The Fourth of July brought independence to the original thirteen colonies that went on to form the United States of America. But it also gave us countless holiday weekends for movie-going. Thanks to the Declaration of Independence telling the Kingdom of Great Britain to take a hike, Hollywood now has both a day to release movies and a day to stage iconic scenes.
From marching band performances to alien invasions, the Fourth of July has meant many things to many films, but the directors who know how to use it correctly have delivered some of the most indelible images of Americana to ever grace theaters. Here are ten of the most memorable Fourth of July events ever to take place in those films.
10. The big parade, “The Music Man” (1962)
It may not be normal to see a marching band with 76 trombones in a parade today. Back in 1912, however, when “The Music Man” takes place, playing the trombone must have been about as common as learning to drive. In the end, River City assembled one juggernaut of a trombone section for their parade, and thanks to their efforts, an instrument retailer somewhere became very, very rich.
9. The signing, “1776” (1972)
After finalizing the Declaration of Independence and singing their way through every step the founding fathers rip one last page off the calendar on their wall and make their treason against England official. There’s not much humor left in the room by the time they finish arguing about birds and receive a somber letter from George Washington, but despite one last disagreement over grammar, everyone in the room seems to be satisfied with their choice.
8. Holly Hunter does the splits, “Miss Firecracker” (1989)
Only in movies could Holly Hunter ever have been an underdog to win a beauty pageant, but she shambles her way through the talent competition with series of strange acrobatics, and the moment she does the splits on stage marks the defining moment of her performance. Her spunk alone set her apart from the competition, but she really sticks the ending.
7. The Overlook Hotel Ball, “The Shining” (1980)
Here’s a weird one, and we’re not going to use this list feature to tell you how to interpret the final scene in “The Shining.” However, the photograph that Jack appears in at the end of the film clearly shows a rollicking party taking place at the Overlook Hotel on July 4, 1921. Presumably, something pretty gruesome occurred after that photo was taken, but how you understand everything that took place before the movie is your business.
6. Baseball After Dark, “The Sandlot” (1993)
In case the rest of this film didn’t get the idea across to you that Benny was destined for baseball greatness, while his pals were just playing for the love of the game, director David M. Evans threw in this scene. In a display of wide-eyed cherubic patriotism, the boys all forget to field the ball and get weak in the knees watching their town’s fireworks display. Meanwhile, the ball rolls gently into the grass.
5. Ronnie watches the parade, “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989)
As a little kid in Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning classic, Tom Cruise’s character played with some seriously realistic-looking toy guns. He also attended a smoky small-town Fourth of July parade. The opening sequence for “Born on the Fourth of July” contains a few heavy, foreboding glimpses of the horrors of war, and it’s one of the most memorable depictions of the holiday in film.
4. Second Zodiac Killer attack, “Zodiac” (2007)
David Fincher gets his serial killer suspense ride off to a hot start as a young couple gets ambushed during a romantic lovers’ lane moment together in their car. From young victim Mike Mageau wearing too many shirts to the false alarm they experience when another vehicle drives by with some Independence Day explosives, the movie starts off at a simmer and bubbles over into a terrifying opening.
3. Shark Attack, “Jaws” (1975)
Despite ample evidence that a killer shark is on the loose, Mayor Larry Vaughn rolls the dice and leaves the Amity Island beach open to attract Fourth of July tourists. Predictably, this turns out to be a very bad choice, and a shark attack makes him quickly start to regret his decision. The rest is the stuff of summer blockbuster history.
2. Lou Gehrig’s Speech, “Pride of the Yankees” (1942)
Gary Cooper brought tears to the eyes of Yankee Stadium in his reenactment of baseball legend Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech. Cooper nails the monologue in his starring role, but the real piece of history in the background is none other than Babe Ruth looking on and playing himself. You don’t even have to be a Yankee fan to enjoy it.
1. The POTUS takes his stand, “Independence Day” (1996)
Bill Pullman made the Fourth of July the world’s holiday with a little help from a bullhorn in “Independence Day.” As Earth prepared to wave goodbye to its new hero Randy Quaid, the President of the United States revved up his troops to take down the ugly alien scum who had just blown up all of our landmarks. This is what watching a summer event movie on Fourth of July weekend is all about.