Pearl harbor movie poster

Pearl Harbor is a 2001 American action drama war film directed by Michael Bay produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and written by Randall Wallace, It features a large ensemble cast, including Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Colm Feore, Mako, Tom Sizemore, Jaime King and Jennifer Garner. The film was released on May 21, 2001 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and May 25 in the rest of the United States.

Pearl Harbor is a dramatic reimagining of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent Doolittle Raid. Some special prints were made from the color negatives using the recently re-introduced Technicolor dye inhibition printing process. Despite negative reviews from critics, Pearl Harbor became a major box office success, earning $449,220,945 at the world wide box office and won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing.


In early 1923, two young boys from Tennessee, Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker, pretending to fight the Germans, climb into Rafe's father's biplane cropduster and accidentally start it, giving them their first taste of flying. Soon after, Danny's father (William Fichtner) comes to drag him home, berating him for playing with Rafe and beating him. Rafe attacks Danny's father calling him a "dirty German"; Danny's father counters by explaining that he fought the Germans in World War I and wishes that they never witness the horrors of war.

In the summer of 1940, as grown men, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are First Lieutenants in the United States Army Air Corps under the command of Major Jimmy Doolittle (Alec Baldwin). Rafe meets Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale), a Navy nurse who passes him for his physical examination even though he has dyslexia, and is instantly smitten. The two soon begin dating and fall in love. However, Rafe has volunteered to serve with the Royal Air Force's Eagle Squadrons. Before Rafe leaves for England, he makes a promise to Evelyn that he will come back for her. Evelyn and Danny are transferred with their respective squadrons to Pearl Harbor. Rafe is shot down over the English Channel and presumed to have been killed in action.

Three months later, Evelyn and Danny bond over their mourning of Rafe and unexpectedly develop feelings for each other. They soon begin their own relationship.

On the night of December 6, 1941, Rafe unexpectedly returns to Pearl Harbor, having survived the crash and being stranded in occupied France in the interval. He quickly realizes that Evelyn and Danny are now together, and feeling hurt and betrayed, the two friends soon get into a fight at the local hula bar. The next morning, on December 7, they are interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor by Zero fighters, Val dive bombers and Kate torpedo bombers.

The surprise Japanese air raid sinks the battleships USS Arizona, USS Oklahoma and many other ships. Back at the hospital, Evelyn helps tend to the dozens of wounded who come in and must help decide who can and cannot be saved. Meanwhile, Rafe and Danny are the only two who manage to get airborne and shoot down seven Japanese aircraft with P-40s using their reckless tactics, including an old game of theirs called chicken. The two men then go to the hospital, where Evelyn takes blood from them for the hundreds of injured soldiers, and later aid in trying to rescue the many men still in the harbor. In the aftermath, the survivors attend a memorial service for the fallen victims after the U.S. declaration of war on Japan.

Rafe and Danny are both promoted to Captain, awarded the Silver Star and assigned to now-Colonel Doolittle for a dangerous and top-secret mission. Before their departure, Evelyn meets Rafe and reveals that she is pregnant with Danny's child, although she doesn't want Danny to know so he can focus on the upcoming mission. She says that she is going to remain with Danny, though deep down she will always love Rafe just as much. Rafe accepts this.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Jon Voight) wants to send a message that the Japanese homeland is not immune from bombing. Danny, Rafe and others are to fly B-25 Mitchell medium bombers from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, bomb Tokyo and then land in friendly Chinese territory. The two men succeed in their bombing but crash-land into a rice field in a Japanese-held area when their bombers run out fuel. Just as Rafe is about to be shot, Danny flies over head and shoots the attacking Japanese soldiers. Danny's plane then crashes and he is wounded. Japanese come in and attack Rafe and start to hold the others captive. They tie Danny to a cattle holder. Rafe picks up a gun and kills several Japanese. Danny acts as human shield for Rafe and is fatally wounded. Rafe holds a dying Danny in his arms, telling him he can't die because he's going to be a father. With his dying words, Danny tells Rafe to raise his child for him. The crew arrives back in Hawaii and a hopeful Evelyn awaits. She sees Rafe and is excited, but then sees him carrying Danny's coffin.

At the end of the war, Dorie Miller becomes the first African American to be awarded the Navy Cross and Rafe is discharged from the Army. He and Evelyn, who are together again, and Danny's son, also called Danny, who Rafe is bringing up as his own, are back at the farm in Tennessee visiting Danny's grave. Rafe then takes his son flying, and the two fly off into the sunset in the old biplane.


  • Ben Affleck as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Rafe McCawley
  • Jesse James as Young Rafe
  • Josh Hartnett as First Lieutenant (later Captain) Danny Walker
  • Reiley McClendon as Young Danny
  • Kate Beckinsale as Nurse Evelyn Johnson
  • Cuba Gooding Jr. as Petty Officer Second Class Dorie Miller
  • Tom Sizemore as Sergent Earl Sistern
  • Jon Voight as President Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Colm Feore as Admiral Husband E. Kimmel
  • Mako Iwamatsu as Kaigun Taishō (Admiral) Isoroku Yamamoto
  • Alec Baldwin as Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Jimmy Doolittle

Supporting Cast

  • William Lee Scott as First Lieutenant Billy Thompson
  • Michael Shannon as First Lieutenant Gooz Wood
  • Scott Wilson as General George Marshall
  • Peter Firth as Captain Mervyn S. Bennion
  • Dan Aykroyd as Captain Thurman
  • Jennifer Garner as Nurse Sandra
  • Jaime King as Nurse Betty Bayer, credited as James King.
  • Sara Rue as Nurse Martha
  • Catherine Kellner as Nurse Barbara
  • Matt Davis as Joe
  • Andrew Bryniarski as Joe the Boxer
  • Ewen Bremner as First Lieutenant Red Winkle
  • Greg Zola as Lieutenant Anthony Fusco
  • Kim Coates as Lieutenant Jack Richards
  • Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Kaigun Chūsa (Commander) Minoru Genda
  • Graham Beckel as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz
  • Tom Everett as Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox
  • Tomas Arana as Vice-Admiral Frank J. 'Jack' Fletcher
  • Madison Mason as Admiral Raymond A. Spruance
  • Glenn Morshower as Rear Admiral William F. 'Bull' Halsey Jr.
  • Michael Shamus Wiles as Captain Marc Andrew "Pete" Mitscher
  • William Fichtner as Mr. Walker (Danny's father)
  • Steve Rankin as Mr. McCawley (Rafe's father)
  • Leland Orser as Major Jackson
  • Michael Milhoan as Army Commander
  • Eric Christian Olsen as gunner to Captain McCawley
  • Brad Vaughn as gunner to Major Johnson
  • David Kaufman as young nervous doctor


The proposed budget of $208 million that Bay and Bruckheimer wanted was an area of contention with Disney executives, since a great deal of the budget was to be expended on production aspects. More inflammatory was the effort to change the original film rating from an R to PG-13. Bay wanted to graphically portray the horrors of war and was not interested in primarily marketing the final product to a teen and young adult audience. Budget fights continued throughout the planning of the film with Bay "walking" on several occasions with the final $135 million budget that was "green lighted", the largest in Hollywood history at the time.

In order to recreate the atmosphere of pre-war Pearl Harbor, the producers had the advantage of staging the film in Hawaii and using the current Naval facilities. Many active duty military members stationed in Hawaii and members of the local population served as extras during filming there, although for the sake of expediency and due to the present use of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, the set at Rosarito Beach in the Mexican state of Baja California was utilized for scale model work. Formerly serving as the set for Titanic, Rosarito served as the ideal location to recreate the death throes of the battleships in the Pearl Harbor attack. A large-scale model of the bow section of the USS Oklahoma mounted on a gimbal produced an authentic rolling and submerging of the doomed warship. Production Engineer Nigel Phelps realized that the sequence of the ship, rolling out of the water and slapping down would involve one of the "biggest set elements" to be staged. Matched with computer generated imagery, the action had to reflect precision and accuracy throughout. In addition, to emulate the ocean, a massive, stadium-like "bowl" was filled with water. The bowl was built in Honolulu, Hawaii and cost nearly $8 million. Today the bowl is used for training for scuba diving and deep water fishing tournaments.


Box office

Pearl Harbor grossed $200 million at the domestic box office and $450 million worldwide. The film was ranked the sixth highest-earning picture of 2001.

Critical reception

Despite the enormous box office success, the critical response to Pearl Harbor at the time of its release tended toward mixed to negative, and the film earned only a 25% approval rating according to review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes based on 166 reviews with an average rating of 4.4/10, making it Bay's fourth worst reviewed movie to date, next to Transformers: Age of Extinction, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Bad Boys II. On Metacritic, the film has a score of 44 based on 35 reviews, indicating "mixed or average reviews." While it earned praise for its technical achievements, the screenplay and acting were popular targets for critics.

Roger Ebert gave the film one and a half stars and wrote, "The film has been directed without grace, vision, originality, and although you may walk out quoting lines of dialogue, it will not be because you admire them" and criticized its liberties with historical facts: "There is no sense of history, strategy or context; according to this movie, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because America cut off its oil supply, and they were down to an 18-month reserve. Would going to war restore the fuel sources? Did they perhaps also have imperialist designs? Movie doesn't say". Michael Bay responded to Ebert's criticism of his film: "He commented on TV that bombs don't fall like that. Does he actually think we didn't research every nook and cranny of how armor-piercing bombs fell? He's watched too many movies. He thinks they all fall flat — armor-piercing bombs fall straight down, that's the way it was designed! But he's on the air pontificating and giving the wrong information. That's insulting!"

Nonetheless, on a similar refrain, A. O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, "Nearly every line of the script drops from the actors' mouths with the leaden clank of exposition, timed with bad sitcom beats". USA Today gave the film two out of four stars and wrote, "Ships, planes and water combust and collide in Pearl Harbor, but nothing else does in one of the wimpiest wartime romances ever filmed."

In his review for the Washington Post, Desson Howe wrote, "although this Walt Disney movie is based, inspired and even partially informed by a real event referred to as Pearl Harbor, the movie is actually based on the movies Top Gun, Titanic and Saving Private Ryan. Don't get confused". Peter Travers of Rolling Stone magazine wrote, "Affleck, Hartnett and Beckinsale - a British actress without a single worthy line to wrap her credible American accent around - are attractive actors, but they can't animate this moldy romantic triangle". Time magazine's Richard Schickel criticized the film's love triangle: "It requires a lot of patience for an audience to sit through the dithering. They're nice kids and all that, but they don't exactly claw madly at one another. It's as if they know that someday they're going to be part of "the Greatest Generation" and don't want to offend Tom Brokaw. Besides, megahistory and personal history never integrate here".

Entertainment Weekly was more positive, giving the film a "B-" rating, and Owen Gleiberman praised the Pearl Harbor attack sequence: "Bay's staging is spectacular but also honorable in its scary, hurtling exactitude ... There are startling point-of-view shots of torpedoes dropping into the water and speeding toward their targets, and though Bay visualizes it all with a minimum of graphic carnage, he invites us to register the terror of the men standing helplessly on deck, the horrifying split-second deliverance as bodies go flying and explosions reduce entire battleships to liquid walls of collapsing metal".

In his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris wrote, "here is the ironic twist in my acceptance of Pearl Harbor-the parts I liked most are the parts before and after the digital destruction of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese carrier planes" and felt that "Pearl Harbor is not so much about World War II as it is about movies about World War II. And what's wrong with that?"

Historical accuracy

Like many historical dramas, Pearl Harbor provoked debate about the artistic license taken by its producers and director. National Geographic Channel produced a documentary called Beyond the Movie: Pearl Harbor[16] which covers some of the ways that "the film's final cut didn't reflect all the attacks' facts, or represent them all accurately."

Many Pearl Harbor survivors dismissed the film as grossly inaccurate and pure Hollywood. Historian Lawrence Suid's review is particularly detailed in the major factual misrepresentations of the film and the impact of them, even in an entertainment film. Historical inaccuracies found in the film include the early childhood scenes depicting a Stearman biplane crop duster in 1923, as the aircraft was not accurate for the period and the first commercial crop-dusting company did not begin operation until 1924, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture not purchasing its first cotton-dusting plane until 16 April 1926.

The inclusion of Affleck's character in the Eagle Squadron was another jarring aspect as serving U.S. airmen were prohibited from doing so, though some American civilians did join the RAF. Countless other technical lapses such as painting the Japanese Zero fighters green for effect even though Bay knew that was inaccurate, but liked the way the aircraft looked so that audiences could differentiate the "good guys from the bad guys" was another aspect that rankled film critics.

The greatest criticism came when actual historical events were altered for dramatic purposes. For example, Admiral Kimmel was not on a golf course on the morning of the attack (he was planning to meet General Short for a regular game, but cancelled as news of the attack came in), nor was he notified of the Japanese embassy leaving Washington, D.C., prior to the attack. The first official notification of the attack was received by General Short several hours after the attack had ended. The report of attacking an enemy midget submarine, in real life, did not reach him until after the bombs began falling.

Critics decried the use of fictional replacements for real people, declaring that Pearl Harbor was an "abuse of artistic license." The roles that the two male leads played by Affleck and Hartnett have in the attack sequence are analogous to the real historical deeds of U.S. Army Air Corps Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth M. Taylor, who took to the skies during the Japanese attack and, together, claimed six Japanese aircraft and a few probables. Taylor, who died in November 2006, previously declared the film adaptation "a piece of trash... over-sensationalized and distorted." Additionally, the combat scenes between the P-40s and the Zeros would not have been fought at wave-top height or with the aircraft darting around various obstacles as seen in the movie as such tactics would have been suicidal for both participants.

Attacks against Battleship Row and Pearl Harbor have been further dramatized. The movie depicts the four other battleships that survived the attack with severe damage, Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania being sunk and rendered irreparable. These ships managed to escape further damage during the attack, although Tennessee herself was seen trapped in a listing manner during the attack, and Nevada being beached after the attack. Utah was not depicted.

Other inaccuracies concerning the attack on Battleship Row include showing one of the battleships' lattice masts spectacularly collapsing onto the deck of another vessel, which did not occur in the actual attack. In another scene, a crewman on the Arizona is nearby when a bomb pierces the deck and comes to rest in the forward ammunition locker. He is depicted as having time to investigate and even makes a brief comment before the bomb detonates. During the actual attack, the fatal bomb caused a massive explosion about seven seconds after penetrating the deck, making it virtually impossible for a crewman to see the bomb within the ship or say anything. The portrayal of the magazine explosion and the destruction of the ship, while spectacular, was also inaccurately depicted.

There are some minor inaccuracies with the portrayal of Dorie Miller. In the film, Petty Officer Second Class Miller comforts Captain Mervyn S. Bennion who has been mortally wounded by a torpedo that strikes the West Virginia, and is with him when he dies. Miller is depicted as delivering the Captain's last orders to the ship's executive officer, and then mans a twin .50 caliber Browning anti-aircraft machine gun. In actuality, Petty Officer Third Class Miller was first ordered to carry injured sailors to places of greater safety, and later ordered to go assist the Captain. The Captain refused to leave his post on the bridge and continued to direct the battle until he died of his wounds just before the ship was abandoned. Ensign Victor Delano actually comforted the Captain in his final moments. Miller was then ordered to help load a machine gun, but assumed control of the unmanned weapon instead. Delano showed Miller how to fire the weapon, saying later that Miller did not even "know how to shoot a gun." In the movie, as in real life, Miller shot down at least one enemy plane before he ran out of ammo and was ordered to abandon ship with the rest of the ship's crew. Miller was also depicted as a member of USS Arizona's crew during which he represented them in a boxing match. Miller was in fact assigned to the USS West Virginia and was their heavyweight boxing champion. He did not represent the USS Arizona.

A scene in New York involved the backdrop of the RMS Queen Mary in her commercial colors but by 1940, had actually been repainted grey, for refit completion to serve as a troopship already serving the Royal Navy, mainly in the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

The movie was also criticized for the way it "distinguished Americans from Japanese, including the wearing of black clothes, the lack of a social life, family or friends, and the devotion to warring, juxtaposing these with the portraits of Americans".

No acknowledgement was given in the film to the fact that approximately 250,000 Chinese civilians were massacred by the Japanese Army in eastern China in retaliation for Chinese assistance of the attacking American aviators[29] in participation of the Doolittle Raid.

Popular culture

The soundtrack for the 2004 film Team America: World Police contains a song entitled "End of an Act" whose lyrics describe the emotion of longing for someone as well as panning the hapless Pearl Harbor. The song's chorus recounts, "Pearl Harbor sucked, and I miss you" equating the singer's longing to how much "Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor" which is "an awful lot, girl". The ballad contains other common criticisms of the film, concluding with the rhetorical question "Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?"

Satirical newspaper The Onion commemorated the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor's release with an article comparing what is viewed as the poor quality of the film to what is viewed as the terror of the actual Pearl Harbor attacks.

"The truth is, we were never prepared for an atrocity of this magnitude, and I guess it all happened so quickly that we never had a chance. Even now, all these years later, it makes me sick just thinking about it."

The Onion satirically quoting Josh Hartnett on the film.


At the 2001 Academy Awards, Pearl Harbor was nominated for four awards, winning one for Best Sound Editing. Its other nominations were for Best Sound Mixing (Greg P. Russell, Peter J. Devlin and Kevin O'Connell), Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for "There You'll Be". At the Golden Globe awards it was nominated for Best Original Score and Best Original Song, also for "There You'll Be".

At the 2002 MTV Movie Awards, the Attack on Pearl Harbor won for Best Action Sequence.

At the 2001 Golden Raspberry Awards Pearl Harbor was nominated for six awards: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actor (Ben Affleck), Worst Screenplay, Worst Screen Couple (Beckinsale with Affleck or Hartnett), and Worst Remake or Sequel (presumably of the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!); but lost to Tom Green's Freddy Got Fingered in all but the latter category, wherein it lost to Tim Burton's version of Planet of the Apes.

At the 2002 World Stunt Awards Pearl Harbor was nominated for the Taurus Award, Best Aerial Work.


Pearl Harbor soundtrack album, on Warner Bros. Records was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score (lost to the score of Moulin Rouge!). The original score was composed by Hans Zimmer. The song "There You'll Be" was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.

Track listing

  1. "There You'll Be" - song performed by Faith Hill
  2. Tennessee - 3:40
  3. Brothers - 4:04
  4. ...And Then I Kissed Him - 5:37
  5. I Will Come Back - 2:54
  6. Attack - 8:56
  7. December 7 - 5:08
  8. War - 5:15
  9. Heart of a Volunteer - 7:05

Total Album Time: 46:21


  • The film was released in the United States on May 25, 2001, 60 years after the events of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Four months after the film's release, and 60 years after Pearl Harbor, on September 11, 2001, the United States was hit by another attack of the same scale, an event which was referred to by some media outlets as "the new Pearl Harbor."
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