Fourth of July weekend blockbusters have become a tried-and-true tradition for Hollywood. While it’s only really been going on since the mid-80s, it has become as American as apple pie.
These big-budget blockbusters are usually some of the most unforgettable flicks — whether that’s because they’re really good, or really bad. And unfortunately, some of them are really bad. I still can’t figure out what Will Smith was thinking when he blessed us all with Wild Wild West.
Of course, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say. Did your favorite make the best-of list, or did it fall in with the Independence Day disappointments?
BEST: Independence Day (1996)
No list of Independence Day blockbusters would be complete without the aptly titled Independence Day. It’s the ultimate so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi flick full of aliens and action.
Atmospheric interference sends communications systems into chaos; enormous objects (which turn out to be alien spacecraft) are on a collision course with Earth; The world’s most iconic landmarks get blown to bits. Fighting superior technology, our only hope is Will Smith and mankind’s will to survive. Bill Pullman and Jeff Goldblum are along for the ride, too.
This movie might be the top of the list, but don’t expect that same cheez-whiz-esque magic from the unfortunate sequel. Luckily Independence Day: Resurgence wasn’t released for a Fourth of July weekend so I don’t have to scare you with it here.
Best: Men in Black (1997)
After 1996’s Independence Day, Will Smith came back to defend us against those pesky aliens again. This time, Smith is starring in Barry Sonnenfeld’s imaginative sci-fi alien feature Men in Black. This blast of a flick was based on a comic book series, which was itself based on the conspiracy theory that mysterious men in black are monitoring and policing extraterrestrial activity.
The film had unreal chemistry between Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, and Linda Fiorentino as the chief investigators — who were so cool, they had everyone wearing shades. And of course, it had a killer theme song that stayed stuck in everyone’s heads all summer long.
BEST: Back to the Future (1985)
By now, it’s harder to find someone that hasn’t seen 1985’s Back to the Future — but unless you were old enough back then to hit the movie theater, you may not be aware that this one was actually an Independence Day weekend release. Marty McFly, a typical ‘80s teen is accidentally sent back to 1955 in a time-traveling DeLorean built by mad scientist Doc Brown. Intervening in the past starts altering the future and jeopardizing Marty’s existence.
This fun sci-fi flick directed by Robert Zemeckis became a critical success and the highest-grossing film of 1985 — and is now considered to be among the greatest films of all time.
BEST: Spider-Man 2 (2004)
This sequel had a lot to live up to. 2002’s Spider-Man was the third-highest-grossing film the year it was released and has been credited for redefining the modern superhero genre. Luckily, Sam Raimi’s second foray into the wall-crawler franchise managed to show up its predecessor. Spider-Man 2 is often pointed out as one of the rare occasions when a sequel tops the original.
Spider-Man 2 isn’t just a superhero flick; it is also a surprisingly poignant young-adult drama with an emotional depth that’s absent from most other superhero movies. Characters are given legit arcs, casting was excellent, and it strikes the perfect balance between a great script and impressive special effects.
BEST: Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
Much like Spider-Man 2, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is another rare occasion when a sequel tops the original. In fact, this second installment in the Terminator franchise is considered by many to be one of the greatest sequels of all time! Clearly, then, it’s no surprise that this film is one of the top best Fourth of July blockbusters.
The first Terminator was groundbreaking, with its original storytelling and special effects. However, director James Cameron improved literally every aspect with this sequel, and set a new high bar with special effects and set pieces. But it’s the relationships formed, and Arnie’s swap to being the good guy, that gives the movie some serious heart. It strikes the perfect balance between story and action.
BEST: Apollo 13 (1995)
Viewers already knew what would happen in the end, but Ron Howard still manages to hold us on the edge of our seats for the entire ride. Apollo 13 recounts the fight for survival by a trio of astronauts after an on-board explosion deprives their spacecraft of much of its oxygen supply and electrical power. What was meant to be a moon landing turns into a struggle to get the astronauts back home to Earth.
“Houston, we have a problem.”
Of course, the movie had no problem at all. Though we already know the final outcome, the movie provides plenty of heart-pounding suspense. It became a critical and commercial success, and won Academy Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and British Academy Film Awards. It doesn’t hurt that it stars the likes of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton.
BEST: A League of Their Own (1992)
If it comes as a surprise to you that A League of Their Own is on the list of best Independence Day weekend releases, then perhaps you haven’t seen it yet. Directed by Penny Marshall (yes, that Penny Marshall) and starring the likes of Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell, this drama-comedy is a heavy-hitter.
Back in the ‘40s, World War II threatened to shut down baseball — and what would America do without its favorite pastime? Enter the Peaches, a team of scrappy players in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League who prove they can play just as well as anyone.
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WORST: Armageddon (1998)
There are some great disaster flicks out there, but Armageddon is not one of them. It’s just a disaster. It feels like they were trying to catch some of that “so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi flick” feel from movies like Independence Day, but it took itself too seriously for that to work. That’s too bad because an asteroid hurtling toward Earth plus astronauts sent into space to blast it to bits sounds like the perfect setup for an Independence Day blockbuster.
Instead, it’s a disaster movie in which Ben Affleck eats animal crackers off Liv Tyler’s belly. And Aerosmith picked up an Oscar nomination for “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing,” which is like, the worst Aerosmith song ever recorded. Is it stuck in your head now?!
WORST: Judge Dredd (1995)
It is the year 2139, and the planet is now the virtually uninhabitable Cursed Earth. Populations have flocked to the cities, now called Mega-Cities, and they’re so crime-ridden and violent that the regular justice system collapsed. Now we’ve got Judges, who play police, jury, and executioner on the spot — and Judge Dredd is the toughest and most feared of all. The tables are turned when Dredd is framed for murder, but nothing can stop Dredd from delivering his signature brand of justice.
It sounds cool, but talk about Dredd-ful. This movie can’t decide if it wants to be a legit violent action movie or just a parody of one. As one critic said on Rotten Tomatoes, “It stands no chance of being mistaken for a good movie.”
WORST: Transformers (2007)
Sure, 2007’s Transformers made a lot of money at the box office, but that doesn’t mean it was actually any good. All of the special effects in the world couldn’t save a flat script and vapid stars. In fact, it’s nothing but two and a half hours of mostly incoherent special effects. The rest of it is sloppiness and a lack of characterization.
I’m pretty sure this movie only got a sequel by skating by on nostalgia and Megan Fox’s good looks.
WORST: The Last Airbender (2010)
If you really don’t want to enjoy a movie, check out 2010’s The Last Airbender. It had so much to work with — the popular animated series is a fan fave for a reason — but it came out as long-winded and incoherent with horrible acting. What was M. Night Shyamalan thinking?
All you need to know, really, is that it’s sitting at 5% on Rotten Tomatoes. Ouch.
WORST: Wild Wild West (1999)
Will Smith may have starred in some of the best Fourth of July weekend blockbusters, but he also delivered us this travesty. I bet he regrets turning down the role of Neo in The Matrix so he could star in… whatever this is. Smith must have just assumed he had enough star power that audiences would show up for a bloated, unbelievable, steampunk film set in the American Old West.
America’s key scientists are disappearing, and the two best special agents in the post-Civil War-era Wild West must save President Ulysses S. Grant from the clutches of an ex-Confederate scientist bent on revenge for losing the Civil War. He has a giant mechanical octopus. In the Wild West. In the mid-1800s.
Not only was this one a commercial disappointment, the film was nominated for eight Razzies and won five of them.