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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From 'Saving Private Ryan' That Made Us Want To Rewatch

July 8, 2021 1.2k votes 144 voters 10.7k views11 items

List RulesVote up the coolest behind-the-scenes stories from 'Saving Private Ryan.'

Saving Private Ryan debuted in 1998, and since then, it's stood the test of time as one of Steven Spielberg's greatest films and arguably one of the best war movies of all time. Although it didn't win best picture at the 71st Academy Awards, the film still took home five Oscars, including a best director win for Spielberg. It was a huge success at the box office, too, taking in more than $485 million worldwide. 

Spielberg and his cast, led by Tom Hanks, meticulously re-created WWII in 1944, including D-Day and its aftermath. Attempting to portray D-Day and other events as realistically as possible was an accomplishment, but Spielberg's bigger reason for making the film was to honor the people who actually lived through WWII. 

Here are some unknown stories about how Saving Private Ryan was filmed. 

  • 1

    Steven Spielberg Didn't Storyboard Any Of The D-Day Sequence

    Steven Spielberg, partly inspired by gritty WWII news footage, wanted the opening D-Day sequence to look and feel like a 1940s newsreel. To achieve this look, Spielberg filmed much of the $12 million scene with handheld cameras. He also didn't pre-plan any of the images with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, preferring instead to spontaneously document the scene from the ground level, or "as a combat cameraman would have." 

    Spielberg won one of his Directors Guild Awards for the movie. 

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  • 2

    Private Ryan's Story Is Partly Based On The Niland Brothers

    After five brothers from the same family, the Sullivans, perished on a Navy ship during WWII, the US military took precautions to avoid a similar incident. But multiple sons from the same family still perished at or near the same time as each other. One such family partly inspired Pvt. Ryan's story. 

    The Niland brothers were four real siblings from Tonawanda, NY, ages 24 to 31, who by 1944 had enlisted to fight in WWII. The oldest brother, Edward, was already thought to be gone in February 1944 when middle brothers Preston and Bob perished within a day of each other during the D-Day incursion. That left Fritz, whom the military brought home to complete his service. Edward was later found alive as a POW in Burma and released in May 1945. 

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  • 3

    The Actors Had To Attend A Six-Day Boot Camp - And Most Tried To Quit

    Before filming, Steven Spielberg sent his main cast members to a six-day boot camp. That's much shorter than what an actual 1940s US Army Ranger would have endured: four months.

    Still, the experience was grueling, and had two purposes: to teach the actors how to act like soldiers, and to help them appreciate what actual soldiers went through. Spielberg opted not to participate himself, however. 

    Many of the cast members who were forced to endure the camp, however, almost gave up before the end, by taking a vote to quit. Captain Dale Dye who coached the men through the experience recalled the breaking point for many of the actors:

    "I think there was a phone call that Tom [Hanks] made to Steven Spielberg where he said 'we've got a little situation here, what do you want to do?'" The director told his lead actor he had to make the decision himself, so Hanks went back to his unit and convinced them to stay. "He said, 'look, we're only going to get one shot at this and we want to get it right and I think we ought to stay and we ought to gut it out.'"

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  • 4

    The Filmmakers Worked With Amputees To Make Scenes Of Soldiers Losing Limbs Look Real

    The D-Day sequence was designed to portray D-Day as realistically as possible as a way to honor the experiences of those who went through it, and that included many visceral details. 

    To re-create the gruesome detail of a limb being severed, Spielberg hired 20 to 30 amputees and paraplegics. The special effects crew had them wear realistic prosthetics rigged with incendiary materials, then detonated the limbs during filming.  

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