This was a very hard list to make. And I had to use every bit of my negotiation skills to get a top ten for this list. Because a lot of the superhero movies that we love take place in the United States, have American superheroes, and are based on comics written by Americans. Of course, not all, just a lot, especially the mainstream heroes that have been around for decades. So, how did I go about picking a list of the best movies to watch on the Fourth of July?
You would think I would pick every superhero that inspires patriotism for the stars and stripes. I did do that, for some films. But Fourth of July is a time for pride, celebration, and also reflection. Reflection on both the strengths and weaknesses of American society and culture. I will not be a Debbie Downer with this list, of course, the Fourth of July is a holiday after all. But a nice little mixture of different sub-genres with our favorite cinematic category is never a bad idea. So, here are the 10 Best Superhero Films to Watch on the Fourth of July. A list that Uncle Sam would be proud of.
10. The Dark Knight (2008)
So close to including Joker. But a forced perspective on the social negligence towards mental health and class disparities, while that’s a very American problem, doesn’t necessarily fit the summer blockbuster Fourth of July movie mold. And while The Dark Knight contains some of the Joker’s nihilism, it’s still an overall fun, summer movie that everyone can enjoy. However, it is important to point out that the setting that is Gotham does feel like it’s in its own separate world, apart from the rest of the country. One of the reasons why this is the only Batman film on this list. But still, in my opinion, the greatest superhero movie ever is a solid pick for a Fourth of July viewing.
9. Iron Man (2008)
Maybe an unusual pick but there are a lot of American-dream-like themes established in the MCU’s first film. American genius, philanthropist, playboy, billionaire is kidnapped in the Middle East. And is able to build a suit in a cave “with a bunch of scraps,” that no other man at the time can build. Pressing on the theme that despite Stark’s inheritance of his father’s company, he would’ve been successful regardless because of his intelligence and initiative. Very much an affirmation of American capitalism, but also a bold critique of the military-industrial complex. Politics aside, Iron Man is a terrific film to watch for Fourth of July.
8. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The first of the Captain America films on this list and my favorite one. Yet, Civil War doesn’t necessarily fit the criteria of the prototypical, Fourth of July, summer blockbuster movie. Still, the film tackles essential topics such as international law and oversight of the Avengers and their vigilantism. And displays how even the most powerful group of people can crumble from the inside, bringing into conflict two men who are perceived to be everything right about American society in Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. In addition, the movie brings the first black superhero in American comics, Black Panther, into the fold. An easy choice for this list.
7. Superman (1978)
The opening film for the world’s greatest boy scout, Richard Donner’s Superman, was our favorite genre’s first big-budget movie. And is still one of the most star-studded casts ever for a superhero film. With Gene Hackman playing the iconic Lex Luthor and trying to sink most of the West Coast, the Man of Steel must save the world and decide how far he is willing to go to save the ones he loves. Particularly Lois Lane, as Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve make one of the best on-screen couples in superhero history. Honestly, I’m very surprised Superman isn’t mentioned more as a go-to, Fourth of July viewing.
6. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
Once again, these are the best films to watch on the Fourth of July. Not a list of the best superhero films ever. I know there are some that aggressively defend this film as the greatest movie ever. And it’s definitely an exceptional film that builds off of the MCU and explores the origins of the mysterious, espionage agency S.H.I.E.L.D. We also get the intro of Falcon and the Winter Soldier. No pun intended. Anyways, the first Russo brothers’ film of the MCU dives into loyalty, sacrifice, conspiracies surrounding the titular Steve Rogers as he grapples with saving the world versus saving his own friend. A great film to watch before the fireworks.
5. Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
I know this film isn’t quite as good as Patty Jenkins‘ first cinematic iteration of Diana Prince. But Wonder Woman 1984 still very much dives into some interesting ethical dilemmas of greed, power, loneliness, and grief. In particular, the two main villains are pressed by their inferiority complexes. Ideal, unrealistic images of themselves which point to some of the pressures that the idea of the American Dream can impose on an individual’s sanity. Wonder Woman, on the other hand, yearns for a normal life and is almost willing to do anything to achieve that, contrasting from our two main foes. And all of this wrapped up at the tail-end of the Cold War era, a very captivating and consequential period in US history.
4. Man of Steel (2013)
I’m convinced that this movie is going to continue to age well and eventually be seen as one of the best films of the still pretty new DCEU. Man of Steel opens up this new universe with a very powerful take on Superman’s origins. Showing the dynamic between Superman’s relationship with his two fathers and how it affects his perception of the world. And how those principles are tested when he comes face to face with the man who murdered his father in General Zod. Overall, this film humanizes Superman through his Kansas roots and shows how he embodies the best of American virtues in not only his fight for justice but also his humility. We could use a bit of that with everyone going forward, establishing Man of Steel as a great Fourth of July film.
3. Black Panther (2018)
While Black Panther takes place in the African city of Wakanda, there are a ton of American elements explored by director Ryan Coogler. Specifically, the African diaspora and the disparities between the African experience and the African-American experience. Coogler dives into this conflict through the eyes of King T’Challa, played by the great Chadwick Boseman, who grapples with Wakanda’s accountability in some of the present global systemic issues. All the while the villain, Erik Killmonger, strives for black liberation through military strategies that he learned in his time with the Navy Seals. The film additionally serves as a celebration of black culture, whether it is through the use of traditional African garb or American hip-hop. And black culture is American culture.
2. Wonder Woman (2017)
Patty Jenkins breaths some fresh air into the DCEU with her first film of the Wonder Woman franchise. Led by fantastic performances by Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, the Princess of Themyscira sees the world at one of its worst points, leading her to question what humans stand for and if they’re worth saving at all. Overall, the character of Wonder Woman has always been a staple of American culture. And a symbol of first and second-wave feminism in the United States throughout history. She additionally embodies a society that is still seeking truth and justice to this very day. Those are values that American culture is supposed to hold in high regard and strive for.
1. Captain America: First Avenger (2011)
You knew this was going to be number 1. And it’s not hard to see why. First Avenger is the classic underdog story of a kid from Brooklyn who puts honor, morality, and his country before all else. The film also delves into the horrors of war and how propaganda can cloud the blind patriotism that can inspire it. Steve Rogers navigates those waters and ultimately realizes that he has to get involved to actually make a difference. And despite everything he has lost and loses throughout the film, he’s still willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. This film should definitely be up there with films like Jaws on Fourth of July watch lists and will with age.
So what are your favorite superhero films to watch before the fireworks? And what are your favorite Fourth of July films other than Jaws? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!