Open Air Cinema's Top 5 Fourth of July Films (Part 2 - War Epics)

A big part of celebrating the birth of America as an independent nation is celebrating the brave men and women who fought dearly so that the rest of us could enjoy said independence. While we may not always be able to fully comprehend or empathize with the plight of those who have braved battles, we can take a moment to consider what fighting for one's country truly means. Film is a great tool for sharing those experiences which are not common to every human. It is a way of making foreign concepts real before our eyes. Taking in a well-made war movie is a great way to spend time with friends and family on the Fourth of July. Taking the the film outside with your inflatable screen is even better. With Independence Day upon us, we've been taking a lot about our favorite patriotic films here at Open Air Cinema. Below is a list of our favorites - specifically those that center around combat and the brave soldiers who fight for our freedom.

Black Hawk Down

(Ridley Scott, 2001)

As usual, director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer are capable of producing great action, but not a lot in the way of coherent character development. Still Black Hawk Down, the true story of a hellish battle in Mogadishu, Somalia, makes our list because there are very few films that are willing to bombard you with gritty, realistic depictions of today's warfare as relentlessly as the enemy might bombard you with bullets and shells. Black Hawk Down is an important film experience because of that relentless attitude, and because of its depiction of the complexities of modern urban warfare. Sometimes, that sort of pitiless perspective sheds new light on every other aspect of combat.


(Franklin J. Schaffner, 1970)

This epic retelling of General George S. Patton's command in World War II succeeds for a number of reasons. Schaffner, as a director, is able to depict the horrors of war without lingering lurid over all the blood and guts - in other words, he made a war movie where many directors would have made a snuff film. The core - which loops and echoes the trumpets that call soldiers to battle - is innovative and memorable. But the real success in this movie, of course, is the casting of George C. Scott as the larger-than-life eponymous hero. Scott manages to captivate in every scene, from the iconic speech at the beginning all the way to the very end. He rages with vigor. He recoils with an innate vulnerability. He manages to take a complex hero and make him something beyond the common caricature of his character - no wonder this performance earned Scott an Academy Award.


(Oliver Stone, 1986)

Platoon is notable for being the first movie about the Vietnam War to be directed by somebody who was actually there. It is no wonder that Oliver Stone's epic picture about the loss of innocence that invariably happens in war is still considered one of the most emotionally powerful films ever made about the U.S.'s tumultuous time in southeast Asia. Filled with powerful imagery and guided by a focused sort of rage, this movie takes the grunt's point of view in war and puts it in the place of importance it deserves. Stone seems to understand that war stories are best told by the soldiers who fight them rather than from the generals who plan them or the officers who send the grunts to their deaths. That perspective, and Stone's brilliant ensemble cast, make this film a must-see.

The Thin Red Line

(Terrence Malick, 1998)

We see comparatively less depictions in film of the war against Japan than we do the war against Germany. Perhaps it is because the Pacific Theater of World War II was a less clear-cut case of victory than the European Theater's famously successful D-Day. From a historical perspective, the Pacific Theater was much more brutal on American soldiers, and was nearly a loss for the Allied Forces. Perhaps that' the reason that few directors have dared tackle the subject. Few, that is, besides Terrence Malick, who returned from a 20 year absence in the director's chair to helm this deeply ponderous epic on the endless nature of war and the enduringly warlike spirit within man. Meditative and beautifully shot, this film will haunt you with its beautiful bleakness.

Saving Private Ryan

(Steven Spielberg, 1998)

It is somewhat fitting that Saving Private Ryan was released the same year as The Thin Red Line, seeing how the former is the opposite of the latter in many regards. Spielberg's epic, which centers on the a team of soldiers on a special mission in the closing days of the European Theater, is much more hopeful than Malick's haunting statement on war. But it is no less powerful a movie, especially when you consider the hell the Spielberg puts his soldiers and his audience through in order to get to those big hopeful rewards. The first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, inspired by real footage of the D-Day invasion, is said by many who were there to be one of the most accurate depictions of real-life combat, both in effect and in the camerawork. That alone makes this movie worth a few repeat viewings. And an amazingly sympathetic cast which includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Tom Sizemore doesn't hurt this movie, either. Whether you're celebrating our nation's independence, or specifically taking the time to remember and appreciate those who have fought for it, cinema is a great tool. And the cinematic experience is always augmented into something greater with an inflatable screen, a good projector, and a clear night sky. This Fourth of July, take advantage of the occasion to gather your friends and family together for a night of patriotism and great films under the stars. As always, be sure to respect copyright laws. If you're using your inflatable screen for public outdoor movie events, you'll want to visit Criterion Pictures USA or Swank Motion Pictures, Inc for the performance rights for these movies. В   

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