Throughout cinema history, many filmmakers have helped to shape the future of the industry with influential blockbusters that go on to inspire future generations (e.g., Steven Spielberg). Others, however, may not have the same mainstream appeal but nevertheless deliver such unmistakable storytelling visions that they develop a reputation for eliciting a powerful reaction — both positive and negative — from moviegoers with each film. With several controversy-laden releases under his belt, Oliver Stone is one such filmmaker. With his upcoming film Snowden sure to get attention, we look back at some of the most notable projects Stone has taken on in his career.
1. Platoon (1986)
This war film marked the first in a trilogy of releases which allowed Stone to explore the Vietnam War, and the director employed his firsthand knowledge of the conflict to great effect here, having served as an infantryman during the war. Featuring a stellar ensemble cast that includes Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, and Charlie Sheen, Platoon earned the Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards for its achievement in capturing the horrors of war, as the film was reportedly the first Hollywood production to be written and directed by a Vietnam veteran.
2. Wall Street (1987)
Another Oscar-winning addition to Stone’s filmography, Wall Street is often considered one of the best films about the cutthroat business world out there. From Michael Douglas’s iconic performance as Gordon Gekko to the character’s declaration that “greed is good,” the film is a classic from start to finish and has become viewed as one of the most archetypal depictions of the excess that defined 1980s white-collar culture, a theme explored by American Psycho years later. In 2010, Douglas and Stone collaborated on a sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
3. Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Tom Cruise is far better known for his movie-star good looks and charismatic performances in blockbusters like the Mission: Impossible series. However, the actor has proven time and again that he has what it takes to deliver an unexpectedly powerful turn. Stone’s film — based on the autobiography by Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic — is one of the releases most commonly cited as proof of Cruise’s talent. The actor earned his first Oscar nomination for his work and brought Stone his second Best Director Oscar as well.
4. JFK (1991)
A film dissecting the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy was bound to court controversy, but then again, Stone has often invited discussion over his films. He must have been pleased then with the widespread conversation about Kennedy’s death and the potential conspiracy surrounding it. In the film, Kevin Costner plays a district attorney attempting to unravel the truth behind the president’s death, while Tommy Lee Jones received an Oscar nomination for his role as an alleged co-conspirator in the tragedy. JFK also marked the first of three Stone films to center of notable U.S. presidents, preceding both Nixon and W. in 1995 and 2008, respectively.
5. Natural Born Killers (1994)
One of the most divisive of Stone’s films, this crime thriller is alternately praised and derided for its use of extreme violence to tell the story of a pair of mass murderers (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who become celebrities due to their crimes. With a surreal tone and standout supporting performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Tommy Lee Jones, Natural Born Killers clearly aims to make a point about our fame-obsessed culture that has only become more resonant since its release. How the film establishes it may not be for everyone, but its story — based on an original script by Quentin Tarantino, who receives no credit in the finished film — is perhaps more dead-on that many may care to admit.
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