12 Most All-American Movies of the Past 50 Years

12 Most All-American Movies of the Past 50 Years


Is there anything more all-American than Saturday night at the movies? Popcorn, a drink, and someone’s hand to hold — it doesn’t get much better than that!

To celebrate our nation’s birthday, here is a list of 12 great movies of the past 50 years that represent our country in a variety of ways. There was no way to keep this list to 12 and have included the entire history of film, so here’s the best since 1962.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Based on Harper Lee’s brilliant novel, this movie should be required watching for every child in our country. Though adaptations of books to film are often disappointing, this one delivers, in large part because of the Oscar winning portrayal of Atticus Finch by Gregory Peck.

2. The Graduate (1967)

The American dream seen through the eyes of an indifferent college grad. An entire generation cringed at the line “I have one word for you… plastics.” Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) personified the ennui of young adults then… and now. Anne Bancroft, as Mrs. Robinson, was the epitome of the bored 1960’s housewife. As sad as the story is, it’s oddly inspiring too.

3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

The charming and impossibly handsome Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) are the most lovable criminals ever seen on screen. As bank robbers in the late 19th century, Butch and Sundance were emblematic of the lawless wild west. We root for them even though we know they’re the bad guys. There’s nothing more All-American than a western, and no pairing of two American actors more appealing than Newman and Redford.

4. Dirty Harry (1971)

Harry, lawman turned renegade, is the personification of all the anger and frustration felt by victims of violent crime. Taking the law into his own hands, Harry is controversial, despicable and sympathetic all at the same time. Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan has become the icon of payback. Dirty Harry was the film that introduced this particular genre — followed by Die Hard, Terminator, and the like.

5. American Graffiti (1973)

Has there ever been a movie that felt more all-American than this? A hot car, a hot girl, the last night of summer — and Ron Howard, too! George Lucas’s first big hit, it continues to resonate 40 years after its release because the theme of growing up and leaving home never gets old.

6. Annie Hall (1977)

Perhaps a little too skewed toward the East Coast version of all-American, Annie Hall still has to be on this list for so exquisitely capturing a particular moment in our country’s history, and for it’s love stories — both between Annie (Diane Keaton) and Alvy (Woody Allen) and between Woody Allen and New York City.

7. Coming Home (1978)

There have been a lot of movies about the Vietnam war, ranging from the intense and violent (Apocalypse Now) to the brave and heroic (Born on the 4th of July). Coming Home is an intimate story about the overwhelming repercussions of the war on 3 very different people — a soldier, his wife, and her paraplegic lover. Jane Fonda and Jon Voight are mad sexy.

8. Field of Dreams (1989)

This film is a love letter to our national pastime, baseball. From the moment those players walk out of the cornfield, we believe, along with Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) that miracles happen. A baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield becomes a metaphor for all of our collective hopes and dreams. Add James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster to the mix and it’s a movie to watch again and again, if just to hear Jones make his “base-boll” speech.

9. Forrest Gump (1994)

Americans pride ourselves on our ability to work hard and make things happen. There is arguably no character on film that represents this American ideal more effectively and magically than Forrest Gump. Through the miracle of film, Gump is dropped into seminal moments in our recent history. This movie is a feel-good, cheer-him-on tear jerker that encourages everyone to go for their dreams. A little sappy, but that’s all-American too!

10. Toy Story (1995)

Innovative animation and amazing casting are the backbone of this fantastic movie. Showing us the magical world of toys when their owner, a boy named Andy, isn’t around, there’s something for everyone in this film — from Don Rickles’ wicked humor as Mr. Potato Head to the heroic everymen that are Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). Parts 2 and 3 were pretty fabulous also.

11. Remember the Titans (2000)

Any list of all-American cultural anything must include a story or two about integration, which was the social issue of the 20th century — and any list must include football too — for what would America be without football, especially for small town high schools? Take a black coach (Denzel Washington) and put him in charge of a white school’s football team in the south in 1971, and this is what you get — a true hero based on a true story.

12. The Social Network (2010)

Perhaps this isn’t one of the best movies ever — in fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that there’s a huge chunk of truth to it, it might be fairly boring — but it represents what America is and is moving towards in our future. We’re moving rapidly towards a world that is shaped by social media; those at the forefront of the development of platforms, tools, and innovative ideas to grow our virtual lives are our new icons. Mark Zuckerberg is an American hero for the new millennium.

What are your favorite movies since 1962?

Featured image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass licensed via Creative Commons.

Sharon Greenthal


Sharon Greenthal is a former stay-at-home mom, now empty-nester. She lives in Orange County, CA with her husband Peter and their perfect dog, Lambeau. Her two children are away at college. Sharon blogs about her observations the world around her, from the important to the inconsequential.

468 ad

Being a filmmker, film watcher galore. film professor and others there are some I would have not put on and other on, I don't think I would have put on Social Network, it in my opinion is not a great film, it a good story but...

These films though not feel good show a little bit more grit about the real America:

Do the right thing

The Sting may have been better about America than Butch and Sundance-- Remember a good portion of the film is set in Bolivia but it you are going to have a film with a different country in it -- then I think the best film about America is DeerHunter...It tells the tale of the Vietnam, the baby boomers and our struggles...


Since you added Remember the Titans, which I loved, I gotta add two more sports movies that I think are All-American: Hoosiers and Glory Road!


I agree with Sue - It's a Wonderful Life is also an excellent addition to your already great list.


@musicboxfilms My favorite from those would be Toy Story.


@musicboxfilms Best American Movie: #RemembertheTitans. Still have my (2nd-hand) crew swag hat.


Annie Hall, I discovered this one much to late. I can see why it won an Oscar. One of the few comedies that represents a love affair that does not end happily. What I love about the movie is that it is almost a love letter to New York. It is very much a character in the film. Los Angeles too for it's bit. Also love, love, the opening where we hear Woody Allen and his friend talking as they slowly come into focus walking up the sidewalk. Brilliant! 

Sue Housekaboodle
Sue Housekaboodle

I love all of the above movies.  They mean a lot to me for different reasons.  Some swirl around my brain on repeat mode like..."If you build it, he will come." and "Help me Obi Won, you are my only help." Since you can't go past 12 some other icon movies I think of would be Star Wars and It's A Wonderful Life.

Latest blog post: The 4th of July Parade


I know it's old, but I still LOVE "Yankee Doodle Dandy" with James Cagney...and most of the great WWII movies made during the war and shortly thereafter.