8 movies based on the attack on Pearl Harbor
From Michael’s Bay Pearl Harbor to Tora! Tora! Tora!, we gathered eight movies that are linked to this historical event that took place during World War II.
Cinema is a perfect medium to tell historical stories. World War II movies are the paradigm of this . There are films about D-Day, the Battle of Berlin and, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On 7 December, 2023, the United States will commemorate its 81st anniversary.
The events of the fateful day have been the focus for many film directors. We have gathered eight movies that tell the story of the Pacific theatre in the Second World War.
They Were Expendable - 1945
The legendary John Ford made a single WWII film during his career: ‘They Were Expendable’ - a movie that included a cast full of stars like Robert Montgomery, John Wayne and Donna Reed. The film is not really focused on the Pearl Harbor events but on the first fights in the Philippines between the US and the Japanese forces.
Ford depicts the horror of the naval combats and the hard struggle of the Americans that were abandoned before the Japanese and their bravery to keep fighting.
From Here to Eternity - 1953
The 1953 winner of eight Oscar Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress is a film set on the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The film is directed by the Austrian filmmaker, Fred Zinnemann, who was awarded with an Oscar award for Best Director four times throughout his career. ‘From Here To Eternity’ is considered one of the best American movies of all time. Its cast includes names like Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed, all of which were superstars at that time.
The movie tells the story of several characters whose lives would change radically after the Japanese attack. The movie is not afraid of criticising the military hierarchy and the morals of the time. The Attack on Pearl Harbor is not the main event, but is the trigger point for the development of its story.
Storm Over the Pacific/ I bombed Pearl Harbor - 1960
The Japanese also have films based on the war on the Pacific. ‘Storm Over the Pacific’ (Hawai Middowei daikaikûsen: Taiheiyô no arashi) is an example of that. It tells the story of a Japanese torpedo bomber pilot who fought in Pearl Harbor and in the Battle of Midway. The work avoids the Western stereotypical view of the beastly Japanese, as was common in some US propaganda movies during WWII, and is brave to critically reflect on the acts of Japan after Midway.
The movie stars Toshirô Mifune, one of the most famous Japanese actors of all time and star of Akira Kurosawa’s pieces of art like Yojimbo, Seven Samurais, Red Beard. This was the first color widescreen war film made by Toho Studios, which is the famous cinema production company that created Godzilla.
In Harm’s Way - 1965
John Wayne and Kirk Douglas star in this picture that aims to show the infighting within the US Armed Forces on the night before the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the first year of the US involvement in WWII. The two actors carry the movie depicting two Navy officers that have to respond to the Japanese act and mediate between several institutions, while dealing with their own individual lives.
Tora! Tora! Tora! - 1970
If there is a movie that delivers its intention of depicting the Attack on Pearl Harbor both from the US and Japanese perspective, that is ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ Although having its flaws and historical inaccuracies, the result is a remarkable and spectacular picture. The film was directed both by Japanese and American filmmakers. The master Akira Kurosawa was part of the project for two years until he was replaced by Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda. The American Richard Fleischer became the third director.
The film shows the side of both countries before, during, and after the attack and all the depicted characters were real. Viewers can witness the moments where the highly respected and well-known Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese Combined Fleet, Admiral Yamamoto doubts the decisions of the Japanese Government as well as how the disbelief of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel towards a Japanese sneak attack led to the disaster.
The Final Countdown - 1980
‘The Final Countdown’ offers a different story set on the Attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s actually a sci-fi movie that introduces the idea of a contemporary aircraft carrier that travels back in time to the day before the Attack on Pearl Harbor. And from that situation sparks a question: what should the time travelers do? To change the result of the events and affect the timeline or to let everything happen as it happened.
Pearl Harbor - 2001
Directed by Michael Bay, the film became a blockbuster that had massive success at the box office. It is a not historically accurate movie but it also doesn’t intend to be so. Josh Hartnett, Ben Affleck, and Kate Beckinsale star in the love triangle story. It follows the story of two best friends who became pilots and were sent to different areas during WWII, one to Europe and one to Hawaii, and how both fell in love with the same woman.
Midway - 2019
‘Midway’, unsurprisingly, tells the story of the Battle of Midway, an event little depicted in Hollywood. This battle took place months later after the disaster of Pearl Harbor. This was a decisive battle where the Americans weakened the Japanese army by sinking four aircraft carriers. A perfect event for a movie full of special effects that aim to show spectacular air battles. That is what Midway, directed by Roland Emmerich, does.
This film may fail to deliver solid storytelling but excels at showing scenes of air and naval battles.