012

What better way to celebrate the USA than to watch this film about one of the greatest of the American presidents? There have been many movies made about Abraham Lincoln, but this latest is arguably one of the best.

The movie’s narrow focus looks at just the last few months of Lincoln’s life. The end of the Civil War is finally in sight, but Lincoln worries that if the Thirteenth Amendment isn’t passed before the end of the Confederacy, the Southern states will try to re-enslave those that have already been freed. Through a series of political maneuvers, he achieves his goal – by a mere two votes! Not long after, he joins his wife to watch a play at Ford’s Theater, where… well, you know.

There are intense scenes of war, violence, some language, and of course, the assassination. However, Daniel Day Lewis’s performance as Lincoln is phenomenal and teens and tweens can get a better understanding of one of the most important periods of American history.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Not Rated, 1939

Want to get your patriotism on with a foray into classic films? Not only will this movie get you in-the-know when it comes to our political system, it will also introduce your kiddos to some major American icons like Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra. This 1939 black and white flick about a young, naïve senator who goes on a one-man fight against greed and corruption in the capital, is a must see for both politically-minded kids and movie buffs.

Jefferson Smith (from an unnamed Western state) is chosen to go to Washington when the current senator passes away – and the D.C. press quickly label him a hayseed for his back-country ways. Jefferson, however, carries on and comes up with a bill that would donate a large area of land in his home state for a national boys’ camp. What he does not know is that his patron, Senator Paine, already has earmarked that land for a corrupt, behind-the-scenes deal. In an epic battle of the politico pundits, Stewart filibusters the Senate to avoid enacting Paine’s underhanded deal – and the suspense is sure to have you on the edge of your seat.

This is a feel-good, David-and-Goliath movie and Stewart’s passionate filibuster about American ideals will have your patriotic heart pumping threefold. It’s appropriate for all ages, though younger children will need help understanding all of the plot.

National Treasure

PG, 2004

Nicholas Cage is at his corny hero best in this action-adventure Da Vinci Code full of conspiracy theories, hidden cryptic clues, and a long-buried national secret.

Cage plays Benjamin Franklin Gates, a third-generation treasure hunter whose family has passed down legends of a national treasure from ancient Egypt, hidden hundreds of years ago by the Founding Fathers. When it becomes obvious that one of the clues to this treasure is hidden in the Declaration of Independence, Gates goes on a daring quest to steal it before it can be stolen by a corrupt colleague! The clues lead through places like the Franklin Institute and Independence Hall, ending up in an underground vault beneath the historic Trinity Church.

There is plenty of history to go around and the wild treasure hunt will spark an interest in the founding of our nation.

Saving Private Ryan

R, 1998

There’s probably no greater evidence in history of American heroism than the Normandy Landings – and the Allied Invasion sets the tone here for some major patriotism. But it doesn’t stop with fighting the bad guys – that’s all secondary storyline. Sure, the 2nd Ranger Battalion has secured a beachhead under Captain Miller’s leadership. But it’s not all victory and celebrations: Two brothers have been killed in action. So has their third brother, in New Guinea. Add to that a missing fourth sibling – Private James Ryan – and you have a load of bad news to deliver to a mom back home.

To add a silver lining to the darkness of war, the US Army hopes to find that one Private Ryan and bring him back home. This story of camaraderie in the face of war – and its aftermath – will have you seeing soldiers not just as battle heroes, but as compassionate human beings with the courage to care.

What are some of your favorite patriotic movies to watch on the 4th or otherwise?

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