See his Platoon and Salvador: The Screenplays (1987) and his autobiographical novel A Child's Night Dream (written 1966, pub. 1997); N. Kagan, The Cinema of Oliver Stone (1995); D. Kunz, ed., The Films of Oliver Stone (1997); C. Salewicz, Oliver Stone, Close Up (1998).
Stone attended Trinity School before his parents sent him away to attend The Hill School, an exclusive college-preparatory school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His parents divorced while he was away at The Hill School, and only then did Stone learn of his father's extramarital affairs with the wives of several family friends. Stone's father took him to a prostitute to lose his virginity, in his midteens. Stone's father was also influential in obtaining jobs for his son including work on a financial exchange in France, where Stone often spent his summer vacation with his maternal grandparents, a job that proved inspirational to Stone for his movie Wall Street. Stone eventually graduated from The Hill School in 1964, the same year as former JP Morgan & Co. CEO, Douglas A. Warner III.
Stone was then admitted into Yale University, where he subsequently dropped out after one year. Stone had become inspired by Joseph Conrad's novel Lord Jim as well as by Zorba the Greek and George Harrison's music to teach English at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam. Stone taught in Vietnam for six months after which he worked as a wiper on a United States Merchant Marine ship, traveling to Oregon and Mexico, before returning to Yale, where he dropped out a second time. While at Yale, Stone and long-time friend Lloyd Kaufman, worked on an early Troma Entertainment production "The Battle of Love's Return" (1971). Both also acted in the movie, Stone in a cameo role. Stone eventually graduated from film school at New York University (where he was mentored by director Martin Scorsese) in , after his service in Vietnam.
A veteran of the Vietnam war, Stone served with the U.S. Army from April 1967 to November 1968. He specifically requested combat duty and was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division and the 1st Cavalry Division, and was wounded twice in action. His personal awards include the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor for "extraordinary acts of courage under fire", and the Purple Heart with one Oak Leaf Cluster.
He has made three films about Vietnam – Platoon Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth (). He has called these films a trilogy, though they each deal with different aspects of the war. Platoon is a semi-autobiographical film about Stone's experience in combat. Born on the Fourth of July is based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic. Heaven & Earth is derived from the memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, the true story of Le Ly Hayslip, a Vietnamese girl whose life is drastically affected by the war. During this same period, Stone directed Wall Street which earned Michael Douglas an Academy Award for Best Actor; Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio and The Doors starring Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison.
For Year of the Dragon he received a Razzie nomination in the category Worst Screenplay. Other films whose screenplays he participated in are Conan the Barbarian Scarface 8 Million Ways to Die and Evita (). In addition, he has written or taken part in the writing of every film he has directed, except for U Turn (). The very first film that he directed professionally was the obscure horror picture Seizure ().
A distinctive feature of Oliver Stone's films is the use of many different cameras and film formats, from VHS to 8 mm film to 70 mm film. He sometimes uses several formats in a single scene, as in JFK and Natural Born Killers ().
He later said he was stung by the critical pans of Alexander, which was a financial failure despite being one of the highest-grossing films internationally in 2004 – production and marketing costs were not recovered. Stone has recently said that the film has recouped the cost (over 3.5 million DVDs sold in the U.S. alone). He re-edited the film as the Director's Cut, which was shortened from 175 minutes to 167 minutes. A third version of the film, a 3 hour and 45 minute extended cut, was released February 27, on the DVD, Blu-Ray, and HD-DVD formats.
After Alexander, Stone went on to direct World Trade Center, which centered on two Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) cops during the September 11, 2001 attacks. The main undercurrent of the film is hope through times of trial. The film did not do as well as it was expected, grossing $70 million (as of November 17, ), though the film was made on a budget of $63 million. As of December 19, 2006, the worldwide box office for World Trade Center was $161,735,806.
On August 28, , it was announced Stone would direct Pinkville, a Vietnam war drama set to star Bruce Willis and Channing Tatum. The film's plot was to focus on the investigation into the 1968 My Lai Massacre of Vietnamese civilians. It would have been Stone's fourth Vietnam film, after Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July and Heaven & Earth. The film was to have been made for the newly reformed United Artists. However, United Artists halted its December 2007 production start because of the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.
Stone is currently making a biopic about George W. Bush, named W., indicating that it would be a "fair, but true portrait of the man", examining the controversial President's childhood, relationship with his his father, struggles with alcoholism, subsequent conversion to Christianity, his political career and presidency up through the invasion of Iraq, yet containing satirical elements. The film will be based on a screenplay by Stone and Stanley Weiser, who had co-written Wall Street (). Josh Brolin was cast in the role of Bush , James Cromwell as Bush Sr. and Elizabeth Banks as his wife. Filming began on May 12, 2008 in Shreveport, Louisiana and wrapped in June. It is set for an October 17 release, in time for the U.S. presidential election in November.
The film JFK was widely criticized in the media as being a mixture of truth and fiction. Stone published an annotated version of the screenplay, in which he cites references for his claims, shortly after the film's release. Similarly, he published an annotated version of his screenplay for the film Nixon, nominated for four Academy Awards, which was also criticized for its portrayal of President Richard M. Nixon.
Stone's screenplay Midnight Express was criticised for portraying the Turkish people in an overly negative light. The original author, Billy Hayes, around whom the film is set, has spoken out against the film, protesting that he had many Turkish friends while in jail.
Stone's film The Doors received criticism from Ray Manzarek (keyboardist/bass player) during a question and answer session at Indiana University East (in Richmond, Indiana) in 1997. During the discussion Manzarek stated that he sat down with Stone about The Doors and Jim Morrison for over 12 hours. He said none of the content of the discussion - such as details on important events in the history of The Doors and Morrison's personal life - were present in the film. Manzarek went on to say that Stone's film was highly inaccurate about Morrison and The Doors.
Patricia Kennealy Morrison, the rock critic and author, Morrison's widow (and a high school friend of Billy Hayes), is on record publicly and privately with ferociously angry criticism of Stone's film. She was a consultant on the movie, in which she also has a cameo appearance, but she writes in her memoir "Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison", Dutton, 1992, that Stone ignored everything she told him and proceeded with his own version of events. From the moment the movie was released, she blasted it as untruthful and inaccurate.
Stone has been rumored to use drugs while making films. On the DVD of Natural Born Killers: The Director's Cut, one of the producers Jane Hamsher recounts stories of taking psilocybin mushrooms with Stone and some of the cast and crew and almost getting pulled over by a police officer — a situation which Stone later wrote into the film. Natural Born Killers is filmed and edited in a frenzied style where animation, grainy black and white 8 mm film, color 35 mm film, and VHS are intercut and juxtaposed in a psychedelic montage of images showing not only the story's action, but also conveying the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The film was criticized by some for its apparent glorification of violence. Stone refutes this claim, saying that it is a satire of the American media's glorification of violence and violent people. The original screenwriter, Quentin Tarantino, was unhappy with the end result of the film because of the attention Stone gave to the aspects of the story involving the media, and asked that his name be removed from the credits. Tarantino was credited with "Story By" on the final film.
In , a book about the making of the film, Killer Instinct was written by Jane Hamsher and published by Broadway Books. The book was well reviewed and sold well in Hollywood. It told of an out of control Stone making the film.
In , Stone was arrested and pleaded guilty to drug possession and no contest to driving under the influence. He was ordered into a rehabilitation program. He was arrested again on the night of May 27, in Los Angeles for possession of a small amount of marijuana.
In , Stone travelled to Cuba where he interviewed Fidel Castro for three days. The result was the documentary Comandante where Stone and Castro talk about philosophy, history, movie stars, Che Guevara, important events from the past 50 years and Castro's views on the future of the revolution. The film was scheduled to air in May on HBO but was put on hold after an incident where hijackers threatened to kill passengers on a Cuban ferry if they were not taken to the United States. The hijackers were subsequently executed and in response to loud protests from the Miami Cuban lobby HBO pulled the film. To this day it has not been released in the United States and is only available on imported DVDs from Britain. Stone returned to Cuba and shot Looking for Fidel, which is a more politically-focused documentary dealing with conditions on the island and the relationship between Cuba and the United States. That film was aired on HBO in early . Stone has said he admires the Cuban Revolution and supports Cuba's rights as a sovereign nation free from U.S. influence.
In December 2006, shocked audiences at the British Comedy Awards by making a joke in reference to the Suffolk Strangler, a serial killer of prostitutes still on the loose. He said "It's great to be back in England. I feel like Jack The Ripper days are back. Nothing ever changes here." In response to the audience reaction he added "you're a lovely crowd.
The visit was part of his research for an upcoming film he will be directing which addresses the crisis. The FARC, designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States, was described in a 2005 United Nations report as responsible for "grave" human rights violations, including "murders of protected persons, torture and hostage-taking¨ against ¨women, returnees, boys and girls, and ethnic groups. During The Observer interview, Stone refused to condemn the FARC outright, but seemingly supported them. "I do think that by the standards of Western civilization they go too far; they kidnap innocent people. On the other hand, they're fighting a desperate battle against highly financed, American-supported forces who have been terrorising the countryside for years and kill most of the people. Farc is fighting back as best it can and grabbing hostages is the fashion in which they can finance themselves and try to achieve their goals, which are difficult. They're a peasant army; I see them as a Zapata-like army. I think they are heroic to fight for what they believe in and die for it, as was Castro in the hills of Cuba."
Stone made the comments shortly after returning from a trip to Colombia, where he was to have filmed footage of the expected release of three FARC hostages, including a young child named Emanuel. While two of the hostages were liberated after the international commission appointed to oversee it was disbanded because of non-compliance by FARC to deliver the exact location of the three hostages, it was subsequently revealed that the FARC could not have released the child because they no longer held him. Instead the child had been placed in foster care and subsequently adopted by the Colombian welfare system (the ICBF) because of signs of child abuse. Some commentators surmised that the purported hostage release had been a FARC ruse all along. Nevertheless, Stone blamed the Colombian government and the United States for the fiasco.. The incident caused a wave of comments on Oliver Stone's official website, mostly by Colombian citizens who were noticeably upset with what was perceived as his support for FARC.
In , Stone published A Child's Night Dream, a largely autobiographical novel first written in 1966-1967. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the work published, he "threw several sections of the manuscript into the East River one cold night, and, as if surgically removing the memory of the book from my mind, volunteered for Vietnam in 1967." Eventually, he dug out the remaining pages, rewrote the manuscript, and published it. The book is almost a stream of consciousness telling of his experiences as a child, in college, and in Vietnam.
In , Stone made two documentary films: Persona Non Grata, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Comandante, about Cuban President Fidel Castro. In , he made a second documentary on Castro, titled Looking for Fidel. (See also Controversy, above.)
He was recently admitted permission by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to make a documentary about him. Stone had been previously refused permission by the Iranian government when the President's media advisor, Mehdi Kalhor, denounced Stone as being part of the "Great Satan" of American culture, despite his opposition to the Bush administration. He said "It is right that this person [Stone] is considered part of the opposition in the US, but opposition in the U.S. is a part of the great satan. We believe that the American cinema lacks culture and art." Stone reacted with outrage, saying "I have been called a lot of things, but never a great satan. I wish the Iranian people well, and only hope their experience with an inept, rigid ideologue president goes better than ours." However, Ahmadinejad approved permission a month later, saying he had "no objections" provided the documentary was based on accurate facts. Stone is due to visit Tehran to negotiate the production of the film with Iranian officials, possibly the president himself.
Meanwhile, the future of Pinkville remains currently unknown, though Stone is expected to return to the project, following the completion of W.
However, in , Stone was reported to have turned down an invitation to direct a sequel to Wall Street. Original star Charlie Sheen will also be absent, but Michael Douglas is expected to reprise his role as Gordon Gekko.