Born on the Fourth of July (film)

Born on the Fourth of July

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Oliver Stone
Produced by A. Kitman Ho
Oliver Stone
Screenplay by Ron Kovic
Oliver Stone
Based on Born on the Fourth of July
by Ron Kovic
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Robert Richardson
Edited by Joe Hutshing
David Brenner
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 20, 1989 (1989-12-20)
Running time
145 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million
Box office $161 million[1]

Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American war drama film adaptation of the best-selling autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic.[2]

Tom Cruise plays Ron Kovic, in a performance that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Oliver Stone (himself a Vietnam veteran) co-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, and also produced and directed the film. Stone wanted to film the movie in Vietnam, but because relations between the United States and Vietnam had not yet been normalized, it was instead filmed in the Philippines. The film is considered part of Stone's "trilogy" of films about the Vietnam War—following Platoon (1986) and preceding Heaven & Earth (1993).

Born on the Fourth of July was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won two, for Best Director and Best Film Editing; it also won four Golden Globe Awards and a Directors Guild of America Award. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing $161,001,698 worldwide.[1]


In the summer of 1956 in Massapequa, Long Island, New York, 10-year-old Ron Kovic plays war in the woods and attends a Fourth of July parade. After watching President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address,[3] it inspires him to enlist in the Marines. Later, Kovic attends an impassioned lecture about the Marine Corps. He decides to enlist and misses his prom because he is unable to secure a date with his love interest, Donna. He confronts her at the prom and has a dance with her on his last night before leaving.

Now a Marine sergeant and on patrol during his second Vietnam tour in October 1967, Kovic's unit kills a number of Vietnamese civilians in a village, believing them to be enemy combatants. During the retreat, Kovic accidentally kills one of the new arrivals to his platoon, a younger Marine private first class named Wilson. During a firefight in January 1968, Kovic is critically wounded until a fellow Marine rescues him. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he spends several months recovering at the Bronx Veterans Administration hospital where the hospital conditions are poor with rats roaming the floors and the doctors and nurses ignoring patients and abusing drugs and the equipment being too old to be useful. He desperately tries to walk again with the use of crutches and braces, despite repeated warnings from his doctors.

In 1969, Kovic returns home, permanently in a wheelchair with his leg intact. Though he tries to maintain his dignity as a Marine, Kovic gradually becomes disillusioned despite being paralyzed and resorts to alcoholism. In Kovic's absence, his younger brother Tommy (Josh Evans) has already become staunchly anti-war, remarking to Kovic what the war had done to him. During an Independence Day parade, Kovic shows signs of post-traumatic stress when firecrackers explode. When he is asked to give a speech, a baby in the crowd starts crying. After being unable to finish the speech and wheeled off stage, he reunites with his old high school friend Timmy Burns, who is also a wounded veteran, and the two spend Kovic's birthday sharing war stories. Later, Kovic goes to visit Donna at her college in Syracuse, New York, where the two reminisce and she asks him to attend a vigil for the victims of the Kent State shootings. He and Donna are separated after she and her fellow students are taken away by the police at her college for demonstrating a protest against the Vietnam War. Ron goes to a bar, almost getting into a fight with a fellow Marine and after a heated argument with his mother, Ron's father decides to send him to Mexico.

He arrives in ("The Village of the Sun") that seems to be a haven for paralyzed Vietnam veterans. He has his first sexual experience with a prostitute whom he believes he loves, until he sees her with another customer. Hooking up with another wheelchair-bound veteran Charlie, the two travel to what they believe will be a friendlier village. After annoying their taxicab driver, they end up stranded on the side of the road. After arguing with each other, they are picked up by a man with a truck and driven back to the "Village of the Sun." Going back to Long Island, Kovic travels to Georgia to visit Wilson's parents and family. He tells them the true story about their son's death and confesses his guilt.

Kovic joins Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and travels to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. He tells a reporter about his negative experiences in Vietnam and the VA hospital conditions, that the Vietnam War is wrong, and that the Vietnamese people are a proud people fighting against the US for their independence, fueling rage from the surrounding Nixon supporters. His interview is cut short when guards eject him and his fellow vets from the hall and attempt to turn them over to the police. They manage to break free from the police, regroup, and charge the hall again, though not successfully this time. Kovic speaks at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, shortly after the publication of his autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July.



Oliver Stone, also a Vietnam veteran, read Ron Kovic's best-selling autobiography Born on the Fourth of July and was stunned to learn what Kovic had suffered after the war. He bought the rights to the autobiography, and wanted to make it into a film. After buying the rights, Stone had to find a distributor for the film. Stone offered the project to Universal Pictures and they accepted. Stone then had to find a producer for the film. Eventually, he along with A. Kitman Ho became the producers. Tom Cruise was cast as Ron Kovic while Stone directed. Stone met with Ron Kovic and they discussed their experiences in Vietnam. Kovic wrote the screenplay with Stone, and appears in the film himself during the opening parade sequence as a soldier who flinches at the sound of exploding firecrackers—a reflex Cruise's Kovic will adopt himself later in the film.

Stone wanted to film the movie in Vietnam, but since the relationship between Vietnam and the United States had not been resolved, Stone decided instead to film it in the Philippines (where Stone had previously filmed Platoon). Other scenes which do not include combat were filmed in the U.S., particularly Dallas, Texas. The film was cinematographer Robert Richardson's first experience shooting in the anamorphic format.[4] Of the stars he worked with in this film, Stone worked again with both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe, who originally starred in Platoon. Another star, Frank Whaley, would join Stone for the 1991 films The Doors and JFK.


Box office

The film was released on December 20, 1989, grossing $766,942 during its opening week, in limited release. Over the course of its second week, the film grossed $1,464,345. At its third week of release, now in wide release, it grossed $5,343,453, ranking #1 at the box office. The film remained in the number one position up until its sixth week of release. The film stayed in the #11 position of the top ten grossing films of 1990 until its last week of release. The film grossed $70,001,698 domestically and $161,001,698 worldwide,[1] significantly surpassing its $14 million budget.

Critical response

Reviews of the film were extremely positive. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 90% of positive reviews by critics, based on 37 reviews.[5] Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars.[6] Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 75 out of 100. The New York Times says: "It is a film of enormous visceral power with, in the central role, a performance by Tom Cruise that defines everything that is best about the movie." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says: "Stone has found Cruise the ideal actor to anchor the movie with simplicity and strength. Together they do more than show what happened to Kovic. Their fervent, consistently gripping film shows why it still urgently matters." Many critics also praised Tom Cruise's performance and Oliver Stone's direction of the film. Stone would later be awarded with an Oscar and a Golden Globe for directing while Tom Cruise received the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

Notable critics who gave the film negative reviews include Jonathan Rosenbaum, who said: "[T]he movie's conventional showbiz finale, brimming with false uplift, implies that the traumas of other mutilated and disillusioned Vietnam veterans can easily be overcome if they write books and turn themselves into celebrities." Hal Hinson of the Washington Post called the film "hysterical and overbearing and alienating." Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "[T]he director has lost the specificity that made Platoon so electrifying. In its place he uses bombast, overkill, bullying."

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient Outcome
1989 Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Best Director Oliver Stone (2nd place) Won
Best Cinematography Robert Richardson (2nd place)
National Board of Review Top Ten Films Born on the Fourth of July
National Society of Film Critics Best Actor Tom Cruise (3rd place)
New York Film Critics Circle Best Actor Tom Cruise (2nd place)
1990 Academy Awards[7] Best Picture of the Year A. Kitman Ho and Oliver Stone
Winners were Richard D. Zanuck and Lili Fini Zanuck for Driving Miss Daisy
Best Actor in a Leading Role Tom Cruise
Winner was Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot
Best Director Oliver Stone Won
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone
Winner was Alfred Uhry for Driving Miss Daisy
Best Cinematography Robert Richardson
Winner was Freddie Francis for Glory
Best Sound Mixing Michael Minkler, Gregory H. Watkins, Wylie Stateman, and Tod A. Maitland
Winners were Donald O. Mitchell, Gregg Rudloff, Elliot Tyson, and Russell Williams for Glory
Best Film Editing David Brenner and Joe Hutshing Won
Best Music, Original Score John Williams
Winner was Alan Menken for The Little Mermaid
American Cinema Editors Guild Best Edited Feature Film David Brenner and Joe Hutshing
Winner was Steven Rosenblum for Glory
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Theatrical Releases Robert Richardson
Winner was Haskell Wexler for Blaze
BAFTA Film Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Tom Cruise
Winner was Philippe Noiret for Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (Cinema Paradiso)
Best Screenplay – Adapted Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone
Winners were Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese for Goodfellas
BMI Film & TV Awards BMI Film Music Award John Williams Won
Berlin International Film Festival[8] Golden Bear Oliver Stone
Winners were Larks on a String and Music Box
Casting Society of America Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama Risa Bramon Garcia and Billy Hopkins
Winner was Howard Feuer for Dead Poets Society
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Picture Born on the Fourth of July
Winner was Do the Right Thing
Best Actor Tom Cruise Won
David di Donatello Best Foreign Actor (Migliore Attore Straniero) Tom Cruise
Winner was Philippe Noiret for Life and Nothing But
Best Foreign Director (Migliore Regista Straniero) Oliver Stone
Winner was Louis Malle for May Fools
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Oliver Stone Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama Born on the Fourth of July
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Tom Cruise
Best Director Oliver Stone
Best Screenplay Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone
Best Music, Original Score John Williams
Winner was Alan Menken for The Little Mermaid
Motion Picture Sound Editors Best Sound Editing – ADR Born on the Fourth of July Won
Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects Wylie Stateman and Michael Minkler
Tied with Dody Dorn and Blake Leyh for The Abyss
Political Film Society Democracy Born on the Fourth of July
Writers Guild of America Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone
Winner was Alfred Uhry for Driving Miss Daisy

American Film Institute Lists

Home media

The film was released on VHS in 1990 and on DVD in 1998. The DVD contains commentary by director Oliver Stone. The special edition DVD was released on October 19th, 2004. The DVD contains commentary with Director Oliver Stone and the original NBC documentary of the making of Born on the Fourth of July. In 2007, the film was released on the HD DVD format. On September 1, 2011 Universal Australia released the film on Blu-ray Disc. It was released in the US on July 3, 2012.[9]


  1. 1 2 3 "Born on the Fourth of July (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 8 August 2013.
  2. Vincent Canby (1989-12-20). "How an All-American Boy Went to War and Lost His Faith". The New York Times.
  3. Kennedy's inaugural address on Friday January 20, 1961,
  4. Bob Fisher (February 1, 1990). "Born on the Fourth of July". American Cinematographer. Los Angeles, United States: American Society of Cinematographers. 71 (2): 27. ISSN 0002-7928.
  5. Born on the Fourth of July on Rotten Tomatoes
  6. Ebert, Roger. "Born on the Fourth of July Movie Review (1989) | Roger Ebert". Retrieved 2015-08-24.
  7. "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-17.
  8. "Berlinale: 1990 Programme". Retrieved 2011-03-17.
  9. Katz, Josh (April 5, 2012). "Born on the Fourth of July Blu-ray". Retrieved April 12, 2012.

External links

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