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Firecracker films

What to watch while blowing stuff up

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The Fourth of July means different things to different people. For most of us, it's an all-out celebration of 'merica and everything for which it stands. This usually means an excuse to scarf hot dogs, shotgun beer, ride Sea-Doos, and blow stuff up. For others, it's an opportunity to reflect on the years of sacrifice and courage that built the Land of the Free—while eating hot dogs, shotgunning beer, riding Sea-Doos, and blowing stuff up.

Hollywood over the years has dutifully catered to the national pride of both the earnest and the inebriated. Here's a look at some of the less obvious patriotic offerings, as well as the more ridiculous nods to national pride.

Invasion U.S.A., 1985

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Chuck Norris plays a former CIA agent who comes out of retirement at the height of the Cold War to defend suburban Miami from communist guerillas led by a sinister Soviet operative. The fully armed guerillas arrive via boat from Cuba and there's cocaine involved and there are Arabs with them and the sinister Soviet operative is Norris' former nemesis and the evil guerillas ambush Christmas shoppers in a South Florida mall and...never mind. Our nation is under attack, however idiotically, and Norris, who, if he bled at all would bleed red, white, and blue, is the only one capable of saving us all.

The Great Escape, 1964

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A group of Allied prisoners of war—Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, and more—show what it is to fight for freedom and uphold man's responsibility to his fellow man by breaking out of a German camp during World War II. Funny, poignant, and star-studded, this John Sturgis action film serves a much better purpose than Independence Day or Pearl Harbor ever will.

Street Fighter, 1994

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Never mind that it's based on a video game. Never mind that Jean Claude Van Damme, who's from Brussels, plays U.S. Colonel William F. Guile. Never mind that it's mostly remembered for being Raul Julia's last film and Kylie Minogue's first American film. This train wreck involves an impassioned anti-terrorism speech by Van Damme that would make Dubya jealous, as well as a fight scene during which he flexes one of his biceps and reveals an American flag tattoo.

The Fighting Sullivans, 1944

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Most people would better know this story for how it influenced the plot of July 4th favorite Saving Private Ryan. Based on a true story, The Fighting Sullivans follows five brothers growing up in Iowa during the Great Depression and then serving together during World War II. All five were stationed on the USS Juneau in 1942 when it was hit during the Battle of Guadalcanal. According to the film, four of the brothers wouldn't leave the fifth alone in the infirmary when it was time to jump ship. "We can't go swimming without you," says Al Sullivan to brother George.

Cheesy as it sounds, the Academy Award-nominated film, directed by Lloyd Bacon, smartly spends the majority of the story in Iowa, making the ending a little more palatable.

Red Dawn, 1984

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Sullivans aside, perhaps no other brothers fought as valiantly on screen as Jed and Matt Eckert in this gloriously absurd Cold War classic. Played by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, respectively, the Eckert brothers lead a band of teenagers in defending their Colorado town from Soviet invasion. The cast here stands out almost as much as the audacious premise, with C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Jennifer Grey, and Harry Dean Stanton also starring. What also stands out: the "Wolverines!" rally cry, which is based on the kids' high school mascot.

1776, 1972

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Nothing says U.S. of A. like a schmaltzy production that puts the story of our founding fathers to song and dance. Overwrought in every imaginable way, the musical follows John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the rest as they wrestle with American independence. The history is laughable; Jefferson can only overcome writers block and draft the Declaration of Independence after bedding his wife. The songs ("Sit Down, John," "But, Mr. Adams") are awful. The reviews were worst of all; Roger Ebert wrote, "It is just too damn bad this movie didn't take advantage of its right to the pursuit of happiness." Nevertheless, this is the most literal Hollywood offering about why we celebrate the Fourth.

Team America: World Police, 2004

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Speaking of musicals, this satire features such patriotic favorites as "America—Fuck, Yeah!," "Freedom Isn't Free," and a ballad with the chorus, "Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you" that's about the Michael Bay movie. The creative team behind "South Park" left few things un-nuked in this scattered send-up of big-budget action movies and the country's equally scattered pursuit of evildoers. The "team" of American operatives blows up everything in its path in an effort to stop terrorism and eventually confront Kim Jong-il as he devises "9/11 times 2,356." Marionettes are used for all of the film's characters. And there's a graphic sex scene that starts in front of Mount Rushmore. God bless America.

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