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The best patriotic films for the 4th of July

Rocky IV (1985)

It may be worth repeating that Rocky Balboa not end the Cold War. But Rocky IV will make you wish he had. The most ridiculous and giggle-inducing of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky films, Rocky IV is also glorified Reagan-era propaganda, in which the plucky American underdog heads to Moscow on Christmas Day to practically behead a Soviet Minotaur in an act of one-armed combat. So when America's hero, our dear Rock, inevitably triumphs over Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), completely wrapped in an American flag cape, it's as if our champion has defeated them, signaling the permanent rise of capitalism and democracy.

The whole thing is so absurdly over the top that it is endearing to the modern eye. This is one of the 80s movies of all time, complete with three Montages of synthesized MTV hits with music video-inspired editing, plus an actual James Brown musical number and a damn talking robot that recognized AI 40 years early as the glorified toy of the rich that it became. Let the jingoism wash over you like a warm blanket as you wonder how Rocky, a character once rooted in '70s naturalism, got to the point where he's a Saturday morning cartoon.

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

As one of the few sequels that surpasses its predecessor in every way, Top Shooter: Maverick adapts one of the most patriotic and best blockbusters of the 80s into a film that is just as stirring and tear-jerking as its predecessor – but now into a truly gripping adventure about honor, sacrifice and duty. Simply the best “legacy sequel” we’ve had yet, loner Tom Cruise returns to his most popular role to pass the mantle… to himself! While in lonerincluding rising star Glen Powell, this is still Cruise's show, and the film is about Maverick/Cruise never being able to stay grounded.

Instead Top Shooter: Maverick soars through the vast blue with majestic images of Navy jets reaching 3Gs, with real actors like Cruise, Powell and Miles Teller in the cockpits and on IMAX lenses falling unconscious. Their mission is a combination of the 1986 original TopGun and George Lucas' first war of stars Cruise must lead a group of young guns on what appears to be a suicide mission, flying their jets through the canyon (or trench) of an unnamed enemy to pull off the impossible shot. The story provides a wonderful ticking clock mechanism that makes all the sunset motorcycle rides, shirtless beach sports and Jerry Lee Lewis sing-alongs that much more poignant and impactful. Cruise really might be the last of the old-school movie stars, and he might even get all Americans to stand up for this one.

Lincoln (2012)

For those who want to experience another era of hard times in American history, where people’s souls were tested, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln has been oddly underrated in the decade-plus since its release. It is still credited for the titanic performance of Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his efforts. And Day-Lewis is indeed astonishing in a role that goes beyond the mere gimmick of prosthetic makeup; he actually becomes so completely engaging and disarming as a folksy Indiana lawyer with a raconteur's flair. The actor has even recaptured Lincoln's supposedly high-pitched voice and laugh that was so well-received during his lifetime.

But apart from a great rapprochement with the greatest president of the United States, Lincoln has the goodness to take Honest Abe off his marble pedestal and place him in the grime and mud of 1860s America. Wisely choosing to study just a few weeks of the 16th president's life rather than trying to cram everything in, the film offers insight into how Lincoln created a more perfect union for himself through seduction, persuasion and, when necessary, force – in this case, by expediting the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which constitutionally banned slavery once and for all, even before the Civil War was over. It's a film about political process and how sausage is made; something that sounds dry but turns out to be a gift in the hands of a chef determined to leave a better legacy for future generations.