Tom Sizemore was battling a drug addiction during production. Steven Spielberg gave him an ultimatum that he would be blood tested on the set every day of filming, and if he failed the test once he would be fired and the part of Horvath would be recast and re-shot with someone else, even if it was at the end of production.
When Tom Hanks' character tells the rest of the unit what he does for a living back home, Hanks' speech was much longer in the original script. But Hanks felt that his character wouldn't have said so much about himself, and he told director Steven Spielberg so. Spielberg agreed, and the speech was shortened.
The cast endured a grueling, week long course at boot camp instructed by technical advisor Dale Dye. Tom Hanks, who had previously been trained by Dye for the Vietnam war scenes in Forrest Gump (1994), was the only one of them who knew it would be a hard and uncompromising experience: "The other guys, I think, were expecting something like camping in the woods, and maybe learning things while sitting around the campfire."
Steven Spielberg cast Matt Damon as Ryan because he wanted an unknown actor with an All-American look. He didn't know Damon would win an Oscar for Good Will Hunting (1997) and become an overnight star before the film was released.
The two "German" soldiers who are shot trying to surrender were speaking Czech. They were saying, "Please don't shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech, I didn't kill anyone, I am Czech!" They were members of what the Germans called Ost [East] Battalions, men - mostly Czech and Polish - taken prisoner in eastern European countries invaded by Germany and forced into the German army.
When the camera shakes during explosions, Steven Spielberg used drills attached to the side of the camera which were turned on when required. While shooting with this effect the crew's photographer let Spielberg know that there was a shaker lens for cameras. Spielberg said in an interview that he had thought he had invented a great new technique at first.
In the German-dubbed version of the movie, one of the actors, himself a German veteran of the Normandy invasion, couldn't deal with emotional realism of the film and dropped out and had to be replaced.
All the principal actors underwent several days of grueling army training - except for Matt Damon, who was spared so that the other actors would resent him, and would convey that resentment in their performances.
The film was blocked by the Censor Board of India for too much violence. The Board demanded cuts that Steven Spielberg declined to make and instead, he decided not to release the movie in India at all. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the then Home Minister of India saw the movie himself and, impressed, ordered it to be released uncut.
The Omaha Beach scene cost $11 million to shoot and involved up to 1000 extras, some of whom were members of the Irish Army Reserve. Of those extras, 20-30 of them were amputees issued with prosthetic limbs to simulate soldiers having their limbs blown off.
Many veterans of D-Day have congratulated director Steven Spielberg for the film's authenticity, including actor James Doohan, best known as Scotty from Star Trek (1966). Doohan lost the middle finger of his right hand and was wounded in the leg during the war. Also, he participated in the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, at Juno Beach, where the 3rd Canadian infantry division led the attack. He commended Spielberg for not leaving out any gory details.
Matt Damon ad-libbed the story he tells towards the end of the film about spying on his brother in the barn with the ugly girl. As described in Peter Bart's book "The Gross", the speech was rambling and not particularly funny or interesting, but the crew decided that's why it worked--that it was true to an unformed kid like Ryan, fated to be at the center of this incredible operation. Steven Spielberg liked it so much he decided to leave it in the film.
In the D-Day landing sequence there are anti-landing obstacles all along the beach, one type being short and prickly--nicknamed "Czech Hedgehohs"--designed to rip open the hulls of the landing craft as they approached, the other being long poles pointing at an angle. Officially called Hemmbalken, they were made out of wood or metal and angled towards the beach, most being topped with a Teller mine (anti-tank mine) and placed in rows. The Germans expected the Allies to land at high tide--to minimize the open space that the infantry had to cross--and the beach obstacles were designed with this in mind. The plan was that the landing craft would ride onto the poles--which, at high tide, would be underwater--and detonate the AT mines, causing death and destruction. However, the Allies landed at low tide, making the obstacles visible--and useless.
Although Steven Spielberg reduced the color saturation of the movie by 60% for artistic reasons, both major American satellite providers (DirecTV and Dish Newtork) and numerous cable TV providers turned up the chroma gain to re-enhance the color saturation to normal-looking levels when broadcasting the movie. They did this because on the first day or two of the movie's broadcast run, their customer service centers were swamped with calls from viewers complaining that something was wrong with the color.
The actors all had to undergo an intensive pre-shoot six-day boot camp during which all but one of them voted to quit as they found it too arduous. The one dissenting voice was Tom Hanks, who thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Naturally, his vote counted the most, so the rest of the actors were obligated to complete their training.
Gunfire sound effects heard in the film were recorded from actual gunfire with live ammunition fired from authentic period weapons, recorded at a live fire machine gun range near Atlanta, Georgia. The range is owned by a weapons manufacturer.
The role of Caparzo was written just for Vin Diesel after director Steven Spielberg saw Diesel's independent film Strays (1997), which was also his directorial, writing, producing and lead acting debut.
Inspired by the true story of the Niland brothers. Sgt. Frederick Niland was in the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne. Band of Brothers (2001), produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, told the story of another 101st Airborne unit, Easy Company of the 506th PIR.
Aside from all the intensive exercises, the actors' boot camp involved camping in soaking wet conditions, only being allowed to call each other by their characters' names and boot camp supervisor Dale Dye referring to them all as "turds".
Pvt. Jackson's killing the German sniper by firing a shot through the man's scope and into his eye was based on a true incident, though not in WWII and not by a Pvt. Jackson. It was accomplished by Marine Pvt. Carlos Hathcock during the Vietnam War. Hathcock was a sniper who was being fired at by a concealed NVA sniper. He finally managed to catch a glimpse of the man's sniperscope and put a round through it, killing him. The similar sequence in this film is rumored to be a tribute to Hathcock, who has been regarded as one of the US' most famous snipers. Although Hathcock's shot was only at 100 yards. Jackson's was said in the film to be at over 400 yards. At that distance the bullet is falling at a much steeper angle, even with a modern sniper rifle, making the shot impossible at that distance.
Steven Spielberg donated an undisclosed amount of money to build a theater at America's National D-Day Memorial in honor of his late father, who flew Army Air Corps missions and was a radio operator in Burma during World War II.
Military historian and author Stephen Ambrose, at a special screening of the film for him, had to ask for the screening to be halted 20 minutes in as he couldn't handle the intensity of the opening. After composing himself outside for a few minutes, he was able to return to the screening room and watch the film to its conclusion.
Cap. Dale Dye (USMC Ret.), the film's military advisor, makes an appearance as a War Department colonel in the scene with Gen. George C. Marshall. He is the white-haired officer advising Marshall against sending a rescue party after Ryan.
When using the field radio on the beach, Capt. Miller says something that sounds like "Cadaff, Cadaff" into the radio. He is actually saying CATF, meaning he is calling the Commander: Amphibious Task Force.
Upham's shoulder patch, a blue and grey "yin yang" symbol, identifies him as a member of the 29th US infantry division. It symbolizes the fact that the division was composed of units from Virginia and Maryland, who fought on both sides of the American Civil War.
Writer Robert Rodat first came up with the film's story in 1994, when he saw a monument dedicated to four sons of Agnes Allison of Port Carbon, Pennsylvania. The brothers were killed in the American Civil War. Rodat decided to write a similar story set during World War II. The script was submitted to producer Mark Gordon, who then handed it to Tom Hanks. It was finally given to Steven Spielberg, who decided to direct. The film's premise is very loosely based on the real-life case of the Niland brothers.
Ironically, the "Bixby Letter," which is featured prominently in the film, was actually inaccurate. The War Department incorrectly informed Abraham Lincoln about the fate of Mrs. Bixby's sons: two had died in battle, the others eventually survived the war. It is not clear whether Mrs. Bixby's story about her sons was borne from error or exaggeration, and why the War Department had failed to correct the report based on their own records.
Real amputees were used for the shots of people with limbs missing. However, Bryan Cranston, who portrayed the colonel in the headquarters unit to whom the three separate death notices are presented and later presents to Gen. George C. Marshall, is not an amputee, although depicted as missing a left arm, apparently above the elbow.
The input of Industrial Light & Magic was significantly downplayed so as not to make the film appear to be a special effects movie. ILM's contribution, however, was subtle but highly necessary as most of the bullet hits in the Omaha Beach attack were digitally created.
The siege in the village of Ramelle was filmed on a set created on a disused airfield in Hatfield, England. The bridge so valiantly defended actually crosses a three foot deep canal created for the movie. Earlier scenes in the village of Neuville-au-Plain used the same set carefully shot from different angles.
To achieve his unique "look" for the film, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski adjusted his film shutter to 90 degrees to create sharper, more realistic images, and used an Image Shaker to vibrate the camera to approximate the impact of explosions.
Just after the scene where Capt. Miller "recruits" Upham for the mission, there is a short scene that shows the motor pool. For a few brief seconds, a jeep with a small trailer rolls by. If you look carefully, you can see that the jeep and trailer contain Miller and his men. The next scene shows Miller and the others walking through a meadow on foot with no vehicle in sight. This is due to the fact that the scene which shows how Miller and the men lose the jeep was deleted from the final cut. Later in the film, Miller mentions something about losing "most of their ammo". This occurred when they lost the jeep.
The Battle of Ramelle never took place in real life. The town and the battle were both fictional. A German counterattack over the causeway at La Fiere by the 1057th Grenadier Regiment and light tanks of the 100th Panzer Replacement Battalion was the inspiration for the climactic battle in the film, which is set around a bridge over the Merderet River in the fictional town of Ramelle.
There is a close-up of a map in a scene where Capatin Miller's hand is holding a compass and shaking. The map used as a prop is an actual map issued to members of the 82nd Airborne, and possibly other units. It is identified as "SHEET6E/5", identical to a map handed down by a survivor of the invasion.
The half-track German motorcycle Miller calls a "rabbit" (its Allied nick-name) is a Kleines Kettenkraftrad HK 101, or just Kettenkrad ("tracked motorcycle"). Meant for towing small trailers and light artillery over rough ground, it was the smallest tracked vehicle used in WWII, aside from the German "Goliath" (an unmanned remote-controlled mine). It was manufactured by NSU Motorenwerke AG. NSU survived the war to merge with Auto Union, forming Audi in 1969.
This was the first movie to be rated NC-16 in Singapore. Due to the nature of the violence of the movie, it couldn't be passed as a PG film. Also, with the lack of adult theme, it couldn't be granted a R(A) rating.
The two German Tiger tanks in the movie were in fact Russian T-34 tanks modified to appear as convincing Tiger tanks. You can see the difference between these fake Tigers and the real ones by the differing road wheels.
Filming switched from the UK to Ireland after the British Ministry of Defense declined to provide the huge numbers of soldiers requested to act as extras in the film. The Irish Defense forces supplied 2500 men drawn from a mix of units of the FCA (Army Reserve) and Slua Muiri (Navy) reserves. They spent four weeks in the surf on the beaches while filming the landing scenes. The UK MoD also supplied a couple of hundred soldiers from their reserves, but not the thousands that Steven Spielberg had asked for.
Steven Spielberg claimed that he considered the film a passion project as a gift to his aging father, a WWII veteran. He further claimed that he made the picture against his commercial instincts, believing there would not be a wide audience for a World War II movie with graphic violence, and was pleasantly surprised when it became a blockbuster hit.
The opening scene of the Omaha Beach attack was heavily used for EA's Medal of Honor video game (1999) opening mission. Some of the dialogue used in the movie is also used in the game and it even follows the movie's general advance onto the German positions the movie portrayed.
Til Schweiger turned down the role of "Steamboat Willie" because he feared he would be typecast by it. He would, however, go on to star as a German soldier in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009).
In the scene where Tom Sizemore was collecting dirt is based on fact. Many WWII soldiers would do this as a way to show where they served in combat from North Africa to Kadina. Now days, troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan are specifically told not to collect dirt on account we could bring back foreign species.
The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is featured in the beginning the film. A World War II veteran, accompanied by his family, makes his way to the grave of Captain John Miller (played by Tom Hanks) and segues into the movie's opening battle sequence, the D-Day landing at Omaha Beach. The grave does not actually exist; the headstone for Miller was only brought to the cemetery for the movie. The Captain John Miller portrayed in the movie never existed, but the Private Ryan story is based upon the story of the Niland Brothers, two of whom are buried in the cemetery (referenced from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Wikipedia page)
Pvt. Daniel Jackson kisses a Christian cross before going into battle. Nathan Fillion, who plays the "wrong" Pvt. Ryan later played Capt. Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly (2002), a war veteran who did the same thing. But when his side lost the war, he also lost his faith in God.
This film was a co-production of DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures, with DreamWorks handling the North American release and Paramount handling the international release. The early releases of the film on home video in region 1 was distributed by Universal, which had agreed to distribute DreamWorks releases on home video when the company was founded in 1994. In 2006 Viacom--Paramount's parent company--acquired DreamWorks, and Paramount gained US/Canadian rights to the picture as a result. The film was one of seven DreamWorks/Paramount co-productions that became fully owned by the latter upon the merger of the two studios.
In Neuville, a father pleads the soldiers to take his kids with them. After being endangered by this, and then being reunited with her family, the daughter then slaps the father repeatedly for putting her at such risk.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
During the ending sequence when Upham emerges from hiding, he speaks in German without subtitles. Roughly translated, he says, "Hands up!" and "Lay down your weapons!" several times. One of the Germans says, "I know this soldier. I know this man." Upham responds, "Hold your snout!" The German soldier responds, "Upham," then after a pause Upham shoots him. Then, to the rest of the soldiers he says, "Scram! Vanish!"
As the German soldier stabs Mellish to death, he says: "Gib' auf, du hast keine Chance! Lass' es uns beenden! Es ist einfacher für dich, viel einfacher. Du wirst sehen, es ist gleich vorbei." This translates: "Give up, you don't stand a chance! Let's end this here! It will be easier for you, much easier. You'll see it will be over quickly." The words are spoken in accent-free German.
Many people who saw the film were confused as to whether the German soldier that kills Corporal Mellish is also "Steamboat Willie." They are in fact, different soldiers. The soldier that kills Mellish has Waffen SS lapel insignia, while "Steamboat Willie" has the lapel insignia of an enlisted soldier in the regular German Army.
The scene where Captain Miller (portrayed by Tom Hanks) is firing his Colt 1911 at the tank coming across the bridge is said to be the inspiration behind Activision's video game Call of Duty perk Last man Standing. Where upon receiving lethal damage a character would fall onto their back and pull out the same weapon to fire upon opponents with before dying.
In the opening scene, we see an old man, visiting the cemetery in Normandy and the scene ends with the camera zooming into his eyes. The next scene, we see Cpt. Miller's helmet and we all thought that this was the old man on the cemetery. But if you look closer at the first scene, you will see that the old man has a small button of 101st Airborne in his shirt, the unit which Pvt Ryan belongs.