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Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 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 Vietnammarker, but because relations between the United States and Vietnam had not yet been normalized, it was instead filmed in the Philippinesmarker.

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 (1993). The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and given Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film Editing.

The film was a critical and commercial success, grossing more than 160 million dollars worldwide and winning two Academy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and a Directors' Guild of America Award.

Plot synopsis

The film opens when Ron Kovic is a young boy living in Massapequamarker, Long Islandmarker, New Yorkmarker. He grows up in a patriotic and Catholic household, instilling within him a strong sense of pride in his country and his religion. As a teenager, and a top member of his high school's wrestling team, he proves himself physically fit and athletic, as well as an exceptional student academically. When local Marine recruiting NCOs visit his school and give Ron and his fellow seniors an impassioned lecture about the 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 Vietnammarker tour in 1968. 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 Corpsman 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 a few weeks later. 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 Bronxmarker Veterans Administrationmarker hospital. The hospital living conditions are deplorable: rats crawl freely on the floors, the staff is generally apathetic to their patients' needs, doctor visit the patients infrequently, drug use that 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 brace, 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. At home, 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 begins to become disillusioned, feeling that his government has betrayed him and his fellow Vietnam Veterans. In Ron's absence his younger brother Tommy has already become staunchly anti-war, 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 Yorkmarker. The two reminisce and she asks him to attend a vigil for the victims of the Kent State shootingsmarker. 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.

Ron's disillusionment grows severe enough that he has an intense fight with his mother after returning home drunk one night after having a barroom confrontation with a World War II veteran who expresses no sympathy to Ron. Ron travels to a small town in Mexicomarker ("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-bound veteran, Charlie, who is furious over a prostitute mocking his lack of sexual function due to his severe wounding in Vietnam, 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, 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 believes that he 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 soldier's toddler son, admits that she cannot find it in her heart to forgive him for killing her husband. Mr and Mrs. Wilson, 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 Miamimarker. 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. 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 speaking 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 autobiography: Born on the Fourth of July and was stunned to learn what Ron Kovic had suffered after being in the Vietnam War, bought the rights to the autobiography, and wanted to make it into a film. After buying the rights to the book, Stone had to find a distributor that would help him do the film. Eventually, Stone offered the project to Universal Pictures and they accepted. After finding a distributor, Stone had to find a producer for the film. Eventually, he along with another producer became the producers of the film. Tom Cruise was cast as Ron Kovic for the film while Stone directed the film. The real Ron Kovic wrote the screenplay with Oliver Stone, and appears in the film 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. Other scenes which do not include combat, were filmed in the U.S. The film grossed more than $100 million worldwide, significantly surpassing its $14 million dollar budget. The film received critical acclaimed reviews and went on to win two Academy Awards for Editing and directing for Oliver Stone.


The reviews of the film were extremely positive. As of April 1, 1990, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of critics gave the film positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film "four stars" and called it "One of the best films of the year". Metacritic reported that the film had an average score of 75 out of 100. The New York Times says that "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 the Rolling Stones 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 and why is still urgently matters." Many critics also praised Tom Cruise performance and Oliver Stone direction of the film which he would later be awarded with an Oscar and a Golden Globe for directing while Tom Cruise awarded for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

Notable critics who gave the film negative reviews include Jonathan Rosenbaum, who said, "...the 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, "the director has lost the specificity that made "Platoon" so electrifying. In its place he uses bombast, overkill, bullying."


The most prominent theme of the film centers on the physical and mental anguish Kovic suffers. He is robbed of his ability to walk, a particularly vicious wound since he was an athlete in high school. He is also unable to have "normal sex" due to his paralysis, and can never have children.

The mental stress that Ron experiences, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, is not uncommon among Vietnam veterans. Along with his guilt over shooting his fellow Marine, he must also come to terms with combat situations that required him to kill not only North Vietnamese soldiers but also innocent civilians. As we see during the July 4 birthday celebration the town veterans association holds for him, he can't shake the reminders of combat, like the crying infant or fireworks that sound like gunfire or hand grenades. It also shows the pain he endures from the American government for not listening to the veterans about the conditions in the hospitals.

More poignant, however, is the Kovic's transformation from an idealistic youth willing to die for his country to a paralyzed veteran who feels manipulated, lied to, and cheated by the American government and people. The film covers this transformation by focusing on events in Kovic's childhood that presented one possible reality (that of American military virtue) to events in the Vietnam War (murder of civilians by U.S. Soldiers) and his post War years of disillusionment (reprimand from his countrymen) that represent a completely different, and more vivid, reality.

Box office

The film was released on December 22, 1989, grossing $172,021 at its opening week. At its second week, it grossed $492,236. At its third week of release it grossed $11,023,650, ranking #1 at the Box Office. The film stayed at the #1 positions for its fourth and fifth weeks 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. The film was a box office success, surpassing its 14 million dollar budget.

Awards and nominations


The film was released on DVD April 29th, 1998. The DVD contains Commentary with 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 the Making of Born on the Fourth of July. On June 12th, 2007, the film was released on the HD-DVD format.

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