Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “The Alamo”

July 4th is a time to celebrate. What better way to ring in Independence Day than by watching a stirring patriotic film like The Alamo!

Disney has stepped into the universe of Davy Crockett before with the successful Fess Parker movies of the 1950’s, but this new version of the legendary frontiersman and the war between Texas and Mexico is about to get an update.

The Plot

It’s 1836 and the fight for independence from Mexico is raging in Texas. A combined force of American settlers and local Texicans are battling against a massive army led by General Santa Anna.

The Texan force is led by Sam Houston, and he needs help. An attempt to sway fellow Americans to head west and move to Texas is a failure. One notable American, David Crockett who is interested in the opportunity that Texas offers, arrives at the Alamo only to find the promises made by Houston to be a pipe dream.

The fighting is far from over, and soon Crockett, Jim Bowie, and Col. William Travis are leading a ragtag force of holdouts at the Alamo in San Antonio, while General Santa Anna surrounds them with thousands of soldiers. Fighting is fierce and the Alamo falls, but what Sam Houston does in the ashes of the Alamo will decide if Texas will be free.

Cinematic Compliments

An epic film needs an epic budget and as you watch The Alamo you can see the money being spent everywhere. You can’t shoot on location with the real Alamo because it is in downtown San Antonio, so a set was needed. I appreciated and enjoyed the vastness of the story and that money was spent to make the film look as grand as possible.

Billy Bob Thornton is perfect as David Crockett. I like how in this film Crockett is a subdued character. The legend of Davy Crockett proceeds David Crockett everywhere, and Thornton takes small moments of the film to show how difficult it can be to live up to the legend that precedes you. Thornton does get to show the heroic moments, especially his leadership at the Alamo, but the portrayal is certainly different from what Fess Parker or John Wayne gave viewers.

Historical films tend to play with the reality of a true story but in The Alamo we see a lot of ‘truth’ to the people from the time. The David Crockett we see in this movie seems more real than any other portrayal. Jim Bowie who was celebrated for his knife is shown to be a more down to earth figure with his wife, but also a slave owner. We didn’t see that in the Fess Parker edition. The casting of this movie and the supporting actors reflect the diversity of the people living in Texas and fighting at the Alamo.

Cinematic Complaints

If historical epics are not a favorite of yours, then you will want to skip The Alamo.

The film is called The Alamo but the movie covers so much more than just the thirteen day battle at the San Antonio mission. The final battle at the Alamo is anti-climactic because it is not the end of the film. The movie suffers from having two separate endings, the last battle at the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto where Houston and his force defeat Santa Anna.

Fun Film Facts

  • The film was originally going to be directed by Ron Howard with Russell Crowe taking on the role of Sam Houston. Crowe backed out of the film after Disney and Howard differed on the budget, Howard wanted $200 million. Howard shifted to a producing role and Texas native John Lee Hancock was hired to direct.
  • Despite its massive budget, the film reportedly came in $82,000 under the shooting schedule budget.
  • The film was planned for a Christmas 2003 release but was pushed back because it wasn’t ready.
  • This was Patrick Wilson’s film debut.
  • Ethan Hawke was originally up for the role of Col. Travis.
  • Multiple scenes from the film are based on real events.
  • Crockett meeting his counterpart at the start of the movie is based on an actual event. The difference being that the real event took place in 1833, and not 1835 like the movie shows.
  • Crockett’s description about passing the potatoes back comes from his autobiography published in 1834.
  • David Crockett’s death in the film is based on historical accounts. Though many historians doubt the validity of the account, a diary from a Mexican solider at the time states that Crockett was recognized and executed after the siege. Historians point out that the diary has multiple writings in it, as well as pages of different sizes throughout.
  • Billy Bob Thornton learned to play the violin for the movie.
  • The set was massive at 51 acres. This would make it one of the most expensive and largest sets constructed in North America.
  • The film took six months to shoot, and the climactic battle at the Alamo took a month to film.
  • At the Battle of San Jacinto, the scene where Santa Anna is in front of Houston surrendering, is inspired by the painting ‘Surrender of Santa Anna’ by William Henry Huddle.
  • The film was plagued by news helicopters that flew over the set, causing delays in production.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

The Alamo gets a 3 Golden Popcorn Bucket Award. While the film portrays a diverse cast and brings more humanity to legendary characters than previous screen outings, The Alamo has some faults but swung for the fences in trying to bring to life the epic historical battle.

Coming Attractions

Next week sees the release of the MCU’s long delayed Black Widow. What better time than to revisit another Disney comic book film, Unbreakable.

Production Credits

Directed by John Lee Hancock

Produced by Touchstone Pictures / Imagine Entertainment


  • Dennis Quaid as Sam Houston
  • Billy Bob Thornton as David Crockett
  • Jason Patric as James Bowie
  • Patrick Wilson as Col. Travis
  • Emilio Echevarria as Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna
  • Jordi Molla as Juan Sequin

Release Date: April 9, 2004

Budget: $107 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $22,414,961

Worldwide Total: $25,819,961