Only in America: Films that capture the USA

Jamie Flook 1 July 2022

Travel to the USA from the comfort of your own home with this selection of films that capture the country's spirit on screen

What do we think of when we think of the United States? Historically, any country with global cultural influence imprints their identity upon the rest of the world in both positive and negative ways. With July 4 being American Independence Day, here are some films that capture different aspects of American culture in memorable ways. 

The Truman Show

One of the definitive films in Jim Carrey’s back catalogue, The Truman Show portrays a man literally captured by TV which in some ways is a commentary on real life.

Americans spend more time watching TV than any engaging in any other leisure activity, and who can blame them with the abundance of quality programming now available? The Truman Show is an eccentric but endearing film that holds a mirror up to those of us watching.  

A Walk In The Woods

Based on the brilliant travel book of the same name, A Walk In The Woods features Robert Redford as the writer Bill Bryson who hikes the Appalachian Trail across the eastern United States with his friend Stephen Katz, played perfectly by Nick Nolte.

"The film is a very understated celebration of the great outdoors"

The film is a very understated celebration of the great outdoors and how friendly Americans can be. Well worth watching, and it does a good job of representing the humorous spirit of the source material. 

The Founder

For better or worse, McDonald’s is one of America’s most iconic brands and fast food is one of the country’s favourite culinary treats. In fact, between 2013 and 2016, the U.S. government estimated that nearly 37 per cent of the American population were eating fast food on any given day.

Michael Keaton gives a stand out performance as businessman Ray Kroc in The Founder, which is the story of how McDonald’s went from being a family restaurant in 1940s San Bernardino, California, to the global phenomenon that it is today. The Founder may give you a taste for fast food, but it’s also a reminder of the dark side of corporate reality in America.

Apollo 13

Houston, we have a film classic. The Apollo missions of America’s space programme have echoed down the generations and inspired countless scientists, thinkers, writers, astronauts and more to consider the further possibilities of manned space travel and our place in the universe.

Apollo 13, directed by Ron Howard, relives the events of April, 1970, when the crew of the Apollo 13 spacecraft took off with the aim of landing on the Moon. The mission had to be aborted when an explosion onboard resulted in a potentially catastrophic loss of oxygen. America’s love of space was about to be tested. 

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

An Italian film shot mostly in Spain and set in an America that no longer exists might seem an unusual choice for a list of films that capture American culture, but it’s not really. Sergio Leone’s tale of conflict between a bounty hunter, an assassin and a Mexican bandit looking for gold makes for a spectacular and highly entertaining spaghetti western.

"The 1860s Wild West in which the film takes place is still lurking in present day America"

In some ways, the 1860s Wild West in which The Good, The Bad and The Ugly takes place is still lurking in present day America, considering the prevalence of gun violence.  

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to the golden age of Hollywood epitomizes the glitzy and glamorous lifestyle sometimes enjoyed by 1960s film stars in Los Angeles.

Leonardo Di Caprio puts in a stellar performance as the fictional Rick Dalton, supported by his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The Hollywood life has its challenges for Dalton, but he gives it his best shot. 

Moneyball

Traditionally one of America’s favourite sports, baseball’s popularity is under threat from other sports such as American football and basketball. Moneyball is based on the remarkable true story of how general manager Billy Beane turned around the fortunes of a baseball team by employing a Harvard graduate with a degree in economics to study the performance statistics of players in order to better utilize their limited budget to build a better team.

"Moneyball is based on a remarkable true story"

Since baseball’s popularity is on the wane, perhaps the US could do with another story like Moneyball, bringing in a younger generation of fans to complement the older fans who are keeping the sport alive. 

Twister

We’ve all seen the haunting videos of houses and cars in America being thrown across the landscape by super strength tornados, and you have to feel for the people affected. In Twister, we meet a group of storm chasers researching tornados during an outbreak of them in Oklahoma. The visual effects are great and as pure popcorn entertainment, Twister has all the right elements to hold it all together. Pure escapism. 

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