Movie fans are grateful that 2021 is now pushing itself toward becoming a “normal” year.
In the normal-ness that was pre-COVID, the Independence Day weekend was the apex of the first half of the movie releases in a given year. The summer movie season used to run from Memorial Day to July 4th. Both weekends are when studios brought out their biggest and — hopefully — most profitable first half films. Other hits were packed in between.
From the Independence Day weekend to Thanksgiving the releases tended to be non-blockbusters.
In the past, the weeks between Thanksgiving to Christmas Day also got packed with hits. This is also the time period when the studios release those treasured, award-worthy movies. That began to change in the early 2000s. Big movie releases started creeping closer to late October or the first of November.
All of this is generally speaking. Where films are released and how they get moved around often depends on what other studios are doing.
This year July 4th is a Sunday. So the Independence Day weekend is truly an Independence Day weekend. What could have been the biggest hit of the upcoming weekend’s box office wars, “The Tomorrow War” with Chris Pratt, won’t be seen in theaters.
Amazon Studios decided to release the movie only on Amazon Prime.
That means what you’ll find in local theaters on Friday, July 2 is the fifth Purge movie, “The Forever Purge” and the second Boss Baby release, “Boss Baby: Family Business.” Movies that, on the surface, seem not exactly as scintillating as what we’ve been given in the past.
When you compare that to where we were a year ago, at least we’ll see those movies in theaters. We are gratefully not locked up in our homes forced to watch movies on TV.
While this year’s fare isn’t up to the snuff of past years, it led me to look at what the studios have given us in past years on an Independence Day weekend. The list is a pretty good one. Some of you own many of these movies already. If you don’t, they can be purchased, or found on a number of streaming sources. Many of them are worth a fresh view.
My Three Independence Day Favorites
My all-time favorite Independence Day movie — ironically — is 1996’s, “Independence Day.” A few years ago I had a long conversation with Dean Devlin who co-directed the movie with Roland Emmerich. I was supposed to talk with him about his film, “Bad Samaritan.” Our conversation kept returning to “Independence Day.” We talked a lot about it being a perfect sci-fi movie and how when I run across the movie while channel surfing, I cannot help but stop and watch.
The Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman anchored film combines an alien invasion with comedy, drama and adventure. It is one of the best pieces of science-fiction ever done.
By the way, the movie opened at the old Columbia Center theater on July 2, 1996. Older readers who’ve lived here awhile will remember it was in the outbuilding in the Northwest corner of the mall. It’s been a long time and I’m trying to remember but it seems to me one of the auditoriums held over 1,000 people. I also remember the first day’s line to get into the movie consisting of hundreds of people.
It stretched from the front door almost to Columbia Center Blvd.
Second on my favorite list is “Men in Black.” The 1997 film set Will Smith up as being the go-to-guy if a studio wanted a mid-summer movie hit. “Men in Black” teamed Smith with Tommy Lee Jones. They played special government agents charged with finding aliens places to live on Earth.
Even today — over two-decades later — this one is still gut-busting funny.
The last of my top-three favorites is “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” The 1991 hit is by far the best of the Terminator movies, and including “Titanic,” is the best James Cameron ever got as a director. The plot and Cameron’s storytelling are superb. Instead of being a cold, stark drama, Cameron packs his movie with lots of laughs.
As an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has never been as good. “Terminator 2” is the best he ever got as an actor. The irony? Playing an unstoppable machine provided Schwarzenegger with his most human role.
“Apollo 13” (1995). Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, this is one of those films where the outcome is already known yet — riveted to your seat — you hold your breath to the end.
“Back to the Future” (1985): This is the movie that pushed Michael J. Fox from TV star to movie stardom. Though it really doesn’t hold up very well today, this trip down memory lane is a fun time to be had by all.
“A League of Their Own” (1992): This one gets two plusses. First, it’s baseball season and what fan of the national pastime doesn’t like a baseball movie? Second, Tom Hanks’ line, “Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!” still cracks us up.
“Die Hard 2” (1990): Bruce Willis at his best and a movie that’s every bit as good as “Die Hard.” And the first film, by the way, IS a Christmas movie.
“The Devil Wears Prada” (2006): A fabulous film from the casting to the writing and the subject matter. Plus, if you can’t find somewhere to stream the movie, the story for “Cruella” — which is in theaters now — was developed by Aline Brosh McKenna who wrote the screenplay for “Prada.” It is a fairly close substitute.
Movies that Actually Relate to the Holiday Weekend
“The Patriot” (2000): A movie about the Revolutionary War and the movie that made us realize that Heath Ledger was an incredible acting talent.
“Hamilton” (2020): I missed this one but the buzz has the movie topping the very popular stage play.
As an FYI, here are a few other Independence Day releases and my thoughts on them.
“Spider-Man 2” (2004): A so-so sequel to a so-so original starring Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst.
“The Amazing Spider-Man” (2012): The new franchise is just as so-so as the old franchise. It stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.
“War of the Worlds” (2005): Not close to as fun as the 1953 original. Steven Spielberg directs, Tom Cruise stars.
“South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” (1999): Dated but fun.
“Wild Wild West” (1999): A former, fun and popular 1960s TV show is unsuccessfully updated. It stars Will Smith and Kevin Kline and ended Smith’s 4th of July winning streak.
“The Lone Ranger” (2013): Johnny Depp’s Tonto is — at best — awful.
“Armageddon” (1998): Stars Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, and is directed by Michael Bay. Not good. Not bad.
“Terminator 3:: Rise of the Machines (2003): The 3rd time is not the charm.
“Transformers: (2007): Young adults raised with the animated TV show loved this one. And still do. It stars Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf and is directed by Michael Bay.
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011): More of the same without Fox.
“Men in Black II” (2002): As bad as the first film is good.
“Hancock” (2008): Will Smith tries and fails to regain his 4th of July charm. Charlize Theron co-stars and it’s directed by Peter Berg.
“The Last Airbender” (2010): M. Night Shyamalan’s movie is so bad it isn’t worth talking about.
“Superman Returns” (2006): A not-so-super Brandon Routh is cast in a not-so-good movie revival of the Man of Steel.
“Coming to America” (1988): This one is hilarious. So is the sequel that came decades later. Proved Eddie Murphy a star and made Arsenio Hall one.
“The Firm” (1993): Tom Cruise is in full superstar mode in this decent adaptation of John Grisham’s popular novel.