1. Gettysburg (1993): The ultimate Civil War film in the sense of being both about the pivotal battle in the war, but also letting each side explain why they fought and what they were fighting for. It also highlights the bravery and sacrifice of the average men who have risen up to defend America in her various hours of need. This film, in many ways, lays out the competing views of what America is about.
2. How The West Was Won (1962): Call this, "How America Was Made," this film highlights the growth of America from a small group of ambitious eastern states to the country that would conquer a continent to the industrial powerhouse of today. Along the way, you meet idealists, opportunists, crooks, heroes, and people just looking for a better life. What I love about this film is how it focuses on the common man as the builder of America rather than showing America as a puzzle constructed by the rich and famous.
3. National Treasure (2004): This movie should have been Indiana Jones 4: America's Masonic History, but it wasn't. What it was instead is a film that takes a fascinating tour of the lesser known parts of American history and weaves them all together into a compelling story told by characters who love this country: the historian determined to prove his family were not traitors, the immigrant who rose to run the Smithsonian, and the watchful patriot who protects America. You can't watch this without feeling love for our country.
4. The Longest Day (1962): Focusing on D-Day, this is one of the better war films. What this film does so well is that it captures the can-do determination of every strata of American society as we prepare to put an end to Hitler's evil empire. These aren't braggarts, pessimists, cynics or cowards... they are what we have come to expect when Americans call themselves to duty.
5. Apollo 13 (1995): Not only does this film highlight the American achievement of lunar landings, something no one else has matched yet, but it shows the amazing creativity of Americans when squeezed into a corner and given only a few hours to save the lives of men we care about even if we've never met them. That ingenuity and that dedication without self-interest are cornerstones of what make Americans exceptional.
6. Sergeant York (1941): In some ways, this film could be dismissed as presenting an old fashioned view of Americans -- isolationist/live and let live, self-effacing, simple, and dedicated. Those aren't values that modern television worships. Yet, these values are on display every day all around us if you just stop to look. Sergeant York really does embody something deep within the American soul.
7. To Have And Have Not (1944): The reluctant hero looms large in this one. Bogart is the typical American in attitude and persona. He doesn't have the snazzy uniform of the Nazis. He doesn't have the backing of authority like the French who run the island. He's dismissed by the world as self-interested. But we know better. Bogart is a guy with a strong moral code who cannot stand by and let evil triumph over good, and he's willing to risk his own life to defend his beliefs even though no one would blame him for looking the other way.
8. Battle: Los Angeles (2011): More than any other war film, this one lays out why Americans stand and fight. We fight to protect our friends, our family, our homes and our country, and we know why we fight when we do. Deeply un-cynical, this film stands firmly on the side of the middle-American so many elitists simply cannot understand. These people love this country and they fight for each other, and to them, race and gender are meaningless, as all that matters is the content of a man's character.