“Adventureland” (Greg Mottola, 2009)
Greg Mottola’s “Adventureland” is a superb followup to his hilarious and much-beloved “Superbad.” The film follows James (Jesse Eisenberg), a recent college grad in the late 1980s who works at a theme park the summer before he’s supposed to go to grad school. While there, he meets a series of interesting characters, including “Em,” a troubled girl and eventual love interest played by Kristen Stewart. In the “Adventureland” fireworks scene, the two take a break from exploring their awkward, inevitable relationship and get a nice view of the Fourth of July treat.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)
In Benh Zeitlin’s Oscar-nominated drama, six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) sees the beauty in the world — even as she confronts her father’s ailing health and an impending storm. In one of the film’s most colorful and joyous sequences, Hushpuppy runs around with sparklers until fireworks explode above her, her friends and family. It’s a celebratory moment that occurs just before the flood waters rise and threaten their home, and it’s one that speaks directly to Hushpuppy’s childlike sense of wonder.
“Blow Out” (Brian De Palma, 1981)
Brian De Palma’s thrilling reimagining of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic, “Blow Up,” not only features the best performance of John Travolta’s career, but it also includes one of the most dramatic firework scenes ever during its climactic final embrace. As Travolta’s Jack Terry races through Philadelphia’s Liberty Parade in order to save an escort (Nancy Allen) from the hands of an assassin, fireworks begin exploding in the sky. The light show continues as Terry fights the assassin, with De Palma and famed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond capturing the blasts of color on their faces like bombs in a hectic war zone. Only when Terry holds Sally’s lifeless body in his arms does the camera spin to reveal the actual display exploding in the sky — it’s a moment of pure visual and emotional opera.
“Blue Valentine” (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)
Over its two-hour running time, Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” takes you an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t let up. That’s what makes the beautiful end credits sequence such a relief. Set to a swooning song by the indie rock band Grizzly Bear, the sequence shows the film’s couple (played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) in much happier times with exploding fireworks framing their silhouettes (a fitting metaphor for the power of young love).
“Bottle Rocket” (Wes Anderson, 1996)
The film itself is named after a firework, so it’s only fair to include Wes Anderson’s debut on this list. Though Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) buy fireworks from a roadside stand, they never actually set any off in the film. The closest they get can be seen in the clip below. Ultimately, they toss them out the window of their car when they’re on the lam and speeding down the highway. In that way, fireworks are used as a metaphor for something that is out-of-control — a life lived unpredictably and carelessly. As Anderson has said, “Bottle rockets are these dinky, cheap fireworks that explode but are illegal because they’re so hard to control and are so poorly made. They are the kind of thing that could catch a garage on fire but a neighbor with a garden hose could put it out.”
“Brokeback Mountain” (Ang Lee, 2005)
There’s nothing harder than hitting a low point in your life while others celebrate around you. When Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and his family settle in for a Fourth of July fireworks display, the peace is interrupted by drunks in search of “pussy” — and it doesn’t take much before Ennis decides to use his fists to shut them up. However, as lights explode overhead, Ennis goes just a bit too far. It’s a visual punch of a moment, and also a key scene in the relationship between Ennis and Alma (Michelle Williams), showing how Ennis’ suppressed rage, as well as all the other emotions he’s keeping locked in, are what will ultimately drive him to a sad and lonely end.
“Goodbye, Lenin!” (Wolfgang Becker, 2004)
This meticulously crafted look at a family uniquely effected by the union of East and West Germany features fireworks in a unique way. Reflecting both the nostalgia protagonist Alex feels when fireworks are featured in his childhood, as well as when Germany wins the World Cup, fireworks are also an outlet for honoring the wishes of his deceased mother. Her request to have her ashes spread into the wind is granted by launching her into fireworks during a celebration of reunification.
“The Sandlot” (David M. Evans, 1993)
One of the most quintessential American moments to grace the big screen, the Fourth of July sequence in this camp classic brings to life the ideal the movie represents. Benny knocks on his new friend’s door and says, “Night game, let’s go.” Scottie’s proclamation, “Mom, I’m going out.” Nine kids playing ball in the park under a colorful sky, their game lit by fireworks, all set to Ray Charles’ rendition of “America, The Beautiful.” No matter where you are from, this is a powerful, sentimental moment. In a film that celebrates growing up in a simple time and place, where summers are spent playing baseball, the Fourth of July scene is the most rewarding for all.