1969 (film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ernest Thompson
Produced by Bill Badalato
Daniel Grodnik
Written by Ernest Thompson
Starring Robert Downey, Jr.
Kiefer Sutherland
Bruce Dern
Mariette Hartley
Winona Ryder
Joanna Cassidy
Music by Michael Small
Cinematography Jules Brenner
Edited by William M. Anderson
Distributed by Atlantic Releasing
Release dates
  • November 18, 1988 (1988-11-18)
Running time 95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $5,979,011 (US)[1]

1969 is a 1988 drama film starring Robert Downey, Jr., Kiefer Sutherland, and Winona Ryder. It was written and directed by Ernest Thompson. The original music score is composed by Michael Small. The film deals with the Vietnam War and the resulting social tensions between those who support and oppose the war in small-town America.


In 1969, two best friends, Ralph Karr (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Scott Denny (Kiefer Sutherland) are college students from a stuffy, upper-middle class suburban town in Maryland. The film begins with Ralph and Scott hitchhiking home from college on Easter weekend. The boys finally arrive on Easter morning and shout their greetings across the glen to their family during a lakeside Easter Sunrise service, much to the amusement of Ralph's younger sister Beth (Winona Ryder) and mother Ev (Joanna Cassidy) and embarrassment of Scott's mother Jessie (Mariette Hartley) and father Cliff (Bruce Dern). Tensions quickly begin to brew when they find out that Scott's brother Alden has enlisted; Scott and Ralph are outspoken in their opposition to the Vietnam War, which alienates Scott from his father.

During Beth's high school graduation a few weeks later, Ralph takes LSD, which Scott refuses to take. Ralph ends up in the hospital. He and Scott decide to spend the summer on the road, experiencing all the freedom the counterculture has to offer.

Eventually, the two men arrive back at their hometown in the middle of its summer festival. When he notes that members of the family look anxious, Jessie reveals that Alden has been declared missing in action.

Emboldened by the news of Alden's disappearance, Ralph and Scott hatch a plan to steal their files from the local draft board office.

The local police notice Scott's van outside the Federal Building and investigate. Scott runs from the room at Ralph's urging, and Ralph puts Scott's file away and hides in the office. Ralph is soon found out, and arrested for the break-in. When Scott attempts to take equal blame for the break-in, Ralph lies that Scott had no part in it. Ralph is taken off to jail but tells Scott that he'll take all the blame and that Scott should just go off and enjoy his summer of fun in the counterculture.

Scott is now determined to avoid Ralph's fate and plans to leave town and head to Canada to avoid the draft. Beth finds Scott in his van and convinces him to allow her to join him on his trip. They admit their attraction to each other. Later, the two decide to visit Ralph in jail to tell him that they are leaving.

After a few days on the road, Scott and Beth get to the Canadian border and are about to cross but have a change of heart and head back to Maryland. When they get home, they learn of Alden's death. Scott leads a huge march downtown in the midst of the Alden's funeral, and where Ralph is released from jail and they are reunited. The film ends with a narration by Scott, announcing that his family and friends joined hundreds of thousands of other Americans in a march in Washington, D.C. to protest against the war.

Main cast[edit]

Critical reception and box office total[edit]

Critics shared some mixed feelings about the movie. Overall, the film has a 55% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 critic reviews. ""1969," the directorial debut of Ernest Thompson, is an aimless drama, its purpose and promise lost in a thicket of false endings and a fog of nostalgia," wrote Rita Kempley of The Washington Post.[2] Janet Maslin of The New York Times, wrote that "Mr. [ Bruce ] Dern, unusually laconic here, is unexpectedly moving as the character who seems most confused by changing times.[3] And Variety said of it, "Affecting memories and good intentions don't always add up to good screen stories, and such is the case in 1969, one of the murkiest reflections on the Vietnam War era yet, notwithstanding good performances all around and bright packaging of Kiefer Sutherland and Robert Downey Jr. in the leads."[4]

The film was a commercial disappointment, grossing $5,979,011 over an unestimatedly large budget.


The film's soundtrack consists of original period rock. However, it also includes a notable re-recording of The Youngbloods' classic hit "Get Together", performed as a solo by Youngbloods lead singer, Jesse Colin Young.


  1. ^ "1969 (1988)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 8 August 2011. 
  2. ^ "'1969' (R)". Washingtonpost.com. 1988-11-18. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 
  3. ^ Maslin, Janet (1988-11-18). "Review/Film; 2 Families Seek Peace With Honor, in '1969'". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Variety Reviews - 1969 - Film Reviews - - Review by Variety Staff". Variety.com. 1987-12-31. Retrieved 2012-07-23. 

External links[edit]