Here’s a good way to instill in your children patriotism and a love of America: Rent a patriotic movie. The only trouble is that these days, those movies are few and far between.
Here are “Ted’s Picks” for patriotic, pro-American movies with faith and values, many of which you can watch with your whole family this holiday and some that require extreme caution even for older teenagers and adults because of some rough content.
The list is divided into Classics and Recent Movies.
1. SERGEANT YORK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1941: Based on the diary of Alvin York, the most decorated soldier in World War I, this moving story tells about a willful man, played by Oscar winner Gary Cooper, who comes to Jesus Christ and comes to terms with war. After his conversion, Alvin is deeply troubled about fighting in the war because he cannot reconcile the Bible’s teaching against killing with participating in a war to defend his country. Before making his final decision about filing for conscientious objector status, Alvin spends time reading the Bible and being alone with God on the mountain. There it becomes clear what God wants him to do. SERGEANT YORK is a great American movie; it’s also a great Christian movie.
2. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Another Frank Capra classic starring Jimmy Stewart, this movie demonstrates that the little guy can stand up to big government. A watershed movie for the common man, it serves as an example that Big Government will not crush the human spirit. It continues to sound a call for ethics, morality and integrity in our highest offices.
3. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 – 1962: John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller about a Korean War prisoner of war who is brainwashed into becoming a coldly efficient assassin by his Communist captors. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE is one of the best insights into the nefarious nature of evil and an incisive commentary on Communist conspiracies. For years, the movie was banned following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
4. DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +3 – 1939: Action, drama, sentiment, humor deftly woven into the best Christian movie ever made so far about America’s War for Independence. It also is a wonderful portrayal of the American pioneer spirit. John Ford creates another masterpiece here, capturing the flavor of Colonial life in this vigorous, courageous story of settlers defending their liberty in upstate N. Y. during the Revolutionary War.
5. SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +1 – 1942: When a Hollywood movie director goes searching for “real life,” he finds out that people need laughter and humor to lift up their spirits. Tired of making fluff, the director decides to do a serious movie, and to research it, he sets out with 10¢ in his pocket to experience life. During his journey he learns much about himself, and society, falls in love and arrives at an epiphany in a full gospel chapel. This one of the best movies ever produced in Hollywood. Directed by the gifted screenwriter/director Preston Sturges, it has a near perfect balance of humor and pathos.
6. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +4 – 1942: This is a great family movie about the patriotic career of Broadway star and composer George M. Cohen, who is played brilliantly by James Cagney in one of the greatest performances ever captured on celluloid. We defy any viewer to hold back a tear when Cohen hears soldiers singing his World War I hit “Over There” while marching off to war to fight Hitler in World War II. Cagney’s unique interpretation of dance, which he showed off to great effect in 1933’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE, is an awesome joy to behold.
7. 1776: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: +1 – 1972: The idea sounds atrocious, but a superb cast, helped along by a wonderful score with inspiring lyrics, pulls off this delightful, sometimes heartbreaking and often funny musical about the debates, the writing and the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The movie is also a love letter to the joys and strengths of traditional marriage. The political issues portrayed in this patriotic movie are still very much with us today. Best of all, perhaps, the movie presents a poignant, positive view of the American military, including its citizen soldiers, led by the greatest citizen soldier of them all, General George Washington.
Honorable mentions: AIR FORCE (1943), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), MEET JOHN DOE (1941), THE SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949), SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949), BATTLEGROUND (1949), THE PURPLE HEART (1944), HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO (1944), THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946), MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), DESPERATE JOURNEY (1944), THE BRIDGES AT TOKO-RI (1954), THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1939).
1. WE WERE SOLDIERS Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2002: WE WERE SOLDIERS is a true story starring Mel Gibson as Col. Hal Moore, who led the first American helicopter troops into battle against the Communist North Vietnamese in 1965. Despite some minor flaws and very strong, bloody combat scenes laced with some strong profanities, WE WERE SOLDIERS delivers a riveting drama with strong appeals to God in the Name of the Holy Christian Trinity.
2. THE PATRIOT Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -2 2000: THE PATRIOT stars Mel Gibson as a family man named Benjamin Mark, who wrestles with his desire for revenge and the just cause of the American War for Independence in the late 1700s. The cruel British Colonel Tavington, played impeccably by Jason Isaacs, shoots Ben’s 15-year-old son, Thomas, as Ben’s oldest son, Gabriel, is led away captive. Thus, Ben’s fury is unleashed, and taking his two youngest boys, he goes into the woods to fight a guerilla war, slaughtering the British and rescuing Gabriel. Ben continues to wrestle with his sinful desire for vengeance and the worthiness of the Revolutionary cause. Eventually, he sees that he needs to stay the course, and he rejects vengeance to take up the flag. The violent battle scenes may concern older moviegoers, while younger moviegoers might chafe at the soul-searching, but the heart of this movie is faith. Prayer runs throughout the film, and the Cross of Jesus Christ is lifted up. THE PATRIOT is also a terrific, engrossing movie. One can only hope that this soul searching and pain will lead many to search for the God to whom Ben prays so often in this story.
3. GLORY: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 1990: With a really good 1860’s look, GLORY is a biblical moral lesson about overcoming racism through reconciliation, not rebellion or revenge, set in the context of history. It tells of the first black fighting unit raised in the North during the Civil War who had the honor to lead the attack on an impregnable Confederate fort standing in the way of the Union’s quest for the city of Charleston, South Carolina. The night before, the men gather to pray in what is one of the most spiritual movie scenes as each one acknowledges, “If I dies, I pray to know that Jesus is with me.” Because of the violence, GLORY is a great film for mature, discerning Christians.
4. GETTYSBURG: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 1993: Ron Maxwell’s epic film GETTYSBURG, based on Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KILLER ANGELS, dramatically depicts the three most courageous days in American history when North and South were arrayed against each other in the decisive battle fought on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania plains. The scenes re-enacting Pickett’s charge are believed to be the largest period scale sequences filmed in North America since D.W. Griffith’s BIRTH OF A NATION. The film overflows with positive references to God and prayer. Aside from some of the curses used by the soldiers, GETTYSBURG is a magnificent movie which should be viewed by every American.
5. GODS AND GENERALS: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2003: GODS AND GENERALS paints a brilliant portrait of the Christian lives of the great military leaders during the tumultuous years leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War. GODS AND GENERALS recognizes the deep spiritual values of those involved in the Civil War; it is a monument of filmmaking which will be remembered as long as there are devices to watch such a magnificent historical epic.
6. WORLD TRADE CENTER: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 2006: WORLD TRADE CENTER tells the story of two New York City Port Authority officers on Sept. 11, who get trapped underneath the rubble of the World Trade Center, and the reactions of their families. WORLD TRADE CENTER is a stirring, suspenseful, patriotic, and ultimately inspiring portrayal of a sobering day in America’s history. It contains a very strong Christian worldview with very strong morally uplifting, pro-family content, but its major drawback is too much foul language.
7. FORREST GUMP: Quality: * * * * Acceptability: -1 1994: FORREST GUMP is a delightful adult fairy tale spanning five decades of the last century in America, from the advent of Rock and Roll through the Vietnam War and the Hippie Craze into the 1980s and 1990s. Forrest Gump is a lovable dim-witted hero in the tradition of RAINMAN and Christian Holy Fool stories. Tom Hanks is uncannily ingenious as Forrest. Due to the decades explored, there are some gross vulgarities and obscenities, sexual references, and depicted drug abuse. All of it leads, however, to the overwhelming conclusion that Americans who live a pure, hopeful life of faith will live better lives than those leading a wanton lifestyle.
Honorable mentions: THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), PLACES IN THE HEART (1984), A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985), NATIONAL TREASURE (2004), IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2007), THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (2007), THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006), HBO’s 2008 miniseries JOHN ADAMS.
Some of these recent movies contain strong subject matter, so caution or even extreme caution is warranted, even for older teenagers and adults.