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The Saving Private Ryan Scene You Likely Didn't Know Was Completely Improvised

"Saving Private Ryan" is a masterpiece in the war movie genre. The moving epic follows a group of United States Army soldiers tasked with locating paratrooper, Private first class James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon). He's the last surviving brother of four, with his siblings having all lost their lives in combat. It's a moving tale of the heroic sacrifices those in the Armed Forces made for our freedom and how we should all live with the knowledge we're here because of what others have done to protect our freedoms.

The movie is a stunning work of art. It's a tour de force showcase from director Steven Spielberg in one of his finest cinematic offerings. The film also contains a powerhouse performance from Tom Hanks as Captain John H. Miller, who leads the charge in locating Private Ryan. At first glance, it comes across as a meticulously crafted film where every detail had to be just right. But it may come as a surprise to some to learn that one of the movie's most iconic moments came from improvisation.

Private Ryan's speech was off the cuff

The audience gets a bit of a break between fighting in "Saving Private Ryan" shortly after Captain Miller's group locates Private Ryan. In a moment of bonding, Ryan starts telling Miller a story about how he and two of his brothers caught the fourth brother in the barn having sex with an unattractive woman. Eventually, the woman became aware of their presence and tried to get out of there with her shirt still over her head. Unable to see anything, she ended up slamming against a wall, and when that part of the story comes, Ryan can barely contain himself as he starts busting up laughing. 

It's a touching moment as the two men share a moment of levity amongst the horrors of war. And what's even more amazing is that Damon came up with the story on the fly. According to "The Gross" by Peter Bart, the speech first came off as rambling and uninteresting, but ultimately, that's why it works in the scene (via IMDb). Ryan wasn't some extraordinary figure. He was just a kid fated to play an integral role in the lives of Miller's company.

Steven Spielberg ended up liking the story so much he left it in the finished product. With one improvised speech, Matt Damon proved he was, indeed, worthy of winning the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for "Good Will Hunting" shortly before "Saving Private Ryan" came out.