You Know What America's Great At? Movies

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
“Make America Great Again.” It’s a refrain you’ve likely heard repeatedly over the last 18 months, without pausing to think, What’s so not-great about America, anyway? The answer might be obvious if you’re worrying about how the election results will play out in terms of, say, your reproductive rights, or your family’s ability to stay in this country.

But if there’s one thing America is and has always been great at, it’s making cinema. That glittery escapism that says, "Life is pretty fucked up sometimes. LOOK AT THIS DISTRACTING THING NOW."

Because the country that brought you Erin Brockovich — the literal human but also the glamorized, Julia Roberts version of her life — can’t be all bad. This is the country where a drug-addled mess in a bad relationship can pick up an extremely heavy backpack, hike 1,100 miles from the meadow sedges of Southern California all the way up to a chilly river gorge in Oregon, write a best-selling book about it, and then get THAT made into a movie. Talk about a land of opportunity.

This is the country where Black Americans marched across Georgia by the hundreds for five days straight to demand the right to vote, and got it. It's also the place where a man can build a baseball field in his backyard and then play catch with ghosts — because if you believe it, you can achieve it, in America. And if people say you’re crazy because you hear the voice of James Earl Jones telling you to do expensive and time-consuming things, well, you probably are. But never give up!

If you’re feeling crushing disappointment about the electoral college’s chosen president or just need a mental vacation from political news (or if you've just caught wind that Canada is at capacity), you could probably use some reminders as to why you've loved America before and totally can again. It's an okay place. It can even be excellent (you’ve seen Bill & Ted, right?). So butter some popcorn and kick back — these 15 reminders don’t require leaving the couch.
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Erin Brockovich (2000)
An environmental threat is devastating a small community, and this real-life heroine is not going to stand for it. She owns her power in push-up bras and drugstore makeup, and does not let a real estate magnate keep his abuses quiet. Can't put my finger on why this film feels pertinent, but you're gonna love how you feel after you watch it.
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Protocol (1984)
This is another example of the ol’ "you think I’m a ditzy blonde, but I’m going to save the day while you’re not looking" formula. Goldie Hawn is a D.C. waitress who accidentally takes a bullet for someone important and stumbles her way into a slapstick political career. While on trial, she summons the Constitution, delivering lines that will for sure rouse your sense of patriotism from the Snuggy in which it's hibernating. “I’m ‘we the people.’ You’re ‘we the people’…and you’re going to have to watch out for me, ‘cause I’m going to be watching you like a hawk.”
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Matilda (1996)
If all you want to do is stay inside with your books, know that this girl reads so much she develops telekinetic powers. Then, she uses those powers to defend her friends against a big bully in charge.
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Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)
American history has some bright spots, which these two hapless bros wander into during an exhilarating adventure through time (and a California mall). The moral — be excellent to each other — is one we can lean on now more than ever.
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Milk (2008)
The film, like Harvey Milk's real life, does not have a happy ending. But America's first openly gay elected official marked a turning point in our country's history; a point when openness, acceptance, and safety for all people was allowed to be a priority. The struggle to organize around those values is as important today as it was in 1978, and Sean Penn's optimistic and Oscar-winning portrayal of the enthusiastic leader is a great reminder of a time when we got it right.
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Wild (2014)
Carry your burdens. Go for walks. You'll be okay.
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Field Of Dreams (1989)
Here's an entry from the "American as apple pie" canon. A man and his family are just trying to do the right thing — which, in this case, happens to be playing baseball with dead people. And against those odds, it's a tear-jerker.
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Rudy (1993)
It's football. It's an underdog story. If you got fired up watching Friday Night Lights, you better buckle up, because this will be a doozy.
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Center Stage (2000)
We are better together, the teenage dancers' version.
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Selma (2014)
Sometimes revisiting moments of our actual history is all it takes to restore your faith in America — like the moment Black Americans demanded, and got, the right to vote after almost 200 years of being silenced. Watching a version of those events enacted by David Oyelowo, Oprah, and Common will really seal the deal. Of course, the fact that people had to march and fight for their right to vote in the first place, and some still struggle to exercise that right, are examples of ways America could be greater, if we put in some more work.
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The Breakfast Club (1985)
I don't know if there's anything as American as a bunch of teenagers complaining about, like, the system. This group is also a great metaphor for a nation divided — realizing, in the end, that we aren't that different after all.
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My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Marisa Tomei salvages the defense of two teens, who've been framed for a crime in Alabama, using nothing but her emotive Brooklyn-Italian accent and extremely expert knowledge of automobiles. This movie will have you screaming "YES" at your screen, possibly questioning our legal system, but also loving the vibrant characters that come out of various regions of the U.S.A.
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Newsies (1992)
If you’re feeling like all we need is a little unity right now, I know some paperboys who are down for the cause — and they are here to tell you about it in song. "Once and for all, every kid is a friend, every friend a brother. Five thousand fists in the sky, five thousands reasons to try. We're going over the wall."
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X-Men: First Class (2011)
It's the Cold War, and a bunch of weirdos are going to come together to save humanity — using all the loud noises and bright colors that Hollywood does best.
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A League Of Their Own (1992)
Women save the day by playing baseball. The film stars national treasures Tom Hanks and Madonna. Oh, and Rosie O'Donnell, whom you may find yourself thinking of from time to time. You're already watching this right now, aren't you?
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