Natural Born Killers, Oliver Stone’s 1994 movie about a couple living on the edge of society and on the run from the law, is a gory, wild film that moves at a breakneck pace. While groups like the PMRC were trying to tamp down on what they perceived as moral degradation in music and film, Stone released what is arguably one of the most challenging films of the ‘90s. In NBK, the audience is thrust into the world of Mickey and Mallory, two young people who carve a canyon of chaos across America without remorse.
The film’s journey from script to screen was as tumultuous as the onscreen anarchy. Quentin Tarantino, who wrote initial drafts of the screenplay, saw his work gutted to fit Stone’s cinematic ideals. Even Stone had to cut his film to pieces to secure a rating that insured it would land in theaters. Following its release, the movie inspired letters from politicians and copycat incidents.
When the movie was released, Tarantino went out of his way to tear it apart. He said the director's message was too overtly presented. Tarantino compared Stone to Stanley Kramer, whose movies have moralizing messages, but were always obvious and conspicuous.
Stone, in response, thought Tarantino's outburst was uncalled for and out of step with his position in the industry. "To be honest, it’s just not done," Stone said. "[A] writer who becomes famous and then trashes his own movie. I feel like it’s a code, it’s a samurai code that you live with."
The original cut of the film was even more chaotic and over-the-top than the final version. According to Oliver Stone, the MPAA found his original cut too disturbing to screen under an R rating. Though the film's shocking quality was Stone's intention, he was asked to change much of the movie.
In total, Stone is said to have made 155 different cuts over multiple re-edits to make the film suitable for the MPAA's R rating. Stone was unhappy with the changes he had to make; he claims they were difficult because cutting too much would change the film's point.
By the end, Stone said the cuts "changed the rhythm" of the film, but in 2009, an unrated cut of the movie was released.
In Tarantino's script, Mickey and Mallory were not the film's primary focus. Instead, the movie followed journalist Wayne Gale and his film crew. That's not to say Mickey and Mallory weren't present - their prison escape was still the film's climax - but they were not intended to be the main characters.
Tarantino was keeping a budget in mind while writing the script. When Tarantino thought he’d be directing the movie, he intended to film most of the scenes on video because of its cost efficiency. Unfortunately, the footage looked terrible. But by having Gale and his crew as the film's protagonists, Tarantino had a narrative excuse for the use of video; the interviews that made up the majority of the film would have been shot on tape, while everything else would be recorded on film.
Much of the movie's message was influenced by heavily broadcasted incidents in the early 1990s. Stone aimed to have the film reflect both media's and society's interest and extreme coverage of cases like the O.J. Simpson trial and the incident between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan during the 1994 US Figure Skating Championship. Instead, the film was engulfed in its own controversy, which overshadowed Stone's intended message.
Ironically, both the film and its critics were casting blame on one another for society's moral degradation. Because of the content, politicians and the media criticized the movie. According to Stone, the film's message "was overlooked amid all the hysteria."