Total Recall

Total Recall: Oliver Stone's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Savages director.

by | July 5, 2012 | Comments

Oliver Stone

He’s won 10 Golden Globes, nine Oscars, and four BAFTAs during his long and illustrious career — but Oliver Stone has somehow never been the focus of his own Total Recall, so we decided to change that in honor of this weekend’s Savages, an intriguingly cast drug drama based on the Don Winslow novel about a pair of pot farmers racing to free the woman they love from a Mexican drug cartel. Given his lengthy filmography, you know Stone’s got some good stuff in his filmography — and the cream of the crop is right here in this week’s list.


10. W.

The most recent chapter of Stone’s presidential trilogy, W. served George W. Bush — who was wrapping up his second term while it was filmed — with a somewhat muted, surprisingly sympathetic biopic that traced his occasionally haphazard rise from political scion to oil baron and back again. While Josh Brolin earned near-universal praise for his work in the title role, critics found W. as a whole a little harder to take, citing its laconic pace and insufficiently hard-hitting approach as particularly troublesome flaws. For others, however, it proved a warm, fairly witty farewell for the GWB years; as the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips put it, “The film may be ill-timed, arguably unnecessary and no more psychologically probing than any other Stone movie. But much of it works as deft, brisk, slyly engaging docudrama.”


9. Comandante

For a lot of Americans — especially those who grew up during the early years of the Cold War — Fidel Castro is less a world leader than a shadowy boogeyman whose thirst for brinkmanship nearly triggered World War III. But whatever his sins, Castro remains a longtime veteran of international politics and a subject worthy of investigation — hence Oliver Stone’s Comandante, a 93-minute distillation of the three days he spent filming the Cuban leader in 2002. While a sizable number of critics chafed at Stone’s aggressively friendly attitude toward his subject, others saw something of significant, albeit flawed, value; as Alan Morrison argued for Empire, it is “An opportunity frustratingly squandered, but one which still makes for fascinating viewing thanks to Castro’s natural charisma. Errol Morris would have nailed it.”


8. World Trade Center

Oliver Stone is known for his willingness to entertain conspiracy theories, his leftist political leanings, and his fondness for lurid cinematic violence, so when word got out he was planning to direct a movie about the September 11 attacks, some people were understandably nervous. But like any other director worth his title, Stone understands his role as a storyteller, and World Trade Center — starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña as a pair of real-life police officers who were caught in the wreckage after the buildings fell — has no room for politics or conspiracies. Its clear-eyed dedication to the people first affected by the attacks — and the selfless bravery of the men and women who worked to rescue the living — was appreciated by critics like David Denby of the New Yorker, who wrote, “The world may not make sense anymore, but Oliver Stone, a warrior still, celebrating courage and endurance, has, in his own way, come home.”


7. Nixon

In the years immediately following JFK, Stone took detours into war epic territory (Heaven & Earth) and social commentary (Natural Born Killers), but he wasn’t finished with the White House yet. With 1995’s ambitious Nixon, Stone gave us Anthony Hopkins as the disgraced former president and Joan Allen as his wife Pat — and while the 192-minute political epic failed to generate much heat at the box office, both Hopkins and Allen received Oscar nominations for their work in the film, which follows a non-linear path through Nixon’s life and career, taking viewers from his California youth through his resignation. “What it finally adds up to,” argued Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “is a huge mixed bag of waxworks and daring, a film that is furiously ambitious even when it goes flat, and startling even when it settles for eerie, movie-of-the-week mimicry.”


6. Wall Street

Smart, sleek, and eminently quotable, Stone’s yuppie jeremiad Wall Street gifted Michael Douglas with what arguably became the most iconic role of his career: He was simply perfect as the oily, morally adrift Gordon Gekko, and although Gekko’s signature proclamation that “greed is good” would go on to haunt Douglas, he was an emblematic character for an era in American history when it became acceptable to not only dedicate your life to the naked pursuit of wealth, but to attain it by any means necessary. Stone, who co-wrote the screenplay, based the character on a number of stockbrokers — including his own father — and Douglas embodied Gekko so well that he ended up winning an Oscar for his work. “Like the rest of Stone’s oeuvre, it’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer,” wrote Christopher Lloyd of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. “But his filmmaking style is like heavy metal: When he hits the right chords, nobody plays with as much power or brash energy.”



5. Talk Radio

A rare starring vehicle for monologist/playwright/character actor/cult hero Eric Bogosian, Talk Radio found Stone behind the cameras for a loose adaptation of Bogosian’s play of the same name. Inspired by the real-life assassination of Denver DJ Alan Berg, Radio centers around Dallas radio personality Barry Champlain, whose deliberately provocative style (and decidedly non-Red State political views) make him a target of hate mail and bomb threats even as his show is poised to achieve national syndication. Saying it “has the loony intensity of those impassioned conspiracy theorists who look out at the world and see patterns of corruption spreading in all directions,” the Washington Post’s Hal Hinson declared, “it’s another of Stone’s wake-up calls to America.”


4. JFK

A two-time Oscar winner and controversial, career-rejuvenating smash hit for Stone, JFK reconstructs John F. Kennedy’s assassination and then spends most of its epic 189-minute length sifting through the wreckage, treating the killing as a murder mystery that New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) doggedly attempts to solve at any cost. With an impeccable supporting cast that included Sissy Spacek, Kevin Bacon, Tommy Lee Jones, and Gary Oldman, as well as a screenplay that challenged long-held assumptions about Kennedy’s death, JFK reignited interest in the assassination, eventually leading to new legislation that ordered a reinvestigation and promised that all documents related to the killing would be made public by 2017. And while many critics agreed that the movie could have benefited from a more rigorous approach to the facts, it remains, in the words of the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, “A riveting marriage of fact and fiction.”


3. Platoon

The first installment in Stone’s so-called Vietnam trilogy, 1986’s Platoon took a hard look at American involvement in the Vietnam War — and earned Stone Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars and the Golden Globes in the bargain. Taking a grunt’s-eye view of the war, it puts a human face on the conflict, pitting Willem Dafoe (as Sergeant Elias, mentor to Chris, the young soldier played by Charlie Sheen) against a fellow sergeant (played by Tom Berenger) in a dreadful battle for the platoon. It is, as Roger Ebert wrote, “A film that says…that before you can make any vast, sweeping statements about Vietnam, you have to begin by understanding the bottom line, which is that a lot of people went over there.”


2. Born on the Fourth of July

He earned positive reviews for his role in Rain Man, but to many scribes, the Tom Cruise of the late 1980s was little more than the pretty face out in front of critically savaged hits like Cocktail — likable under the right circumstances, but lacking real depth. Oliver Stone saw something different, trusting Cruise with 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July — and Cruise repaid him by delivering the most harrowing performance to that point in his career, committing so deeply to his portrayal of paralyzed Vietnam vet Ron Kovic that, according to Stone, he came close to injecting himself with a solution that would have incurred temporary paralysis. Not all critics loved Fourth of July, but even those who had issues with the film were forced to take notice of Cruise’s performance — and for Vincent Canby of the New York Times, the end result was “the most ambitious nondocumentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience.”


1. Salvador

Stone’s films have received a combined 31 Academy Award nominations (and counting), but he picked up his first for his co-writing credit on the screenplay for Salvador, a 1986 war drama about a rather unlikable American journalist (James Woods, also nominated for an Oscar) who’s burned so many bridges that his only professional recourse is to head to El Salvador with his unemployed DJ buddy (Jim Belushi) to try and find stories in what they initially regard as a relatively inconsequential war. Like a lot of films that try and shine a light on war while shots are still being fired, Salvador bombed at the box office — but it found an appreciative audience with writers like Rob Gonsalves of eFilmCritic, who called it “One of Oliver Stone’s best films, and absolutely James Woods’ best performance.”

In case you were wondering, here are Stone’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Platoon — 91%

2. JFK — 84%

3. Salvador — 83%

4. Natural Born Killers — 80%

5. The Doors — 79%

6. Wall Street — 78%

7. Talk Radio — 78%

8. Nixon — 72%

9. Any Given Sunday — 70%

10. Heaven & Earth — 70%

Take a look through Stone’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Savages.


Tag Cloud

Film Musicals mob nbcuniversal stand-up comedy Exclusive Video TCA 2017 CBS indiana jones The Arrangement movies golden globes spy thriller comic book movie heist movie sopranos reboot CW Seed Animation TCA Awards ITV MGM television cancelled TV series streaming Best and Worst Sony Pictures Star Trek DirecTV live event anthology teaser cats canceled Rock book adaptation TCM Sundance TV razzies Paramount Plus Quiz blockbuster Pride Month saw Chernobyl dogs Showtime Apple Creative Arts Emmys Thanksgiving Superheroe Spike The CW USA werewolf streamig TCA cancelled spanish language TV movies satire cartoon Legendary Musical Wes Anderson science fiction Black Mirror BBC America Watching Series Focus Features Syfy BBC Comedy Central streaming movies tv talk Premiere Dates diversity black comedy rt archives Drama YouTube Premium Disney Columbia Pictures Kids & Family YouTube Red PaleyFest Year in Review Geeked Week fast and furious strong female leads aapi south america Universal Pictures Brie Larson See It Skip It know your critic docuseries Marvel Television Hear Us Out American Society of Cinematographers book films Photos scary adaptation high school Peacock nfl Mary Poppins Returns dark new zealand period drama genre richard e. Grant GoT green book Alien Spring TV unscripted Superheroes action-comedy Vudu critics halloween NBC Election hispanic The Academy name the review MTV Sony basketball SDCC Christmas debate HBO Go Cannes 93rd Oscars international AMC TV comics Pirates witnail historical drama romance Pet Sematary jamie lee curtis singing competition Epix serial killer spinoff YouTube Reality Competition biography Sundance Now zero dark thirty Action VICE Prime Video Shudder miniseries Fall TV cops Red Carpet Lionsgate Travel Channel target scene in color marvel comics documentaries Emmys LGBT South by Southwest Film Festival Netflix Lucasfilm LGBTQ archives king arthur free movies Academy Awards First Reviews target ratings binge Comic Book independent wonder woman Infographic biopic black franchise BET Awards GIFs Netflix Christmas movies Sundance Best Actor composers prank 73rd Emmy Awards Certified Fresh Star Wars Celebration Turner emmy awards boxing Mudbound elevated horror Anna Paquin Image Comics OneApp Tubi new star wars movies Tokyo Olympics Biopics breaking bad 20th Century Fox dexter Paramount Network revenge 94th Oscars Cartoon Network E3 all-time Hollywood Foreign Press Association french Fargo festivals BBC One Marvel chucky 72 Emmy Awards Masterpiece animated dreamworks superhero rt labs 2018 universal monsters New York Comic Con VOD Television Academy art house OWN TBS ABC Signature Reality doctor who travel Hulu aliens award winner christmas movies japanese scene in color film series Pacific Islander The Walt Disney Company Crunchyroll Captain marvel PlayStation children's TV spain talk show Opinion marvel cinematic universe Walt Disney Pictures ESPN concert CMT worst movies Ellie Kemper mission: impossible mcc Character Guide FXX DC Comics Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pixar fresh Tomatazos legend 2021 Holiday new york Trophy Talk GLAAD Avengers RT21 Television Critics Association royal family a nightmare on elm street joker blaxploitation leaderboard Hallmark politics james bond Ovation Funimation game show Apple TV Plus 99% Freeform APB 45 adenture Fantasy sequels Emmy Nominations Sci-Fi scorecard Classic Film DC streaming service summer TV preview Comedy Nominations technology Countdown MCU sag awards Teen Women's History Month Best Picture hispanic heritage month vs. 2016 space batman social media war Holidays boxoffice harry potter FX Winter TV Rocky justice league Neflix Elton John telelvision NBA ID RT History lord of the rings venice PBS natural history Trailer posters police drama comiccon 24 frames Mary poppins comic books Horror IFC Films Bravo hist Stephen King Calendar NYCC Marathons ABC 4/20 zombie Heroines zombies Valentine's Day Crackle rotten SXSW 2022 comedies transformers Universal true crime Video Games Rocketman spider-man Tarantino FX on Hulu TNT thriller Song of Ice and Fire Interview Star Wars nature twilight The Witch foreign Best Director quibi documentary AMC Plus classics ghosts 71st Emmy Awards screenings video versus screen actors guild rom-coms Mary Tyler Moore Oscar obi wan Arrowverse Country cults cooking young adult halloween tv japan El Rey best Lifetime Christmas movies Apple TV+ SXSW Shondaland directors DGA Extras Spectrum Originals comic book movies scene in color mockumentary robots scene in color series 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards reviews IMDb TV theme song cinemax Family blockbusters toronto based on movie Tumblr Amazon Prime Video Baby Yoda video on demand Dark Horse Comics movie olympics dc YA Endgame WarnerMedia criterion toy story The Walking Dead hollywood Schedule supernatural Paramount TV One worst Native BET National Geographic Food Network game of thrones Comic-Con@Home 2021 Oscars dceu festival Black History Month hidden camera Sneak Peek Disney streaming service Starz Podcast critic resources spanish summer preview Nat Geo dragons king kong Hallmark Christmas movies TIFF scary movies Indigenous crime Music MSNBC A&E Western HFPA X-Men CNN Discovery Channel Comics on TV 1990s A24 docudrama dramedy ABC Family Logo rotten movies we love Disney Channel Paramount Pictures laika vampires Amazon Prime Tags: Comedy adventure Instagram Live Rom-Com what to watch casting Grammys stoner Awards HBO news E! pirates of the caribbean deadpool kaiju trailers First Look crime drama finale gangster VH1 live action TV Land anime facebook Box Office Best Actress Warner Bros. WGN rt labs critics edition crossover cars psycho BAFTA obituary Disney Plus 79th Golden Globes Awards sequel Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt superman Lifetime Fox Searchlight golden globe awards godzilla Marvel Studios Toys sports trophy monster movies Acorn TV mutant latino 2019 romantic comedy spider-verse remakes kids 21st Century Fox stop motion 90s Nickelodeon TLC Pop TV 007 indie Ghostbusters parents slasher President interviews Britbox Disney+ Disney Plus asian-american Pop 2020 Polls and Games Writers Guild of America History disaster Awards Tour Turner Classic Movies Super Bowl italian Summer slashers CBS All Access DC Universe psychological thriller Amazon Studios 2015 child's play TV renewals discovery kong Esquire crime thriller Mystery HBO Max medical drama Mindy Kaling sitcom Broadway 2017 cancelled TV shows Set visit Winners Amazon popular football IFC jurassic park renewed TV shows suspense canceled TV shows women The Purge Film Festival Binge Guide TCA Winter 2020 cancelled television Martial Arts broadcast ViacomCBS Fox News australia TruTV Cosplay FOX comic political drama die hard series feel good Trivia SundanceTV San Diego Comic-Con USA Network summer TV Adult Swim