Saving Private Ryan: History vs. Hollywood

Two scholars of the battle and battlefields analyze the movie’s adherence to accuracy.

On June 7, 2018, the Museum marked the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Saving Private Ryan with a daylong Symposium dedicated to the film, which is lauded for its realistic portrayal of the landing at Omaha Beach during its first half-hour. 

In one panel of the Symposium, two scholars of the battle and battlefields—Museum Senior Historian Rob Citino and Colonel Kevin Farrell, former Chief of Military History at the US Military Academy—analyzed the entire movie’s adherence to accuracy.

Farrell praised Saving Private Ryan’s depiction of “the sense of chaos and confusion” of combat. “I often joke that it’s hard enough to figure out what your own guys are doing, let along find out what the enemy is doing,” he said. “Studying history … one of the hardest things to understand is that when you see that red and blue line on the map, when you see the arrow, when you see the unit identifiers, everything is presented in a concrete, discrete manner. It gives the impression of a sense of clarity and understanding that simply was not possible.

“That ambiguity, that chaos, I think comes across very well in the film, but most especially with the landing on the beach.” 

Added Citino: “Since its premiere in 1998, Saving Private Ryan has become a kind of exemplar … of what it means to generate realism in Hollywood.” 

Watch the presentation below. 

Presented by the Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy, the Symposium totaled four sessions. Watch them all here. Shop the Museum Store for Citino's books. Learn more about upcoming Museum programming here. Learn more about the Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy here