The Alamo (2004 film)

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The Alamo
The Alamo 2004 film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Lee Hancock
Produced byRon Howard
Mark Johnson
Written byJohn Lee Hancock
Leslie Bohem
Stephen Gaghan
StarringDennis Quaid
Billy Bob Thornton
Jason Patric
Patrick Wilson
Jordi Mollà
Emilio Echevarría
Music byCarter Burwell
CinematographyDean Semler
Edited byEric L. Beason
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • April 9, 2004 (2004-04-09)
Running time
137 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$107 million
Box office$25.8 million

The Alamo is a 2004 American Western film about the Battle of the Alamo during the Texas Revolution. It was directed by John Lee Hancock, produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, and Mark Johnson, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures (through its Touchstone Pictures banner), and starred Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston, Billy Bob Thornton as David Crockett, Jason Patric as Jim Bowie, and Patrick Wilson as William B. Travis.

The screenplay is credited to Hancock, John Sayles, Stephen Gaghan, and Leslie Bohem. In contrast to the 1960 film of the same name, this film attempts to depict the political points of view of both the Mexican and Texan sides; Santa Anna is a more prominent character. The film received mixed reviews by critics and was a box office bomb, losing the studio over $146 million.[1]


The film begins in March 1836 in the town of San Antonio de Bexar, showing the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamo. The film then flashes back to a year earlier. Sam Houston (Dennis Quaid) attends a party where he tries to persuade people to migrate to Texas and encounters David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton), recently defeated in his bid for re-election to Congress. In San Felipe, Texas, the Texas provisional government is meeting to discuss what action to take after the recent capture of the Alamo and Bexar by the Texans at the first Battle of San Antonio de Bexar. Texas has rebelled against Mexico, and its dictatorial president Santa Anna is personally leading an army to retake the Alamo. The Texan War Party calls for the Texas army to depart Bexar, cross into Mexico and confront the Mexican forces at Matamoros. The Opposition Party seeks to rebuild the Texan army and establish a permanent government.

The provisional government votes out Sam Houston as commander of the Texas army; a disgusted Houston tells Jim Bowie to go to San Antonio and destroy the Alamo. The provisional government in turn orders William Barret Travis (Patrick Wilson) to take command of the Alamo. Travis, feeling that the Alamo's small force cannot withstand the Mexican Army, sends a rider to deliver a plea for reinforcements. As small groups of Texans arrive, Travis oversees defense preparations, hoping that enough reinforcements will arrive before the inevitable attack.

Crockett arrives in San Antonio, where he finds the other defenders impatient for Santa Anna to arrive. When Santa Anna arrives earlier than anticipated, the Texans retire to the Alamo compound despite its vulnerability, and begin fortifying it as best they can. Travis continues to write for reinforcements, but only few men arrive.

Santa Anna's army surrounds the compound, and the siege begins. Bowie meets with Mexican General Manuel Castrillón (Castulo Guerra) to talk things over, but Travis stubbornly fires a cannon at the Mexican camp, abruptly ending their conversation. Bowie returns to tell Travis that Santa Anna has offered the opportunity to surrender. Travis passes this to his men, but the defenders decide to stay and fight. With his hopes of an easy victory foiled, Santa Anna orders to grant no quarter against the Alamo defenders. Bowie becomes ill and is rendered bedridden.

On the final day of the siege, the Mexicans launch a surprise attack before dawn. Despite taking heavy casualties, they breach the walls of the mission, and Travis is killed. Overwhelmed, the Texans fall back to the buildings, where they, including Bowie, are all slain. Crockett and the last remaining defenders retreat to the church, where they make their last stand. Crockett is taken prisoner, and in a final act of defiance he mockingly offers to safely lead Santa Anna to Sam Houston. Santa Anna angrily orders Crockett to be executed.

Days later, after hearing that the Alamo has been taken, Houston, once again in command of the Texan army, orders a general retreat eastward. They are pursued by the victorious Mexican Army, led by the confident Santa Anna. In an attempt to catch the retreating Texans, and against the advice of his officers, Santa Anna splits his army, leaving only a few hundred men to defend him. A few weeks later, Houston halts his retreat near the San Jacinto, where he decides to face the Mexicans in a final stand. With the support of two cannons and a small group of mounted Tejanos, Houston surprises Santa Anna's army during its afternoon siesta, and in the ensuing rout the vengeful Texans massacre at least seven hundred Mexican soldiers and capture Santa Anna. In exchange for his life, Santa Anna agrees to order all Mexican troops to withdraw from Texas and accept Texan independence. The film ends with Crockett standing on a roof of the Alamo, playing his violin and overlooking the compound.



Crew members film a battle scene.
The set of the Alamo used during filming.

The film was conceived by Imagine Entertainment, with Ron Howard as director and partner Brian Grazer as producer. Russell Crowe was cast as Sam Houston, Ethan Hawke as William Barret Travis and Billy Bob Thornton as David Crockett. There were financial and creative disagreements between Imagine and Disney, particularly over Howard's proposed budget. Disney rejected Imagine's proposal, and Crowe and Hawke left the project. Disney opted for director John Lee Hancock and a budget of $107 million. Thornton remained with the project as Crockett, while Howard and Grazer were credited as producers. A full $35 million was spent promoting the film.[2]

The film was shot between January and June 2003, primarily using sets built on a ranch in Travis County, near Austin.

Filming on the Alamo set[edit]

Most of the film was shot at a ranch near Austin; at 51 acres, it was the largest set ever built in North America (at the time). A number of buildings, including the mission, were constructed for the film, at a cost of about $10 million. They depicted a Spanish colonial village. The sets were subsequently abandoned but were visited occasionally, at the Milton Reimers Ranch Park, although they were deteriorating; they were not intended to endure for a long period of time. Nine of the 12 major structures were damaged in a fire in September 2011.[3][4] The park's web site in 2020 makes no mention of the movie or the sets.[5]

Hancock's version was purported to be the most accurate of all the Alamo films, but various liberties were taken, such as building the Alamo chapel facade forward 40 feet more than the extant (and presumably historically-correct) structure. According to one of the DVD version's special features, Hancock did that to show the Alamo chapel and the interior of the fort in one shot.

Battle scenes[edit]

In the winter of 1835–1836, when the Mexican Army was moving north through desert areas, shortly before it crossed the Rio Bravo (Rio Grande), it endured a snowstorm of uncommon intensity, and soldiers suffered illness and hunger. Snow making machines were used to create the scenes of the march through the snow. Four days later, a snow storm blanketed the set, for real. Two calls were made to find thin and gaunt extras to play the soldiers, but the film's scenes of the attack on the Alamo were shot in harsh weather. Extras stood for hours in cold rain, making some scenes gruelingly realistic. A few days of the filming was held up, due to bitter cold and very muddy conditions.

Final editing[edit]

After the film was shot, it was edited down to three hours; later it was reduced to two hours, with scenes and certain characters removed. Shortly prior to the release, 15 minutes were added. Nonetheless, Quaid's role had been significantly reduced from the first version.[6]

Historical accuracy[edit]

The depiction of Crockett's fate came from memoirs written by José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in Santa Anna's army. Though accepted by many historians, this was the first film to show Crockett executed as a prisoner of war; all others had depicted his death as occurring during the battle. That sparked criticism from many Alamo enthusiasts and some historians, given the disputed nature of its origins. [7]


The film received mixed reviews. It holds a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the main consensus being: "Too conventional and un-involving to be memorable".[8] It holds a Metacritic score of 47/100, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[9] Variety called it "a historically credible but overly prosaic account of the most celebrated episode in the creation of an Americanized Texas".[10]

The Houston Chronicle gave the film a grade of "B", saying Hancock, whom the paper points out is a "former Houstonian", "shows respect if not reverence for his state's mythical heritage, even while viewing it from modern perspectives"; it notes the "build-up to battle is prolonged and talky, and for a classic tale of heroic defiance, this Alamo feels more restrained than rousing. Again, it's no-win. When Hancock supplies history, the action and drama bog down. And even when he's right, he's wrong, since so many historians disagree about what happened at the site in what is now Downtown San Antonio".[11]

Entertainment Weekly gave it a "C+", saying "Hancock's moderate, apolitical, war-is-hell dramatization of the famous 1836 battle that shaped the future of a free and independent American Texas isn't nearly the flop that the exceptionally harsh and unavoidable advance chatter has suggested it is. It's not the jingoistic call to patriotism of John Wayne's 1960 version, either. But The Alamo never harmonizes into a cinematic experience any more resonant than the average, manly, why-we-fight pic, or coalesces into a stirring cry for freedom".[12] According to Roger Ebert: "Conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that any movie named The Alamo must be simplistic and rousing, despite the fact that we already know all the defenders got killed (if we don't know it, we find out in the first scene). Here is a movie that captures the loneliness and dread of men waiting for two weeks for what they expect to be certain death, and it somehow succeeds in taking those pop-culture brand names like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and giving them human form". He gave the film 3 and a half stars out of 4.[13]

The film was a box office flop. Its opening was overshadowed by The Passion of the Christ, and first weekend earnings were only $9.1 million. The film closed with $22.4 million in the domestic market, and only $25.8 million in total, on a $107 million budget. The Alamo remains one of the biggest box office bombs of all time.[14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gabbi Shaw (February 27, 2017). "The biggest box office flop from the year you were born". Insider. Retrieved June 21, 2018.
  2. ^ A Battle Disney May Never Forget; For 'The Alamo,' a Long and Bumpy Road, From Conception to Release
  3. ^ Fire destroys set of 2004 "Alamo" remake in Texas
  4. ^ Alamo movie set burned by fire
  5. ^ Milton Reimers Ranch Park
  6. ^ A Battle Disney May Never Forget; For 'The Alamo,' a Long and Bumpy Road, From Conception to Release
  7. ^ Fuchs, Cynthia. "The Alamo (2004)". PopMatters. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  8. ^ The Alamo at Rotten Tomatoes
  9. ^ "The Alamo Reviews". Metacritic. 2004-04-09. Retrieved 2013-08-24.
  10. ^ McCarthy, Todd (2004-04-07). "New U.S. Release: The Alamo". Variety. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  11. ^ "The Alamo". Houston Chronicle. May 28, 2004. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  12. ^ "The Alamo". Entertainment Weekly. April 7, 2004. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  13. ^ Roger Ebert (April 9, 2004). "The Alamo". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2011-03-22.
  14. ^ "The Alamo (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  15. ^ Eller, Claudia,"The costliest box office flops of all time", Los Angeles Times (January 15, 2014)

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