July 4th weekend is usually reserved for some of the biggest released in the cinematic calendar. Shoot-the-works spectacle, star-studded affairs — all can be found with 4th of July release dates. While this year the tradition was a bit hampered by where the weekend fell on the calendar, we got the staff together to vote on what they though were…
The Top 10 Films Released on 4th of July Weekend
Why I Love It (Daniel Cohen): There are two elements of Armageddon I could do without: The Ben Affleck/Liv Tyler animal cracker scene is unfortunate. It’s also frustrating that the worst Aerosmith song of all time ironically became their biggest hit. I’m sorry, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” blows bags. Ugh.
Aside from that, Armageddon is the quintessential iconic piece of nineties blockbuster entertainment there is, with the exception of maybe Independence Day. This is just a thoroughly entertaining movie I could watch at any time. Yes, we all hate Michael Bay. He’s an infuriating director. No doubt. There were times though were all the stars aligned and his bombastic style hit you at just the right moment. In 1996 it was The Rock. Two years later, it was Armageddon.
Yes, the movie is dumb. I’m not going to try and defend this as a Mensa hall of fame candidate. What separates Armageddon from other dumb movies like xXx and the Fast & Furious crap are the characters. Armageddon had actual characters with actual personalities. When you look back at Armageddon, you forget how massive this cast really was. Bruce Willis. Billy Bob Thornton. Will Patton. Michael Clarke Duncan. Peter Stormare. William Fichtner. Jason Isaacs. Owen Wilson. That’s one hell of a roster, and they all get their moment.
Anyone would agree the obvious standout was Steve Buscemi as Rockhound, who’s a genius, but a complete asshole. He’s hilarious. My favorite moment from him is when Billy Bob Thornton is going over the plan and Rockhound raises his hand and describes a scene out of a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon. That’s brilliant. Not only is it funny, but it describes just how ridiculous this movie is. Steve Buscemi was fairly well known at this point, but it’s this movie that truly put him on the map as “that guy” among film fans.
Favorite Scene: I have to go with the montage where everyone goes through a psych evaluation. Not only was this a great way to learn how these characters tick, but it’s also consistently hilarious for different reasons. Aside from the yucks, it’s a crucial scene. This is why we end up caring about these characters in the end. And even though they obviously save the world, not all of them make it out, and you feel that as the movie progresses. I really felt it when Max, the goofy fat guy played by Ken Hudson Campbell, bit the dust. You can trace it all back to this scene.
July 4th Relevance: A bunch of Americans save the world. The end.
9. A League of Their Own
Why I Love it (Bill Bodkin): I knew the iconic scenes and lines well before I ever saw this movie — which was nearly (and embarrassingly) 20 years after its release. Since I knew the stories, and the most famous bits I really thought I knew this film, and when I finally began to watch it my expectations were low.
How silly of me.
A League of Their Own is probably one of the best baseball movies in film history. Throw it up there with Pride of the Yankees, Major League, Field of Dreams, etc. It has tremendous heart, genuine characters you get behind, and it’s a damn funny movie. The laughs come mainly from Tom Hanks, who was just about ending his pre-Oscar era. Hanks, loud-mouth, drunk manager is the perfect comedic foil for the eclectic group of baseball novices he’s recruited to manage.
Gena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Lori Petty are tremendous in their roles. Hell, even Madonna is good in this movie as “All the Way Mae.” You know when Madonna is good in a movie, this film is high art.
And let’s not forget the baseball! The action sucks you in, just like all the classics made about America’s past time.
Favorite Scene: It’s a small scene, but when Davis’ character decides to return to the team, even though we all thought she’d left to go home with her returning vet husband (Bill Pullman), she has to talk to Tom Hanks. Hanks tries to play a tough guy, and say she’s been gone for so long why should she play? Then he slowly admits he needs her, and puts her in. It’s a fun little scene that shows both the heart and comedy of the film.
4th of July Relevance: A movie about America’s past time. ‘Nuff said.
7. (tie) Apollo 13
Why I Love It (Bill Bodkin): Apollo 13 succeeds as a great film (and criminally underrated too), because it succeeds in making you forget history. Go to any history book, or do a quick internet search, and you’ll find that the crew of the Apollo 13 survived their horrific space ordeal. Yet, throughout Ron Howard’s epic opus you are a the edge of your seat hoping and praying that our heroes would make it home.
That is a sign of a great movie.
Apollo 13 is a sweeping historical drama, an intimate character study, an edge of your seat thriller, and a damn good time at the movies. The trio of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton are absolutely perfect together. Each man plays their historic role with such convoking passion you forget you’re watching a film and feel like you’re viewing found footage from some in-spaceshipm camera.
What’s a shame is that Hanks was not nominated for an Oscar his role as Jim Lovell. Yes, he was hot off Oscar wins for Philadelphia, and Forrest Gump. However, Hanks was absolutely deserved of a nom here. It was a strong year for the Oscars — Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas), and Sean Pean (Dead Man Walking) were the top two contenders. But the rest of the noms — Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone’s long forgotten Nixon, Richard Dreyfus in the overrated Mr. Holland’s Opus, and the posthumous nom for Massimo Troisi in Il Postino: The Postman — no way they deserve a nom over Hanks.
Favorite Scene: The re-entry. Thrilling. Horrifying. Emotional. Perfect.
4th of July Relevance: A movie about the American space program starring one of America’s greatest leading men, AND Kevin Bacon.
7. (Tie) Superman Returns
Why I Love It (Josh Sarnecky): In the mid-2000s, back when the idea of a cinematic comic universe was still nothing more than a pipe dream, Warner Bros. and DC Comics had a dilemma. After 1997’s disastrous Batman & Robin, the studio successfully rebooted the Batman franchise with on-the-rise director Christopher Nolan at the helm, but DC’s other marquee superhero had still been warming the theatrical bench since 1987.
They knew they wanted to bring Superman back to the silver screen, yet they repeatedly failed to produce a viable solution. At one point, WB and DC even signed off on a Tim Burton-directed Superman movie with Nicolas Cage in the title role, which thankfully never saw the light of day. Instead, director Bryan Singer approached the studio with a rather unconventional but ingenious idea: partially rebooting the franchise by placing the new film in the continuity of the Christopher Reeve series. The latest movie would retcon the original series, placing itself chronologically after the last critically successful Superman film (Superman II) and ignoring the character’s previously panned films (Superman III and Superman IV). The plan was bold, powered by nostalgia, and in need of a clear vision. Thankfully, after his success starting up Fox’s X-Men franchise, Bryan Singer was more than up for the job. And the result was Superman Returns.
Fan reaction to the movie may not be stellar and certainly hasn’t improved over the years, but I will defend this film until the day I die. In many ways, Superman Returns is the polar opposite of Man of Steel. Unlike Zack Snyder’s 2013 reboot, Singer’s take on the character often prioritizes heart over action, and character moments over set pieces. You can count the number of times Superman/Clark Kent (Brandon Routh) throws a punch in this movie on one hand. Instead, the action scenes focus on Superman saving lives and averting catastrophes.
Superman understands that he is first and foremost a symbol of hope. Rather than explaining the symbolism of his costume, this version of the character displays this belief every time he listens for cries for help and rushes into danger, even when his invulnerability is fading. And that is why I love this film. Just like Superman and Superman II, the 2006 semi-reboot demonstrates a sincere understanding of what this hero represents. Committed to his love for Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) and mankind, Superman sees the best in humanity and uses his gifts to both protect and inspire them, even at the cost of his own safety and happiness. Once you recognize Superman Returns as less of an action move and more of a character study, the film proves its greatness and demonstrates “Why the World Needs Superman.”
Favorite Scene: Lex Luthor captures Lois Lane.
While the criticism of the performances in this film is fair, no one can deny that Kevin Spacey shines as Lex Luthor. Taking some cues from Gene Hackman’s performance in the original series, Spacey’s Luthor is still over-the-top, but much more serious than his predecessor. As a result, Luthor’s “interview” with Lois is playful but intimidating, witty yet hostile. The scene is incredibly fun and illustrates how perfect Spacey was for the role, even though his portrayal is still not the most comics-accurate version of the character. Other moments from the movie may be more sincere and hit me more emotionally, but this interchange is simply a joy to behold and a true testament to Spacey’s talent.
July 4th Relevance: Outside of Captain America, there is probably no other mainstream superhero as patriotic as Superman. Even though Perry White may have flubbed the hero’s famous mission statement (“Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?”), Superman still stands as a true symbol of the American Way in this film. Beyond being an immigrant (try building a wall to keep him out) and a member of the free press (I can imagine Lex Luthor criticizing the Daily Planet as fake news), Clark Kent/Superman clings to the belief that anyone with the ability to protect, save or assist the endangered, suffering, and less fortunate has an obligation to do so. Some may eschew this impulse as American interventionism, but I believe the sentiment speaks to the American ideal of helping those in need and standing as an example for others to follow. As such, Superman Returns is just the kind of inspiring, patriotic film we need this Fourth of July.
6. Big Trouble in Little China
Why I Love It (Ann Hale): John Carpenter, creator of film greats such as Halloween and The Thing, brings us to Chinatown where the evil ghost Lo Pan (James Hong) has kidnapped Wang’s (Dennis Dun) green eyed girlfriend, Miao (Suzee Pai). Wang’s friend, truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), along with a local gang lead by the mystical Egg Shen (Victor Wong), will help save Miao and defeat Lo Pan in order to prevent him from becoming human.
Big Trouble in Little China is one of those absurdly awesome films I watch at least once a year. I grew up in a household that loved Kurt Russell, and with brothers who loved watching Big Trouble in Little China quite often, so I have a strong fondness for the film. In fact, it’s one of those movies where, if I hear someone say something negative about it, I like that person just a little bit less. Honestly, I don’t understand what there is to dislike about it. It has Kung-Fu, magic, monsters and comedic gold. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is the perfect film for any mood or occasion. The film is so iconic that it inspired the Mortal Kombat character Raiden, who is based off of Lo Pan’s henchmen, Thunder, Lightning and Rain. What is cooler than that?
I love BTILC because, after about thirty years of watching it, it still hasn’t gotten boring. I could watch it every day and still laugh every time Jack flies down the hallway in the wheelchair or when Thunder blows up like a Cabbage Patch Kid. Every time is like being a kid again, on the couch with my brothers, giggling at the absurdity of it all. It isn’t a film that is supposed to be taken seriously, as it doesn’t take itself seriously. When I just want to relax and watch something great, Big Trouble in Little China is there.
Favorite Scene: (spoiler alert) Jack kills Lo Pan and Thunder comes in and finds his dead body. He keeps sucking in air until his face is cartoonishly massive and then he just explodes into a pile of torn clothes and garbage. You don’t even question why or how it is even possible, you just find yourself hysterically laughing one last time.
July 4th Relevance: Jack Burton is the stereotypical American man. He is tough, handsome, kind of stupid and drives a semi. In the end, Wang couldn’t possibly have defeated Lo Pan and saved Miao without Jack, which is really how Americans see themselves anyway, as the saviors. America saving the day, that’s the Fourth of July way.
5. Men in Black
Why I Love It (Justin Matchick): Explosive action, spectacular effects, big laughs, memorable characters, and an overall sense of fun. These are the hallmarks of what makes a perfect summer blockbuster and Men in Black blends each of these elements seamlessly into an excellently paced ninety minutes. The intergalactic action-comedy about the rookie MIB Agent J (Will Smith) and his grizzled older partner Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) features inventive alien designs and incredibly fun set-pieces without ever relying too much on the CGI so many other movies in the late 90’s used as a crutch.
The buddy cop relationship between J and K drives much of the movie as Smith and Jones prove to be perfect foils for one another. Vincent D’Onofrio delivers a masterclass on physical comedy as a bug-like alien inhabiting a human body. His attempts at appearing human despite barely being able to fit inside his human host provide a constant source of hilarity throughout.
Director Barry Sonnenfeld (The Addams Family, Get Shorty) and editor Jim Miller managed to not only combine these elements smoothly, but gave the film a steady pacing that never feels bogged down or rushed; not a single scene is wasted. In an era where the average summer blockbuster runs for two and a half hours and is inundated with muddled action scenes covered up with CGI, it’s nice to look back at Men in Black as a high-water mark all other Fourth of July tent pole films should strive to be.
Favorite Scene: Agent J discovering the full power of the minuscule “Noisy Cricket” gun is a small, but great example of the way the film is able to blend physical comedy, wanton destruction, and J & K’s wildly different personalities all at once.
July 4th Relevance: Independence Day is known for family get-togethers and barbecues, and Men in Black provides a great moment like this when J starts stomping out the alien bug’s extended family before the bug is barbecued from the inside-out by K.
4. Spider-Man 2
Why I Love It (Daryn Kirscht): Regarded as one of the best movies in the superhero genre, Spider-Man 2, directed by Sam Raimi, is then easily qualified as one of the best movies to ever be released during the July 4th weekend. This movie sequel sees Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) taking on Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and all of his robotic, tentacle arms. What makes Spider-Man 2 stand out from the crowd is just how incredible the film balances everything, including action, character, quirky humor, and the pacing that goes along with it.
One variable that stands the test of time is how well the villain is portrayed. It seems like more often than not we see at least slightly bland, stereotyped villains with superhero films, but Doc Ock is a great one. We see that he never wanted to become a villain, and deep down he is a good guy, which makes us sympathize with him. Plus, come on, he has robotic, tentacle arms that smash things and uses them to climb up and down buildings – it’s awesome!
The best part of this movie has to be the characterization of not just Peter Parker, but all of the lead and supporting roles. Harry Osborne continues his storyline from the first film and is seeking revenge for the death of his father, which he blames on Spider-Man. Parker begins to lose himself and his abilities, as Spider-Man begins to diminish. This leads him on a journey to re-discover his true identity and reclaim the mantle of Spider-Man in time to save not just Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), but most of New York City. Also, it is always a joy to see J.K Simmons and Rosemary Harris in their respective roles as J. Jonah Jameson and Aunt May.
Favorite Scene: The best scene in this film is tough to pick from. While I’m tempted to pick the elevator scene, I think the train sequence is the best. It begins with Spidey meeting up with Doc Ock on top of a tower in New York City, but then transitions into a full-blown action scene that sees them fighting down the tower and on top of a moving train. The sequence shifts when Doc Ock knocks out the engineer, pulls the speed lever on the train full speed ahead, breaks off the speed lever, and leaves the scene. Spider-Man then uses his webs and everything he’s got in order to stop the train just before falling into the body of water. He momentarily passes out, but is caught by the citizens on the train and helped back where he wakes up and recognizes that his mask is off. Recognizing he is startled, the citizens promise not to tell anyone, and a young kid gives him his mask back. It’s such an inspirational action sequence with spectacular writing.
July 4th Relevance: What makes Spider-Man 2 such a wonderful July 4th film (other than being just a great film in general) is that it embodies the good and potential of America. I don’t say that because the setting is in New York City, but because Spider-Man (much like Superman and Captain America) has a moral code and way of doing things that is revealed not through exposition, but through his heroic and selfless actions for the good of mankind. In this film, he’s someone we should all look up and aspire to.
3. Independence Day
Why I Love It (Daryn Kirscht): This has to be an obvious choice for best July 4th film, right? Director Roland Emmerich took on Independence Day in 1996 and did what most other disaster movies have not done with much success: make it a classic action film for the ages. The premise of the film is not revolutionary, but the execution of balancing character, action, humor, and drama has helped this film become the classic we know it to be.
As “Lessons from the Screenplay’s”YouTube channel intricately details, the opening act is near cinematic perfection and is what locks us in for the entire movie. The artistic choice of not being able to see the actual aliens (or clouds sometimes for that matter), but rather seeing how it scales and drastically overwhelms us humans and our world in terms of size is what makes us feel that impact, rather than seeing it (hint, hint, Armageddon). In addition, the opening act also helps us better know the ensemble of characters, which in turn helps us empathize with them when dark moments happen later in the film.
Seeing aliens blow up skyscrapers and the white house is quite a spectacle to see, even if it was over twenty years ago. There are a number of other great scenes that help attribute Independence Day to such a high prestige.
Favorite Scene(s): The scene that features Will Smith’s character, Captain Steven Hiller, flying a jet and being chased by an alien in its own ship in the desert, is always a joy to watch and most likely my favorite from the film. In particular, it is Will Smith’s humor and grounded reaction to extraordinary circumstances that makes the scene.
Another memorable scene from the film is when President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) gives an inspirational speech to his crew, claiming this particular day as “our Independence Day.” It’s an uplifting, touching moment in between the chaos of what could potentially be the end of the world.
July 4th Relevance: Independence Day is clearly one of the best July 4th films for obvious reasons, but a particular moment in President Whitmore’s speech makes this film even more relevant today with its context. When the world is on the potential brink of extinction, he rallies everyone to fight together. It isn’t just Americans, but in fact, every human being on the planet working together for the greater good of the world. The past few years have been divisive among Americans (within our country) and other countries, respectively. Buried within the context of alien invasions and space ships is the subtle message of unity, love, and perseverance, which is something this world could use more of.
2. Back to the Future
Why I Love it (Daniel Cohen): Back to the Future is one of those movies you feel silly talking about. Uh, yeah. This is a great movie. Here’s the 900th reason why it’s awesome. What is there left to discuss? You don’t need me to sit here and talk about how great Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and everybody else is, right? It goes without saying that if you haven’t seen this movie, you are absolutely required to do so. It’s one of those movies where even if you don’t care about film very much, it’s a required life assignment.
I’ll just share a random Back to the Future experience I had. A couple years ago, I got a chance to see it on the big screen. That was pretty cool. The crowd I saw it with laughed obnoxiously at every little detail. Basically, every time George McFly did anything, these two jackals would over laugh. Back to the Future is so good though, I didn’t even care. It’s impossible to take joy out of a Back to the Future experience.
Like most, I’ve seen this movie a billion times. I can quote it inside and out like Star Wars or Rocky. It’s rare I go a full calendar year without popping it in. It’s probably on the brink of being in my top five of all-time favorite films. If there was a national poll done of what everyone’s favorite movie was, Back to the Future would absolutely be in contention. What else is there to say? It’s Back to the Future.
Favorite Scene: Depending on my mood, I may have a different answer, but the first image I always think of when somebody brings up Back to the Future is the George McFly laugh. It’s the greatest laugh in movie history. You can say what you want about crazy Crispin Glover, but nobody could have done what he did in that film.
July 4th Relevance: Are you kidding me? This movie is about as American as apple pie. I have no doubt it’s on TBS or TNT right now.
1. Terminator 2: Judgement Day
Why I Love it (Ann Hale): As a very small child, my father would let me sit and watch The Terminator with him until the part where the T-800 has to remove his eye and then I was kicked out of the room for a few minutes. I suppose it was my father’s logic that the rest of the film wouldn’t traumatize me the way that scene would. By the time T2 came out, I was seven years old and allowed to sit through the entire movie without any restrictions and I just loved it.
I had already watched plenty of 80’s action films, including The Predator, but T2 was completely different than any of the others. The T-1000 terrified me because he could turn into absolutely anyone and, therefore, could have been the father I was watching the movie with, or my mother who was in the kitchen making us cookies. It was also significant to me because I was now watching the same machine who had tried to murder Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in the previous film, help her to survive.
T2 was the first film where I remember feeling sorry for someone I had previously hated. As I said above, the T-800 was awful in the first film. His entire purpose was to wipe out Sarah Connor and, ultimately, her son John. Now I was watching him help them defeat the T-1000 until his own demise. Where I had cheered his death in the first film, I found myself heartbroken to watch him die a second time, but I knew that it wasn’t the end of him, as he was sent from the future by John (Edward Furlong), himself. After all, how could he be dead now if he was alive in the future?
Favorite Scene: My favorite scene is when Sarah is asleep and dreams about the nuclear bomb dropping. We watch as she helplessly screams to save the children on the playground but we watch as the bomb absorbs and turns them all, Sarah included, into dust. It is still, to this day, in my opinion, one of the most intense scenes in cinema history.
July 4th Relevance: America is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We celebrate our independence with explosions of fireworks and action films where America wins and does so with an explosive fury. T2 is that film. It is action packed with guns, bombs and good old America saving the world, once again. Nothing says Happy Independence Day more than that.