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Film / Saving Private Ryan

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"Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole godawful, shitty mess. Like you said, Captain, maybe we do that, we all earn the right to go home.''
Sgt. Horvath

Saving Private Ryan is a 1998 war film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Vin Diesel, Barry Pepper, Jeremy Davies, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, and many more Hollywood men.

The film's setting is World War II, beginning with D-Day — namely, Omaha Beach, where "hell's doors were open" and Allied soldiers faced the first waves of Nazi resistance. There, a company of the U.S. Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion headed by Capt. John Miller (Hanks) slowly penetrates the German defenses leading to a breakout from the beach.

After the Omaha Beach invasion, General George C. Marshall receives the news that three brothers with the last name "Ryan" have all died in combat — two during the Normandy landing, the third in the Pacific — and the location of the fourth, who dropped into France as a paratrooper, is unknown. Miller receives orders to search for the fourth and last Ryan (Damon) so that Ryan can be sent home, and he quickly assembles a small squad to carry out the task.

After going through many French cities and losing two men, Miller's unit finally finds Ryan — but there's a problem: Ryan is with a small group of soldiers who have been ordered to protect a bridge from the Germans, and he steadfastly refuses to leave behind "the only brothers" he has left. Outnumbered and outgunned by advancing German forces, Miller and the rest of his squad put it all on the line for the survival of just one man.

The film earned near-universal praise from audiences and critics alike; it was the highest-grossing domestic film of 1998 (second-highest-grossing worldwide), and received eleven nominations in that year's Academy Awards (winning five). Notably the film won for Best Director but not Best Picture (that went to Shakespeare in Love), a rare occurrence in Oscar history.

A co-production of DreamWorks SKG and Paramount, it is now fully owned by the latter as of result of acquiring the original incarnation of the former in 2006. Ironically, Paramount now also owns the US rights to Shakespeare in Love (distributed internationally by Universal) as a result of acquiring a minority stake in Miramax (which in 1998 was owned by Disney) in 2020.

Saving Private Ryan provides examples of:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: There are a couple, in between the sequences of terrifying combat. One has the men talking in a church, with Miller talking about all the men who've died under his command and Wade sharing memories of his mother. There's also the long scene right before the climactic Ramelle fight where they listen to Édith Piaf on a phonograph and talk about home, with Reiben sharing a story of a busty woman trying on a bra in his family's store, and Ryan remembering a comic scene in which he and his brothers caught the oldest brother making out with a girl in the barn.
  • Age Cut: The epilogue, in which Pvt. Ryan is revealed to be the old man at the cemetery.
  • Alliterative Name: Richard Reiben
  • All There in the Manual: In-Universe. When Miller suggests using a sticky bomb, the soldiers ask him if he had just made it up. Miller points out that it's in the field manual.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The sniper kills wave after wave of German infantry without fear of retribution - until he stares down the barrel of a Marder in the final battle. From a clocktower, no less.
  • America Won World War II: The focus is entirely on the American troops. The one time the British are mentioned, when a rescue mission to save Ryan is established at the beach, it is mostly in derogatory terms. Justified Trope, in the sense that the soldiers of the Allied nations weren't mixed together willy-nilly. All the forces landing on Omaha Beach were American, and the nations of the Allies remained segregated as they pushed inland, with the Americans on the west flank and the British on the east. That said, the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions were landed by the Royal Navy, but due to authentic and replica American LCM and LCVP landing craft more readily procurable than British LCAs, it was decided to depict the US Navy landing the 2nd and 5th Battalions.
  • Anti-Hero: It's implied that killing surrendering enemies is a very common occurrence within the 2nd Ranger. At least three surrendering soldiers (the two Czechs and the one German who got singled out for some reason) are killed during the Omaha storming. Horvath has to shout multiple times for his men to stop firing on the surrendering Germans in the pillboxes' trench system. When Miller refuses to execute Steamboat Willie, the squad nearly mutinies.
  • Anyone Can Die: "Can" hardly does it justice. Only three men survive the battle of Ramelle. Two don't even make it that far.
  • Armor Is Useless:
    • A field doctor fixes up a wounded man at Omaha, only for another bullet to go through the victim's helmet as he works, defeating the purpose of trying to patch him up. This in part has to do with the fact that the steel helmets of the day were designed to stop the shrapnel and glancing shots commonly faced by entrenched infantry, not direct hits.
    • In what appears to be a subversion, another scene in the sequence has a soldier's helmet getting hit with a bullet. However, being a glancing hit, the bullet bounces off the helmet. Then the poor fool takes off his helmet to look at the mark left by the bullet, without putting his head down. No points for guessing what happens next.
  • The Art of Bra Removal: Alluded to but not seen when the night before the final battle Ryan tells Miller a story about the last evening the four brothers were together. The three youngest peep at the eldest having trouble getting his girl's bra off.
  • Artistic License – History: Spielberg put it best during his keynote address on the 149th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address: "It's not the job — and in fact, it's a betrayal of the job — of a historian to promise perfect and complete recall of the past, to promise memory that abolishes loss. One of the jobs of art is to go to the impossible places that other disciplines, like history, must avoid." With that in mind...invoked
    • The Omaha Beach scene was filmed at Curracloe Beach in Ireland, as filming at Normandy was not an option for several reasons. Although Curracloe resembles Normandy in most important aspects, the actual D-Day landings were timed with the low tide and thus the German bunkers were roughly 800 yards from the water. It's important to stress that using Curracloe's shorter beach was a conscious and pragmatic decision by the film crew, and not an "all too common trap" they fell for, as some critics have claimed.
    • At the time of filming the Omaha Beach scene, Spielberg's film crew was neither able to procure nor reproduce the British LCA vehicles that the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions used in the D-Day landings. They instead opted to use the American-made LCM and LCVP boats, of which seaworthy replicas (and two genuine craft) were readily in supply. To keep some form of consistency, it was decided to have those boats crewed by Americans rather than the Royal Navy sailors who piloted the LCAs. Unfortunately, this has drawn criticism (especially among the British) that the movie "intentionally removes all presence of the rest of the Allies" because of this.
    • The Omaha Beach scene is a Compressed Adaptation: taking over the Dog Green sector took three hours, not half an hour.
      • The breakout itself was also a coordinated attack that was primarily carried out by the 119th Infantry Regimental Combat Team under Brigadier General Norman Cota. The scene depicts it as an improvised action carried out by Rangers.
    • A single company of the 2nd Ranger Battalion did participate in the Omaha Beach landing, but only because their boats lost course and landed at Omaha by accident. They certainly weren't supposed to be in the Dog Green sector as the film suggests, the Ranger Assault Group's actual objective at Normandy was Pointe Du Hoc.
    • The time between one of the Ryans dying on the beach, to their mother being informed, to the mission to rescue James being ordered is three days (Miller gets the mission on D+3). D-Day casualty notifications didn't reach families in the US until the end of June and into July.
    • The sniper on the church tower in the final battle and the scene where Caparzo finds the French family would not have happened in real life. German Army's battle doctrine at the time would have dictated the shelling of the tower from afar due to the fact that it could be used for sniping and reconnaissance. Pretty much every other country's military had a similar doctrine for that matter. And while the argument could be made in the latter scene that the Germans simply hadn't gotten around to destroying the tower yet, that begs the question of why they would send a sniper to the tower if they were going to blow it up.
    • Some military jargon is not period correct, such as "rallying point" and "Clear up/Clear down". Mostly attributed to military advisor Dale Dye being an officer during the Vietnam War, not World War II.
    • While the 2nd SS Panzer Division did fight in the American sector during the Normandy campaign, they didn't arrive in the area until late June and early July 1944 due to Allied air superiority and sabotage of railway lines by the French Resistance. A more appropriate unit for the time which the film takes place would be the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division, which were composed of SS mechanized infantry similar to Das Reich, albeit relying more on smaller German tanks like the Panzer IV and self-propelled guns like the Marder III and Stug III rather than the Tiger I.
    • Tiger I Heavy tanks were deployed in separate Heavy Panzer Battalions, not alongside Panzer or Panzergrenadier Divisions like in the film. Speaking of these Heavy Panzer Battalions, at the time of the film's events, all of them would be deployed in the British sector, near Caen, alongside several elite Panzer Divisions.
    • German tanks like the Tiger had bulletproof glass to protect their driver's ports from enemy small arms fire. Such glass is absent during the Final Battle, with Captain Miller firing his Thompson into a Tiger's driver port without any glass in the way.
    • Standard Wehrmacht haircuts were 1-2 inches long, whereas they're shaved nearly bald in this movie. A "living history" group of German actors even brought this point up to Spielberg, but it got overruled.
    • The films premise is based on the story of Fritz Niland, an airborne paratrooper who was the last surviving son of his family following D-Day. While he was pulled from combat, no mission was required to rescue him, and the only scramble to find him was bureaucratic: by the time he was pulled from combat, it had been several weeks since the landings, and communication lines to units on the front had been established, so it was a simple matter of sending a message and notifying him.
  • Artistic License – Military: Captain Miller is specifically ordered to assemble a small team to find Ryan, but as a captain, Miller would not have any direct involvement in a mission like that, as he would be needed to command an entire company. This gets a Handwave explanation that his company is so mangled from the landings that it's being folded into another company once Miller gets his pick of the litter.
  • Artistic License – Physics: One notable scene from the beach landing is two Rangers struggling underwater being killed by bullets from a German heavy machine gun (an MG42, firing 7.92mm cartridges). This has been repeatedly demonstrated to have been impossible, as the bullets would slow to zero velocity after traveling through three feet of water due to a phenomenon known as pressure dragnote . In fairness, Spielberg has admitted being aware of this, but felt that Rule of Drama made it acceptable as a means of demonstrating how nearly hopeless the situation was.
  • Badass and Child Duo: Subverted, after Miller attempts to defy it. Miller's squad finds a French family in a partially destroyed house in a combat zone, and the parents try to give their children to the soldiers to take care of, with the father lowering his little girl to them from the second floor of the house. Caparzo steps up and takes the girl despite Miller forbidding it. Then a German sniper shoots Caparzo, which leaves him lying mortally wounded in the street before he could have any meaningful interaction with the child or do anything badass. As soon as the fight stops, the sobbing girl (who didn't want to leave her parents in the first place) climbs back up to her family and is very angry at her father.
  • Badass Crew: Everyone in Miller's squad has their moments.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The way the film is edited at the beginning leads the audience to believe that the old man at the Normandy War memorial is Miller and the graves triggered a flashback of his memories of D-Day. Then Miller dies in the final battle, and it's subsequently revealed the old man is actually Ryan visiting Miller's grave and thinking of everything that Miller and the others did to get him home.
  • Bald of Evil: The Germans all have buzzcuts, despite the average hair length in the Wehrmacht being 1-2 inches, perhaps to make them look like skinheads. The extras who played the Germans were part of a living history group, and they all had authentic haircuts; they tried to argue about the headshaving, but Spielberg overruled them.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: Omaha Beach comes to mind in all its gory glory. Then Ramelle does the same thing.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Subverted. Tough-as-nails, BAR-toting Reiben is one of the three members of the squad to survive - besides Upham and Ryan.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Not all of the defenders at Normandy were German. The soldiers who are executed while surrendering are actually Czech conscripts shouting, "Please don't shoot me, I am not German, I am Czech! I didn't kill anyone! (Nestřílej mě, nejsem Němec, jsem Čech! Nikdy jsem nikoho nezabil!)" But because the Americans don't understand them, the Czechs get shot anyway. (Although the two soldiers who shoot them seem to be jerks who would have shot them anyway.)
  • Bittersweet Ending: By the end of the final battle, Upham, Reiben, and Ryan are the only main characters to survive, with the latter two having to witness Captain Miller's death. Ryan gets to go home and live a full life, but he's still haunted by the others' sacrifice and wonders whether his life was worth it.
  • Blood-Stained Letter: Defied. Caparzo tries to give Wade a letter to his father after he's shot, but he wants it recopied so his family won't see the bloodstains on the original.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Easily the goriest and most violent film Steven Spielberg has ever made, as it's completely unflinching in its portrayal of the horrors of war. Schindler's List is basically kids play compared to this film to put it into perspective.
  • Book Ends:
    • The film starts and finishes with a shot of the American flag.
    • The D-Day scene starts when Capt. Miller takes a sip of water from his canteen, his hands nervously shaking. Towards the end of the battle, Miller's hands are shaking again as he opens the canteen, this time in shock.
  • Boring, but Practical: At the tipping point of frustration over not being able to find Ryan, Miller simply yells out Private Ryan's name over and over as a rally of paratroopers walk by. Sure enough, one of Ryan's company recognizes the name and tells Miller that Ryan was part of a troop headed to Ramelle.
  • Born Lucky: Reiben says this about himself as the final battle in Ramelle begins. This is not an empty boast, as he does not sustain a single injury of any kind over the course of the entire film, and survives every combat engagement he is involved in.
  • Bottomless Magazines: In the climactic battle of Ramelle, Jackson shoots seven Germans without reloading, even though the M1903 Springfield can only hold five rounds.
  • Bowdlerize: Ryan is one of the very rare R-rated aversions. Out of respect to veterans and in the wake of the film's immense popularity and impact, broadcast and cable networks leave the movie untouched and air it in its original state — sometimes with commercial breaks, sometimes not. (If there are breaks, the first one never happens until after the end of the Omaha Beach sequence). The film is always rated TV-MA, and has a disclaimer every time it comes from break warning about its content.
  • Break the Cutie: Played hard with Upham. The movie goes through great lengths to point out how he is far more innocent and naive than his fellow squad members (which is justified considering he's not actually a ranger himself, but is rather on loan from 29th Infantry Division.) He is also notably the only member of the squad other than Miller who thinks that they should not execute Steamboat Willie, whom he vociferously defends, and is the only one to actually treat the German prisoner with some compassion and respect. Cut to him by the end of the film, where he has watched just about every friend he's made get brutally offed with extreme prejudice, including Captain Miller, who is ironically shot by Steamboat Willie, the very man who he had shown mercy when his entire squad demanded blood. When Upham once again takes Steamboat Willie prisoner, he executes him in cold blood, thus making Steamboat Willie the only character in the film Upham has killed.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Reiben, who even has "Brooklyn New York" on the back of his jacket.
  • Bulletproof Vest: The helmet case.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: During the Omaha Beach scene, medics use the body of a dead soldier to successfully shield a wounded man from machine gun fire.
  • Butt-Monkey: Upham spends a sizable portion of the movie as this. Especially apparent once the rest of the squad manages to convince him FUBAR is a German word that he, as their translator, should know, only for him to relentlessly search his German dictionary to no avail. It takes him the better part of the movie to figure it out.
    Mellish: (Giving Upham ammunition) Fucked up beyond all recognition.
    Upham: (Smokes nervously) Yeah.
    Upham: FUBAR...
    Mellish: (Laughs and slaps him)
  • Camera Abuse: Dirt on the lens happens many times. There's also blood on the camera lens in the Omaha scene.
  • Call-Back: The German sniper who had killed Caparzo and was later killed by Private Jackson was holed up in a ruined church tower. Ironically, Jackson also meets his end while perched in a ruined clock tower in Ramelle.
  • Call-Forward: "That's where I'd be."
  • Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: The Nazi propaganda tower, shouting out things to encourage the Germans and discourage the Americans.
    Capt. Miller: (repeating) "The Statue of Liberty is kaput." Well, that's disconcerting.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Literally, with Capt. Miller and Sgt. Horvath.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Nazi machine-gunner who shot Wade and was released by the Americans returns later in the final battle. He's the one who ends up killing Miller. The last 15 minutes of the film could be characterized as going down with Chekhov's Guns blazing.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Capt. Miller comments that he used to coach a kids baseball team at the school he worked at. Later during the Battle of Ramelle, he's show pitching mortar shells as improvised grenades with deadly accuracy.
  • Cherubic Choir: Heard in the soundtrack's main theme, Hymn to the Fallen.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Everyone is waiting nervously for the Germans to show up at Ramelle. Upham takes a long drag on a cigarette, and then chuckles and says that when he first shipped out, he and the other office clerks were offered packs of cigarettes and Upham said no, because he didn't smoke.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: See The Medic. Wade spends a bunch of time stopping bleeding on a soldier shot in the chest. Right after he's done, another bullet goes right through the soldier's helmet. And that was no ordinary soldier that Wade and the medics were trying to save either; that was the battalion surgeon. One can understand why he's cursing so profusely afterward.
    Wade: FUCK! Give us a fuckin' chance, you son of a bitch! You son of a FUCKIN' COCKSUCKER!
  • Cold Sniper: Jackson. Although it's worth noting that while he's emotionally cold when he's actually sniping, reciting Bible verses aloud while calmly lining up his shots. When it comes to his interactions with the rest of the squad, he's one of the friendlier and more courteous soldiers in the team.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Averted. In the final battle, Mellish and Henderson shoot through a wall killing at least one German soldier on the other side. The Germans properly shoot back through the wall and hit Henderson in the throat.
  • Confessional: During the Omaha Beach scene, a dying soldier recites an act of contrition to a Catholic chaplain: "Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee. I detest my sins for having offended thee, O Lord..." This is immediately followed by a shot of a different soldier reciting the Hail Mary in Latin while holding a rosary. (The act of contrition was because the soldier was on death's door, and the chaplain was trying to hurry things along before the soldier perished.)
  • Contemplate Our Navels: The film ruminates a lot on the purpose of heroism, duty and valor, like many war films.
  • Content Warning: No matter how many times it airs on TV, you're gonna expect a viewer discretion advisory after a commercial break every time.
    • ABC's premiere was preceded by a warning disclaimer, as well as abridged warnings whenever the film returned from a commercial break. In addition, the film was also preceded by an introduction by Bob Iger (then-President of The Walt Disney Company) recommending that children not see it, especially since the 9/11 attacks had occurred just two months earlier.
      This film contains prolonged depictions of graphic, realistic World War II violence as well as intense adult language. The original content of the film has not been altered for this television broadcast. Parental and viewer discretion is strongly advised.
    • A&E and The History Channel has the same disclaimer but two different versions before and during the movie airs.
      The following program is rated TV-MA. It contains crude language and graphic violence. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
    • TNT has a parental discretion advisory rather than the usual TV-MA warning.
      This program contains violent material, strong language, and adult themes which may be unsuitable for children. Parental discretion is advised.
  • Correlation/Causation Gag: Captain Miller fires his pistol at an approaching tank, which then explodes. He looks at his gun in wonderment before he notices the plane that has just bombed the tank.
  • Creator Cameo: The white-haired officer advising General Marshall against a Ryan mission ("he's KIA") is Dale Dye, the military technical advisor for the movie who, among other things, ran the actors through a boot camp.
  • Cunning Linguist: Upham, who also serves as a Translator Buddy. He speaks limited French and German, which is better than the rest of the squad who only speak English.
  • Darker and Edgier: As said above in Contemplate Our Navels, this is NOT your dad's clean war movie from The '60s and The '70s. Established early on in bloody Omaha, when the camera pans around the faces of The Squad in the landing craft, and most of the poor bastards are immediately mowed down the moment it lands. The survivors are killed via graphic ways over the course of the battle, and then you get introduced to the real squad afterwards. From a group of soldiers being blown apart by an anti-aircraft gun, to a GI pleading with a German who has him pinned to the floor and is about to plunge a knife into his chest, this film doesn't shy away from or sanitize the horror of war. It also shows American soldiers committing war crimes, an unthinkable for earlier war movies.
  • The Dead Have Names
    Reiben: Hey, asshole! Two of our guys died trying to find you, all right?
    Ryan: What were their names?
    • Also serves to humanize Ryan immediately: rather than quickly apologizing for their deaths, he wants to know who they were so that he can bear that burden.
  • Death by Irony: Many of the main characters' fates are ironic in some way. Miller is killed by the very same German prisoner he mercifully spares at the midpoint of the movie. Steamboat Willie (the German who kills Miller) is coldly executed by Upham (the only other American to defend him) after he witnesses him shoot Miller fatally in the chest. Mellish is killed by his own knife (the one he took off a German on Omaha Beach) after a struggle with a Waffen-SS soldier. Wade, the team's medic, is mercy-killed via morphine overdose. Reiben and Upham, respectively the one who vocally disagreed with the mission the most and the other a completely new arrival to the squad with absolutely no combat experience whatsoever, end up the only members of the squad who survive the entire movie and successfully bring Ryan home to his mother safely.
    Miller: (while jokingly addressing an imaginary Major) This is an excellent mission, sir, with an extremely valuable objective, sir, worthy of my best efforts, sir. Moreover... I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan and am willing to lay down my life, and the lives of my men - especially you, Reiben - to ease her suffering. [Reiben is the only one of his Rangers that doesn't die.]
    • Some bureaucrat somewhere decided to weld an iron plate underneath the seat of a general on board a glider. Unfortunately nobody bothered to tell the pilot this rather useful information which of course made an object designed to be as light as possible incredibly heavy causing the glider to crash and kill the General. And most of the others on board as well.
  • Death Notification: A montage early on as Mrs. Ryan receives a series of death notices for invokedall but one of her sons.
  • Dies Wide Open: Several times. Used most chillingly with Mellish and Horvath
  • Dirty Coward: Upham is a debatable example. What isn't debatable is that he freezes in panic during the climactic battle, and as a result Mellish dies. Bringing this up is a guaranteed way to start a massive argument.
  • Distracted from Death: On the beach, while trying to drag Lieutenant Briggs to a medic, an explosion knocks Miller down. When he resumes dragging his wounded comrade, it takes him a second to realise that he was just blown in half. Later, Miller speaks to a radio man, turns away for a moment, goes to talk to the radio operator again and sees that the guy is dead (as in, his face is missing). Also, Sergeant Horvath dies like this too.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Some viewers have noted that Pvt. Mellish's Nightmare Fuel death via being pinned down and slowly stabbed to death resembles a rape, especially with his sweaty attacker's mushy whispering for him to stop struggling.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Upham is warned not to salute Captain Miller, as this will draw sniper fire.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down:
    • The prologue has the old man kneeling in front of the tombstone, overcome by his emotions.
    • Mrs. Ryan, well aware what the official car coming to her house means, crumples to a sitting position on her front porch.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: At one point, the squad is joking about all the dog tags they’ve found and are going through (looking to see if one of them is Ryan's), until Wade walks over and chastises them for doing this right in front of Airborne Soldiers who are likely squad mates of the guys they’re joking about.
  • During the War: World War II, to be exact.
  • Dwindling Party: Out of the original squad sent to find Ryan as well as the entire paratrooper force defending the town of Ramelle, only two members of the original squad and Ryan himself survive when Allied reinforcements finally arrive.
    • Miller's squad:
      • Pvt. Caparzo: Shot by a sniper in Neuville and bleeds out before anyone can help him.
      • Medic Wade: Mortally wounded by Steamboat Willie and given a morphine overdose by Horvath so he'll die in less pain.
      • Pvt. Jackson: Gets a Marder's 75mm shell to the face in Ramelle's bell tower.
      • Pvt. Mellish: Stabbed in the chest by a German soldier.
      • Sgt. Horvath: Shot repeatedly while retreating over the bridge, dies after taking cover.
      • Capt. Miller: Shot in the chest by Steamboat Willie at the bridge; dies while talking to Ryan.
    • From the paratroopers (the named ones at least):
      • Cpl. Henderson: Shot in the throat just before the death of Pvt. Mellish.
      • Pvt. Parker: Blown up alongside Pvt. Jackson in Ramelle's bell tower.
      • Pvt. Toynbe: Either killed by the 20mm cannon or shot to death in the retreat across the bridge.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous:
    • The main characters are Army Rangers and Ryan is a member of the 101st Airborne.
    • Played with with Upham, who is not a Ranger himself, but on loan from the Twenty-Ninth Infantry and has absolutely no combat experience. And boy, it shows.
  • Elite Mooks: The Waffen-SS Panzergrenadiers encountered late in the film. Compared to the Heer Infanterie that Miller's squad comes up against for most of the film, these soldiers are better trained, more heavily armed, and have the support of half-tracks and armored fighting vehicles to boot.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Implied twice:
    • During the first sniper scene, the German sniper has an open shot on Caparzo, but doesn't shoot him because Caparzo is holding a young French girl (he is trying to take her to safety at the behest of his squadmates - "She reminds me of my niece, sir!"). It's only when Caparzo puts the girl down to argue with his squadmates that the sniper takes the shot.
    • During the scene where Mellish fights a German soldier, the German soldier stabs Mellish to death. Upham was right outside the room, able to help, but did nothing out of fear. After killing Mellish, the German walks out and sees Upham on the stairs and apparently pieces together that Upham was there the entire time. Whether he is disgusted by Upham's apparent cowardice and decided he was Not Worth Killing, recognizes that Upham is paralyzed in fear and is not a threat, or was still traumatized over stabbing Mellish and felt he had done enough at this point, he simply walks past the interpreter and rejoins the battle.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Of the squad sent to find Ryan, only Upham and Reiben survive. The paratroopers are even worse; only Ryan survives.
  • Explosive Stupidity: One soldier lights his sticky bomb too early and takes too long with trying to plant it on an approaching tank. This results in the bomb blowing him into pieces.
  • A Father to His Men:
    • John H. Miller, especially during the desertion scene. You get a flash of this along with his despair when he sees Jackson's bell tower position explode from a tank shell in the final battle. He gives another glance after the cut with his mouth hung open in shock before he starts firing at the Germans again.
    • Ted Danson as Captain Hamill. The "other Private Ryan" turns to him for consolation immediately upon hearing the (false) news about his brothers. Captain Hamill is clearly distraught but works hard to comfort the young soldier.
  • Final Battle: The Battle at Ramelle at the end of the movie is a major one.
  • Flamethrower Backfire: Done in the opening scene.
  • Foreshadowing: While dealing with Reiben's griping, Captain Miller sarcastically quotes, "I feel heartfelt sorrow for the mother of Private James Ryan, and I'm willing to lay down my life and the lives of my men, especially you, Reiben, to ease her suffering." Guess who the sole survivor of the squad is...
  • Framed for Heroism: A wounded Miller starts firing his pistol at a tank. It blows up... because relieving US Army units have arrived.
  • Framing Device: The opening and closing scenes are an old man bringing his family to the Normandy War Memorial. It's the elderly Ryan, who breaks down when finding Captain Miller's cross and proceeds to tell him he tried to "earn this" in the resulting decades.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: If you look really carefully at the beginning of the film, the old man is wearing a 101st Airborne pin on his jacket, which serves as a Spoiler Opening: Miller's squad is drawn from his company of the 2nd Battalion, US Army Rangers while Upham is a clerk on loan from the 29th Infantry Division. Only one major character was in the 101st Airborne: the eponymous Private Ryan.
  • Friendly Sniper: Outside of battle, Jackson is very friendly. In battle, however...
  • From Bad to Worse: In-Universe. Over the course of less than a minute Ryan’s mother goes from blandly noticing a car approaching. To realizing it might be a telegram, to realizing if a military car is coming it must be more than one of her sons who has been killed in combat. To outright collapsing when she realizes how horrible the situation must be if a high ranking officer and minister are coming to see her.
  • Gorn: Several instances in the film, but most of it is found in the Omaha Beach sequence (which almost borders on Splatter Horror territory). Since that's the way it was, it's just honest filmmaking. The soldier calmly searching for his torn-off arm, for example.
    • There are many anecdotal stories of World War II vets who watched this film and said that the depiction of bloody Omaha was spot on. Canadian actor James Doohan fought at Juno Beach and remarked that the Omaha scene was "exactly what it was like", and Juno in real life wasn't half the slaughter Omaha wasnote .
  • Greater-Scope Villain: As this is a movie set in World War II, Adolf Hitler himself is the one responsible for all the massacres and destruction that the war entailed; the horrible suffering that Cpt. Miller and his team endure to find and save Ryan all being just a very small cog in the machine. He never appears and is scarcely mentioned, but his influence is easily felt everywhere.
  • Grenade Hot Potato:
    • Mellish has to do this when a German "potato masher" lands right in his lap.
    • Done by the German MG42 crew during the machine gun nest assault.
  • Good News, Bad News: Private Ryan, the bad news is that all of your brothers were killed in combat. The good news is that you got a free ticket home.
  • Gunship Rescue: The Cavalry at the ending.
  • Hand Signals: Jackson uses them to update Capt. Miller on enemy movements from his vantage point during the climactic battle. During the D-Day assault, Horvath gives a "cease fire" signal but has to shout it several times before the rest of the soldiers around him acknowledge it and stand down.
  • Headgear Headstone: After the paratroopers killed near the radar station are buried, Capt. Miller marks their graves with their helmets and M1 rifles. He removes the trigger group from each weapon so they can't be used by the Germans.
  • Heroic BSoD: Upham during the final battle, and Wade on Omaha Beach.
  • Hollywood Tactics: There are a number of "tactically unsound" moments throughout the film, but in many cases they're Justified and even Truth in Television. Some examples—
    • The assault on the radar tower's machine gun nest. The tactics used are historically accurate and sound for an infantry squad — it's a three-pronged attack that has pairs of runners dash from cover to cover, covered by Reiben's Browning Automatic Rifle until they come to grenade range. However, Miller could have employed Jackson's sniping skills instead, which he had previously used at Omaha Beach to eliminate an MG-42 nest. Not doing so is the whole point of this scene — to show that combat weariness is getting to Miller, and that he's making bad decisions.
    • Although bell towers are great sniping spots, they (and other obvious vantage points) were often demolished by both sides with extreme prejudice for that very reason — not to kill snipers already in them, but to deny access to them in the first place. Furthermore, any sniper would know it is never advisable to take position in an isolated place that does not have a means of rapid escape, and Jackson's fate provides an excellent demonstration of why.
    • During the Battle of Ramelle, the Germans field lightly-armored and vulnerable tank destroyers in addition to the heavy Tiger tanks. This actually serves to demonstrate the state of Germany's forces toward the end of the war — they're using vehicles unsuited for urban combat because it's all they have on hand.
    • Also during the Battle of Ramelle, the Panzergrenadiers that should be ahead of them are in fact hiding behind them as cover. This kind of thing actually happened in the real war, either due to poor timing, poor training, or stark terror on the infantry's part. Captain Miller also baits the German tanks in the form of Reiben on the back of a Kettenkrad with his BAR, further adding to the disarray.
    • Upon viewing the Battle of Ramelle, the real-life Major Richard Winters (of Band of Brothers fame) told Spielberg he would've blown up the bridge as a first resort then have Engineers replace it later. Spielberg told him it wouldn't have been dramatic enough for a movie. Instead, the Airborne and Rangers rig it to blow as a last resort if they can't hold the line.
    • Justified and Truth in Television with the Battle of Omaha Beach, where American soldiers are running headlong into horrific slaughter against machineguns and defenses with no support, and only prevail by sheer weight of numbers. The preceding naval bombardment of the German defenses was largely ineffective, and the ingenious British-made amphibious tanks that proved so decisive at Sword and Juno were sunk in the stormy sea as a result of overly-cautious American command deploying them too far away.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: One of the soldiers in the American squad during the final battle lights his sticky bomb too early, thus he ends up blowing himself up instead of the Panzer he intended to put the sticky bomb on.
  • Homage Shot: Omaha Beach includes citations to Gallipoli, Catch-22 and Ran.
  • Honor Before Reason: Discussed, as Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army George C. Marshall and his subordinates talk about whether risking the lives of more men to save just one even if all his brothers have been killed is the 'right' thing to do. Shortly thereafter, the soldiers who are sent to rescue Ryan examine the situation themselves.
  • Hope Spot: During the Battle of Ramelle, Captain Miller and his troops are holding their own against the German column, having knocked out one Tiger and both Marders. Then the Germans roll in a 20mm antiaircraft gun and repurpose it as an antipersonnel gun... with horrifying results.
  • How We Got Here: An old man shuffles through an American military cemetery in Normandy, his extended family following behind. He comes to one particular grave, drops to his knees, and breaks out weeping. Cut back 54 years to June 6, 1944, and the D-Day landing.
  • Ignored Expert: General Marshall's aide (an unnamed colonel, played by the film's military advisor, retired USMC Captain Dale Dye) speaks against trying to rescue Ryan, saying that if a rescue team is sent, the most likely outcome is all the men being killed. Except for Reiben, this is exactly what happens.
  • Improvised Weapon:
    • The final scene. With the exception of the Sticky Bombs; though only Miller knows about them here, they were in the soldiers' field manual, as he quickly points out. But smacking 60mm mortar shells on a hard surface to activate their fuses before throwing them fits perfectly.
    • During the same scene Horvath encounters a German soldier whose weapon jams. The German soldier decides to throw his helmet at Horvath, which prompts Horvath to retaliate by throwing his helmet too. Both use the opportunity to draw and fire their sidearms at each other.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Absolutely terrified that the GIs are going to shoot him for killing Wade, Steamboat Willie is reduced to groveling and babbling in broken English, stereotypical American slang and how much he loves America. The sight is pathetic.
    Steamboat Willie: Please! I like America! "Fancy schmancy!" "What a cinch!" "Go fly a kite!" "Cat got your tongue!?" "Hill of beans!"... Betty Boop, what a dish!... Betty Grable, nice gams!... (to the tune of Star Spangled Banner) "I say can you see! I say can you see! I... I-I say..."
  • Insert Grenade Here: Fighting the tanks in the final scene.
  • Intro Dump: Reiben, Jackson, Melish, Caparzo, and Wade are all introduced at once as what is left of Miller's platoon rallies behind a little cover on the beach. That's followed by a quick cut to Wade trying to save another member of the squad, establishing that he is the medic.
  • It Never Gets Any Easier: The psychological effects of the war begin to take their toll on the unit as it goes forward. Besides the killing getting easier, the squad starts to make worse decisions as they get overwhelmed by the brutality.
  • I Want My Mommy!: Near-dead soldiers cry for their mothers with their last breaths. Considering the setting, it's not surprising.
  • Ironic Echo: During part of the Omaha Beach invasion, the action intercuts between Army chaplains praying with dying and wounded soldiers on the beach, and Jackson praying for God's help as he lines up Germans in his crosshairs.
  • Jitter Cam: During war scenes. It set the tone for the next few decades of action sequences.
  • Just Following Orders: When Caparzo tells Miller that taking the French child to the nearest safe place is the only decent thing to do, Miller angrily says, "We're not here to do the "decent thing"! We're here to follow fuckin' orders!"
  • Just Plane Wrong: Downplayed. While the P-51 Mustang was capable of carrying bombs and rockets for ground attack, most P-51s during the Normandy invasion were relegated to escort fighter duty for the 8th Air Force. A more appropriate aircraft would have been the P-47 Thunderbolt, of which most units flying the type during the Normandy invasion were assigned to the 9th Air Force, which was assigned the role of ground attack and close air support for the invasion forces.
  • Knife Fight: Noted for being rather psychologically disturbing.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: The entire film has many instances, including the famous D-Day scene.
    • The part where the Germans use a 20mm anti-aircraft flak gun on American infantry leaves a harrowing aftermath.
    • One soldier trying to use an improvised explosive - a shit-ton of Comp B (TNT) stuffed into a sock with a simple fuse, has it blow up in his face while he's trying to attach it to a German tank. There is Not Enough to Bury in the aftermath.
  • MacGuffin: The eponymous Ryan. And later the bridge at Ramelle.
  • Made of Iron: Sgt. Horvath is shot several times over the course of the Battle of Ramelle to little clear effect, and takes a shot clean through the back while retreating back over the bridge, which only slows him down briefly. He brushes it off with "I just got the wind knocked out of me, I'm fine!" The next time we see him, he's succumbed to his wounds.
  • Made of Plasticine: The film generally depicts very accurately the effects of modern weaponry on the poor people on the business end of them, particularly explosives and high-calibre ballistics. A 20mm autocannon meant for shooting down aircraft outright decapitates one man and grotesquely maims two other ones. Soldiers are also shown losing limbs due to mortar shells being used as improvised grenades by desperate defenders.
  • The Magnificent Seven Samurai: The film's final act presents an interesting variation. Upon finding the titular Private Ryan, Captain Miller's surviving Rangers as well as Ryan himself find themselves in the role of the Seven with Ryan's fellow Paratroopers playing the role as the villagers as they are tasked in defending the bridge of Ramelle from approaching Waffen SS. True to form most of the Rangers including Miller himself were killed in the subsequent battle although in a twist the Paratroopers with the exception of Ryan himself are wiped out almost to a man, unlike most depictions of the villagers.
  • Man Bites Man: Mellish bites the hand of the German soldier opposite him in a Knife Fight. This briefly works until the Nazi wrestles the knife out of his hand and gets the upper hand...
  • Manly Tears:
    • Private Mellish gives in to the stress of battle on the edge of a captured German trench after the invasion battle is over and breaks down in tears. Moreover, Mellish is hit with the realization that the defenders they all shot were Hitler Youth, i.e, teenage boys. His best friend Caparzo looks away out of respect.
    • The final scene, where Ryan - now an old man with his children and grand children at the Normandy Memorial — is crying at Captain Miller's grave. He asks his wife if he lived a good life, echoing Miller's comments to "earn it".
    • The normally reticent and stoic Captain Miller after Wade dies. Miller can't help but break down and cry at the loss of another one of his men (he remembers the precise number of every man who's died under his command,) and promptly does so, hidden away from his men so none of them can see him cracking.
  • Man on Fire: A flamethrower is used in the final parts of Omaha Beach (and another is seen blowing up early on and incinerating its user and several others), and several men are immolated with Molotov cocktails in the final battle.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Played realistically, as a result of adrenaline and shock. Sgt. Horvath says "Just got the wind knocked out of me" after he's been shot several times, and a GI on Omaha Beach picks up his arm that has been severed at the shoulder and walks away with it.
  • The Medic: Played realistically. No magically getting up and continuing to fight once one medic's arrived; we have teams of three or four medics doing all they can just to keep shrapnel-wound hemorrhaging from being lethal, or to pump the wounded full enough of morphine so they can stop screaming in agony, with no more than they could be carrying on their persons to use on a muddy, bloody beachhead. And no sooner do they congratulate themselves on saving one soldier at Omaha Beach — at the cost of a LOT of surgical dressings and drugs — does another machine gun bullet punch a single, neat hole through the dome of the soldier's helmet.
  • Mercy Kill: Inverted with the burning Germans on D-Day ("Don't shoot! Let 'em burn!"). Played straight by the Germans who shoot the unfortunate victims of the 20mm meatgrinder. Also played straight with Wade, who gets shot in the liver after a firefight deep behind enemy lines miles from any surgery or help, and realizing he's finished, asks the squad for "a little extra morphine", i.e, to overdose him.
  • Mexican Standoff: A group of American and German soldiers unexpectedly bump into each other in a bombed-out village, and each shouts, trying to tell the other side to surrender. Ted Danson shows up and blasts the Germans, ending the standoff.
  • Mistaken Identity: During the mission, the squad finds Private James Ryan and prepare to bring him home, telling him his brothers have been killed. The private then starts bawling and asks how his brothers died, but then mentions they're still in grade-school, prompting the squad to realize they'd run into James Frederick Ryan (from Minnesota). Later on, on finding the right Private Ryan, Captain Miller makes sure to confirm he's actually James Francis Ryan (from Paton, Iowa).
  • Moe Greene Special: Jackson gives a sniper a round through his scope.
  • Mood Whiplash: All over the place. Many scenes have the mood lightened by Black Comedy or the soldiers telling funny jokes, only for the horror/sadness to kick in right afterwards.
    • One of the more memorable early scenes takes place in the emotional cooldown period following the initial Omaha Beach landings. Adrian Caparzo finds a Hitler Youth knife on the corpse of a young German soldier, and offers it to the (Jewish) Stanley Mellish, evidently in the expectation that, as a Jew, he'd feel pleased with being the first squad member to take a Nazi war prize. Mellish, apparently not the vengeful type, is instead overwhelmed with sadness; not only does the knife remind him of the terrible fate suffered by the Jews under Hitler, but also that he's just been forced to kill a brainwashed teenaged boy who was as much a victim of the Nazi war machine as his own people were. He half-heartedly jokes that the knife is now a "Shabbat challah cutter", before bursting into wracking sobs (still clutching the knife) as the suddenly-chastened Caparzo glumly watches on.
    • Used again later for Mellish with his harrowing death from being slowly stabbed through the heart after a tense and graphic melee with a German soldier. The scene then cuts to Horvath getting into a comical fight with a German where they throw their helmets at each other.
    • One of the more severe moments is also the most understated: after finding a crashed plane and a group of soldiers, the squad splits up bags of dog tags of KIA soldiers and starts going through them, hoping to find Ryan's so that they can end their crazy mission. They start slapping the tags around like playing cards and cracking jokes about some of the names, and they're actually pretty funny, even getting Captain Miller to laugh. Then Wade (the medic) notices what they're doing, and furiously runs over to scoop the tags up, angrily pointing out that they're making light of dead soldiers, in full view and earshot of a column of soldiers (who presumably are the dead guys' comrades) marching by. The whiplash is exceedingly strong.
    • A masterful example which manages to be funny, heartwarming and sad occurs during Reiben's story about a woman with large boobs. It starts off as a low brow raunchy tale about Reiben convincing the woman to wear a bra that's too small and the other soldiers laugh. Reiben escalates it into more sexual territory before suddenly mentioning how the woman told him, in an almost motherly fashion, "If you get scared or see anything over there that upsets you, I want you to think about [my boobs]." The men immediately become subdued and silent as the sexy humour vanishes, all of them reminded of things that have happened in the war that have traumatised and upset them.
    • Like the above, Ryan telling Miller about how his brother's attempt at romancing an ugly girl that went downhill due to himself and the other brother interfering, complete with a burning barn, goes from funny to sad when Ryan recalls that the week after, the brothers started being drafted by the Army.
    • Averted when the “Wrong Private Ryan” finds out that he’s not the private Ryan they’re looking for. He isn’t relieved at all, rather is now terrified that something has happened to his young brothers and he’s overcome with the realization of just how far from home he really is.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Miller, due to the wild speculation of his men.
  • Mundane MacGuffin Person: Private Ryan. The search for him in the warzone is the plot.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mellish, after surviving D-Day and getting handed a Hitler Youth knife, realising he had just shot a bunch of teenage boys. Truth in Television: Crying in the immediate aftermath of a battle is a fairly common and is mentioned in surviving texts dating back to the times of ancient Sparta.
  • Naďve Newcomer: Upham, a rear-echelon soldier who is drafted into Miller's squad because he speaks French and German. He has no combat experience and doesn't fit in with the other hardened veterans that go off to find Pvt. Ryan.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: Said after the Omaha Beach landing. What are the odds of finding one soldier in a huge army in the middle of a battle?
  • New Meat: Upham never fought before Miller asked him to join the squad and hasn't handled a weapon since basic training.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Private Caparzo attempts to take a little French girl named Jacqueline with the rest of the squad, at the urging of her parents, because she reminds him of his niece, with the rest of the squad yelling at him not to do it. He gets shot by a sniper for his troubles. That German that Upham convinced Miller to spare and caused the mutiny crisis? He ends up killing Miller later.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: A large aspect of the movie.
  • Not Worth Killing: Sgt. Horvath invokes this while briefing the troops before landing on Omaha Beach, advising the soldiers to spread out to make themselves less tempting targets to the German machine guns.
    Sgt. Horvath: I wanna see plenty of beach between men. Five men's a juicy opportunity, one man's a waste of ammo.
    • Implied by the German soldier who pins and stabs Mellish to death during the Battle of Ramelle. He walks out of the room, finds Upham crying on the stairs and simply walks past the cowering interpreter to rejoin the battle.
  • Obstacle Exposition: The planning of the Last Stand up to the blowing up of the bridge. Also an aversion of the Unspoken Plan Guarantee: you hear all the plans the squad has for fighting the battle of Ramelle, and then get to watch them carry it out.
  • Obviously Not Fine: Sergeant Horvath claims he's just a bit out of breath when he sits down after being shot multiple times. When the camera pans back to him seconds later he's died.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Jackson, right before he gets blown up by a German tank.
    • Likewise on the part of The Squad when The Medic requests morphine. He is the only one that can help them treat his wounds, something he can't do if he is given morphine. They realized then they had moved from saving him to making his death less painful.
    • Which immediately follows one from The Medic himself when they tell him where the exit wound is, and he realizes that he's going to die.
      "Oh my God, my liver."
    • Mellish gets one during the Ramelle battle when a German grenade flies through a hole in the wall of the house he is defending and lands right in his lap. He gets another during a tense melee with a German soldier when the larger man pins him to the floor, seizes the knife and very slowly inches it down closer to his chest. Nobody comes in to save him.
  • The Oner: Some long takes help the battles get more engaging.
  • Pinned Down: Captain Miller and the soldiers behind the obstruction on Omaha Beach.
    Soldier: Sir, what's the rallying point?
    Miller: Anywhere but here!
  • Practically Different Generations: The "other" Private Ryan, as a soldier in the army, is at least 18, whereas his brothers are in elementary school(6-11).
  • Pre-War Civilian Career: Captain Miller's backstory is subject to a bet in the company, with Reiben suggesting he was built out of spare parts from dead GIs. To defuse the situation after Wade's death, Captain Miller reveals he was a schoolteacher and coached a junior baseball team.
  • Properly Paranoid: Reiben is against letting their prisoner "Steamboat Willie" walk free on the chance the Germans find him first and he'll be "thrown back into circulation". Which is not only what happens, but the ex-prisoner also fatally wounds Miller.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Besides the American troops, the movie also encounters German, French, and Czech people as it follows Miller's company. None of the non-English dialogue is subtitled.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The storming of Omaha Beach. It's been praised, especially by WWII vets who were there, for its accuracy yet it looks very little like what movie audiences have come to expect from a big battle (except for the massive casualties).
  • Reconstruction: Of War Movies. Following The Vietnam War, most American war movies focused on the futile or dehumanizing nature of war. This movie definitely has a War Is Hell mentality with much more visceral violence than Spielberg's other efforts in the action genre; the sheer brutality of the D-Day landings and honest portrayals of shell-shocked soldiers clearly communicate the horrors of war. Yet, this all only served to further highlight the valor of those fighting. Several of the more heroic Military and Warfare Tropes are played without irony. Captain Miller is a classic Father to His Men, and none of the military leaders are portrayed as foolish, cowardly, mean-spirited or dangerously gung-ho. Though the soldiers mock Upham for trying to apply the Band of Brothers trope to them, they all essentially interact this way. Finally, the movie is bookended by scenes at Normandy, which honors the sacrifice of American soldiers, alongside a huge American flag. This was probably buttressed by the film coming out after both the 50th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and the quick glorious American victory against an unambiguously in-the-wrong foe in 1991 during The Gulf War.
  • Red Herring: At the beginning of the film, a World War II veteran collapses in front of a grave and apparently is reliving WWII, and pans to Captain Miller, initially implying that the veteran was Miller as an old man. It is later revealed that Miller was actually killed during the war, and that the veteran was none other than the eponymous character of the film.
  • The Reveal:
    • The company has a pool going on the background of Captain Miller, who never talks about where he's from and what he did before the war. Five bucks get you in the pool. The squad's general belief is that pre-war he was some kind of badass. Before the war he was a school teacher.
    • The old veteran visiting the tombstone is PVT Ryan himself, and the tombstone is for CPT Miller.
  • Retirony: Just as the soldiers find Ryan, they need to engage in a battle for him. There's also Reiben's hilarious story about a customer in his mom's shop, just before he shipped out, showing him her boobs for comfort. And he's one of the few who survive.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the church, Miller had a conversation with Upham where the corporal quotes Emerson and Miller picks it up without prompting. We later find out why he was so conversant in Emerson: Miller's a schoolteacher, and his subject is English composition.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Some reviewers have noted the scene during the Final Battle where the Jewish GI is helplessly pinned to the floor in the upstairs bedroom and stabbed to death by a Nazi soldier while a cowardly gentile sits outside, aware of what is happening but reluctant to do anything about to stop it, works well as a Holocaust metaphor. Whether it was intentional or not on the part of the director is unclear.
  • Scope Snipe: Jackson nails a German sniper clean through his scope.
  • The Scourge of God: Jackson apparently thinks himself this. Of course a sniper's job is the sort to make people seem a wee bit odd, anyway.
  • Scenery Gorn: The urban battle scenes set in bombed-out, burning French towns.
  • Sergeant Rock: Horvath.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: Happens twice, and is a possible Trope Codifier.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: It's implied that Captain Miller is this from the way that his hand shakes uncontrollably when he's either anticipating the stress of upcoming combat, or concerned about his mission. He works hard to hide it from his squad, but when they finally get a lead on Ryan and he pulls out his map to show them where they need to go, they all see it, and it clearly unnerves them.
  • Shot in the Ass: It's not easy to see, but one of the medics helping the battalion surgeon with Wade takes a bullet to his canteen. You see it leak water... then all of a sudden it leaks bloody water. The medic starts scrambling to stuff a few bandages in his pants.
  • Shout-Out: Upham is chastised for saluting Captain Miller, as it identifies him as an officer to the German snipers. In Forrest Gump, the roles are reversed, as Lieutenant Dan chastises Forrest (Tom Hanks' other notable live-action performance as a soldier at the time) for saluting him, as it makes him a target for the Vietcong snipers.
  • Shown Their Work: The film did a very accurate recreation of the D-Day landings with many veterans praising the realistic portrayal of the action.
    I knew Omaha was a meat grinder, but seeing it on film, my God, it hit me right in the gut.
    Dale Dye, the film's "accuracy" consultant
  • The Siege: Holding the bridge.
  • Significant Name Overlap: When they find the first James Ryan, they tell the poor guy that all his brothers were killed and he's about to go home, but realize that it's all a mix-up when the guy answers in confusion that his brothers are still in school.
  • Soldiers at the Rear: When Miller needs a new translator, the only one available is a green corporal who's spent the entirety of the D-Day landings at a desk drawing maps and hasn't fired his weapon since basic training.
  • Sparing the Final Mook: When the Rangers try to take down a machine gun nest, they capture a single German alive, but between the fact that Wade was shot and killed in the action and that the German is likely to get picked up by his own side, most of the men are inclined to just kill him. Upham argues for sparing the captive, and eventually Miller agrees. Their former captive comes back in the final battle, killing several Americans including Miller.
  • Spoiler Opening: See Freeze-Frame Bonus above.
  • The Squad: Played with. The camera lingers briefly on a few of the many soldiers in Captain Miller's landing craft, implying that they are going to be The Squad for the rest of the movie, but most of those men get killed in the first fifteen seconds after the shooting starts, giving a clear indication that this is not going to be your father's war movie. You meet the members of the real squad one at a time during the beach battle, but they don't become The Squad until after.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Averted. Miller is temporarily deafened several times by nearby explosions, and at one point, we meet a soldier who shouts everything he says because a grenade that went off close to his head has likewise deafened him. The dulled sound is also used to symbolize his temporary disassociation with reality due to the extreme stress of the moment.
  • Sticky Bomb: "It's in the field manual."
  • Storming the Beaches: The film famously starts with the landings at Omaha Beach.
  • Stress Vomit: Some of the soldiers in the landing craft losing their cookies on their way to the D-Day landing. Though the sea travel likely didn't help, anxiety about invading France to retake it from the Nazis doubtless contributed to their nausea. In reality, most of the soldiers filled up on a hearty meal before boarding the landing craft, which exacerbated their nausea.
  • Surrender Backfire:
    • After the Normandy landing, two German soldiers put their hands up and try to surrender, only to get gunned down by American soldiers — made even more horrifying if you catch the Bilingual Bonus and realize that they're Czech conscripts.
    • After his men are massacred in the Final Battle, Steamboat Willie attempts to surrender to Upham. The latter shoots him dead.
  • Survivor's Guilt: The elderly Ryan shows signs of this, expressing to Miller's grave that he's tried to live his life the best he could so that his and the others' sacrifice wasn't in vain.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: A soldier on Omaha Beach has a bullet go right through his helmet without touching him. He takes off his helmet and stares at it in wonder — and is plugged right in the unprotected forehead.
  • Take a Third Option: When the squad finally finds Ryan, he adamantly refuses to leave Ramelle, as it'll leave the defense of the bridge even more undermanned. Miller mulls over his two options: forcibly drag him off the battlefield as was ordered or just leave and say that they couldn't find him. He decides to keep the squad there and helps make further plans to hold the bridge.
  • Tanks, but No Tanks: Mostly averted; the Tiger and Marder mock-ups are actually quite good. While the Marders — self-propelled anti-tank guns — were definitely not the kind of thing you should try fighting infantry in an urban environment with, it can be excused as the Germans just using whatever they had on hand at that point in the war. If you know where to look, it's quite easy to tell that the "Tigers" are dressed-up T-34s. The sniper confusingly refers to the Marders as "Panzer tanks, two of 'em" but that's actually Truth in Television: to your average GI all AFVs were tanks and all German tanks were panzers; the only identification they really cared about was shoot/don't shoot. Also, American soldiers had never encountered the Marder before Normandy.
  • That's What I Would Do: The Squad comes under attack by a sniper in a French village. The squad's sharpshooter Jackson spots a tall church tower and says, "That's where I'd be." (Also Foreshadowing in that Jackson does later use a church tower and dies there).
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill:
    • At one point, the characters throw mortar shells as improvised grenades. Said mortar shells have almost twice as much explosive power as a frag grenade, and most of the throws landed at the feet of single soldiers.
    • In the same battle, the Germans use a Flak 38, a gun designed for shooting down aircraft, against infantry. The results were particularly... realistic.
  • Throwing Your Gun at the Enemy: Sgt. Horvath and a German soldier point their rifles at each other point blank, and both are empty. In a moment of Black Comedy they both drop their rifles and throw their helmets at each other, then start racing to unholster their pistols. Horvath wins... then gets shot by unseen assailants, then throws his gun at the guy he already killed.
  • Title Drop: "Someday we might look back on this and decide that saving Private Ryan was the one decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole, godawful, shitty mess."
  • Took a Level in Badass: Upham, after his Heroic BSoD. When he snaps out of it, he single-handedly disarms six German soldiers and executes the one he had released earlier.
  • Too Dumb to Live: That one soldier on Omaha Beach just has to take off his helmet right away to see the damage from a bullet on it. On the battlefield. With bullets flying every which way. Without ducking down first. You can see where this is going. Of course, considering what his mental state must have been at the time, it's completely understandable (and in his defense, the result would have been the same regardless of whether he was wearing his helmet, as they were to protect against shrapnel, not direct bullet hits; continuing to expose himself was the mistake).
  • Trope Codifier: Far from the first film to use Jitter Cam — the technique dates back to the 50's at least, and NYPD Blue had been using it to memetic levels for five years at that time, but the ubiquitous use of hand-held "Shakycam" in action sequences in movies, TV and Video Games began here and continued throughout the remainder of the 90's, 2000's, up to the present day. Widespread use of desaturated color, especially in War Movies/TV/video games, also followed.
  • True Companions: A clear cut Band of Brothers example. The squad even begins to accept Upham towards the end. Which makes it all the more tragic that he is one of only two squad members to make it to the end of the movie.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Steamboat Willie. Of course it is likely that, after being released by the Squad and making it back to German lines, and being thrown back into circulation, he wasn't given a choice about going back into battle. With the war effort, Germany needed everyone able to carry a weapon fighting the Allied offensive. In fact, an Allied soldier escaping his captors and returning to his unit is usually viewed as heroic. But then again, he was the one to fatally shoot Captain Miller, the man who decided to release him - though, again, he had no reason to recognise him before he did.
  • Urban Warfare: After the initial storming of Normandy's beaches, much of the combat takes place in parts of destroyed French cities.
  • Verbing Nouny: The movie is about a mission where the objective is saving Private Ryan.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Based on the Niland brothers. The Sullivan brothers, another sad Real Life tale, are name-dropped, explaining why the Ryan brothers were split up into different units. The key differences are that the Niland brothers were, in fact, all killed on the same day (or close enough) and the surviving Niland brother was indeed a paratrooper, but he was easily evacuated a few days after D-Day, with no search and rescue operation needed. He was even able to say goodbye to his friends in the Airborne before he left. Additionally, at the end of the war a second Niland brother was discovered alive in a Japanese POW camp.
  • War Memorial: The movie is bookended with scenes of the elderly Ryan visiting the American Cemetery in Normandy in the present day.
  • War Is Hell:
    • The Omaha Beach opening pulls no punches at showing what battle during World War II was like. Both the Americans and the Germans regularly slaughter each other in highly grotesque and even morally-outrageous ways, and there's never a sign that there's any good to be taken from the experience.
    • After the opening, the soldiers frequently express a desire to just end the conflict and\or go home, and most dialogue just mentions how the world is downright insane during a war. All this while the devastating carnage continues.
    • However, the film also makes a point that the brutality and suffering the soldiers all endure makes them all the more heroic for it. The ending basically paints the deaths of Miller and his men as a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: While the scenes in the present day show that Ryan eventually married and had several children and grandchildren, the fates of Reiben and Upham after the final battle are not revealed.
  • What You Are in the Dark: When Miller and his squad come across a German machine gun nest set up to ambush any approaching Americans, his squadmates point out that they can easily bypass the Germans and nobody would ever know that they were there. However, Miller decides to take out the machine gun nest because he can't live with himself knowing that the next group of troops to go through the area might get ambushed by the machine gun. Also, Miller's squad could have easily just scrubbed the mission and returned to base saying they couldn't find Ryan, but they ultimately decide to stick through it to the end.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: A good part of the squad calls Miller out on his decision to take out the machine gun nest, even though they could have easily bypassed it or had Jackson take out the entire crew with his sniper rifle. In the ensuing direct assault, Wade ends up getting killed.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The Squad had a sniper with them and a clear shot of the nest, yet no one suggests he just shoot them then and there and avoid running directly at the nest.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Early on in the movie, Miller finds a Private Ryan who has brothers, but has a different middle name and hometown.
    James F. Ryan: [tearing up] Oh my God, my brothers are dead! But how can that be, my brother's still in grammar school!?
    Miller: ... You're James Ryan? James Francis Ryan, from Iowa?
    James F. Ryan: James Frederick Ryan, Minnesota!
  • You Shall Not Pass!: The Final Battle is making sure that Germans don't cross Ramelle's bridge.


German Sniper Killed

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Main / ScopeSnipe

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