You can't have a Fourth of July without the fireworks. It's a tradition going as far back as 1777 with the nation's first anniversary. You don't have to have the holiday for the spectacle, but you do have to have the spectacle on the holiday. So, even though we may see fireworks year round for any number of reasons (maybe we're in Hawaii on New Year's Eve or at Walt Disney World any night), we tend to associate them with Independence Day.
But what if the weather is bad? While most major fireworks events in big cities happen rain or shine, much of the Southeast is getting downpours and thunderstorms this Thursday and either have to postpone or even cancel local celebrations (my town's parade and fireworks display have been moved all the way to the end of September!). Well, that stinks, but fortunately we've got movies to give us the next best thing.
And boy are there a lot of movies featuring fireworks. There are depictions that are black and white, color, animated, live action, actually photographed, added in with computer effects, long, short, in the foreground, in the background, on-screen, offscreen and, thanks to 3D, jumping out at us. Some are more memorable than others, of course, and we've selected a handful of the very best. Hopefully you get to see some real fireworks this Fourth of July, but if you can't then check out these five scenes as an alternative.
To Catch a Thief
We don't usually associate Alfred Hitchcock with cliches, but when he used fireworks to emphasize the spark of passion between two characters it wasn't as common and corny as it is today. And anyway this scene is not your basic moment in which a kiss is followed by the explosion. Instead we see the display through the window from the beginning of the moment, and then the cutaways to the fireworks occur throughout, at least four times before Cary Grant and Grace Kelly join lips. It's not just the kiss that pops, it's the building chemistry between the two jewel thieves. Of course, the kiss does bring the biggest bursts of all.
Fireworks may be known for their blasts of color, but black-and-white displays are perfectly fine, especially if they're shot by cinematographer Gordon Willis and are accompanied by Gershwin. Thanks to Woody Allen's cinematic love letter to the Big Apple, "Rhapsody in Blue" joins the Tchaikovsky, Handel and Sousa compositions as favorite soundtracks for our fireworks enjoyment. And as is perfect for his romanticization of the city, there is something about that shot at the end of the opening montage that's just unreal. As someone who has watched a whole lot of fireworks displays in NYC, I can say that I've never seen it look as majestic as it does here.
The Lovers on the Bridge
Speaking of firework displays unlike anything I've seen in real life, the extravaganza going on in the background while Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant are wildly dancing on the Pont Neuf in this film is out of this world. Director Leos Carax re-created the spectacle of the French Bicentennial and it must have been nothing compared to how much was blown all together (not that $28 million seems like much over here). This is the sort of cinematic moment where any number of the components would have been sufficient for my eyes. I would watch those fireworks by themselves, and same goes for the actors. Together they're absolutely magical.
Our favorite summertime movie here at Movies.com, this is also one of the best representations of youth and Americana. Given that it takes place during this season, obviously it has an obligatory sequence set on the Fourth. But rather than just a generic montage of picnicking and sparklers and Ray Charles singing "America the Beautiful" on the soundtrack, The Sandlot manages to find a real reason for the holiday backdrop. "There was only one night game a year. On the Fourth of July the whole sky would brighten up with fireworks, giving us just enough light for a game."
Return of the Jedi
Memorable may not necessarily mean fondly remembered with the ending of the Special Edition version of this Star Wars movie, depending on how you tolerate the changes. Originally there was a bit of fireworks in the sky over the Ewok village courtesy of some Rebel ships. The 1997 cut added in more displays on other planets to show a larger population celebrating the big victory. It shows just how much fireworks are enjoyed throughout the galaxy. They're literally universal. Anyway, the real unfavorable change at the end here is the music.
Honorable mentions go to five more of my favorite fireworks scenes in film (most of which weren't available online in clip form): This Is Not a Film; The Naked Gun; The Queen of Versailles; Slaughterhouse Five; Kung Fu Panda 2.