One sign that After Earth wasn't going to be your old dependable Will Smith blockbuster is it wasn't scheduled for the Fourth of July. Remember when the holiday weekend was pretty much owned by the star? At least it seemed to be for a while following the success of the appropriately titled Independence Day in 1996. Of course, he only returned to the date a few times, in 1997 (Men in Black), 1999 (Wild Wild West), 2002 (Men in Black II) and 2008 (Hancock). In other years he took a different slot while the Spider-Man, Transformers and Terminator franchises have seemed to have a timeshare stake for the big occasion.
This year's big Independence Day release is The Lone Ranger, which is an interesting choice given how badly Smith's own blockbuster Western flopped 14 years ago. This one could be better, though, and anyway why not let such a distinctly American genre hold fort over the specifically American holiday? The only thing more fitting is a Revolutionary War movie, which we did receive this week in 2000 in the form of The Patriot. Certainly for being about the nation's fight for independence, this is the most Fourth of July blockbuster.
That movie was directed by Roland Emmerich, who also did Independence Day and now White House Down, which really should have opened a few days later than it did (maybe it would have done better). He's one of the kings of Fourth of July blockbusters. Michael Bay is another, certainly, with his flag-waving montages. It's kind of surprising that two of his Transformers movies and Armageddon are his only movies released at this time. Peter Berg is another with a reputation for jingoistic imagery, and he's only had the date once, for Hancock, and that was mainly because of Smith.
While it's most appropriate for movies that celebrate America to open this week, they don't necessarily have to be all gung ho about it. Movies honoring Americana are also timely, as in the case of major period pieces like A League of Their Own, Apollo 13, Summer of Sam, Great Balls of Fire! and Back to the Future, which appears to have been the first really huge blockbuster to hit on the holiday (partly because this was still a time when movies could be number one for weeks and weeks and carry over huge through the Fourth).
Then there are those that work because they're the most explosive movies of the year. As Movies.com Managing Editor Erik Davis says in a new Fandango podcast, it's the cinematic "fireworks" that make Independence Day the best Fourth of July movie for him, never mind the title. Other firework movies released at this time include the spectacle-heavy movies War of the Worlds, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Die Hard 2, The Perfect Storm, Superman Returns (surprisingly not as America-centric as most Superman films), the 3D Katy Perry doc and definitely the Emmerich and Bay movies already mentioned.
As for the future, guess what comes out around Fourth of July in the next few years? Transformers 4 a week early in 2014 (with Disney's live-action Sleeping Beauty movie Maleficent joining it for the holiday), Independence Day 2 in 2015 (with Terminator 5 out a week early) and, uh, the likely very fireworks-y Angry Birds in 2016.
What is the best Fourth of July release?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter: