Born on the Fourth of July

Movie review by
Kelly Kessler, Common Sense Media
Born on the Fourth of July Movie Poster Image
Unflinching, violent story of Vietnam vet turned activist.
  • R
  • 1989
  • 145 minutes

Parents say

age 11+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

The film includes various types of social intolerance and undue violence on the part of soldiers and the police, but it also revolves around the brave story of a Vietnam veteran who pulls himself up from depression and bodily injury to fight the system. The courage and bravery of the college students, Vietnam veterans, and other peace activists are shown as protestors face down brutal beatings at the hands of the police, as well as anger and intolerance from those who don't share their views. 

Positive role models & representations

Ron Kovic grows up as the quintessential "All-American boy" who dreams of defending his country just like his forefathers did in prior wars. He is shown to be a driven and determined young man. After getting wounded in battle and left paralyzed from the waist down, he gradually begins to question the jingoistic "love it or leave it" fervor that got him into Vietnam. He does everything in his power to try to walk again and refuses to have his legs amputated, even though it would get him out of a hellish VA hospital much sooner. Kovic learns to channel the rage, frustration, and despair he has gone through into protesting a government that sends young men into fighting a war many believe never should have been fought and then does very little to treat their physical, mental, and emotional wounds when they come home. 


Graphic acts and results of physical violence are shown during the Vietnam battle scenes. Violence at the hands of police is shown during moments of protest, and drunken acts of violence are shown between injured Vietnam veterans. The film also includes various acts of verbal violence, both between the main character and his family and members of society at large. In the Vietnam battle scenes, women and children are shown lying dead in pools of blood. American soldiers are shown being shot and killed as bullets hit their helmets. In a battlefield hospital, injuries are graphically shown as soldiers struggle between life and death. While trying to learn to walk on crutches, the lead character falls and breaks his leg; a bone sticks out through his skin. Two Vietnam veterans in wheelchairs get severely intoxicated, get kicked out of a cab in the middle of a Mexican desert, argue over how many babies they think they killed in Vietnam, and get into a fight resulting in both of them being knocked out of their wheelchairs. 


The film includes discussion of impotence (due to injury). A man in a VA hospital bed is shown having sex with a prostitute. The lead character sleeps with a prostitute in Mexico. In both instances, breasts are shown. The lead character's mother finds a copy of Playboy underneath his bed. 


Profanity used throughout to express the frustration, pain, and chaos of various moments (war, injury, social unrest). Includes uses of "f--k" and "motherf--ker." The Vietnamese are called "gooks" by American soldiers. 

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Excessive alcohol consumption. Disabled Vietnam veterans drink to excess to try to numb the pain of what they experienced in battle and what they contend with since returning home unable to walk. A man is shown shooting up morphine in the closet of a VA hospital. Teens and adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 Oliver Stone movie based on the nonfiction book written by Ron Kovic, a gung-ho Marine whose hellish experiences during and after Vietnam transformed him into an anti-war activist. This mature drama contains extreme and disturbing verbal and physical violence and graphic scenes depicting the Vietnam War and the protests against it. Women and children are shown lying dead in pools of their own blood. Soldiers are shown falling to the ground after being hit in the head by bullets; gory injuries are shown. They should also know that the film includes scenes of sexual impotence and prostitution, with bare breasts shown. Profanity is frequent -- especially "f--k" and its variations. Alcoholism, PTSD, and the myriad frustrations of veterans are addressed. Unlike so many other movies that glamorize and romanticize war, this movie does not flinch from the horrors of battle and what so many soldiers try to live with after coming home from tours of duty. 

User Reviews

Parent of a 10 and 12 year old Written bymarierm April 19, 2013

Moving, heartbreaking vet's tale

This is an important movie for mature teens to see. Our veterans frequently return from traumatic tours of duty with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and consequ... Continue reading
Parent of a 2 year old Written byRad4u September 5, 2010

'Moving and often disturbing portrayal of an era in American History

This is a powerful, truthful re-enactment of what it was like to be an American growing up in the 60's, with ambivalent feelings of patriotism and the down... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byDetonaterCallan July 29, 2017

Phenomenal story of a Vietnam Veteran!

This is one of Tom Cruise's best performances and is a great movie about a Vietnam Veteran's life! Parents and kids must know that this movie contains... Continue reading

What's the story?

Oliver Stone's BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY is based on the true story of Vietnam-veteran-turned-antiwar-activist Ron Kovic (played by Tom Cruise). Eighteen-year-old Kovic, inspired by John F. Kennedy and encouraged by his mother, a Marine recruiter, joins the United States Marines in 1964 with hopes of serving his country in Vietnam. The film examines his ultimate disillusionment while "in country" and the debilitating injury that ends his tour of duty. His postwar treatment at the hands of his family, an understaffed and under-funded veteran's administration, and a changing society lead Ron into veteran-driven anti-war activism. Filled with violence, social and personal turmoil, and religious struggle, the film depicts a painful view of a complex time in American history.

Is it any good?

This gritty drama garnered Oliver Stone a Best Director Oscar and marked one of Tom Cruise's first forays into serious adult acting, with impressive results. There also are fine cameo performances by Willem Dafoe and Lili Taylor and riveting footage and reenactments of the 1972 Republican and 1976 Democratic National Conventions. (The real Kovic protested at the former and spoke at the latter.) The film also boasts an excellent soundtrack.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about issues surrounding what happens in war, including collateral damage, and perceptions and definitions of patriotism. Other possible explorations include how people can reject a war without betraying those who fight and how people can use their rights to peacefully express contradictory opinions.

  • Why do you think this movie showed the blood, death, and gory wounds so often not shown in other war-themed movies? 

  • The 1960s are so often portrayed in media as a kind of "golden age" of "Summer of Love" hippiedom, timeless rock-'n'-roll music, and "groovy" fashion. How does this movie call into question such romanticizing of that decade?

Movie details

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