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 set on this historical event during World War II.
Cinema is a medium that tends to use historical moments to create stories. War film is a genre of cinema that is usually set on famous periods and events. The public loves a good war movie that shows how the events took place, the causes, and the consequences. World War II movies are probably the paradigm of this type of cinema. There are films about D-Day, the Battle of Berlin and, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 2022, the United States and the world will commemorate its 81st anniversary.
The events of Pearl Harbor and the war in the Pacific during WWII has been the focus for many film directors. We have gathered the 8 movies that are set in this historical period to tell new unique stories and/or depict how the events happened in Hawaii. Although some of these film don’t offer a fully accurate picture of the events that transpired, they give good insight into what happened, while tugging on your heartstrings. Many, in fact, are highly regarded works of film.
They Were Expendable - 1945
The legendary John Ford only filmed one War Film regarding WWII during his whole 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 posterior first fights in the Philippines between the US and the Japanese forces.
Skillfully, Ford depicts the horror of the naval combats and the hard struggle of the Americans that were abandoned before the Japanese despite their bravery to keep fighting.
From Here to Eternity - 1953
The 1953 winner of 8 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 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. A former boxer who arrives as a soldier at Naval Station Pearl Harbor and suffers harassment from other soldiers and lieutenants; a captain’s wife who is cheating on him with a Sergeant. The movie is not afraid of criticizing 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 narration.
Storm Over the Pacific/ I bombed Pearl Harbor - 1960
The Japanese also filmed its own movies based on the war on the Pacific. Storm Over the Pacific (Hawai Middowei daikaikûsen: Taiheiyô no arashi) is an example of that. A film that shows other outlooks of those events, concretely, by telling the story of a Japanese torpedo bomber pilot who fought in Pearl Harbor and in the Battle of Midway. The work avoids showing the typical American custom of depicting the Japanese as beasts (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 is stars Toshirô Mifune, one of the most famous Japanese actors ever (none other than the protagonist 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 in a reliable way, that is Tora! Tora! Tora! Although having its flaws and historical inaccuracies, it aims to be precise and 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
With two famous actors like Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen, 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
This is certainly the most popular Pearl Harbor movie. Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale star in the famous love triangle story. 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. It just aims to follow 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. This is a classic and basic war and romance movie.
Midway - 2019
A few years ago, Hollywood aimed again to produce a War Film following the events of the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Concretely, the Battle of Midway, an event little depicted in Hollywood. This battle took place months later after the disaster of Pearl Harbor and became a turning point in WWII. This was a decisive battle where the Americans weakened the Japanese army by sinking 4 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.