If you’ve seen what appears to be a real Tiger tank in a movie or TV show, it usually isn’t – bar the movie Fury. Mostly the same with the American M1A1/2 Abrams, if you’ve seen one of those it’s almost always a modified Centurion (I.e. the TV series Jericho) or CGI (I.e. Generation Kill). The distinct ‘Tiger’ that appears every now and again is in fact a heavily modified T-34/85. Operational Tigers are exceptionally rare, and with the duress required from filming, don’t expect to see one appear anytime soon. The first appearance of this replica was not in Kelly’s Heroes like most believe, but in a Russian movie (pic) a year earlier (The Great Battle). People who know their Panzers from their phonies will spot the tell tale signs of a prop. E.g., the hull is too small for a real Tiger, the turret is disproportioned and placed too far forward and the sprockets and tracks are too small. Still though, the Kelly’s Heroes appearance was the first real effort to bring the real thing to life in a Western movie.
A similar tank reappears in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan. It isn’t the same tank that appears in The Great Battle or Kelly’s Heroes, which was constructed by the Yugoslav army. But it is, again, a T-34/85 with heavy aesthetic modification. It looks slightly less realistic than the Kelly’s Heroes version, less work seems to have been done replicating the frontal hull/glacis, maybe due to time constraints. But Spielberg directs the unit with incredible skill and it appears as more than formidable. The weight of the thing shook the entire cinema – it’s really his T-Rex of the movie. Yet another T-34/85 (apparently not the SPR version) can be seen in Band of Brothers (2001) in episode 7 but it appears too briefly to leave an impression. Recently, a Russian production company built a near identical Tiger to the real thing (On the outside at least, on the inside its anything but) from the ground up. Although it hasn’t appeared in any movie yet.
“Hey, man… nobody said nothin’ about locking horns with no Tigers!” It’s a tough call on the best use of this replica series between Saving Private Ryan or Kelly’s Heroes. But Kelly’s Heroes has the edge. It’s the best replica, for a start (If you don’t count a stationary T-44 based replica in ‘The Great Battle’ for close ups). And in Kelly’s Heroes they come as a trio. Despite being a comedy, this movie was something of a breakthrough in realism. The Tigers are realistically turned over, time and effort was put into their appearance and they are written as deadly and best avoided. The battle itself is probably the best tank battle ever in a movie, any other movie of the time would’ve probably just have had the Sherman knock out the Tiger’s with ease, but Kelly’s Heroes takes care to have Eastwood and Oddball go to great lengths to hit them in the ass – where the armor is weakest. Great sound, great angles, great cast – great replicas.