How Accurate Is the New Midway Movie?

November 26, 2019
by Chris 

When you immerse yourself in history, it becomes clear how important it is for the theatrical movies that  claim to depict real events to be as accurate as possible. While Hollywood often takes shortcuts to fit within a two-hour run-time, it shouldn’t omit or change key moments if the film is intended to come across as a historical piece. Movies like Pearl Harbor (2001) took many liberties with the events of December 7, 1941, which raises the question of whether or not Roland Emmerich’s 2019 movie based on the Battle of Midway is equally as lax  in its depictions of a major historic event.

Considering the enormous importance the Battle of Midway had in the course War in the Pacific, it’s worth taking a moment to break down what the Midway movie got right and how true to the real-life events it is.

Is Midway an accurate depiction of the 1942 battle that changed the course of the Pacific War?

The Director Was Adamant About Accuracy

Hollywood is notorious for taking an event from history and then start piecing together events around it that may or may not have happened. Pearl Harbor was widely criticized for doing this, but for Midway, the director Roland Emmerich was serious about keeping things factual. In an interview with the Boston Herald, the he confirmed that keeping to real events was the “whole idea about this film.” Save for some elements of the dialogue, there was no inventing events to fit within the dramatic narrative. Emmerich's quest for accuracy was supported by screenwriter Wes Tooke—a former member of the US Navy—who also believed in the importance of accuracy.

The Key Characters in the Midway Movie

Sometimes, to beef up the plot of a historical movie, fictional characters are added. Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor is an example of this as the core characters, played by Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, were completely made up for the movie. Scroll through the list of key characters in Midway, and you’ll be able to match the names up with actual historic figures. Even civilians portrayed in the movie line up with real-life individuals.

The Attack on Pearl Harbor

Attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941

Attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941

To put the Battle of Midway in proper historical context, a storyteller needs to at least allude to the events of December 7, 1941. Emmerich takes it a step further, and depicts the devastating Japanese assault far more accurately than the 2001 film. The Midway movie even includes a reference to the Doolittle Raid, which was the counter-attack on Tokyo that was intended to boost American morale and show the Japanese that they were vulnerable even at home.

Making Accurate Ships and Planes

Douglas TBD-1 Devastators lined up in preparation for the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942

Douglas TBD-1 Devastators lined up in preparation for the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942

The events of Midway occurred more than 75 years ago, which meant Emmerich would have to do some digging to accurately depict the warplanes and ships seen in the movie. Finding functioning models of iconic warplanes that were identical to their 1942 counterparts was no easy feat, and of course, the ships were all long gone. In fact, just about everything needed to be built from scratch for the film. A few inaccuracies can be seen with the planes, specifically pertaining to their payloads. For instance, the movie depicts a Douglas TBD-1 equipped with a torpedo and a bomb when in reality, it could only carry one or the other.

Accuracy of the Combat Scenes in the Midway Movie

Depicting combat accurately is always difficult, especially when the conflict occurred more than seven decades ago. War is by definition chaotic, and those fighting the battles don't always remember details with any precision. What we have to remember is that Midway isn’t a documentary. It’s intended to sell tickets, fill up movie houses, and entertain its audience. Most of the film’s minor inaccuracies can be chalked up to a desire to provide a more compelling narrative, but they’re not glaring errors that contradict what's historically documented about the Battle of Midway.

Bottom line, Midway is an entertaining film that's worth seeing if you're looking to get a deeper understanding of one of the most important naval battles of World War II.

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