Saving Private Ryan: Ten Things To Know About The Movie

Here are 10 trivia facts about Saving Private Ryan from 1998, which originally appeared as our Mystery Movie Quiz on our Facebook page. There are hundreds of pieces of behind-the-scenes information about this movie. Please feel free to comment and add more trivia we might have missed.

1. The movie takes place in the past and the present.

The backbone of the movie is the WWII sequences and the scenes at Arlington National Cemetery are in the present. Incidentally, the part of Old Mrs. Ryan was played by Kathleen Byron in her last film. Fans of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger will recognize her from her brilliant appearances in Stairway To Heaven and Black Narcissus.

2. One real person is depicted in the film.

The story and the names of the soldiers are fictional but some of the events are based on actual war records. However, the one real historic figure was General George C. Marshall, played by veteran actor Harve Presnell.

3. One of the actors is best known for his off-screen problems.

Reliable sources say Tom Sizemore entered a drug rehab in 1998 after his friend Robert De Niro, along with Sizemore’s mother, showed up during the filming of Witness to the Mob, saying they were driving him to rehab or to jail — Tom chose rehab. After completing the program, he counseled teens involved in substance abuse. Once on board Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg threatened to re-shoot the entire movie with a different actor if Sizemore failed even one drug test.

4. This movie is considered one of the best of its genre.

Since 1998, Saving Private Ryan appears on many critics’ lists as the best war movie ever made. And in 2007, the American Film Institute ranked Saving Private Ryan among their list of The 100 Greatest Movies of All Time.

5. Two stars of TV sitcoms appear in the movie.

Tom Hanks was Kip Wilson in Bosom Buddies in 1980-1982 and Ted Danson spent 12 years as Sam Malone on Cheers.

6. The film features some of the most chilling sequences ever seen in a movie.

The opening sequence of the Normandy Invasion runs almost 30 minutes. Shooting costs were $11 million and took up to 1000 extras. During initial worldwide showings, theatres were requested to turn up the sound to add to the realism of the material, And to add the final touch, Steven Spielberg requested that no one enter theatres once the movie had begun. Spielberg spared no effort to make viewers feel as if they were in the middle of the battle fighting for their lives and he went on record as saying that even if the film had received an NC-17 rating for its violence, he would have released it uncut anyway.

7. People with missing limbs were used in the filming.

Of the extras used in the Omaha Beach sequence, 20-30 of them were actual amputees issued with prosthetic limbs to simulate soldiers losing  their limbs in the attack.

8. A scene in the movie portrays a pivotal moment in history.

The Allied Invasion at Normandy was the turning point of World War II in Europe.

9. The director named his production company after a movie he previously directed.

Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment production company is named for his early movie Amblin’ (1968).

10. The movie didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar, although many thought it should have.

The other Oscar nominees in 1998 were Shakespeare In Love, Life Is Beautiful, The Thin Red Line and Elizabeth. In one of the biggest upsets in Academy history, after Spielberg won the Oscar for Best Director, the winner for Best Picture was announced — it was Shakespeare In Love, not Saving Private Ryan. Although Shakespeare in Love is a fine film, many critics around the world predicted Saving Private Ryan as the Oscar winner.

For even more Oscar snubs through the years, read two very incisive articles on the subject: I Would Not Like To Thank The Academy by Brian Sieck and When The Best Picture Isn’t The “Best Picture” by Gary Cahall.

And now you can watch the official studio trailer for Saving Private Ryan:

YouTube Preview Image

  • S Geworsky

    This would have to be my All-Time-Favorite war movie. There is a lot of trash out there when it comes to this genre. There are some war movies that will do nothing but glorify the killings, and sadly amount to nothing more than a killing spree, placing the one with the most kills as a hero. “Saving Private Ryan” is a real movie about a real war where the real hero’s very often come home in body bags.
    A movie well done…well acted, with an excellent cast.

  • Connie O’Kane

    Probably Stalingrad or maybe even Midway were more likely the turning points of WW II.

    • Rufnek

      The Normandy landings were a brillant and brave campaign that is especially meaningful for America, England, Canada, and France since their soldiers made the landing. But the biggest German losses were in Russia, and that’s what eventually broke the back of reich. Russia didn’t have the technology or quantity of supplies available in the West, but they had lots and lots and lots of manpower that flooded over the ill-prepared German forces there. Midway was definitely the turning point in the Pacific war, more so than D-Day in Normandy. Everyone knew the western allies were going to invade France somewhere, sometime, but no one was sure where or when. An allied victory in the Pacific was less certain until the Japanese navy was decimated at Midway.
      But in my opinion the place where World War II was won was in Texas–assisted by Oklahoma, Louisiana, and other oil-producing states. Civilian and military leaders have said the Allies floated to victory on a sea of Texas oil. That’s even acknowledged in one film about the Battle of the Bulge in which one of the items captured by the Germans in their attack was a still-fresh birthday cake mailed from the States to a US soldier. The German officer says something to the effect, “They have enough fuel to transport birthday cakes, and I can’t even keep my tanks running.” Look at all the vintage film taken on the German side during the World War II and notice how many of the supply wagons are drawn by horses and oxen. This is the army that invented the blitzkreg based on rapid deployment of armor and infantry, but they didn’t have enough fuel or trucks to move supplies even if they did have jets and rockets with which to fight.

    • Vince Amato

      Connie, I totally agree with you. If you define “turning point” as that point after which the initiative of the war changed forever, it is, indeed, Stalingrad (followed, perhaps, by Kursk. After these battles, the Germans remained on the defensive and lost all strategic initiative. Remember, the battles in the East (so easily dismissed by other commentators) numbered in the hundred of thousands and millions of men and tanks and armor in the tens of thousands, unlike in the West, where the numbers were much fewer. Normandy was undoubetdly a great battle, but the ultimate outcome was already decided; it was just a matter of how much longer and how much blood.In the Pacific, after Midway, the initiative switched to the US forever, so that, too, is a turning point.

  • Baz

    Turning points in EUROPE, Connie. Midway is a long way from Europe and Stalingrad is Eastern Europe, almost Asia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000115705403 Robert Krueger

    Midway was the turning point of the Pacific theatre of war for the U.S. and Japanese forces, Stalingrad was the turning point for the Russian forces, while the Normandy invasion was definitely the turning point for the U.S. forces in Europe, followed closely by the Siege of Bastogne (or so I think!)

  • mike jaral

    saving private ryan is one of the best war pictures, but there are many other good war movies to watch and pick from, so I would not say it is truly the best one. just to name one that comes to mind would be Battleground with van johnson.

    • Briney

      A lot of commentators are quick to chide producers for mistakes. The story is the most important element in any film, and Ryan was a good story in my book. The landing scene was a great visual depiction of what you’d expect in such a blood letting. But the story is fiction but nonetheless based on a major event. As such, and taken as a story with its major plot, it is great entertainment. Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed Van Johnson and his squad bitching and moaning as they slugged along a French road, Johnson still stirring the egg in his helmet. Band of Brothers is another favorite. Catch 22 portrays the absurdities of war, just as M*A*S*H did, and was banned on all military bases. But the one that still stands tall above many, is Erich Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front (1930), which featured Lew Ayres as a anti-war German recruit in the Prussian Army. Ayres A conscientious objector in WWII., he eventually joined the Army as a Medic and received three battle stars.

  • Vern

    The Soviet encirclement of the German 6th Army around Stalingrad marked the end of the German advance in WW 2. The Battle of Kursk, July 1943, was the beginning of the German retreat. A year later, when it was clear the Soviets could defeat the Germans by themselves, the Western Allies invaded France.

    • Vince Amato

      Agree. It was all over except for the bleeding and dying.

  • Vern

    The death knell to the Axis powers in Europe came not in June of ’44 at Normandy, but in July, on the central plains of Russia, where the great Soviet summer 1944 offensive, Operation Bagration, removed 40 divisions from the German Army Group Central. Entire German divisions disappeared in this Soviet blitzkrieg.

    Of course you would never hear about that on the History Channel, or in a Hollywood movie.

  • Rufnek

    I’m sure I’m probably the only person in the world who is not a big fan of Saving Pvt. Ryan, but I see it as three mediocre films pasted together. First you have a short film about the invasion of Normandy, with lots of people running around stepping off into too-deep water or scampering up on the beach grasping a severed arm, which looks for all the world like a plastic prop. The one realistic thing about that part of the film is the noise that prevents you from hearing a damn thing that’s being said.

    Then after all the over-the-top special effects, we get the ranger squad being sent out to save Pvt Ryan. In real life, all it took was one chaplin to pull the one surviving son out of combat, but Spielberg’s got to put a veteran squad of rangers at risk to up the stakes for his film. One thing I never figured out–why do they send the bilingual clerk-typist along with the the crack rangers? Is he supposed to ask German POWs, “Vo est Herr Ryan?” That’s the dumbest part of a dumb film, nearly as dumb as the supposed veteran rangers doing a frontal assualt on a machinegun nest in which their only casualty is the medic who has no business being part of the assault until there are casualties for him to treat. That’s followed by another member of the squad careless stepping out from cover while conversing with the French refugees and into the scope of a German sniper. K-bling and another one bites the dust because he apparently slept through the cover and concealment class in basic training.

    So they finally find Pvt Ryan, and shift into the third and final film where instead of obeying orders and pulling him out of the line whether he wants to go or not–Capt. Tom Hanks outranks him–they decide instead to make the least possible use of cover and spread out their meager forces to fight off a superior German force. It’s hard to know in this scene which is dumber–the gutless clerk groveling on the staircase while a German solder walks down and past him, or the German who leaves a live unwounded enemy behind him. Of course this comes back and bites the German in the butt later, at which point the cowardly clerk, having learned nothing from the German soldier’s mistake, then releases a bunch of German POWs, any one of which can go around the corner, pick up a weapon, and come back and pot him.

    It’s a dumb film full of dumb moves right down to the Mustang that picks off the German tank with a mess of rockets without even mussing the part in Hank’s hair although the tank is close enough that the explosion should have taken him out too prior to his tear-in-the-eye speech. I was really disappointed that this film was hyped so high for its supposed reality and fell so far short.

    They even got the reference to Lincoln’s Civil War letter to a woman who supposedly lost 5 sons wrong. As I recall, the reality was one died, one was wounded, and the other three deserted after collecting their enlistment bonuses.

    • Vince Amato

      So true. Take out the beach scene (which is touted as being so great because of its savagery), and the rest of the movie is prosaic and pedestrian and full of incredible errors and plot holes.

      • LM

        Also agree. The 1960′s TV series COMBAT! would have done the same story a lot more effectively in less than 60 minutes…although without the graphic digital effects.

        • Jan

          I also agree. I have never even been able to sit through the entire movie. There are so many more out there that were so much better. This one rode on Tom Hanks hype and I have never been a fan of his. He is about as animated as over cooked spaghetti. It was too long and so wrong.

  • Vern

    Rufnek you sure found some weak points to the film!

    I did like it, and I consider it a great film, but I have to agree with you on every point you make. As a former infantry officer, as you may well be from your comments, I always wince at the stupid company level tactics displayed in Hollywood films, and you’ve pointed out a number of them.

    Even worse was the remake of All Quiet on the Western Front, the 1979 American remake– with the soldier (Richard Thomas) looking down at the action of his Mauser Gew 98 every time he worked the bolt. Really– I operated the action on a Mauser rifle maybe 3 times and never had to look down after that– your hand finds that bolt real easily. And the French with the flame thrower! The Germans in blind panic as the French flame thrower team came at them– why didn’t they just shoot them? Dumb.

    But back to Ryan. Thank you for your observant comments. Disagreeing with you, I did like the film, and would enjoy seeing it again, while agreeing with all the errors you pointed out.

    The mistakes with John Hays’s letter (Lincoln’s Secretary) are even worse than you cite– The 5 sons of the Maryland woman were as you say, not all killed, but as it turned out, her sympathies to the Union were mixed, and 3 of her sons were serving in the Confederate Army.

  • Neil Blount

    I agree with Rufnek, Hoillywood’s take on WWII is pretty generally to entertain and certainly not be a history lesson. As far as I’m concerned Tom Hanks biggest bust was the recent Tv mini series Pacific. Gimme a break. The 2nd Marine Division played a vital part in retaking the Pacific Theatre from the Japaneese. However, The US Navy, the Army, other marine units, and our Army and Naval air units were also fighting one helluva a war. By the way. So Proudly We Hail, They Were Expendable, Battleground, A Bridge Too Far and Tora Tora Tora were not bad eithere. I’m a Korean War ex Paratrooper.

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  • Judy Drury

    I saw this movie sitting next to my mother-in-law whose husband was there on that beach on D-day. I watched my husband as he watched waht men like his father endured. When you remember that those men were our fathers and grandfathers and someone’s husband or son, you experience it differently. They weren’t actors. They became our loved ones. For many in that audience, it was the first time we truly understood why so many soldiers would not talk about the war. It made me want to honor all American veterans more no matter what wars they fought in. I love this film.

  • Josh

    Thatmovie sucked balls!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • vinod kumawat

    THERE IS ONLY ONE ON RECORED IN HOOLLWOD.I HAVE WATCH THIS LOT OF TIME VERY NICE

  • william III

    North Africa and the lower boot of Italy happend befor Stalingrad. Germany was in retreat. Lets not forget the constint bombing by the Alies that began atleast a year befor Stalingrad witch took heavy arearol bombing out of germanys game.

  • Steve

    I agree with the earlier comment that the movie made me respect the sacrifices of our fore fathers and the fact that freedom is not free. But I guess evaluating it as a movie might need to be to held seperate from evaluating whether it’s realism even matters. Far too many American do not appreciate what our grandfacthers did for us.

    As far as the turn point in the war it is not so simple to point out just one area as Hitler eventually expanded beyond what is own natural resources could support, and eventually could not protect his own supply chain, like most great empires , it eventually could not be defended by so many enemies. Bombing of the by the Allies helped the Russians defeat Hitler. Russian Oil captured back by the Russians impeaded Hitlers ability to perform in Europe. And lets not forget the over whelming manufacturing power the US unleashed (after some delay) which eventually overwhelmed all our enemys.

  • Dean

    In question #1, it was stated that the cemetary was Arlington when I believe that it was the allied cementary at Normandy,France.

  • Vann Morrison

    I was in Bosnia in 1998 when Saving Private Ryan was released. Christmas day 1998 AAFES showed SPR in the gymnasium at Eagle Base for free. They played the movie back to back all day long. I watched it 4 times that day. (nothing else better to do) At that time I had about 18 years of service with the Army. As a soldier you can pick out the inaccuracies in tactics and equipment.
    Also you’ve got to remember that you’re watching actors who were never in the military and had two weeks of military training by a technical advisor.
    They put on a vintage uniform, ran around in the woods on the back lot and shot some blank ammunition and spent a couple of nights sleeping in a pup tent. There are no more veterans that are actors anymore. The days of Lee Marvin, Audey Murphy, Sterling Hayden, James Arness and Neville Brand are long gone. On top of that, if you were to make a war movie that was technically and tactically perfect it would probably be boring as hell. I like to watch them just for their entertainment value.

  • Al O’Neill

    Regarding trivia “fact” number one: the cemetery scene is not at Arlington; it’s at the US cemetery in Normandy.

  • rocman797

    Wow, what a great collection of posts! I now realize how little I really knew about a movie I enjoyed very much for it’s what I thought must have been a very realistic depiction of a horrific circumstance, the landing. Thought the rest was as several commentators have noted, Hollywood, which was a shame.
    For authenticity how about HBO’s series(Tom Hanks)- “Band of Brothers”? I love it and every time it/an episode comes on I drop what I’m doing and watch, and I have the DVD set – LOL!!!!!
    Thanks, Rufnek for the tip of the hat to the oil industry – very true. Both Japan and HItler’s Germany knew they had to secure the oil fieldsof Indonesia and of eastern Europe and the area around Baku. Great points by all on this post!

  • frank pienkosky

    Speilberg was robbed!…..twenty yrs from now “Shakespeare in Love” will be the answer to a trivia question…..[if it isn't already!]

  • Rob in L.A.

    On the Best Picture nominees for 1998, it’s interesting to me that three of the contenders were set during World War II (“Ryan,” “The Thin Red Line” [also a combat film], and “Life Is Beautiful”), while the other two were set in Elizabethan England (“Shakespeare in Love,” “Elizabeth”). I would have expected such similar genres and settings to cancel each other out.

  • Jim Crawford

    As Dean says, it was not Arlington but Normandy war graves. Dont forget too, the supreme effort by all the allies was to defeat Germany first. The reason being was atomic bomb research by the nazis, as well as other secret weapon development.

  • Jake

    If you want to base a war movie on the realities and the realism of the horrific terror of it.I think you should rent Beach Red with Cornel Wilde.Made in a time were realism was short changed by censor ship.Remembering what men and women on both sides of a conflict suffer the purpose of a war movie should be a reminder to us to not praise war but to stop the insane us of it.

  • Dan

    I saw this movie on it’s opening day and I was on the edge of my seat for most of it. I thought Spielberg was ripped off the Best Picture Oscar. A local Congressional Medal of Honor recepient, who was at Omaha beach, was quoted as saying the Normandy beach scenes were exactly that way.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/DwayneBurgessPhotography Dwayne Burgess

    You forgot to mention that the entire movie was shot on film.

  • Kilworthy

    If by best you mean “hyped” ,then yes. If you mean best then, Iwo Jima, Battleground, Full Metal Jacket. Sargant York, at least are better
    D-Day was important but don’t forget Stalingrad and El Alemein were German invincibility had been destroyed.

  • Fred Pinkerton, Little Rock,

    “Saving Private Ryan” touched the hearts of a great many people. Of course scenes can be
    taken apart by the experts. But what is more important, the generations born after WWII can
    catch a small glimpse of the horror of combat and our men dying to keep our Great Nation
    Free! Russia lost more human beings in that war than any other country, 19 million Russia
    people were killed and the logistics of moving all their industry beyond the reach of the Germans
    was truly an accomplishment. American Forces were a vital factor in liberating Europe, We the
    United States of America was fighting on all fronts all over the world. Russia was fighting only
    on one front. The peoples of the world have so soon forgotten what the people of the United
    States of America has done for the other countries who share our planet.

  • John Hume

    I have one small problem with your #8 statement. The actual “pivotal moment in WW2 was the Soviet break out of Stalingard, Leningrad, Moscow. If not for Soviet military forces keeping the Nazis very busy the Normandy Invasion would have been stopped at the beaches. I realize this is not politically correct, but it is the truth.

  • A.J.

    The opening sequence for Saving Private Ryan was in the US Military Cemetery overlooking Normandy beach, not Arlington National Cemetery

    • DaveP326

      Did somebody say it was Arlington? I always thought the Ryan family was on a trip to Normandy for a commoration.

  • Stan

    The US is mainly responsible for defeating Japan in WW2 and not Germany. Britain and the USSR were the main forces that took down Germany. The pivotal point in WW2 happened in either Kursk or Stalingrad depending on your point of view and Britain took out the Luftwaffe early on which later become a much bigger problem for Germany. Saving Private Ryan is a good war movie but my person favorites are Paths of Glory and They Were Expendable.

  • rapalmi

    THE THIN RED LINE should have won Best Picture and Best Director. It is by far the best war film ever made. Even my other favorite war films pale in comparison. Malick’s film summarizes the entire genre, placing previous cinematic approaches to the subject of war in perspective, and then adds several new ones. No genre film outstrips its genre the way this one does. One of the greatest achievements in American cinema.

  • Joseph23006

    I watched this movie one time, I know why my father, uncles, friends, the Ohio Rainbow Division never recounted what happened. My cousin’s husband had two Purple Hearts, I found them after he died, the citations were vague. ‘Saving Private Ryan’ came too late, opening wounds that had healed but were not forgotten. The young crowd who watched it were detached from the people who did such deeds. As I said before, no one I know ever talked about what they did or had seen, maybe the director should have done the same!

  • John Patterson

    There was one other sitcom actor in”saving Private Ryan”as well.
    The next year-1999-Bryan Cranston played the father on”Malcolm In The Middle”.
    Last year,Bryan Cranston had a part in George Lucas’s saga of the all black 332nd Fighter Squadron”Red Tails”.

  • JC

    D day was NOT the turning point in Europe. Kursk or even Stalingrad were more significant. One can even argue that Sicily was more significant as it forced the Germans to drop the Kursk offensive.

  • DaveP326

    There is no doubt about the contribution and sacrifices of the Russians. They had a HUGE army compared to ours. Their tactics, however were a big cause of the number of casualties they suffered. They were forced to run through minefields and use frontal attacks to steamroller the Germans – regardless of the consequences. They also had political officers who had no qualms at all about shooting any enlisted men or officers who showed the least bit of hesitancy in obeying their orders. They got the job done, but at what price? At least the US British & Canadians considered casualties when making their plans. The cross-channel invasionon on D-Day was the first attempt since William The Conqueror did it in 1066. I, for one, would not minimize the significance of that feat. What we did was save the world from the tyranny of Nazism. Then came the Bear which was no better.

  • classicsforever

    I think every kid in high school should watch the first 30 min. or so of this movie. The vast majority of them don’t understand the high cost of freedom.

  • azlady

    I know this is off the discussion, but I was wondering why the music for “American President” is being used in the official studio trailer? Seems odd….