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Saving Private Ryan

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
Saving Private Ryan Movie Poster Image
Bloody, tragic war epic doesn't hold back.
  • R
  • 1998
  • 170 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 44 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 176 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Capt. Miller is here a paragon of military discipline and fairness, though he too weeps when a friend is killed. He explains in a key moment that in peacetime life he's a schoolteacher, not a career soldier. Even though they bristle at their mission, the men carry out the assignment, at great personal risk. One shows mercy to a German and comes to grievously regret it. Others shoot defenseless and surrendering enemy without thinking twice. Though the platoon is of mixed backgrounds (Jewish, Christian, Italian-American, Appalachian), all are white, which accurately reflects the racially segregated U.S. forces at the time.


Graphic, savage battlefield violence, as men are blown up, shot, and dismembered by artillery fire, and bayoneted, beaten, and stabbed in hand-to-hand fighting. Unsparing death comes to sympathetic characters as well as ones we hardly know.


Dirty jokes and salty stories cracked by members of the platoon.


Lots of F- and S-words, "asshole," God's name in vain (or prayed to before killing), and the profane military acronym F.U.B.A.R. is eventually explained.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking, smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this is Steven Spielberg's most violent film, especially in the opening 25-minute D-Day invasion massacres. There's no sugar-coating, no "cartoon violence," no nameless, inconsequential casualties like LucasFilm Imperial Stormtroopers. This is unrestrained, ugly, and dirty combat, meant to make the viewer appreciate the monstrous human cost and tragic sacrifice of the Allied beachhead -- a price mostly paid by young men. Stunned, vengeful U.S. soldiers are seen committing what would be considered atrocities (shooting surrendering Germans, as well as innocent non-Germans who can't speak English). Even though characters are religious -- one prays fervently before killing with his sniper skills -- everyone swears a lot, too. Some "special editions" carry supplementary documentary material, including clips of Steven Spielberg's own 8mm war movies he made as a kid.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byRate4OwnKid July 2, 2011

Mature kids can handle this movie

While this movie is gruesome and violent, we never feel that we need to shelter our children from real events. My step son is a mature 11 year old who has ambit... Continue reading
Parent of a 9 and 11 year old Written byolympictree April 9, 2008

Brings History to Life

This was on TNT the other day and I actually let my 12 year old watch this because it was broken up with commercials and we could talk about the scenes he had j... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byvcrmastar January 23, 2010


Look, sure, this movie is violent, but it IS a classic, and has many good messages loke teamwork and loyalty. The truth is, sadly, that war is violent. The only... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 14, 2011
I have been wanting to watch this movie forever, and finally dad let me. The beginning and ending scenes are extremely violent and disturbing. One memorable i... Continue reading

What's the story?

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN opens with a harrowing, blood-soaked depiction of the WWII Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Countless young men are cut down, turning the ocean red. When the smoke clears from the worst of D-Day, we meet the characters. Capt. Miller (Tom Hanks) gets orders to lead his platoon into a dangerous zone swarming with Germans, to find a low-ranking soldier named James Ryan. Ryan was one of several brothers who went to war, and all the others are now dead. The U.S. top brass believes the Ryan family has suffered enough, and that their remaining son should be brought home safely. While it's a mission of "mercy," it's going to cause the Americans even more danger and death, with no perceptible strategic goal. A prologue and epilogue are set in a present-day cemetery -- with acres and acres of graves to mark the dead. And it pretty much asks the viewer what the soldiers ask themselves: if rescuing one man was worth all this carnage.

Is it any good?

The opening D-Day scene is not exploitation, but rather a master filmmaker's true-life recreation of one of the bloodiest battles in human history, to make one appreciate the bravery and the loss. Star director Steven Spielberg, who sought the input of war historians and survivors to make Saving Private Ryan as authentic as possible, tries to show the viewer, after decades of restrained and bloodless Hollywood-backlot war movies, propaganda flag-wavers, and fluffy WWII film musicals, that war is a terrible thing. Even the "good war" to smash the undeniable Axis of Evil that was Germany and Japan.

Expecting younger kids to sit through the horror at the beginning is too much, but the movie isn't all surface gore and sensation. It raises very complex issues of morality and ethics under fire. And often the circumstances are literally under fire, where there's no time for Miller and his squabbling men to think over life and death matters or debate how to do the right thing. Indeed the most well educated and thoughtful American freezes up and has a breakdown in the thick of the fighting.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the D-Day invasion, and especially the troop makeup of WWII -- a lot of fighting and dying was done by soldiers who were hardly more than boys. The behavior of characters under fire includes cowardice and vicious homicide, unleashed even at surrendering enemy. Do you think those man can be excused for such a breakdown of discipline? What about soldiers in the field today? Was the mission to save Ryan worth the risk after all? What other war movies and documentaries have you seen? Do they seem true to life? How about the coverage you see in the news? Is it balanced? How would you be able to tell?

Movie details

For kids who love epic battles

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