The Best Fourth of July Horror Movies, from ‘Cape Fear’ and ‘Jaws’ to ‘Assassination Nation’ and ‘2001 Maniacs’

Editor’s note: this list was originally published in July 2023. It has since been updated with new entries.

How far does the dial have to move to take a holiday from festive to fucked up? At least since the events of “Jaws” hit Amity Island, Fourth of July celebrations have served as frightful fodder for satirists, who have used the summer holiday as an opportunity to lambast the all-too-obvious dark side to our country’s blood-spattered stars and stripes.

More from IndieWire

The best Fourth of July horror movies make use of both their seasonal setting and thorny subject matter. There’s something innately disturbing about taking a day that should be celebratory and re-packaging it in that twisted carnival aesthetic — dripping with oversaturated reds, whites, and blues. And exploring the birth of a country currently tearing itself in two (just look at the Supreme Court last week) bestows an embarrassment of thematic riches onto the writers and directors willing to stew in its spirit.

Fourth of July horror movies have become a genre category in their own right because they offer opportunities to criticize the U.S. as it currently is, while simultaneously reflecting on the untold darkness of our history. Not to mention, fireworks and crowds spell menacing horror movie magic. Toss in a zombified Uncle Sam, and you’ve got a slasher worth lighting sparklers.

Roland Emmerich sicced aliens on the world in the aptly titled “Independence Day,” a sci-fi disaster movie starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman among others. Robert De Niro played a freed prisoner hunting down his former attorney, played by Nick Nolte, in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear.” That’s a remake of the 1962 psychological thriller of the same name, set against the backdrop of a well-to-do North Carolina community also partying on the Fourth. And while “The Purge” creator James DeMonaco may have technically set his fictive blood bath in the spring, it’s no secret that the murder marathon of the title, an annual event canonically “sanctioned by the U.S. government,” incorporates elements similar in tone to the real federal holiday.

Whether you’re rounding out a day of summer fun or sitting out of this year’s festivities, here are the best Fourth of July horror movies. The list includes both movies set on the holiday, as well as horror titles that play with classically Americana images to chilling effect. The list has been capped at 15 titles. You can also mine our guide to films about democratic elections from last November.

Best of IndieWire

Sign up for Indiewire's Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.