Today is the fourth of July, which means that in the United States, we’re celebrating Independence Day. In honor of this most American of holidays, I’m highlighting some of my favorite scenes from movies and TV that are designed to inspire, uplift, and generally make the viewer explode in a red, white, and blue confetti burst of American pride. I’m not saying these scenes or the movies/shows they come from are necessarily good (although I’m not not saying that either) but by golly, they sure are patriotic.
10) The underdogs of the USA hockey team beat the Soviet Union, Miracle
As inspirational USA-vs-the-world sports movies go, it doesn’t get much better than Miracle, the story of the USA men’s hockey team’s journey to the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics. Going into the first medal round game against the heavily favored Soviet Union, Team USA was considered extreme underdogs, but wound up pulling off one of the biggest upsets in sports history. This joyous closing scene includes all sorts of things Americans love: being the best at sports, a triumphant underdog story, man-hugs, victorious fist-raising, waving flags, wrapping people in flags, and singing the Star Spangled Banner. To the flag.
9) Leslie Knope wins a spot on City Council by 21 votes, Parks and Recreation
Despite being a quirky comedy about the inner workings of a small city parks department, at its core, Parks and Recreation was about the eternal optimism of its main character, Leslie Knope, her relationships with her co-workers, and her ambitious dreams for the city she loved, Pawnee. When Leslie decides to run for City Council, it’s an uphill battle, but this scene where she finally wins by a tiny margin — and only after a recount — makes it all worth it, especially when Ben reveals he believes in her so much that he never wrote her concession speech. Yes, later it all falls apart, but in this moment, Leslie’s victory is all about the rewards of hard work, the triumph of democracy, and the power of each individual vote.
8) President Shepherd stands up for his girl, and also America, The American President
You’ve gotta admire Aaron Sorkin for his endless optimism about the positive potential of American politics. At the end of The American President, Michael Douglas’s President Andrew Shepherd gives an impassioned speech defending his girlfriend, and by proxy, the rights of all Americans. By the end, he not only gets the audience believing in the power of American Freedom, and that he can single-handedly put a stop to global warming and gun-related crime, but also in the power of True Love. That’s some speech.
Bonus: Martin Sheen playing Shepherd’s Chief of Staff smiling approvingly in the background, which just gives the whole thing an air of “Bartlet approves.”
7) Dave Kovic balances the budget and saves a homeless shelter, Dave
Who knew a budget meeting could be so moving? Dave, which is about an everyman presidential doppelganger who impersonates the President so no one will know the actual President is in a coma, is…one of the stranger premises out there. Yet thanks to endearing performances from Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, I fully buy into it. In this scene, Dave walks into a budget meeting after pulling an all-nighter with his accountant friend Murray and manages to free up $650 million to save a homeless shelter they previously thought would have to close. It’s the way we all wish meetings in Washington went, with everyone working together and willing to compromise and sacrifice for the greater good. Sure, technically Dave has no political experience at all and is doing something highly illegal, but by this point, none of us care. The President was a jerk and Dave is great and they saved the homeless shelter and YAY AMERICA.
6) Steve Rogers captures the flag, Captain America: The First Avenger
You thought I was going to pick Cap punching Hitler, didn’t you? But while that scene is certainly star-spangled, it’s pre-serum Steve’s journey through boot camp that, in my opinion, more accurately captures the American ideals the Captain is supposed to symbolize: perseverance, ingenuity, and more than a little bit of spunk. By really highlighting Steve’s character early on in the movie, it gets the audience rallying behind him and ready to salute before he ever picks up his shield. Plus, giving us a weakling-Steve-at-boot-camp montage allows us to root for a plucky underdog before he undergoes the procedure that turns him into Captain Good-At-Literally-Everything, and you know how much we Americans love to root for plucky underdogs.
5) President Bartlet calls the Butterball Hotline, The West Wing
Let’s be real, this list could easily be comprised entirely of West Wing scenes and it would still be pretty valid. I know it might be a little odd to pick a comedic, throwaway scene out of the entire West Wing canon of moving speeches and impassioned debates, but there’s something just so unapologetically American about this scene in which the President poses as “Joe Bethesonton from 11454 Pruter Street, Apartment 23-R, Fargo, North Dakota, 50504” in order to get tips from the Butterball Hotline on whether or not he should cook his stuffing inside his Thanksgiving turkey. The scene ends with a pleased-as-punch Bartlet telling Toby, “That was excellent. We should do that once a week,” and I’ve gotta admit, I’m a little sad that every episode from that point on didn’t include a snippet of Bartlet chatting with the turkey experts.
4) Eddie Valentine switches sides, The Rocketeer
“I may not make an honest buck, but I’m a hundred percent American,” says mob boss Eddie Valentine before turning his gun on undercover Nazi Neville Sinclair in the final climax of The Rocketeer. The scene then (literally) blows up in an unlikely shootout with the FBI and the mob fighting together to take down the Nazis, a superhero striking a power pose in front of a billowing American flag, and a fistfight on top of an exploding Zeppelin. It’s one of the more absurd twists in a somewhat ridiculous (albeit awesome) movie, but you can’t deny the abundant, optimistic patriotism.
3) Oil drillers prepare to launch into space and save the world, Armageddon
Despite the President’s insistence that he’s speaking “not as the leader of a country, but as a citizen of humanity,” let’s be real, this scene is one of the most American sequences to ever be put on film. Putting aside the fact that there is an American flag in basically every other shot, you also have to buy into the premise that the entire world trusted the Americans to save humanity with their bizarre “oil rig workers in space” plan. If that’s not Peak American Logic, I don’t know what is. And yet, between the slo-mo power shots of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and the epic score from Trevor Rabin, it’s hard to watch without feeling at least the tiniest urge to salute a flag.
2) “Get off my plane,” Air Force One
There are no impassioned speeches in this scene, no flags, no military salutes, but when you have President Harrison Ford punching terrorists in the face to reclaim Flying America, you don’t really need them. Even though overall, this movie doesn’t do a lot to instill much faith in either the U.S. government or the Secret Service, the fact that the President and the First Lady manage to take back their plane and take out Gary Oldman’s chilling villain all by themselves kind of makes up for everything else.
1) President Whitmore rallies the troops, Independence Day
C’mon, we all knew this was going to be at the top of the list. While Independence Day is chock full of patriotic moments, nothing inspires more good ol’ fashioned American Spirit than Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore speaking to a ragtag group of pilots before he himself climbs into a cockpit and flies off to fight aliens. I mean, just listen to those final few lines: “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!”
If you don’t want to salute and cheer and wrap yourself in a flag and ride an eagle after that, I just don’t understand.
What about you? Which are your favorite patriotic scenes from film and TV? Are you a fan of Rocky punching out Ivan Drago and draping himself in an American flag in Rocky IV? Superman returning the flag to the White House in Superman II? Tom Hanks facing down a tank in Saving Private Ryan? The planes taking off from the aircraft carrier in Pearl Harbor? Let us know in the comments!