How Steven Spielberg Responded When People Said ‘Saving Private Ryan’ Was ‘Too Hollywood’

Steven Spielberg made Saving Private Ryan for a very specific reason. Afterward, some people criticized the film for being “too Hollywood.” Spielberg later responded to the criticisms by referencing film history.

Tom Hanks surrounded by soldiers in Steven Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan'
Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ | CBS via Getty Images

World War II inspired a lot of Steven Spielberg movies

World War II plays a big role in Spielberg’s movies. A number of his films, including 1941, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Empire of the Sun, and Bridge of Spies, are set partly or wholly in that time period. In addition, Quint, the shark hunter from Jaws, delivered a monologue about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis during the war. In an interview with DGA Quarterly’s Richard Schickel, Spielberg revealed he read a lot of literature about World War II. 

Spielberg said he was looking to make another World War II movie when his agent gave him the screenplay for Saving Private Ryan. “As a matter of fact, it was the only time in my several decades of having an agent that they actually gave me a screenplay that I wound up directing,” he said.

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How other World War II movies inspired ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Schickel asked Spielberg how he responded to the criticism Saving Private Ryan was “too Hollywood.” “I’ve always wanted to make a war movie, and I had a chance to make a realistic war movie, as opposed to an apocryphal Hollywood war movie,” he said. “Actually, I was beating away the impulses to go Hollywood.”

Spielberg responded to another criticism of the movie. “People who found fault with Private Ryan always picked on it because I had a guy from Brooklyn, I had a Jewish guy, and they said, ‘Oh, you’re using the same mix that Lewis Milestone used in A Walk in the Sun. You’re mixing ethnicities and cultures and showing that Americans are from all over the world.’ That doesn’t bother me at all because you can’t have seen as many World War II movies as I’ve seen, and not have some of that rub off on Saving Private Ryan.”

Steven Spielberg wearing glasses
Steven Spielberg | Rich Fury/Getty Images

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Did Steven Spielberg win the Academy Award for Best Director for ‘Saving Private Ryan’?

According to Box Office MojoSaving Private Ryan had a budget of $70 million. It earned over $481 million. It was also the first in a long line of collaborations between Spielberg and Tom Hanks, including The Terminal, Bridge of Spies, and The Post.

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In addition, the film received critical acclaim. Saving Private Ryan was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hanks), and Best Original Screenplay. Spielberg won Best Director; however, Saving Private Ryan lost Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love. Notably, Box Office Mojo reports Shakespeare in Love earned $289 million, considerably less than Saving Private Ryan. Whether Saving Private Ryan was “too Hollywood” or not, it was definitely a Hollywood success story.