There’s no shortage of American heroes throughout the history of film. Heroes are a global thing, but when your base of operations is in America and Americans were once your biggest audience, there’s going to be a little bias.
Seeing as it is the holiday weekend and freedom can never truly just contain itself to one day, I thought it’d be nice to look back and pick out some of the greatest patriots throughout cinema.
I didn’t take this lightly and this ranking is sure to ruffle a few feathers. The one problem you run into, especially with the films of the eighties, is the sheer wealth of options. I also didn’t want to say one is truly better than the other, so I would look at it as a group of ten instead of a top ten. Doesn’t matter where they land, they’re still gonna kick your ass for America.
The only sure thing here is that no one who starred in a movie with the words “patriot” in the title is included on this list. That means you Mel Gibson. Even if that scene where you hacked up those red coats alongside the road was pretty cool.
Be sure to share your favorites in the comments. There are plenty more to go around out there.
Superman (Christopher Reeve / Superman The Movie) – I know this is going to be a problem right off the bat, but there is a good reason for this choice. Captain America is probably an obvious choice and a strong one to boot. So why did I go Superman? Easy. Steve Rogers had no choice but to be Captain America. He’s a super-soldier built to be a propaganda machine. Superman had a choice and he chose America.
Kal-El might’ve crashed landed in Smallville and raised under an American roof, but he’s Superman. He could go anywhere and do anything. Yet he chooses to stick by the red, white, and blue. Not only that but he’s the definition of the American experience: an immigrant that came to this planet with nothing, managed to work his way up and then become the greatest superhero of all time.
Sure that commie Superman from the comics might’ve shunned the nation and took off walking across the country to win it back. The comics are a mess. Movie Superman is American through and through.
Chuck Norris (Invasion USA) – This is a choice where there were many options to go with, but I had to with Chuck Norris. Stallone as Rambo could’ve fit, especially with First Blood Part 2. But much like this nation turned its back on him, I am doing the same because he was a criminal. He held an entire town hostage.
Norris was always that American guy in movies and he always seemed to be the good guy through and through. There was no questionable nature behind his allegiances and he proved it with his fists, feet, and firearms. No better film shows this than Invasion USA, the film where Norris plays former CIA operative Matt Hunter and must repel a small invasion of communist terrorists from Southern Florida. It’s gold and you need to seek it out if you haven’t seen it.
Casey Ryback (Under Siege) – Casey Ryback might be rough around the edges in the Under Siege films, but he’s a loyal warrior at his core. He’s an easy choice. Not only is Ryback Steven Seagal’s big budget breakthrough, the pay off for his string of successful movies in the late 80s, but he’s also a disgraced Navy SEAL that took a lower job to stay in the military.
Ryback could’ve easily just opened a sub shop in Pismo Beach and worked on his guitar playing in an effort to get the poonani. But no, he took a lowly job as a cook and stayed aboard a battleship. Imagine how the movie plays out if Ryback isn’t there? Everyone drowns in the bowels of the ship and Hawaii is turned into a nuclear wasteland.
Throw in the respect for those who came before him, namely the World War II retirees visiting the ship during the hostage situation, and you have a golden patriot. Cue up the stereotypical Seagal bad ass resume:
Jim Garrison (JFK) – This is my wild card pick. Garrison from Oliver Stone’s exercise in insanity (only recently replaced by his Untold History of The United States series) is the perfect example of someone acting in the same manner that the Founding Fathers would.
It isn’t about him being correct or victorious in the end, but more about his heart and desire inside. He believes in America and loves the America that supposedly died with Kennedy. The optimism of the space race is replaced by controversy and conspiracy. He’s not only fighting to find out who kill Kennedy, he’s also fighting for the soul of a country. Where the other people on this list might be the types who lined up to shoot the president dead in the first place, under orders of course, Garrison is against the grain and a renegade.
Where a renegade like Rambo chooses to shoot up an expensive room full of equipment in protest, Garrison uses the court room and the prized American judicial system to win his point. Even if the movie is a crazy, crazy piece of fiction.
Stanley Motts (Wag The Dog) – When you first meet this Robert Evans clone in Wag The Dog, you get the feeling that he’s out of touch with the task at hand. He’s got his head firmly in the dream cloud of Hollywood and he’s not letting any of it get in to affect him. But you’d be wrong, of course.
Inside this man is a mind of creativity and ingenuity. Making things happen in the name of America, namely the President of The United States. Problems arise and he rolls with the punches, making them vanish with the help of his extremely well crafted network.
The other thing that puts Motts on this list is his desire to want credit for his work. This is a nation of thinkers and dreamers, but they aren’t part of some collective. This is about the individual as much as anything and Motts represents that, so much so that he ends up giving his life for his nation. He certainly created a hell of a war in the process though.
Rocky Balboa (Rocky IV) – I’ve been hard on Stallone up to this point. Rambo is awesome, but I have a hard time including him on this list. Rocky on the other hand is an easy choice, especially when it comes to Rocky IV. We’ve all seen it, the battle against the Soviet Union through the lens of a boxing match, the vengeance we would all seek for a fallen friend, and those awesome flag trunks. How could he not be on this list.
Throw in the rags to riches, “grab the brass ring” type of story that has led Rocky to this point and you have a classic patriot. He almost earns a place on this list thanks to this speech alone:
Bluto ( Animal House) – Hard not to include a future senator on the list. Especially one that manages to pull himself up by his boot straps and survive having one of the worst college careers of any student in history. But what Bluto lacks in grades, he makes up in heart.
The other thing he emulates, alongside his Delta House brothers, is that spirit of revolution that gave birth to this nation. Dean Wormer and his band of thugs want to rule their own way without giving proper representation to the Delta fraternity. So what do they do? Drop a big turd in their punch bowl. If it doesn’t stir your loins for a bit of American pride, I don’t know what will.
Kurt Russell – This is the one exception on this list that isn’t just a character from a single movie. Chuck Norris got two hits, but Norris never really played different characters in his films. Russell is always changing and always doing roles that do America proud in one way or another.
This entire list was almost just based on Kurt Russell alone, as America’s greatest film patriot. But I held back, I gave him his own spot. Here we can talk about his ode to the blue collar in Big Trouble in Little China, his run for political office in Used Cars, his role as a pilot in the desolation of Antarctica in The Thing, and his leadership of soldiers plunging into the unknown in Stargate. The roles are there and they all great, making him deserving of such a salute.
John Winger (Stripes) – Here’s the story of a guy who had no real direction in life, joined the Army out of desperation, and then finds himself becoming a shining beacon of heroism.
We love a good rags to riches, nothing to something story here in America and Stripes is a good example. The spirit of rebellion from Animal House is present, but now it is in the military and now it’s getting some discipline. Winger goes from goof off to joining an elite group of soldiers in a matter of moments, but the seeds were planted from the start.
Not only that, but he goes out of his way to bust through enemy lines and save his captured comrades from Soviet Forces. He could’ve stayed knee deep in P.J. Soles, gallivanting around West Germany in their suped up van. Instead he mounts up and rides in to the rescue. That’s a patriotic hero.
The Wolverines (Red Dawn) – While the remake was silly and foolish for all the wrong reasons, the original from John Milius is a full on camp classic that takes the notion of an insurgency and gives it some high school flavor.
I have to include the entire group of Wolverines because they are a several teens that make up one strong unit. Their bonds are hard to break, taking torture and cheap spying on the behalf of the invading Soviets in order to split their ranks. Add in Powers Boothe as the fallen American pilot Lt. Col. Tanner and you have a recipe for some patriotic success.
You can’t forget the line up of names here either. Swayze, Sheen, Thompson, Grey, Howell. It’s a who’s who of prime 80s talent that was given every shot in the world to be successful. Some did and some didn’t, which is probably the most American thing about this movie. And let’s not overlook the presence of Harry Dean Stanton, giving the performance of a lifetime as a foolish old man who uses a Soviet invasion to justify the abuse of his kids. Classic America.