In 1998, Saving Private Ryan forever changed the way Hollywood depicted combat. Prior to Steven Spielberg’s portrayal of the Normandy landings, war movies typically portrayed combat as a glory-filled adventure void of carnage and chaos. Since the groundbreaking film, Hollywood has produced a steady stream of authentic war movies. Here are five of the most realistic combat scenes to arrive in the wake of Saving Private Ryan.
Band of Brothers
After working together on Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg and Tom Hanks teamed up again to tell the story of America’s 101st Airborne Division from D-Day to the end of the war in Europe.
The HBO miniseries Band of Brothers was a breakthrough television event. It set new standards for both the quality of TV shows and for graphic depictions of war. Between a heart-pounding jump into occupied France and sustained artillery bombardments in Bastogne, Belgium, nearly every episode of Band of Brothers has at least one realistic combat sequence, but episode three’s assault on the French town of Carentan stands apart for its authentic portrayal of urban combat.
Black Hawk Down
Ridley Scott’s 2001 rendering of the Battle of Mogadishu marked a milestone in silver-screen warfare. Before Black Hawk Down, most war movies depicted historic battles, but Scott brought movie combat scenes into the 21st century. The film celebrated the fighting ability of America’s special operations units as well as their state-of-the-art weaponry. Things like fast-roping onto an objective, dominating the battlefield at night, and using MH-6 Little Birds for close air support made Black Hawk Down a cinematic leap into the future of war films. Now almost two decades old, the movie still stands the test of time and remains one of the most realistic war movies.
Say what you will about the rest of the film, but the opening firefight of Lone Survivor is as close to real as Hollywood gets when it comes to small-unit firefights. The absence of music, John Wayne heroics, and one-liners makes the scene so authentic, it’s borderline uncomfortable to watch. The scene starts slowly with a single, unanswered gunshot breaking the tension. It doesn’t take long before the firefight skyrockets to a cacophony of gunfire, snapping bullets, and desperate SEALs saying “fuck.” Unfortunately, six minutes into the mountainside gunbattle, the scene begins to devolve into a slow-motion spectacle, but the opening moments are unrivaled when it comes to realistic depictions of rural combat.
Like Band of Brothers, nearly every episode of The Pacific contains realistic combat scenes, but one of the things the Marine-focused miniseries pulled off especially well was capturing those pre-mission jitters. Episode five perfectly blends the nerve-wracking moments of calm before the fight with the sensory overload of an amphibious landing. Chaos reigns as Marines disembark their vehicles under fire and storm the heavily defended island of Peleliu. The Pacific uses the same formula as Saving Private Ryan, mixing a shaky hand-held camera with special effects to create a gritty scene of World War II action.
The 2020 Afghanistan war film The Outpost depicts the Battle of Kamdesh with an unprecedented level of authenticity. The film is an accurate portrayal of fighting from remote Hesco-lined bases in Afghanistan’s alpine valleys. The seemingly corny banter between soldiers is accurate to real life, adding to the eerie lack of discernible differences between the film’s fictional battle scenes and real footage from the same corner of Afghanistan. Watch the scene here.