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A star-studded war epic that was hacked to pieces holds the line on streaming

Torn to shreds in the editing room, but still one hell of a movie.

via 20th Century Fox

It isn’t a stretch to suggest the single worst thing to happen to Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line was Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

The latter would go on to become the highest-grossing World War II movie ever made, before going on to win five Academy Awards from 11 nominations including Best Director, all while basking in the warm glow of universal adulation. Releasing a little over three months later, Malick’s contribution to the genre was inevitably going to be compared to Spielberg’s, even if they’re two completely different but equally mesmerizing beasts.

The esteemed filmmaker’s first feature in 20 years, Malick took a typically luxurious approach to The Thin Red Line, with the initial assembly cut taking seven months to edit, and even then it still ran for five hours and change. Eventually, it was whittled down to a still-hefty 170 minutes, with plenty of major names seeing their roles severely reduced or scrapped entirely.

via 20th Century Fox

Bill Pullman and Mickey Rourke never made the final cut, and neither did Billy Bob Thornton’s narration. On top of that, John Travolta and George Clooney barely feature in the story despite having prominent billing in the credits, with The Thin Red Line still having to make room for Sean Penn, Adrien Brody, Jim Caviezel, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Jared Leto, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, Thomas Jane, and literally dozens upon dozens more.

The Thin Red Line did win strong notices from critics and audiences, as well as some awards season recognition of its own, but a $98 million take at the box office was viewed as a huge disappointment. On the plus side, the hard-hitting drama’s reputation endures to this day, with FlixPatrol outing the elegiac examination of human nature in the midst of conflict as one of the top-performing titles on iTunes this week, a full 24 years after its initial release.

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Scott Campbell

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