A Very Roland Emmerich 4th of July

Roland Emmerich is one of the modern kings of schlock.  His films are constantly berated for being shallow, dumb, poorly written, and noisy.  Yet somehow the fellow still seems to get work, and his movies continue to bring in audiences.  Like Michael Bay, the man has made a name for himself by showcasing large scale destruction, characters with outlandish personalities, and rousing patriotic exhilaration.  However, Bay tends to counter his destruction with large-scale military “hoo-ra!” while Emmerich favors corny yet patriotic speeches meant to raise morale.  Rarely are his movie actually any good, but even his worst are often packed with enough good old fashioned American optimism that you can’t help but crack a smile amid the groans, and his best can be put on top of the popcorn movie list and can be enjoyed not just on Independence Day, but pretty much any time of the year.

So for this 4th of July, I’ve decided to highlight a few of the man’s more patriotic movies.  If you’re looking for one movie to watch this 4th of July, you can’t really go wrong with any of these.

White House Down (2013)

This is Roland Emmerich’s most recent movie and also arguably one of his more scaled back.  Sure, we’re threatened with another world war and everything is blown up in a rain of missiles and gunfire, but all the real action takes place in one building and the focus is on two guys.  People jokingly call this one “Die Hard in the White House”, and they are right.  What sets this apart from most Roland Emmerich movies is its tongue-in-cheek tone thrown into all the gun fire and explosions.  Most of his movies feature groan-worthy dialogue and overbearingly quirky characters, but with White House Down he cranks the stereotypes up to 11 for the sake of laughs.  This movie is built on snappy one-liners, grimacing militaristic villains with giant machine guns, and supporting characters with just enough charm to make them fun but not enough to make them annoying.

And to top it off, you have Channing Tatum playing a down-on-his-luck wanna-be secret service agent and Jamie Foxx as the president of the United States.  It’s by no means as iconic as the other two movies I’m about to mention, and you’d probably be better going with one of those for tradition’s sake.  But if you want to shake things up a little, this one is sure to please as a bit of patriotic fun sprinkled on a humorous action film.

Independence Day (1996) 

You knew I was going to bring this one up.  You just freaking knew it.  And of course you were right.  Considered by some to be one of the most classic alien invasion movies ever made, and considered by other to be an extremely trite piece of crap, this is the movie most people think about when they think traditional 4th of July movie.  Whether or not you care for it, you’ve got to admit it’s got everything a great America movie needs: iconic speeches about the strength of the human will, a diverse cast of characters from multiple backgrounds coming together for a common cause, large scale action, and triumphant victory against impossible odds.

Yes, it’s the most Emmerich-y movie in terms of stereotypes, terrible dialogue, improbable plot devices, etc.  But it all come together to make a movie that’s full of enough charm and optimism that you find yourself just not caring.  So what if it’s stupid to imagine hacking into an alien computer with a 90’s laptop?  So what if the president wouldn’t jump into a jet to fight alongside his fellow soldiers in a time of national crisis?  So what if Will Smith finds his family in the middle of nowhere in the middle of night without knowing if they’re even alive?  These are the things that make this movie so great.  It’s yet another testament to American optimism, showing that no matter how unlikely or preposterous something seems, the human spirit conquers all.  It isn’t a smart movie by any means, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a good movie.  But this is one worth watching every year on the day when we celebrate not just our independence, but our ability to band together with people from all around the world against evil because we know we will win.

The Patriot (2000)

For my money, this is the movie to watch on the 4th.  Sure, Independence Day has enough of the right elements to make a great America movie, but this one is just so down-to-earth and lovable it wins me over.  And it doesn’t hurt that it takes place during the Revolutionary War.  It’s not historically accurate by any means, but that’s not why we watch it.  You want realism, rent Ken Burns’ The Civil War.  This is a story with heroes and villains, life and death, victory and defeat.  Out of Emmerich’s other movies, this is one of the few that tries to bring itself down from over-the-top action flick to genuinely stirring historical drama.  It’s still got great action and stereotypes, but it’s not contrived in this case.

This is the most American story of all three on this list.  It’s the story of a father who risks everything for family and country.  It’s a story of devotion and determination.  It’s a story about knowing when to stick to your guns and knowing when to hold back.  It’s a story of revenge that turns into a story of paternity.  It’s a movie that at one moment can be tragic and the next fun and uplifting.  It doesn’t condemn the British, but rather condemns the choices of an individual working apart from the values of his country.  And on the opposite end of the spectrum it doesn’t affirm Mel Gibson’s thoughts of revenge but instead glories in the sacrifices he makes for family and country.  And for me that makes a great way to finish off a successful 4th of July.

So that’s my list.  Apart from Roland Emmerich films, there are a bunch of appropriate red white and blue movies out there that I didn’t talk about in this article.  Feel free to list some of your favorites in the comments to share with the rest of us!

Joe is a short film director and lover of movies, good or bad.  You can follow him on Twitter here.