Skip to main content

The Shocking Saving Private Ryan Moment Tom Hanks Filmed That Made Him Tell His Co-Stars ‘You Are Not Prepared… It’s Insane’

I’m sure most of us can still recall the visceral reaction that we had to the opening sequences of Steven Spielberg’s masterful WWII drama Saving Private Ryan. Once the movie settles into its narrative framework, Spielberg drops us into the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy, and we begin to feel like we are members of the battalion that are following Tom Hanks and his soldiers into battle. It’s immersive and devastating… and it had a similar effect on the men who were filming the sequence for us to watch later on the big screen. 

We have made arguments on CinemaBlend over the years that Saving Private Ryan is both Steven Spieberg’s best movie as well as Matt Damon’s best movie. It’s harder to rank it on a list of the best Tom Hanks’ films because he has participated in so many stone-cold classics. When stopping by the ReelBlend podcast to discuss his new film, Elvis, however, Hanks recalled the shocking moment when he realized that Saving Private Ryan was going to be something extraordinary. As he recalled:

That was shot geographically, in real time. We started in the landing craft. Then we were on the beach. Then I was in the water pulling, pulling that great guy, pulling him ashore. Then we were at the breakwater. Then we were behind the Belgian gates. Then we made our way up. We were on that beach for, I'm gonna say, on the beach itself for I’m going to say three weeks. And the other guys, Vin (Diesel) and Eddie (Burns) and Adam (Goldberg)... they weren't shooting yet till we were at the shale. And halfway through the first day, I looked at, uh, the shot was an amputee actor, in the distance and in slow motion, looking around, picking up his arm, and looking forward. So, I went upstairs. I went up to where we were having lunch or whatever, and I said, ‘Guys. Guys. Hold onto your hats, man. You are not prepared for what's going on down there on the beach. It's insane!’

He wasn’t exaggerating. The beach scene in Saving Private Ryan is disorienting and terrifying because of the intense way it plunges the audience directly into the warfare, and reminds us at every step that these were normal men unprepared for the extent of the carnage. Veterans have spoken about the sequence, calling it one of the most realistic war movies ever made. And Hanks credits that to the approach that his frequent collaborator Steven Spielberg brings to material. As he opened up about Spielberg’s process, Hanks figured out how to tie it back to Austin Butler’s work as Elvis Presley in the new film Elvis, which Baz Luhrmann filmed out of sequence. Hanks explained:

Steven actually, he doesn't do a ton of scouting or anything like that. He gets it. He's got every piece of equipment on the truck that you can imagine. And people that he can literally say three words to that mean three pages of stuff to be communicated. On a movie like Elvis, Austin had to shoot essentially part of the movie with me there with him. And then he had to return to the same costumes, same sets, the same lighting for when I was gone. Because life had intervened, and I said, ‘I can't stay here for 19 months, Baz, while you figure it out!’ (laughs) … It was tough on them. And what's harder, you know? Shooting geographically, so you're just as tired every step of the way? Or having to shoot a little bit, and then coming back later on?

You can enjoy the full Tom Hanks interview on the ReelBlend podcast as part of this week’s show.

And you can head to theaters now to see Tom Hanks play Col. Tom Parker opposite Austin Butler’s Elvis in Elvis. We gave Elvis a solid review on the Website, but it pales in comparison to the praise the Presley family showered on the movie. That’s really all that Hanks and Butler (as well as Luhrmann) needed to hear. But judge for yourself, as Elvis is open in movie theaters right now!

Sean O'Connell
Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.