January 4, 2024 | Emily Southey

Brutal Facts About War Films


Making an epic combat drama is no easy task. From finding the perfect filming location in Saving Private Ryan to a tortuous boot camp for the entire cast of Platoon, you’ll be surprised by these behind-the-scenes facts about some of your favorite combat movies.


1. Major Editing

In the script for Thin Red Line, Cpl. Fife was one of the biggest roles. The part was played by American actor Adrien Brody, however during the editing process, most of Brody’s scenes were cut from the film. Not only was this done without Brody's consent, but he also had no idea that the scenes had been cut until he was watching the movie at its premiere, expecting to be one of the leads. Brody barely spoke a line in the finished version of the film.

 War Films

2. Extra, Extra!

The opening scene depicting D-Day on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan cost over $11 million USD to shoot. It involved over 1,000 extras, 20-30 of which were amputees who had been given prosthetic limbs in order to look like army men’ limbs were getting blown off. In addition, some of the extras were members of the Irish Army Reserve.

Vin Diesel FactsGetty Images

3. Whipped Into Shape

In order to gain an idea of what WWII army men actually endured during the combat, most of the lead actors in Saving Private Ryan participated in a 10-day boot camp led by former USMC Captain Dale Dye, who also served as the film’s army adviser. Training included group marches, living in tents, and learning how to clean, assemble, and fire period-appropriate arms.

Screenshot of (Tom Hanks) Captain Miller and (Tom Sizemore) Mike Horvath hiding outside - from Saving Private Ryan (1998)Paramount Pictures, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

4. Odd One Out

Matt Damon, who played the titular Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan, was the only cast member exempt from the 10-day bootcamp. This was done on purpose so that the other actors would resent him, a feeling that director Steven Spielberg hoped would translate into their performances.

Saving Private Ryan factsSaving Private Ryan, Paramount Pictures

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5. Equal Treatment

In Full Metal Jacket, a special lens was designed to shoot the scenes inside the barracks during the drill. This was done in order to keep every single recruit in focus, which director Stanley Kubrick claimed was necessary to convey to viewers that no one was special.

The Marines factsFull Metal Jacket, Warner Bros.

6. Hitting the Range

The gunfire sound effects heard in Saving Private Ryan were recorded live at a piece range near Atlanta, Georgia. The effects heard were from live shells being fired from authentic arms used during the period.

Tom Sizemore in Saving Private Ryan in uniformParamount, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

7. Gruesome Twist

Kubrick is known for his eccentricity, but there is one scene almost included in Full Metal Jacket that may have taken things a little too far. A sequence was filmed that showed a group of army men playing soccer, but the scene was eventually cut because one of the shots revealed that they were kicking around a human head rather than a soccer ball.

Clockwork Orange factsGetty Images

8. Cherry Red

For Platoon, director Oliver Stone insisted special packs of Marlboro smokes be made for the movie. He wanted the cherry red color of the packaging to match the exact shade of red on packages found in the late 1960s.

Charlie Sheen factsPlatoon (1986), Orion Pictures

9. Live on the Air

Some of the radio chatter in Black Hawk Down was taken from actual radio transmissions from the battle.

War Films factsBlack Hawk Down (2001),Revolution Studios

10. Irish Connection

Though army men were supposed to be landing in Normandy, France in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, the scene was actually filmed in Ireland. The beaches of Normandy had many filming restrictions, so Spielberg searched for another beach that was almost identical to Omaha Beach in terms of sand and bluff. He eventually settled on Ballinesker Beach in Wexford, Ireland.

Screenshot of The Omaha Beach scene - from Saving Private Ryan (1998)Paramount Pictures, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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11. No Showering

All of the actors in Platoon were put through a 14-day boot camp in the Philippines before filming began. The training included army haircuts for the entire cast, sleeping in the jungle with night watch rotations, eating army rations, and not being allowed to shower.

War Films factsPlatoon (1986), Orion Pictures

12. Family Vacation

Some of the Vietnamese cast members in Platoon were not actors. Many were just tourists vacationing in the Philippines at the time of filming.

War Films factsPlatoon (1986), Orion Pictures

13. Overseas Adventure

At just 22 years old, Johnny Depp starred in Platoon. The cast and crew had to fly to the Philippines to film the movie, which, according to the actor himself, was Depp's first time leaving the United States.

War Films factsPlatoon (1986), Orion Pictures

14. Daredevil

Dunkirk director Christopher Nolan rode in the spitfire airplane shown in the film in order to get a sense of what it was like actually being inside the fighter plane. He claimed that this experience helped him shoot and provide a realistic portrayal of the dogfights.

Christopher Nolan Movies factsDunkirk (2017), Warner Bros.

15. Custom-Made

Nearly all of the costumes in Saving Private Ryan were custom made. Costume designer Joanna Johnston wanted authentic period uniforms, but quickly realized that it would be too costly to do so for every single cast member. Thus, the costuming team created 3,500 custom-made army uniforms.

Screenshot of (Tom Hanks) Captain Miller talking outside - from Saving Private Ryan (1998)Paramount Pictures, Saving Private Ryan (1998)

16. Helmet Head

Animal Mother’s helmet in Full Metal Jacket bears an inscription that reads "I Am Become Demise". This is a quote from the Bhagavad-Gita, and was spoken aloud by J. Robert Oppenheimer after the first atomic explosion exploded at Alamogordo.

War Films factsFull Metal Jacket, Warner Bros.

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17. What Time Is It?

Dunkirk’s iconic score was created by composer Hans Zimmer. Perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the music was the ticking sound heard throughout. This ticking sound actually came from one of Nolan’s own pocket watches; Zimmer put the sounds into a synthesizer and altered them for the film’s soundtrack.

War Films factsWikimedia Commons

18. In Debt

Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola invested millions of his own dollars into the film after it went majorly over budget. In order to complete the film, he even had to mortgage his house and winery in Napa Valley, California.

War Films factsWikimedia Commons

19. Real Life Hero

According to Hacksaw Ridge director Mel Gibson, Desmond T. Doss's son Desmond Jr. attended the premiere screening of the film and was moved to tears by Andrew Garfield's portrayal of his father.

War Films factsHacksaw Ridge (2016), Cross Creek Pictures

20. Girl Boss

Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman in history to win an Academy Award, BAFTA, and the DGA for Best Director for The Hurt Locker. It also marked the first time that the Best Picture winner was directed by a woman.

War Films factsFlickr, FICG.mx

21. May the Force Be With You

In Apocalypse Now, Harrison Ford was told he could pick his own character's name. He ended up naming his character “Lucas” to honor George Lucas, who had not only directed Ford in the first Star Wars, but also in American Graffiti (both films that helped launch his career).

War Films factsApocalypse Now (1979), Zoetrope Studios

22. Ombré Blue

It might be worth taking a second look at the Dunkirk movie poster. Nolan revealed that the stylized title "Dunkirk" was purposely divided into three different colors (each of which fades into the other): sky blue, dark blue, and white, which are meant to represent the three different storylines of the air, sea, and land.

War Films factsFlickr, deepskyobject

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23. Adoption Day

Stray dogs were constantly running into shots on the Black Hawk Down set. Director Ridley Scott ended up keeping them in because he felt they brought an air of authenticity to the film. After filming ended, eight different dogs were adopted by various members of the crew and were brought back to the United States.

War Films factsBlack Hawk Down (2001),Revolution Studios

24. The Kingdom of Jordan

Though The Hurt Locker takes place during the Iraq combat, the film was actually shot on location in Jordan. Part of the shoot was supposed to take place in Kuwait on a US Army Base, but access was denied.

War Films factsThe Hurt Locker (2008), Voltage Pictures

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10