How the Movie Pearl Harbor Told Its Own Version of the Attacks

December 14, 2016

Hollywood vs. Reality

Seventy-five years ago, the military harbor on the coast of Oahu experienced one of the most devastating attacks in American history. Thousands lost their lives and the entire country was thrust into a war it had tried to stay out of. With the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, history was made, and while there are many means of experiencing this history, such as the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument at Pearl Harbor, there are glamorized retellings that take a terrible tragedy and mold it into a fantastical version of itself.

In 2001, Michael Bay released an epic drama based on the destruction at Pearl Harbor, but in doing so, he took the expected Hollywood liberties in retelling the story. To honor the 75th anniversary of the attack and pay tribute to those involved in the real-life tragedy at the harbor, these are the truths behind some of the glorified events of the film.

Hollywood vs. Reality

Hospital Bombardments

Clearly, Pearl Harbor wasn’t meant to be a scene-for-scene historical retelling of the events of December 7th, 1941, but it definitely aimed to villainize the Japanese bombers more than they already were. How did it do this?

In the movie, bombers were portrayed as targeting hospitals and killing dozens. The reality is that the medical centers weren’t deliberately targeted. The attacks did hit local medical centers, but the only one staff member was killed.

Airfield Torpedo

The liberties taken with the film sometimes betrayed an ignorance of military weaponry as, during the dramatized attack, Japanese torpedo bombers are seen attacking an airfield near the harbor. The nature of the torpedo bomber weaponry would make them incredibly ineffective on land, though they were used to attack many of Pearl Harbor’s vessels.

Airfield Torpedo

Advanced Communications Technology

Claiming that a movie isn’t meant to be a historical retelling of an event sometimes seems more like a poor excuse for glaring inaccuracies, such as the inclusion of advanced communications technology. The film depicts radios with the ability to pick up transmissions from the fighters. While it’s a good device for storytelling, this technology was simply not present during the 1941 attack.

The planes communicated via short-range radios, making it impossible for ground radios to pick up on the conversations.

Admiral Kimmel’s Whereabouts and Culpability

A little over a week after the bombing, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was relieved of his command. According to the Roberts Commission appointed by President Roosevelt to investigate the attack, Kimmel had shown judgment errors and a refusal to fulfill his commanding role. At the time of the attack, the admiral was in his office and could see the destruction unfolding in the harbor.

According to the Hollywood retelling, Kimmel was on a golf course, oblivious to the destruction occurring on Oahu. Though the movie makes it a little easier to swallow that he be blamed for a lack of preparedness. In truth, however, the newly-appointed admiral had pointed out the likelihood of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in February of 1941, .

Get the Accurate Story

Get the Accurate Story

Built for entertainment value, Pearl Harbor is far from an accurate historical piece. Curious minds looking for the most gritty version of the attacks are going to want to travel to the source, back to Pearl harbor, where they’ll get a complete version of the events of December 7th, 1941.

From the USS Arizona Memorial to standing aboard the Battleship Missouri, the vessel on which the Japanese signed their final surrender, the memorials and museums of Pearl Harbor are the ideal places to learn the real history of the events of December 7, 1941.

Find a Tour


Remember Pearl Harbor Tour from Waikiki

Guided Tour

6-7 hours (approx.)
From $129

The Complete Pearl Harbor Tour Experience With Lunch

Guided Tour

10.5 hours (approx.)
From $204

Pearl Harbor & Honolulu City Tour from Waikiki

Guided Tour

5.5 hours (approx.)
From $67

Official Passport to Pearl Harbor


6-8 hours (approx.)
From $89.99
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