Born on the Fourth of July (Film Notes)

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Born on the Fourth of July (Film Notes)

Born on the Fourth of July
original film poster

Directed by

Oliver Stone

Produced by

A. Kitman Ho
Oliver Stone

Written by

Oliver Stone
Ron Kovic


Tom Cruise
Kyra Sedgwick
Raymond J. Barry
Jerry Levine
Frank Whaley
Willem Dafoe

Music by

John Williams

Editing by

Joe Hutshing
David Brenner

Distributed by

Universal Pictures

Release date(s)

December 20, 1989 (1989-12-20)

Running time

145 minutes


United States




$14 million

Box office


Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American film adaptation of the best selling autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Tom Cruise plays 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.

Born on the Fourth of July is considered part of Oliver Stone's "trilogy" of films about the Vietnam War—along with Platoon (1986) and Heaven & Earth (1993). The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film Editing. The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing more than $232,000,000 worldwide and winning two Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and a Directors' Guild of America Award.


The film begins with Ron Kovic's childhood during a summer in Massapequa, New York. He plays war in the woods, attends a Fourth of July parade, plays and wins at a local neighborhood baseball game, and watches President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address, which later inspires him to enlist in the Marines. The filmed scenes of his past imply that his childhood is innocent and carefree; however, that changes once he becomes a teenager. Now a star athlete, with the same patriotic views, he makes a decision that will forever change his life.

After Ron Kovic and his classmates hear an impassioned lecture about the Marine Corps, Ron decides to enlist. He 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.

The film then moves to Kovic's second Vietnam tour in October 1967. Now a Marine sergeant and on patrol, his unit massacres a village of Vietnamese citizens, believing them to be enemy combatants. During the retreat, Kovic becomes disoriented and accidentally shoots one of the new arrivals to his platoon, a younger Marine private first class, named Wilson. Despite the frantic efforts of the Navy Corpsmen present who try to save him, Wilson later dies from his wounds, leaving a deep impression on Kovic. Overwhelmed by guilt, Kovic appeals to his executive officer (XO), who merely tells him to forget the incident. The meeting has a negative effect on Ron, who is crushed at being brushed off by his XO.

The platoon goes out on another hazardous patrol in January 1968. During a firefight, Kovic is critically wounded and trapped in a field facing sure death, until a fellow Marine rescues him. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down, he spends several months recovering at the Bronx Veterans Administration hospital. The hospital living conditions are deplorable: rats crawl freely on the floors, the staff is generally apathetic to their patients' needs, doctors visit the patients infrequently, drug use is rampant (among both the staff and patients), and equipment is too old and ill-maintained to be useful. He desperately tries to walk again with the use of crutches and braces, despite repeated warnings from his doctors. However, he soon suffers a bad fall that causes a compound fracture of his thighbone. The injury nearly robs him of his leg, and he vehemently argues with the doctors who briefly consider resorting to amputation.

Ron returns home, permanently in a wheelchair, with his leg intact. From the start, he notices how all his family and friends treated him differently now that he was paralyzed. He begins to alienate his family and friends, complaining about students staging anti-war rallies across the country and burning the American flag. Though he tries to maintain his dignity as a Marine, Ron gradually becomes disillusioned, feeling the effects of his paralysis on his life, and realizes that all the things he was taught from birth, like honor, patriotism, and courage, were illusions which he would give up any day to get his legs back. In Ron's absence, his younger brother Tommy has already become staunchly anti-war, remarking to Ron directly in his face what the war had done to him, leading to a rift between them. His highly religious mother also seems unable to deal with Ron's new attitude as a resentful, paralyzed veteran. His problems are as much psychological as they are physical and he quickly becomes alcoholic and belligerent. During an Independence Day parade, he shows signs of post-traumatic stress when firecrackers explode and when a baby in the crowd starts crying. He reunites with his old high school friend, Timmy Burns, who is also a wounded veteran, and the two spend Ron's birthday sharing war stories. Later, Ron goes to visit Donna at her college in Syracuse, New York. The two reminisce and she asks him to attend a vigil for the victims of the Kent State shootings. However, he cannot do so, because his chair prevents him from getting very far on campus because of curbs and stairways. He and Donna are separated after she and her fellow students are captured and taken away by the police at her college for demonstrating a protest against the Vietnam War.

After returning home drunk one night after having a barroom confrontation with a World War II veteran who expresses no sympathy to Ron, Ron's disillusionment grows severe enough that he has an intense fight with his mother, yelling at her that there was no God, and that they murdered civilians in Vietnam in disregard of Christian morals. Ron travels to a small town in Mexico ("The Village of the Sun") that seems to be a haven for paralyzed Vietnam veterans. He has his first sexual experience with a prostitute he believes he's in love with. Ron wants to ask her to marry him but when he sees her with another customer, the realization of real love versus a mere physical sexual experience sets in, and he decides against it. Hooking up with another wheelchair-using veteran, Charlie, who is furious over a prostitute's mocking his lack of sexual function due to his paralysis, 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. They quarrel and fight about what each of them had really done in Vietnam, knocking each other out of their wheelchairs. Eventually, they are picked up by a man with a truck and eventually driven back to the "Village of the Sun". On his way back to Long Island, Ron makes a side trek to Georgia to visit the parents and family of Wilson, the Marine he accidentally killed during his tour. He tells them the real story about how their son died and confesses his guilt to them. Wilson's widow, now the mother of the deceased Marine's toddler son, admits that she cannot find it in her heart to forgive him for killing her husband. Wilson's parents, however, are more forgiving and even sympathetic to his predicament and suffering, because Wilson's father fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and is disillusioned with the war in Vietnam. In spite of the mixed reactions he receives, the confession seems to lift a heavy weight from Ron's conscience.

Ron joins Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and travels to the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. He and his compatriots force their way into the convention hall during Richard Nixon's acceptance speech and cause a commotion that makes it onto the national news. Ron himself tells a reporter about his negative experiences in Vietnam and the VA hospital conditions, that the Vietnam war is wrong, and tells him 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 so successfully this time. The film ends with Kovic's speaking at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, shortly after the publication of his autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July.


  • Tom Cruise as Ron Kovic

  • Raymond J. Barry as Mr. Kovic

  • Caroline Kava as Mrs. Kovic

  • Josh Evans as Tommy Kovic

  • Frank Whaley as Timmy Burns

  • Jerry Levine as Steve Boyer

  • Kyra Sedgwick as Donna

  • Rob Camilletti as Tommy Finelli

  • Stephen Baldwin as Billy Vorsovich

  • Tom Berenger as GySgt. Hayes

  • Willem Dafoe as Charlie

  • John Getz as Marine Major - Vietman

  • Cordelia González as María Elena

  • Holly Marie Combs as Jenny

  • Vivica A. Fox as Hooker in VA hospital

  • Wayne Knight as Official #2 - Democratic Convention

  • James LeGros as Platoon - Vietnam


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. Kovic and Stone won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and were nominated for an Academy Award, but lost to Driving Miss Daisy.

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 grossed more than $232,000,000 million worldwide, significantly surpassing its $14 million dollar budget. The film received favorable reviews and went on to win two Academy Awards for Editing and Directing. Of the stars he worked with in this film, Stone worked again with both Tom Beringer and Willem Dafoe, who originally starred in Platoon. Another star, Frank Whaley, would join Stone for the 1991 films The Doors and JFK.


The reviews of the film were extremely positive. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a score of 89% of positive reviews by critics, based on 37 reviews.[1] Roger Ebert gave the film "four stars" and remarked:

"We had our own disastrous foreign policy mistake, the war in Vietnam. When is President Bush going to get up before Congress and read an apology to the Vietnamese? Never, is the obvious answer. We hail the Soviet bloc for its honesty but see no lessons for ourselves. And yet we have been issuing our own apologies, of a sort. A film like Oliver Stone's "Born on the Fourth of July" is an apology for Vietnam, uttered by Stone, who fought there, and Ron Kovic, who was paralyzed from the chest down in Vietnam."[2]

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."

Box office

The film was released on December 22, 1989, grossing $766,942 at its opening week. At its second week, it grossed $1,464,345. At its third week of release it grossed $5,343,453 ranking #1 at the Box Office. The film stayed at the #1 positions for its fourth weekend till its sixth. The film stayed in the #11 position of the top ten grossing films of 1990 until its last week of release. The film grossed $140,565,834 domestically and $232,343,002 worldwide. The film was a box office success, surpassing its $14 million budget.

Awards and nominations

  • Awards

    • Best Director (Academy Awards)[3]

    • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures (Directors Guild of America)

    • Best Director - Motion Picture (Golden Globes)

    • Best Film Editing (Academy Awards)

    • Best Actor (Chicago Film Critics Association Awards)

    • Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Golden Globes)

    • Best Motion Picture - Drama (Golden Globes)

    • Best Screenplay - Motion Picture (Golden Globes)

    • Film Music Award (BMI Film & TV Awards)

    • Best Sound Editing (Motion Picture Sound Editors)

    • Democracy (Political Film Society)

  • Nominations

    • Best Picture (Academy Awards)

    • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Academy Awards)

    • Best Actor (BAFTA Awards)

    • Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama (Casting Society of America)

    • Best Cinematography (Academy Awards)

    • Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (American Society of Cinematographers)

    • Best Edited Feature Film (American Cinema Editors)

    • Best Music, Original Score (Academy Awards)

    • Best Original Score - Motion Picture (Golden Globes)

    • Best Sound (Michael Minkler, Gregory H. Watkins, Wylie Stateman and Tod A. Maitland) (Academy Awards)

    • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Academy Awards)

    • Best Screenplay - Adapted (BAFTA Awards)

    • Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Writers Guild of America)

    • Golden Bear (40th Berlin International Film Festival)[4]

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 media. It is set to be released in the US some time next year.


    1. ^ Born on the Fourth of July on Rotten Tomatoes

    2. ^ "Born on the Fourth of July". Chicago Sun-Times.

    3. ^ "The 62nd Academy Awards (1990) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-17. 

    4. ^ "Berlinale: 1990 Programme". Retrieved 2011-03-17. 

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Born on the Fourth of July

Films by Oliver Stone

Feature films




Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama (1981–2000)

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  • Out of AfricaSydney Pollack (1985) ·

  • PlatoonArnold Kopelson (1986) ·

  • The Last EmperorJeremy Thomas (1987) ·

  • Rain ManMark Johnson (1988) ·

  • Born on the Fourth of JulyA. Kitman Ho (1989) ·

  • Dances with WolvesJim Wilson (1990) ·

  • BugsyWarren Beatty (1991) ·

  • Scent of a WomanMartin Brest (1992) ·

  • Schindler's ListSteven Spielberg (1993) ·

  • Forrest GumpWendy Finerman (1994) ·

  • Sense and SensibilityLindsay Doran (1995) ·

  • The English PatientSaul Zaentz (1996) ·

  • TitanicJames Cameron (1997) ·

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