Steven Spielberg's film, starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, first hit theaters 20 years ago, on July 24, 1998.
One of the most acclaimed films from director Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan tells the story of a group of soldiers, led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks), against the backdrop of D-Day during World War II. When Army officials discover three of a family of four brothers have been killed, they order Miller and his team to locate the last brother so he can be sent home.
Upon its release 20 years ago (on July 24, 1998), the film was a major critical and commercial success, grossing more than $480 million worldwide and earning 11 Academy Award nominations. ("The visual masterwork finds Spielberg atop his craft," The Hollywood Reporter said at the time.) While Spielberg won his second Oscar for best director — his first was for Schindler's List in 1994 — the film lost out on best picture honors in an upset to Shakespeare in Love. (The victory, galvanized by Harvey Weinstein's aggressive campaigning, set off a bitter rivalry between DreamWorks and Weinstein's Miramax, which distributed Shakespeare, in the years that followed.)
Saving Private Ryan is known for its intense depiction of war, particularly the opening sequence portraying the D-Day landings at Omaha Beach. Lasting more than 20 minutes, the sequence earned acclaim from both critics and veterans for its realism, hand-held camerawork and editing. (THR called it "unforgettable" and "a baptism by hellfire," and Roger Ebert noted it was "as graphic as any war footage [he'd] ever seen.") The highly realistic and graphic violence even caused a psychological response in some veterans, leading the Department of Veterans Affairs to set up a hot line specifically for those affected by the film.
Saving Private Ryan's ensemble cast featured several actors who later went on to major success. Here's what some of them have been up to since 1998.
Hanks was riding high in 1998, coming off of back-to-back best actor Oscar nods for Philadelphia in 1994 and Forrest Gump in 1995, as well as a string of box-office successes that included Sleepless in Seattle, Toy Story and Apollo 13. (He also made his debut as a writer-director with That Thing You Do! in 1996.) Saving Private Ryan continued his box-office winning streak, which would go on to include You've Got Mail (1998), The Green Mile (1999), Cast Away (2000), Toy Story 2 and 3 (1999 and 2010) and The Da Vinci Code (2006), among others. Hanks also earned another best actor Oscar nomination for Saving Private Ryan.
The film also kicked off a series of collaborations between Hanks and Steven Spielberg; to date, Spielberg has directed Hanks five times. After Saving Private Ryan came Catch Me if You Can (2002), The Terminal (2004), Bridge of Spies (2015) and The Post (2017). The two also collaborated as producers on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific, both set during World War II.
Hanks' films have grossed more than $9 billion worldwide, and he is the fourth-highest-grossing actor of all time (unadjusted for inflation) in North America. He also is a successful producer, with his credits including My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Mamma Mia! and the HBO series Big Love and John Adams. He released his first book, Uncommon Type: Some Stories, in October.
Hanks also helped establish and serves as chair of the Hidden Heroes campaign, which helps raise awareness of and provide resources to military caregivers.
Damon was on the rise by the time of Saving Private Ryan's release, having already won an Oscar that March (best original screenplay, shared with Ben Affleck for their work on Good Will Hunting). As the titular Private Ryan, Damon is absent until late in the film. During preproduction, Spielberg sent several of the castmembers to a "boot camp" program to learn to realistically portray soldiers. Damon was intentionally left out so the other actors would resent him, captured onscreen in the soldiers' hostility toward Ryan for the suffering and losses they have endured trying to locate him.
Damon made his debut in 1988's Mystic Pizza and made sporadic appearances throughout the '90s, earning attention for a dramatic weight loss for his role in Courage Under Fire in 1996. He made his breakthrough as the co-writer and star of Good Will Hunting (a Miramax release) in 1997, which earned him a best actor Oscar nomination in addition to his win. After Saving Private Ryan, Damon appeared in many other critical and commercial successes, including The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ocean's Eleven (2001), The Departed (2006), True Grit (2010) and as the title character in the Bourne films. He received a second best actor Oscar nomination for 2015's The Martian, as well as a best supporting actor nom for 2010's Invictus. He has not been without his share of missteps, however, appearing in such flops as The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) and Green Zone (2010). All the same, Damon remains one of Hollywood's most bankable and successful stars, as his films have grossed more than $3 billion domestically.
Like Hanks, Damon has also found success as a producer, helping to bring Manchester by the Sea to the screen in 2016. Lately, he has also seemed to develop an affinity for cameos, popping up in Thor: Ragnarok and Deadpool 2.
Another one of the highest-grossing actors ever, Diesel has a brief but tragic role in the film as Private Caparzo, who is shot and killed during a rainy skirmish while clutching a letter to his father. Though he began acting at the age of 7, Diesel struggled to find work in Hollywood prior to Saving Private Ryan. He dramatized his experiences in the short film Multi-Facial, which follows a multiracial actor who has difficulty finding work due to his ambiguous ethnicity. Diesel wrote, produced, directed and scored the film himself. According to Diesel, he "would drive around with VHS copies ... in the trunk" in case he ran into any Hollywood figures, once handing a copy to Morgan Freeman outside the Four Seasons hotel. The short film, along with Diesel's 1997 feature debut Strays (which he also wrote and directed), caught Spielberg's attention, leading to Diesel's casting in Saving Private Ryan.
The actor's true breakthrough would come a few years later with his role as the antihero Riddick in 2000's Pitch Black and the box-office hits The Fast and the Furious in 2001 and xXx in 2002. These three films would come to define his career. Diesel reprised his roles in two Riddick and two xXx sequels, with another of each currently planned, and the Fast and Furious franchise has occupied much of his time since the first film. He has appeared in all but one of the subsequent pics, produced each installment since the fourth and even directed and co-wrote a tie-in short film called Los Bandoleros in 2009.
Diesel also has lent his distinctive voice as the title character in 1999's The Iron Giant and the walking, talking tree Groot in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.
Ribisi appeared in guest roles on TV throughout the '80s and early '90s, with recurring roles on The Wonder Years and My Two Dads, among others. Starting in 1995, he played Phoebe's (Lisa Kudrow) estranged brother Frank on Friends, after an uncredited appearance as "Condom Boy" in an earlier episode. Ribisi became the center of a prominent story arc on the show when Phoebe agreed to be a surrogate for Frank and his wife, eventually giving birth to triplets.
Ribisi made his big-screen debut with the horror film Mind Ripper in 1995, and also acted in Hanks' directorial debut That Thing You Do! in 1996. After Saving Private Ryan, Ribisi went on to appear in a diverse array of films and TV shows, from dramas like Lost In Translation to epics like Cold Mountain and Avatar to comedies like Ted and My Name Is Earl, for which he earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor. Since 2015, he has played the lead role on the Amazon series Sneaky Pete, co-created by Bryan Cranston.
Davies' breakthrough came in 1994 when he played the lead role in David O. Russell's black comedy Spanking the Monkey, after appearing on episodes of General Hospital, The Wonder Years and Melrose Place, among others. The film won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, and Davies received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best debut performance. He went on to appear in Twister (1996) and alongside Spielberg's wife, Kate Capshaw, in The Locusts (1997). In Saving Private Ryan, Davies plays the timid Corporal Upham, an interpreter brought along on the mission for his language skills. Inexperienced in the field, Upham is repeatedly confused by the acronym FUBAR and convinces Captain Miller to free a captured German soldier — a decision he later comes to regret.
Davies went on to appear in several more movies, including Secretary, Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris and three films by Lars von Trier, including the upcoming The House That Jack Built. On television, Davies played Daniel Faraday on Lost and Dickie Bennett on Justified. For the latter, he earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding guest actor in 2011 and won the award in 2012. He also played the villain during the final season of Sleepy Hollow in 2017. Most recently, Davies appeared on one episode of the Twin Peaks revival, played Jesus in American Gods and voiced Baldur in the video game God of War.
Goldberg made his debut on Designing Women in 1990 before moving into film with the Billy Crystal-directed Mr. Saturday Night (1992). He also appeared alongside Ribisi's sister Marissa in Dazed and Confused (1993), and in a three-episode arc on Friends in 1996 as Chandler's crazy roommate Eddie. As the wisecracking, Jewish Private Mellish in Saving Private Ryan, he brandishes his Star of David at captured German soldiers and educates Corporal Upham in the acronym FUBAR.
Goldberg has continued to play mostly supporting roles throughout his career, one notable exception being the title role in 2003's exploitation-style comedy The Hebrew Hammer. He also appeared in A Beautiful Mind (2001), How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003), the Friends spinoff Joey (as a different character) and Zodiac (2007). Recently, Goldberg appeared in the first season of FX's Fargo (2014) as the translator and companion of a deaf hitman and was a series regular on The Jim Gaffigan Show (2015-16). He currently stars on NBC's Taken after joining the cast in the second season.
Goldberg also gained attention for his feud with the similarly named Adam F. Goldberg, creator of the semi-autobiographical ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, in 2015. Goldberg the actor expressed frustration that Twitter users frequently mistook him for the writer, which eventually escalated into a full-fledged Twitter feud between the two. (The conflict also became a running joke on the show, with the family's youngest son Adam — based on the creator — frequently complaining about "another Adam Goldberg" at school.)
Sizemore appeared in "tough guy"-type roles throughout the 1990s in such films as Wyatt Earp (1994), Heat (1995) and Bringing Out the Dead (1999), as well as two Kathryn Bigelow films (Point Break and Strange Days) and two films based on scripts by Quentin Tarantino (True Romance and Natural Born Killers). After Saving Private Ryan, he appeared in Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down (both 2001), and earned a Golden Globe nomination in 2000 for his performance in the HBO film Witness Protection. While Sizemore has acted consistently throughout his career, he has returned to more prominent roles recently, including multi-episode arcs on USA's Shooter and the new season of Twin Peaks. He also has more than 20 projects in various stages of production, according to IMDb.
Sizemore has had numerous scandals throughout his career and has struggled with drug addiction since his teens. His most recent charge was for domestic abuse in February 2017. (He pleaded no contest.) Among other issues, a Los Angeles court previously convicted Sizemore of physically abusing and harassing former "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss, his ex-girlfriend. (He and Fleiss later appeared together on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew.) While on probation, Sizemore repeatedly failed drug tests and was accused of attempting to fake one.
In November, THR reported that Sizemore was removed from a film set in 2003 (shortly after the Fleiss conviction) for allegedly molesting an 11-year-old actress, though no charges were filed. In May of this year, the alleged victim (now 26) filed a lawsuit against Sizemore, seeking $3 million in damages. Sizemore has denied the allegations.
Burns began his Hollywood career behind the scenes, working as a production assistant on Entertainment Tonight. In his spare time, he wrote the screenplay for The Brothers McMullen, which became his directorial debut. Burns shot the film on weekends on a budget of only $28,000, shooting in his parents' house and recruiting actors to work for free (with lunch provided). When Robert Redford gave an interview on Entertainment Tonight, Burns stopped him at the elevator to give him a copy of the film. This led to the pic's screening at Sundance in 1995, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Burns has since written, directed and acted in more than 10 independent films, as well as every episode of the TV series Public Morals, which aired on TNT in 2015. His latest, Summertime, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Saving Private Ryan was the first movie in which Burns acted that he did not direct. Since then, he has appeared in several other films and TV shows, including The Holiday (2006), 27 Dresses (2008), Man on a Ledge and Alex Cross (both 2012). He also appeared as himself in several episodes of Entourage and played one of Grace's boyfriends on Will & Grace in 2005.
Like several of his co-stars, Saving Private Ryan was a breakthrough for Pepper. Before the film, he worked mostly in television, appearing in the miniseries Titanic in 1996 and two separate Lonesome Dove series (in two different roles). In Saving Private Ryan, he played the skilled sniper Private Jackson, who mutters Bible quotations as he takes his shots.
Pepper again appeared alongside his Saving Private Ryan co-stars Tom Hanks in The Green Mile (1999), Vin Diesel in Knockaround Guys (2001) and Matt Damon in True Grit (2010). He has also appeared in such films as 25th Hour (2002); Ripley Under Ground (2005), playing the role Damon essayed in The Talented Mr. Ripley; Flags of Our Fathers (2006); and the Maze Runner sequels The Scorch Trials (2015) and The Death Cure (2018). He also joined the pantheon of actors excised from Terrence Malick films with a deleted performance in To the Wonder (2012).
Pepper also appeared in another of Billy Crystal's directorial efforts, the HBO film 61* (2001), for which he earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for best actor in a miniseries or TV movie. He won an Emmy in the same category in 2011 for playing Bobby Kennedy in the miniseries The Kennedys. Pepper also won the Razzie Award for worst supporting actor for Battlefield Earth in 2001. He later said he would have accepted the award in person if he had been invited, according to The Canadian Press.
Fillion appears briefly in Saving Private Ryan as another Private James Ryan — not the one Miller and company are looking for. Before the film, the actor appeared on the soap opera One Life to Live as Joey Buchanan, earning a Daytime Emmy nomination for outstanding young actor in 1996. Since 1998, Fillion has appeared in numerous films and TV shows, notably playing the title role on ABC's Castle from 2009-2016. His other roles include appearances on Desperate Housewives, Modern Family and Santa Clarita Diet and voice roles in various DC Comics animated projects.
Fillion has frequently collaborated with Joss Whedon, playing the lead role of Captain Malcolm Reynolds on the short-lived Firefly and in its film continuation Serenity (2005), as well as a recurring role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2003. Fillion also appeared in Whedon's web series Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog in 2008 and his adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in 2012. He also has worked with James Gunn several times, appearing in Gunn's films Slither (2006) and Super (2010), as well as an episode of Gunn's web series PG Porn and in Guardians of the Galaxy in a cameo role.