Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is not in my Top 10 of Favourite War Movies but in my Top 5 of most Influential War Movies

I have seen Saving Private Ryan for the first time in cinema when in came out. At the time it was like a fist in the gut. The Omaha Beach landing was nothing I had ever seen before and this was very probably the beginning of my fascination with war movies. Since then I have seen many more but when I ended up doing my Top 10 it wasn’t in it. I watched it again, like it a lot but didn’t want to add it to the list. Still it is important to say in advance, no matter what my personal reasons are,  the genre has been marked by Saving Private Ryan to a very large extent. There really is a time before and a time after Saving Private Ryan. Especially when it comes to WWII movies. The depiction of war has fundamentally changed with and through Saving Private Ryan. Never before did those who watched get the feeling they were in the battle like in Saving Private Ryan. Therefore, if I should make a Top 10 of most influential War Films, Saving Private Ryan would even be among the top 5.

I guess the second viewing was a distracted so I felt I had to re-watch it. I am sorry to say but this third viewing has made it clear to me. Saving Private Ryan is never going to be among my top ten unless I would have to choose movie scenes. It has some of the very best scenes that you can find in any war movie but unfortunately it has way too many really corny moments. As a matter of fact I hadn’t even remembered such a lot of corny moments. Maybe that is why I love Band of Brothers which is certainly the closest you can get to Saving Private Ryan. To me this is like a purified version of it. But still, it is excellent.

For those who have never watched it I’ll summarize the story. An old man stands at the grave of someone and looks back on his life. Rewind some 50 years. D-Day. We are in the middle of the Omaha Beach landing. Horrible scenes are shown. All filmed with a shaky hand-held camera to heighten the authentic feel. People’s guts spilling out. Bodies ripped apart. Heads blown off. Arms ripped out. Men crying, screaming and praying until the worst is over, the noise dies down and the only thing that stays is a beach full of dead bodies and body parts. After this horror Capt. Miller gets a new assignment. We will follow him and his group well into France and behind enemy lines. He has to look for one James Francis Ryan. All three of his brothers were killed in action so people in Washington decided to get him out and back to the States. The group around Capt. Miller are reluctant to go on such a seemingly futile mission. They don’t understand why they have to endanger their lives for the sake of one soldier. This is a very tight-knit group of soldiers and that is part of the appeal of this movie. The sense of camaraderie and friendship has rarely been depicted this touchingly. There are very moving moments especially between Miller and Horvath. There is one in which they talk to each other in an empty church at night. Their closeness is palpable. Strangely it almost makes you want to be there. There are much more tragic moments however. One after the other of the men gets killed until they find James Ryan. When finally discovering him they face the biggest problem. He doesn’t want to leave. He feels he owes it to his comrades to stay. His highly decimated group must defend a bridge against a majority of Germans. This is one of the many famous bridge scenes that we encounter in war movies. Bridges being strategically as relevant as hills, it is a frequent theme. As I don’t know if every reader knows the story I will stop here.

Saving Private Ryan has some of the most memorable war movie characters. I like Capt. Miller as much as Sgt. Horvath, the Privates Reiben, Jackson, Caparzo and Mellish and of course the Medic Wade. As we follow the little group for a long time we get to know them very well. It has also one of the most annoying war movie characters in it. Upham is a revolting person. And there is of course a very mean German. In any case, kudos to the actors. Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon.

Saving Private Ryan is infantry combat at its best. A lot of intense fighting. Incredible settings. Unfortunately it has moments that are way too sentimental for my taste. I will always prefer Band of Brothers.

Now it’s your turn to rank it. 1. In your Top Favourite List 2. In a Best of List and  3. Most Influential ones.

Another of my posts on Saving Private Ryan: Mean Old Private Ryan

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11 thoughts on “Why Saving Private Ryan (1998) is not in my Top 10 of Favourite War Movies but in my Top 5 of most Influential War Movies

  1. Novroz says:

    I can understand your feeling…there are some movies I think very influential (regardless of the genre) but did not make it into my favorite movie list.

    However, Saving Private Ryan is one of my all time favorite movies because of so many things

    • It has a lot of great elements. And I actually found the good parts much better than I rememered them, still. Tastes change as well over time and I still want to re-watch my top 10. Who knows, there might be an exchange.

  2. Cliff says:

    Patton was on last night, that was very well done really, depiction of the European Theater, not all that different than SPR.

    It’s very clear SPR was influenced by movies…before of which I can enumerate examples of things one sees in SPR and can see in previous movies. But SPR was made much better than some of those other movies but not Patton.

    I think the Saving Private Ryan poster is too hokey and like some other posters one sees like Stalingrad, they should have come out with a movie poster with action, a commercially painted one like the Dirty Dozen poster would have been better.

    http://pzrservices.typepad.com/.a/6a00d83451ccbc69e201116885e810970c-400wi

    • I haven’t seen Patton yet but I am also very ineterested in seeing it. Only heard good things. I think that you see a lot of imitations of Saving Private Ryan as well. I think the poster works quite well, as there are many sentimental elements in it. There is another version in which you see only this shadow figure and none of the others. The Dirty Dozen is really not a bad one. I quite like The Black Hawk Down poster but then I am very partial when it comes to that movie anyway.

  3. warmoviebuff says:

    I agree on its influence. You are spot on with that insight. I put it with “Platoon” as the two most important war movies of the last 25 years. I feel you are a little harsh on the screenplay. It does have its corny moments, but it also defies some traditions. Without giving anything away, people die in it that would not normally die in a war movie. I do not think it is the best war movie ever made, but it should be in the discussion and certainly belongs in the Top 10.

    • By mentioning two rankings I wanted to make sure that the first is very personal. The problem is also I have seen much more recent war movies and many things that were unthinkable before Saving Private Ryan are a given today and one tends to forget that without Saving Private Ryan it would not have been possible. Agree on Platoon 100%. I would say the two are also the most widely known.
      When it comes to influential I think it is All Quiet on the Western Front, Platoon, Saving Private Ryan, maybe Black Hawk Down and possibly Battle for Haditha.

  4. Cliff says:

    Dirty Dozen has it’s clone movies, even Inglorious Basterds is a group that goes after the Nazis on a special mission made more than 4 decades after the Dirty Dozen was made. Kelly’s Heroes, Devil’s Brigade likewise.

    Definitely belongs on that list, Blackhawk Down I doubt should be in there and this other movie, Battle of… must be some foreign movie. DD is probably more influential than AQOTWF.

    Das Boot may well be instrumentally important in your “realistic movies.”

    DD is period proper just in the way it was made, I think the British Film industry had a lot to do with that.

    MASH and/or Catch 22 could possibly be in the top 10 most influential.

    • I would certainly not argue about the last two but All Quiet on The Western Front given his release date is probably one of the most influential. The later the movie the less influential of course. I never saw The Dirty Dozen as influential but I seem to be wrong. I was thinking about Das Boot. Probabaly among the Top 10, yes. I am never sure how influential those satirical movies like M.A.S.H. and Catch 22 really are.

  5. warmoviebuff says:

    I would like to propose “The Longest Day” as belonging in the top five most influential movies. It created the all-star epic sub-genre which includes “Battle of Britain”, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “A Bridge Too Far”, “Midway”, etc. It also was one of the first war movies to endeavor to tell both sides of the story. My top five would be “All Quiet”, “The Longest Day”, “Platoon”, “Saving Private Ryan”, and “Patton”. I feel Patton is influential because it brought war movies into the cynical modern age. Most war movies today have characters that are not knights in shining armor. There are shades of grey in most war movies since the 1970s. Both hawks and doves felt the portrayal of Patton supported their view of the Vietnam War.
    By the way, see my review of “The Secret Invasion” which predates “The Dirty Dozen” in the convicts on a suicide mission sub-genre.

  6. […] absolutely no clue how Top Gun got on this list. What the heck? And where is Saving Private Ryan (see my post) and Platoon? While they were at it they could have put  Pearl Harbor on No. […]

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