The Film as a Success: The Filmmakers’ vs. History

Success in a film can be measured in two ways: From a historical viewpoint or from the entertainment industry’s viewpoint. The historical point of view tends to be more critical, basing the success of a movie on how accurately the historical facts were portrayed to the audience. Hollywood, on the other hand, rates success by statistics. Saving Private Ryan was successful in both the historical sense as well as in the eyes of Hollywood.

The American Historical Review claimed that “the movie counters images of heroic warriors by disclosing the real terror of combat” and “Spielberg’s film is the first to truly show the horror of battle, especially in its opening scenes, which depict the American landing on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.” 1 Bodnar’s article claimed the movie as successful in historical accuracy for specific details, but the general theme was misguided. Bodnar believed that Spielberg focused more on the soldiers’ lives and experiences rather than the overarching theme of World War II, which was a “democratic community.” 2 According to Bodnar, the movie focused more on “valor” which is okay, but it should have mentioned the reason the men were fighting. 3

In an entertainment sense, this movie seemed to captivate audiences and be quite a success by the numbers. The box office made $30 million on its opening weekend and since then, the movie has brought in $400 million dollars worldwide. Also, it has been nominated for 11 Oscars and has won five. Overall, the movie was a success by Hollywood standards. 4

Comparing Hollywood and history is hard. In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan is accurate enough to use as a primary and secondary source. Its realistic depiction of the Invasion of Normandy, as well as the underlying themes, such as soldiers’ experiences and the horrors of war, all came together to make the movie great. Although there are small details that are incorrect, such as fictional cities and characters, the general story is the same. War is not something that is easy or desirable; Stephen Spielberg most definitely showed the realities of war, and while they were not desirable, he accurately portrayed an event in history that will be remembered by the many lives lost.

  1. John Bodnar, “Saving Private Ryan and Postwar Memory in America,” American Historical Review 106, no.3 (2001), (accessed November 1, 2010).
  2. Bodnar.
  3. Bodnar.
  4. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – Box Office Mojo,, (accessed November 1, 2010).

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