Born on the Fourth of July: Critical and Commercial Reception

Universal gave Born on the Fourth of July a platform release, showing it in select cities before expanding distribution.

To qualify the film for awards consideration, the studio issued limited theatrical run in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto on December 20, 1989.

The film was released across America on January 5, 1990, playing at 1,310 theaters, and expanding to 1,434 theaters by its eleventh week.

A heavily edited version of the film was scheduled for broadcast on CBS in early 1991, but was shelved by the network’s executives due to the impending Persian Gulf War.

The film had its network premiere on January 21, 1992.

The film grossed $70,001,698 in North America ($151,650,800 when adjusted for inflation), and $91 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $162,001,698. In the US, it was the seventeenth highest-grossing film of 1989. Worldwide, it was the tenth highest-grossing film of 1989, as well as Universal’s second highest-grossing film released that year, behind Back to the Future Part II.

The film was released on VHS on August 9, 1990,  and DVD on October 31, 2000.[55] On January 16, 2001, it was again released on DVD as part of the “Oliver Stone Collection.”

Special features include audio commentary by Stone, production notes, and cast and crew profiles.  Special Edition DVD was released on October 5, 2010, containing the film, the commentary by Stone, as well as archive news footage from NBC News. The film was released on HD DVD on June 12, 2007, and on Blu-ray on July 3, 2012.

Kovic and and Stone received an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and won a Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay 22 years to the day after he was injured.

David Denby of New York magazine, stated that the film was “a relentless but often powerful and heartbreaking piece of work, dominated by Tom Cruise’s impassioned performance.”

Richard Corliss of Time, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also commended Cruise’s performance.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times said the film was “the most ambitious nondocumentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience.”

Janet Maslin, also writing for The New York Times, praised Stone’s direction, writing that he “reaches out instantly to his audience’s gut-level emotions and sustains a walloping impact for two and a half hours.”

The Washington Post published two negative reviews; Hal Hinson called the film “alienating,” while Desson Howe was critical of Cruise’s “whiny” performance.

Sheila Benson of the Los Angeles Times felt that the actor’s portrayal of Kovic was lacking in character development.

Jonathan Rosenbaum derided the storytelling for “brimming with false uplift.”

Gleiberman: “self-righteousness masquerading as art.”

Pauline Kael: “It’s almost inconceivable that Ron Kovic was as innocent as the movie and the 1976 autobiography on which it’s based make him out to be … Kovic’s book is simple and explicit; he states his case in plain, angry words. Stone’s movie yells at you for two hours and twenty-five minutes.”

The film also received criticism for its dramatization of actual events, prompted by Kovic’s declared decision to run for Congress as Democratic opponent to Californian Republican Robert Dornan in the 38th congressional district.

Born on the Fourth of July became Stone’s first film to be publicly attacked in the media. Dornan criticized the film for portraying Kovic as “being in a panic and mistakenly shooting his corporal to death in Vietnam, visiting prostitutes, abusing drugs and alcohol and cruelly insulting his parents.” Kovic dismissed the comments as part of a “hatred campaign,” and ultimately did not run for election.

Former White House Communications Director Pat Buchanan criticized the adaptation for deviating from the book, and concluded by calling Stone a “propagandist.”

Democratic State Senator Nancy Larraine Hoffmann, who took part in Syracuse University’s 1970 peaceful protest of the Cambodian Campaign, was critical of the film’s depiction of Syracuse police as “faceless people brutalizing peaceful protesters.”  In January 1990, Stone apologized to the city of Syracuse and police officials.

The film received various awards and nominations, with particular recognition for the screenplay, Cruise’s performance, Stone’s direction and the score by John Williams.

The National Board of Review named it one of the “Top 10 Films of 1989,” ranking it at number one. The film received five Golden Globe Award nominations and won four for Best Motion Picture–Drama, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Screenplay, while Williams was nominated for Best Original Score.

In February 1990, the film competed for the Golden Bear at the 40th Berlin Film Festival, but lost to another American film, Music Box (1990).

Oscar Context

The film garnered 8 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor; its closest rival was Driving Miss Daisy, which received 9 nominations.

At the 62nd Oscars, Stone won second Best Director Oscar; he had previously won the award for Platoon.

The film also won the Oscar for Best Film Editing, beating Driving Miss Daisy, The Bear, Glory and The Fabulous Baker Boys.

At the 44th British Academy Film Awards in 1991, the film received 2 nominations for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay, but did not win in either category.