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Top Shows to Binge Watch This 4th of July Weekend

As a non-American, I don’t celebrate the 4th of July the traditional way. Instead, I watch movies and TV shows that, to me, represent America. Having spent my life consuming American entertainment and working for American companies, these media forms shape my impressions of your country.

I’ve been to the U.S., visited Washington D.C., and explored its museums, often recreating scenes from “The West Wing” in my head. Below is a list of movies and shows that represent America to me, each explained for its relevance to my understanding of your nation.

First up, “Independence Day” (1996) is quintessentially American to me. While it has a sequel, the original stands out. The iconic speech by President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) is etched in my memory. Back in the ’90s, without streaming services, I rented the VHS and replayed it endlessly to memorize the speech. That speech made July 4th feel like the entire world’s independence day, thanks to its global resonance. Despite mixed critical reviews, it was a box office hit, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 1996.

Next, “D2: The Mighty Ducks” (1994) showcases American sportsmanship. Though I come from a tropical country, I learned ice-skating by watching this movie. The Mighty Ducks becoming Team USA in the Junior Goodwill Games is classic American cinema – they struggle initially but triumph in the end. Plus, it taught me how Iceland is pronounced in Icelandic.

“Air Force One” (1997) is another film that screams America. It was a major hit in 1997, even in a year dominated by blockbusters like “Titanic” and “Men in Black.” While Gary Oldman’s Russian accent may be amusing in hindsight, his villainous performance was convincing. The depiction of Air Force One was eye-opening, and knowing that parts of its design were influenced by real-life access made the film even more engaging.

“Hamilton” (2015 on stage; 2020 on screen) was a global cultural reset. The musical about Alexander Hamilton transcended borders, with productions in Australia, Germany, and the Philippines. Selling out during its off-Broadway run and breaking box office records on Broadway, it also earned numerous accolades, including a Pulitzer Prize and multiple Tony Awards. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance and writing have left a lasting impact on audiences worldwide.

“The West Wing” (1999-2006) taught me about U.S. government operations and elections. The show’s idealism contrasts with real-life cynicism but provides a unique escape into a world where government officials strive to do the right thing. Although Rob Lowe had a tough experience, the show influenced many, including those in the Obama administration, highlighting its impact on political discourse.

“National Treasure” (2004), while not a historical lesson, is pure fun. It’s a delight to watch Nicholas Cage’s character attempt to steal the Declaration of Independence, knowing it’s impossible. The film’s charm lies in its audacity and the joy of imagining the impossible.

“Top Gun” (1986) was pivotal, not just in cinemas but also in boosting U.S. Navy recruitment. Despite being seen as propaganda, it remains a favorite for its exhilarating action scenes. Credited with initiating the home video industry trend, it holds a special place for its lasting cultural impact.

Among honorable mentions, several films and shows stand out. “A League of Their Own” (1992) offers the memorable line, “There’s no crying in baseball.” “Apollo 13” (1995) and the iconic phrase, “Houston, we have a problem,” captures American ingenuity and resilience. “Armageddon” (1998) may have been critically panned but became the highest-grossing film of its year. “Born on the Fourth of July” (1989) explores the complexities of American patriotism through the Vietnam War.

“Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011), though not the highest-grossing, solidified Chris Evans’ role as the leader of the Avengers. “Coming to America” (1988) provides a humorous yet poignant perspective on American life. “Forrest Gump” (1994) delivers timeless wisdom with, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” “Glory” (1989) historicizes the role of Black soldiers in the Civil War, earning Denzel Washington his first Oscar.

“Hidden Figures” (2016) tells the important story of female African-American mathematicians at NASA, a narrative recognized even by former President Obama. “Saving Private Ryan” (1998) showed the brutal reality of war while winning numerous accolades. “The American President” (1995) set the stage for political dramas, influencing many, including “The West Wing.” Lastly, “Veep” (2012-2019), albeit a comedy, provided sharp political satire, earning multiple awards for its portrayal of American politics.

These movies and TV shows collectively form a tapestry of what America represents to me, filled with heroism, humor, resilience, and the complexities of national identity.

Source: Variety, Rotten Tomatoes, Box Office Mojo