Bringing in nearly $98 million box office, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, released in 2011, was certainly popular. It’s the highest grossing July 4 weekend release, according to boxofficemojo.com. But, is this really the caliber of film we want to enjoy on the nation’s birthday? If so, then enjoy it. For those who seek more from their movie-watching experiences, I have found five Independence Day releases that offer more substance than the usual fare. And no, Independence Day is not one of them.
The movie that sits at 11 on the highest-grossing July 4 weekend releases is Men In Black. Barry Sonnenfeld directed this film following the success of Get Shorty (which isn’t too shabby either). While he might have strayed a bit in his career, Sonnenfeld was one of the best cinematographers in the early ’90s. His skill translated well to directing, especially in his early pictures.
Men In Black redefined the way we see sci-fi comedies and aliens in general. The camera’s movement in relation to the scenes is a thing of beauty, as it adds its own element of comedy to the production. If nothing else, revisit this for a look at a young Will Smith, fresh off Fresh Prince, arguing with Tommy Lee Jones.
Next up, The Perfect Storm, which comes in at 15 on the July 4 list with just over $41 million. This movie is a raw drama with some big-budget special effects. The drama might be a little too raw, but the movie still makes good use of the actors to deliver a visual and tense story. The critics might not have loved this one, but if you sit down and give it a chance, you’ll probably enjoy it. The source material is a creative nonfiction novel of the same name written by Sebastian Junger, the filmmaker who wowed audiences with his visceral documentary Restrepo. Some fictionalization occurs in the movie, but the main plot remains unchanged.
Apollo 13 resides at 23 on the list. The Ron Howard film was very accurate, using a nonfiction book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 written by James Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger for its factual basis. They were two of the three survivors from the Apollo 13 mission and while the film takes dramatic license, it still preserves a harrowing story with acuity. Gravity recently showed us how special effects can be used to great effect in space movies, but its predecessor Apollo 13 did much of the same with a much more limited effects palette.
The actress who played Laverne in Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley is also an acclaimed director, for two movies at least. The memorable A League of Their Own and the underappreciated Awakenings sit atop a long career in filmmaking. Penny Marshall’s film about the first women’s baseball league gave us an unforgettable performance by Geena Davis and another masterful rendition by Tom Hanks. The film has slid down to number 32 on the highest grossing Independence Day weekend list, but it was released 22 years ago. If nothing else, viewers will remember “there’s no crying in baseball.”
In 1985, Robert Zemeckis changed the way we look at a lot of things with Back to the Future. The biggest takeaway in pop culture is the transformation of the DeLorean from expensive, futuristic-looking sports car into time machine. Few movies have captured our attention the way this movie has, with people still referencing it 29 years later. Michael J. Fox was mostly a TV actor and had been in a few made-for-TV movies before this movie catapulted him into a bona fide movie star. Nearly 30 years later, Back to the Future is still 40 on the Independence Day weekend release box office rankings. Although the sequels didn’t live up to the original, Zemeckis showed his talent with this first installment. Zemeckis would go on to direct such films as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away and Flight.
All of these films capture a glimpse of the American spirit at the time of their releases. It may be worth a look back in time to help get you in the July 4 state of mind. So get your DeLoreans up to 88 miles per hour and find 1.21 “jigawatts” of energy to propel yourself back.