21 years after Saving Private Ryan stormed into theaters, depicting the crucial Allied victory on D-Day, two of the biggest names in Hollywood are reflecting on the legacy of their award-winning war film.

Tom Hanks, who played Captain Miller, and director Steven Spielberg discussed with NBC News how their classic changed the way Americans would remember World War II, and the horrific violence that came with it.

“If we pulled this off in the right way — and it stood the test of time — this was going to stand in, in some small way, for what those kids experienced at 6:30 in the morning on June 6, 1944,” Spielberg, 72, told NBC News.

Saving Private Ryan became an instant box office success when it debuted on July 24, 1998, grossing $216.8 million domestically, making it the highest-grossing film of 1998 in the U.S.

The goal for Spielberg, who won the Academy Award for Best Director, was to make viewers feel as immersed in D-Day as possible, as Hanks, 62, goes on to explain.

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“What Steven wanted to do from the get-go was to use all of his magic, and all of the tools that existed in cinema as of 1997, and make a war movie that was going to break every one of the tropes, visually and cinematically, that all war movies had,” Hanks said.

The process to create such an iconic movie, however, was not an easy one.

“We took every inch of that beach — as filmmakers, not as war veterans,” Spielberg said. “It took us 25 days of shooting to capture 25 minutes of those landings.”

“The legend of it now is that we were out in the freezing cold woods for, you know, weeks and weeks,” he added. “I think it was really only five days. When a fake ambush happens at 3 in the morning, and gets you up out of your tent, your adrenaline gets pumping.”

To date, the film remains as one of the most historically relevant war films, and in 2014, was selected for preservation in National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, joining iconic films like Star Wars, Brokeback Mountain, and Goodfellas. 

But 21 years later, the legacy of the men who sacrificed their lives on that fateful 1944 day for the betterment of the world is what matters most to Hanks and Spielberg.

“If we ever forget that it was a bunch of individuals that went over, and they all had names like Ernie, and Buck and Robert — that’s when we’ve done a bad job of being citizens of the world, I think,” Hanks said.

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