With the recent release of the super patriotic Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which was no doubt strategically distributed just in time for the 4th of July holiday, we thought it would be a good idea to try and figure out which American movie is the most patriotic. Such a question naturally leads into some healthy debating, and the more we thought about it the more difficult we found it to pinpoint which single film is more ardently loyal and proudly American than all the rest. However, with some careful thought we were able to compile the Top 5 most patriotic movies ever.
Before we list the privileged few we must first set up some conditions. For a movie to qualify for our list it had to meet three requirements: it had to portray the United States as a uniform protagonist (if only symbolically) and could not just be a story about one single American, the U.S. had to have been in opposition to some thing or other country in some way (not necessarily in terms of war, but it’s admittedly a running theme), and it had to at some point visually glorify a national symbol (with the most common example being the American flag). With these parameters now set let us get right to it!
5 – Top Gun
This ‘80s action/romance/buddy flick has ridden the wave of popularity since its release, and that wave may never crest. On the surface it is about Tom Cruise’s coming of age story as he deals with the perilousness of his job as a fighter pilot, but below that the film is about demonstrating the might of the USAF. The movie’s unabashed pro-American attitude fit perfectly with its release during the Cold War, and for many of the same reasons it was popular then it has become a staple for relishing pride in the USA’s armed forces in general. Our men aren’t the best simply because of their training, but also because they’re mavericks. Fun Fact: A great game to play when watching this movie is Count the American Flags.
4 – Air Force One
Confused by this selection? Don’t be. With Harrison Ford as the president kicking butt to take back control of one of the most illustrious American icons, this film radiates so much patriotism that if a communist were to even come close to passing by a DVD of it in a store he would suddenly feel the urge to get a tattoo of George Washington riding a giant bald eagle. Ford himself is one of the indelible American movie icons, and seeing him stave off the attacks of a group of terrorists aiming to free a tyrannical general makes you wish he really were our president. And if he were, you know that you would have a totally new sense of American pride.
3 – Miracle
This movie is perhaps the most obviously chosen of the bunch. It really doesn’t get much simpler than this: The USA versus the USSR on a hockey rink in a David and Goliath story. The tale itself doesn’t qualify as a categorically American narrative, but that the story is based from true events allows older generations to bask in the triumph of the American will and recall their pride in the nation’s best athletes. Also, it allows for younger generations to get a sense of the feeling of accomplishment that they can look forward to perhaps sharing with each other sometime in the future. There are other David and Goliath movies that are plenty patriotic (Rocky comes to mind) but this is not just about one individual against another, it is about whole countries facing off to determine – without war – which is the most dominant superpower. USA! USA! USA!
2 – Saving Private Ryan
The patriotism oozing from every frame of this film is of a different sort than that emitting from the previous three . It doesn’t so much brag about the might of the U.S. as it demonstrates the grit that American troops had in fighting in a war against perhaps the most formidable evil the world has ever known. Like Apollo 13 it is not about playing off the U.S. as a righteous nation, but a nation that takes seriously the tremendous value inherent within every individual. The opening and closing shots of the film which focus on the American flag blowing in the wind are thought of by some to be reverting to Tacky Scriptwriting 101, but they serve to remind the audience that as a sovereign nation it is periodically necessary to risk the lives of many for the value of the individual.
1 – The Patriot
No surprise here, the title says it all. The role that Mel Gibson plays characterizes perfectly the history of the United States and its feelings toward the price of freedom. He, like the country, has a brutal past that he is not proud of, but he uses that shame and the grief of losing loved ones to fuel his passion for the greater cause of liberating a budding nation from unjust rule. He proves that the personal cost of freedom can be nearly unbearable, but for the sake of a brighter future for everyone it is nevertheless worth it. The deaths of so many are justified only in the achievement of freedom, and fixed within that achievement is the possibility of having anything good we can earn. The climactic waving of the flag during a battle against General Cornwallis’ troops was the defining moment (in the film) when these ideas were attached to a national symbol, creating an iconic image that motivated the American soldiers to push on and win the day.
Honorable Mentions That Didn’t Meet the Criteria (in no particular order)
Red Badge of Courage
All Quiet on the Western Front
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
The Great Escape
The Right Stuff