Five things you didn’t know about Saving Private Ryan

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In terms of World War II movies, there are few films as iconic or groundbreaking than Saving Private Ryan. From its all-star cast to its musical score and gory D-Day beach scene, the film was praised for its quality and attention to detail.

However, such a film wasn’t simply thrown together. Meticulous work and planning was put in place, including a few noteworthy strategies that ultimately paid off, no matter how curious they were.

1: The beach scene took absurdly long to shoot, was expensive and used real amputees

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Costing $12 million dollars, the famous Omaha beach landing scene cost over $12 million and involved over 1,500 extras. While casting so many extras is expensive, the Irish people and Ireland’s Reserve Defence Force lent a helping hand, including several real-life amputees to play wounded soldiers.

The Omaha Beach scene was filmed in complete sequence, one shot after the other every day for four weeks. Stephen Spielberg said that he did no storyboards for the shoot, as he wanted things to be as natural as possible.

Over forty gallons of fake blood were used to create the bloody waters on Omaha beach.

Lastly, two of the landing crafts seen in the beach scene were actual veterans of World War II. If boats could feel, they would no doubt have a sense of deja vu.

2: The spare ammunition in the first battle scenes was made of wood

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Due to the amphibious nature of the first shoot (combined with the fact that actors aren’t really suited for hauling ammunition around), the ammunition bandoliers and linked casings carried by the actors were made of wood to avoid weighing the actors down.

3: Some of the actors were treated particularly harshly, sometimes on purpose

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When Spielberg cast Matt Damon as Private James Francis Ryan of the 101st Airborne, he deliberately exempted him from the mandatory “boot camp” that the actors were subjected to in order to be better immersed in their roles. By doing so, their acting bled resentment towards Damon that was fitting of their roles- eight men who were being systematically picked off while they tried to find a guy they had never met.

4: Tom Hanks was inducted into the US Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

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The first actor to ever be inducted into the Hall of Fame, Hanks was made an honorary member after his performance and subsequent involvement in the World War II Memorial Campaign the D-Day Museum Capital Campaign and his help writing and producing the Emmy Award winning series Band of Brothers. He was awarded the honor in 2006.

5: Audiences (and veterans) were disturbed by the film when they first saw it.

When Saving Private Ryan first came out, no film had ever touched the brutalities of war with such realism on such a grand scale. In fact, many people -including veterans of D-Day and military historians- were quite disturbed by it.

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War historian and author Stephen Ambrose had to halt his screening of the film after watching the film for only 20 minutes because the carnage was too intense. After taking a knee for a few minutes, he regained enough composure to see the film through.

Many Veterans of World War II and Vietnam (including D-Day veterans) were rather disturbed by the film, with many leaving the film during screening or later  talking about the event to their counselors. In fact, so many veterans spoke up about the event that the VA set up a special hotline for veterans who had seen the film, with over 170 calls received within two weeks of the film’s release.

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While the film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and several others, it has an iconic place in the hearts (and DVD collections) of many veterans and military enthusiasts. Through groundbreaking envelope-pushing and a strive for realism, Saving Private Ryan opened the door for more realistic war films such as Black Hawk Down, as well as miniseries such as The Pacific, Generation Kill and Band of Brothers. Now old enough to join the military (18, to be exact), the film is a classic that will likely stand the test of time.


  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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