13 Most Patriotic Movies Ever: ‘Rocky IV,’ ‘Independence Day’ and More
This Memorial Day, kick back and watch clips of the most patriotic movies ever, from 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy to Tom Cruise’s Top Gun to the Will Smith blockbuster Independence Day.
Act of Valor
This year’s Act of Valor stands as only the most recent in a long tradition of proudly America-praising movies. The film, which tells the story of a kidnapped CIA operative and a terrorist plot against the U.S., is jam-packed with everything from Navy SEALs and the CIA to AK-47s and HALO jumps. The film’s marketing campaign proudly touted the fact that all weapons and tactics used in the film were real and that real-life, active-duty Navy SEALs were used as actors.
Before Mel Gibson directed his “terrifying” rage against elderly ladies, he was using it to fight America’s original archenemies: the British. In The Patriot, Gibson portrays Benjamin Martin, a widower who becomes caught up in the events of the Revolutionary War, and the late, great Heath Ledger plays his son, who fights in the Continental Army. As a foil to the good-hearted American protagonists, filmmakers found the most absolutely evil-looking English actor around for audiences to hate on: Tom Wilkinson, a.k.a. Captain Hook.
In a gush of pro-America, anti–Soviet Union glory, the fourth installment in the Rocky saga pulls out all the stops. Everything from flag-patterned shorts to a live James Brown performance of “Living in America” is used in this scene to intimidate Ivan Drago, the Soviet rival to America’s Apollo Creed (Rocky’s trainee).
Anti-communist sentiment was a popular theme in the 1980s. Red Dawn, from 1984, imagined an America where everything we hold dear—suburbia, letterman jackets, McDonald’s, and the like—is threatened by an invasion by Soviet, Cuban, and Nicaraguan armies. A group of teenagers (portrayed by Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, and Charlie Sheen, among others) form a small group and try to escape to freedom during what the movie calls “World War III.”
It doesn’t get any more American than blue jeans, giant machine guns—and Chuck freakin’ Norris. Invasion U.S.A. (1985) follows the exploits of Matt Hunter, a retired CIA operative, who is forced back on duty to save America from—you guessed it!—Soviet and Cuban communists. Knife-throwing and slow-mo martial arts included.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Col. William F. Guile in this film that’s based loosely on the classic Capcom video game. Though he is an Allied Nations (a multinational military force) commander, Guile reveals his true loyalty to the land of the free when, right before his final showdown with the evil Gen. M. Bison (played by Raul Julia in his last performance), he flexes his bicep and gives his American-flag tattoo a camera close-up.
Most patriotic movies flaunt their pride by having America trounce foreign countries. But 1998’s Armageddon took the patriotism just a teensy step further by having America save the entire planet. In this scene, NASA astronauts board the space shuttle Freedom on a mission to save the earth from a Texas-size asteroid that’s headed straight for Earth. As the American astronauts board amid a flurry of camera flashes and applause, the president delivers a rousing speech heard everywhere from France to China to India and beyond.
D2: The Mighty Ducks
It’s the USA versus the world in D2: The Mighty Ducks, as Emilio Estevez reprises his role as Gordon Bambay, the coach of the USA’s hockey team in the Junior Goodwill Games. This time our archrivals aren’t the British or the Cubans or the Russians—it’s Iceland. Bambay delivers this speech to his disheartened team as they’re down three goals going into the third period of the game against the Nordic country. As a way to boost their morale and pride in being Americans, the Ducks shout out the names of their all-American hometowns, from St. Paul, Minn., to San Francisco, to Bangor, Maine. “Ducks fly together!”
Hockey’s one way to go but it doesn’t get any more Team USA (or Team Everybody vs. Russia) than NASA. This Ron Howard film tells the story of NASA’s greatest almost-tragedy, the seventh manned flight to space in 1970 on the Apollo 13. Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon star in this scene where everything starts going wrong and Hanks delivers the now-iconic line, “Houston, we have a problem.”
Before he was half of the world’s most famous divorce couple, Tom Cruise was just a cute kid in uniform romancing his instructor at the bar with a group rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Pilot prodigy Maverick remains one of Cruise’s most iconic roles, and flying for the U.S. Navy never looked so glamorous.
Yankee Doodle Dandy
Yankee Doodle Dandy, from 1942, tells the story of the man who practically wrote the soundtrack to American patriotism. James Cagney plays George M. Cohan, the composer behind “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Over There” (performed in this clip). The film remains a July 4th classic.
Forget “most patriotic.” The speech delivered by Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore in 1996’s Independence Day, starring Will Smith, is one of the most rousing speeches in fiction, next to Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech. Whitmore addresses young and “nervous”-looking soldiers, who are preparing for one last battle against the alien forces invading Earth. “Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July and you will once again be fighting for our freedom, not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution—but from annihilation,” he declares. “We are fighting for our right to live, to exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our independence day!”