US Army Ranger ‘The Reaper’ Reacts to 11 Sniping Scenes from Popular War Movies – and It’s Rough!

Photo Credit: 1. Hope72 / MovieStillsDB 2. The U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Photo Credit: 1. Hope72 / MovieStillsDB 2. The U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

With 33 confirmed kills over a span of just four months – and upwards of 100 unofficial kills – Nicholas Irving, AKA “the Reaper,” is one of the deadliest Special Ops snipers in modern history. During an interview with Insider, Irving’s expertise was put to the test, to determine the accuracy of 11 iconic sniping scenes from popular war movies.

Here’s what he thought about a handful of them.

Nicholas Irving, “the Reaper”

Nicholas Irving aiming his firearm
Nicholas Irving of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment takes aim during a shooting competition, 2009. (Photo Credit: The U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Nicholas Irving, better known as “the Reaper,” served as a Special Operations sniper with the 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment of the US Army. He’d initially hoped to join the Navy SEALs, but wound up serving with the Army after failing a colorblindness test. Armed with an SR-25 rifle, which he nicknamed “Dirty Diana,” he served in Iraq and Afghanistan

Since retiring from the military, Irving has openly shared his experiences living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism, which ended in him trying to take his own life. Today, he is a New York Times bestselling author. His book, The Reaper: Autobiography of One of the Deadliest Special Ops Snipers, was co-published with Gary Brozek and explores his experience during the War on Terror.

His experience makes him more than qualified to gauge the authenticity and accuracy of snipers in Hollywood films.

Jarhead (2005)

Peter Sarsgaard as Alan Troy in 'Jarhead'
Peter Sarsgaard portrays spotter Alan Troy in Jarhead, 2005. (Photo Credit: Dolo_Dolo / Universal Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

One film captured an emotion that Irving himself experienced. It was a scene from Jarhead (2005), during which a sniper takes a shot and a commanding officer busts into their hideout, yelling for them to stand down. Understandably, both the sniper and their spotter become frustrated at the intrusion.

“It’s a weird moment, when you’re looking through your scope and you see your target, and you know for a fact that, hey, yeah, I’m about to end this guy’s life,” Irving says in the Insider video. “It’s a life-altering, emotional rollercoaster experience.”

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks as Capt. John Miller, Matt Damon as Pvt. James Ryan and Edward Burns as Pvt. Richard Reiben in 'Saving Private Ryan'
Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Edward Burns in Saving Private Ryan, 1998. (Photo Credit: lisakenobi / Dreamworks Pictures / Paramount Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

1998’s Saving Private Ryan was also an exceptionally accurate depiction of real-life sniper tactics. While watching the clip of a German sniper aiming at a target, Irving points out the burlap that’s wrapped around the barrel of the rifle, which helps him blend in with the piles of burlap sacks behind him – a method the Germans were known to use, to lower their chances of detection. 

The same scene depicts what Irving calls “Snap Bang Theory,” which soldiers use to track the potential location of a sniper by judging the time between when the target is shot and when the crack of the rifle is heard. Once the sniper shoots at one of the Allied men on the ground, Pvt. Daniel Jackson perfectly disguises himself among a pile of rubble and fires at the German directly through his scope and into his brain. 

“Everything about this clip is just how I would do it,” Irving explains. “How he creeps up and puts the rifle on the rocks… You can barely even see the guy behind the rubble. By the time he saw him, it was too late.”

Irving remembered when he was in a similar situation, pinned down by a Chechen sniper. “It was essentially like playing volleyball with bullets, and we did that for about three hours,” he recalled.

Lone Survivor (2013)

Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell in 'Lone Survivor'
Mark Wahlberg as Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor, 2013. (Photo Credit: Daboa / Universal Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Lone Survivor (2013) is another favorite of Irving’s, with him explaining that it’s one of the most realistic depictions of combat he’s ever seen in film. “I’ve used that same rifle overseas, in Afghanistan,” he says. “I was just getting into Special Operations when the guys were coming back in after rescuing Marcus Luttrell.”

The film follows the real-life account of Marcus Luttrell, the only survivor of a four-man Navy SEAL mission, Operation Red Wings, in Afghanistan. He was left stranded with a broken back, several fractures and shrapnel wounds, yet managed to find his way to safety in a local village. He was then rescued by US Army Rangers and the Afghan Army.

How did the rest score?

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in 'American Sniper'
Bradley Cooper portrays Chris Kyle in American Sniper, 2014. (Photo Credit: UsignoloDiKiev / Warner Bros. Pictures / MovieStillsDB)

Famed sniper films like American Sniper (2014), which follows the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL credited with the most sniper kills in the US military, received a lesser score from Irving, due to the inaccuracies of the shot. 2019’s Gemini Man also received mixed reviews. While Will Smith’s character had the right equipment and conducted some actions correctly, the actual shot could not have occurred in real life. 

More from us: The Seven Most Heartbreaking Deaths in Military Movies

Those to receive unfavorable scores from Irving include Smokin’ Aces (2006), Shooter (2007) and Rambo (2008). The latter, in particular, was incorrect due to how the .50-caliber rifle was being lugged around. According to Irving, it would have been carried in two pieces, as opposed to completely assembled, due to the sheer weight of the weapon.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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