Follow TV Tropes


Film / Pearl Harbor

Go To
The diabolical Japanese plan to sneak in under cover of Ben Affleck is set in motion.

"Pearl Harbor is a two-hour movie squeezed into three hours, about how, on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese staged a surprise attack on an American love triangle."

Pearl Harbor is a 2001 film. Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett play two childhood friends, Rafe and Danny, both US Army Air Corps pilots in the months before the US enters World War II. Once Rafe manages a date with army nurse Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), they fall in love. He goes off to fight with the RAF, and gets shot down. Danny comforts Evelyn after they are transferred to Hawaii, and it then turns into a torrid affair.

When it turns out Rafe is alive, he's not too pleased his friend took his gal, and tries to beat him up. The next day, Japanese planes come and attack Pearl Harbor.

The two pilots bravely scramble to their planes, and manage to down a few enemy fighters. After the attack, they get ready to take part in the Doolittle Raid, but still sort of fight over the girl. It turns out she's pregnant. The father doesn't make it. Which one was the father? It doesn't matter, they're all cardboard people anyway.


Okay, the film doesn't entirely focus on this love triangle — the Japanese preparations for the attack and the Americans' attempts to figure out what they're planning are depicted in parallel, as is the attack's aftermath — but it did get a lot of critical flak for focusing more on it than the actual historical events. It also got criticism for loads of historical inaccuracies, which The Other Wiki gives a fairly lengthy segment on.

Since this was Michael Bay's first film disappointment — it was expected to be the big blockbuster of that summer, but was ultimately upstaged by Shrek — he gets a lot of the blame, which isn't really justified. Several factors point to writer Randall Wallace, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, and the studio, just as much, if not more, than Bay.

For a different film adaptation of the events of December 7th, go watch Tora! Tora! Tora!. (Or for the full effect, watch Battle of Britain, Tora! Tora! Tora! and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.)


Pearl Harbor provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Evelyn turning to Danny after Rafe's supposed death.
  • Accidental Adultery: Rafe is presumed dead after being shot down over the English Channel. His Love Interest Evelyn begins a romance with his best friend Danny, which makes things awkward when Rafe returns alive. Fortunately, Danny has the good manners to get himself actually killed on their next mission, leaving both of them Someone to Remember Him By.
  • Ace Pilot: Rafe and Danny. Though he features far less in the film, Jimmy Doolittle was as well, being an Army test pilot who helped develop many flying techniques used to this day (for example: instrument flying, required for flying aircraft at night or in poor weather when the pilot can't see outside the plane).
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: It may seemed odd and even silly that a sailor's crying out that he can't swim, but back then, swimming wasn't taught to decrease the number of restrictions.
  • America Won World War II: Despite being set before America even enters WWII, there is a scene where a British man states:
    "God help anyone who goes to war with America".
  • Anti-Villain: Naval Marshall General Isoroku Yamamoto (Type IV). While being charged by the Japanese Empire with the task of somehow successfully destroying the American Pacific navy at anchor in shallow waters, he is making comments such as "A brilliant man would find a way not to fight a war."
  • Artistic License – Explosives: Prior to the Doolittle Raid, the Americans are shown tying Japanese friendship medals to the bombs, which happened in real life. However, the medals are tied to the nose, which would interfere with the arming pin. In real life, they were attached to the tail fins.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Mountains in Long Island, NY indeed.
    • After the Doolittle Raid, General George Marshall provides an update to President Roosevelt while he is tending to the Rose Garden. The raid took place at roughly noon Tokyo time, which is ten at night in Washington.
  • Artistic License – History: Has its own page.
  • Artistic License – Military:
    • As MPs break up the bar fight, Danny says that they are going to be "thrown in the brig." "Brig" is a naval term. Because Rafe and Danny are army pilots, the correct term to use is "stockade." Major Jackson, who is in US Army Signal Corps, also makes this error.
    • A grand total of zero United States Army Air Forces pilots joined the Eagle Squadron. The USAAF would not have had any interest in letting its active duty pilots go off to fight for Britain, and such a thing would be illegal for a neutral to do in war anyway. Rather than Ben Affleck's character volunteering to go, he would have had to have deserted, and then secretly joined the squadron.
    • It is ridiculous to suggest that a fighter pilot would be selected to later pilot a medium bomber in the Doolittle Raid, especially because of the unusual demands of taking such a large plane off a carrier. Rafe, Danny, and the rest are P-40 pilots. Retraining them for a different single-engine fighter would take weeks. Getting them to the point of being able to get a multi-engine bomber off the ground, much less landing it without dying, would take months. The level of proficiency needed to launch a loaded B-25 from a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier would take years to achieve. Doolittle really was qualified in every plane the Army Air Corps had, but only because he was a freaking test pilot.
    • "P-40s can't outrun Zeros, so don't try". The P-40 is, in fact, significantly faster than the Zero, but few American pilots were aware of the relative differences between the two planes in 1941 anyways.
    • An army officer briefs Admiral Kimmel on the fighter defenses for Oahu. He later appears during the attack, dismissing the incoming strike force as a flight of B-17s that are due at that time. In the first scene, he is addressed as major, but in the second, he is addressed as lieutenant while wearing the insignia of a captain.
    • A Japanese officer announces a report from strike leader Mitsuo Fuchida, but gives his rank as colonel. The IJNAS utilized naval ranks. Fuchida's rank at the time of the attack was commander.
  • Artistic License – Physics: During the beginning of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese plane is shown dropping a bomb that falls straight down onto an American ship. In reality the bomb should fall in a parabolic arc due to having forward momentum from being carried through the air by the plane that dropped it.
  • Artistic License – Ships: Almost all the ships that aren't special effects are wrong in one way or another:
    • At one point, we see a wide shot of the US fleet prior to the Doolittle raid. No attempt is made to disguise the modern Kitty Hawk-Class supercarrier in the middle or a modern attack sub accompanying the fleet.
    • The USS Lexington museum ship was used to simulate both Japanese carrier Akagi during the Pearl Harbor attack scene, and its angled deck is clearly visible. While Lexington did serve in WWII, she did not get the angled flight deck until after the war. For that matter, the Essex-class Lexington which continues to exist as a museum ship (CV-16) would not enter service until late 1942, after the original Lexington (CV-2) was sunk at the Battle of Coral Sea.
    • The USS Constellation stands in for the USS Hornet (during the Doolittle raid's launch scene). Its angled deck is clearly visible, as is its modern radar array, its steam catapult, and its gatling CIWS systems.
    • All the carriers in the film have steel decks instead of wooden ones. Only British carriers had armored decks in 1941.
    • Several US Navy destroyers are featured being bombed in the film. 70's era Spruance-class guided missile destroyers, that is.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The USS Arizona is blown apart by an armor-piercing bomb that sets off the powder magazine.
  • Award-Bait Song: The song "There You'll Be", sung by Faith Hill has something familiar about it. Perhaps a slight similarity to a song from an earlier blockbuster movie? Nah.
  • Bar Brawl: Danny and Rafe start it shortly before Japanese attack on titular harbor, when an argument over their love triangle escalates.
  • Billed Above the Title: Ben Affleck. This movie was supposed to be his coronation as an A-list movie star; instead it was the beginning of a very slippery slope for his career.
  • Bloodless Carnage: Considering the large number of high-caliber bullets flying down to the civilians and military dudes, there's remarkably little haemoglobin being spilled. Averted in other scenes though.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Rafe and Danny nearly get court-martialled for playing chicken with their planes. During the attack, they use the same stunt to knock down four Japanese Zeros.
  • Chef of Iron: Petty Officer Doris Miller, who is a cook onboard a ship who mans the guns.
  • Comforting the Widow: A slight variation. Evelyn is in love with Rafe, who then goes off to fight the Nazis. She learns that his plane was shot down, so she immediately falls in love with his best friend, Danny. When Rafe returns it's, um, awkward. It doesn't help that she's pregnant. But it DOES help that Danny gets killed by Japanese troops after they crash in China!
  • Crisis Point Hospital: During the Japanese attack, the nurses rush to the hospital where the sheer quantity of wounded soldiers, sailors, and marines quickly overwhelm the hospital's resources. As a result, the medics order the nurses to not treat the men who are critically wounded, and concentrate on the ones that have a higher chance of survival.
  • Curb Stomp Cushion: Several times during the attack, American soldiers and sailors are shown managing to shoot down a handful of Japanese planes, despite their bases burning and their ships sinking.
    • Rafe and Danny themselves manage to down a handful of Zeroes in the midst of the attack, but by then the bombers said Zeroes were protecting had already dropped their payload and headed home.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse
  • Developing Doomed Characters: An hour and fifteen minutes until the actual Pearl Harbor attack happens.
  • Dramatic Irony: One of the nurses noting how few patients there are in the hospital when she shows the newcomers around.
  • Dynamic Entry: Towards the end of the movie, when Rafe and his bomber crew are pinned down by Japanese troops, Danny's bomber comes in and strafes them before crash landing a short distance away.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Yamamoto makes it clear throughout the movie that he wishes war wasn't necessary.
    • During the flight towards Pearl Harbor, a gunner in one of the Japanese bombers is shown waving a group of children playing baseball away from the oncoming attack.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Danny might have lived to the end of the film had he not kept Evelyn's photo on his panel.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: When the Japanese take off to attack Pearl Harbor, and when the Americans take off to attack Tokyo.
  • General Failure: Subverted with Admiral Kimmel. While he doesn't put the Pacific Fleet on full alert, he is deeply concerned with the threat that Japan poses. He even calls out an analyst who claims an attack on Pearl Harbor is impossible, saying that "A smart enemy hits you right where you think you're safe."
  • Gorn: The Director's Cut. Oh god the Director's Cut.
  • Heroic BSoD: Once the attack is over, Admiral Kimmel is touring the destroyed harbor when he receives a note from Washington warning that an attack by Japan is imminent. He replies "They're only an hour late."
  • Hollywood Tactics: At one point, Rafe advises the other pilots that the Zero is faster than the Warhawk, so they would have to try to out-turn them in a fight. In fact, the opposite was true: The Zero, while very maneuverable, was considerably slower than most American fighters. Of course, many American pilots early in the war learned that fact the hard way.
    • Also understandable as the only intelligence on the A-6M Zero was thought of as insane at the time. On top of that, the P-40s were having to get off the ground and accelerate while the Zeros were already at combat speed. So even though the P-40 was a faster plane (especially after a diving attack), the plane would have significant difficulty getting rid of a Zero that's got all the cards before the Warhawk can even leave the ground.
    • During his tour in Britain, Rafe's monopolization of the radio while in combat was a definite no-no. Radio nets were shared with the entire squadron, and during combat were only to be used in an emergency (i.e. "You've got a German on your tail") or by the commanding officer. Describing literally everything you're doing, while crowding out what others in your squadron might be doing, would get the snot beaten out of you by your squadmates back at base.
  • Hospital Hottie: Evelyn, and most of her fellow nurses.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: In several portions of the dogfight (particularly early on, after taking off), the Zeros fire over a hundred rounds at two basically straight-flying P-40s without hitting anything. Realistically, the nose-mounted machine guns on the Zero should all hit on a fixed target anywhere within their effective range — the Zeroes getting in loads of hits was what should have actually happened, but none really do more than wound the very heavily-armored American fighters.
  • Informed Ability: A lot of characters like to talk about how much of a talented hero Rafe is. Oddly enough, in scenes where both he and Danny are flying, he doesn't show himself to be any better at flying than Danny does, as they both manage to get rid of the Japanese pilots trailing them. And not to mention that the reasons he lists for volunteering for the RAF entail him not wanting to get stuck training newbies and basically just wanting glory to his name. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but coupled with the fact that even real historical figures act like he is a big noble hero, it starts to grate.
    • Comparison to Danny's skills nonwithstanding, the way Rafe (as well as other characters) flies his P-40 indicates that he is, in fact, a really lousy pilot. If this movie had any touch with reality, he would be shot down very quickly.
  • It's All About Me: One of many reasons Rafe is so unsympathetic as a character (despite many in-universe claims otherwise) is that he takes both his supposed best friend and his girlfriend completely for granted. He courts Evelyn, knowing well that he is about to leave for Britain soon and leave her alone, thus showing absolutely no concern for her own feelings. Despite that, he fully expects her to be there for him even after he's declared killed in action. When it comes to Danny, he endangers his professional career by dragging him into life-threatening "exercises" which involve playing chicken with an airplane, visibly tries to control his life and deny him the right to make important decisions (he lies that he was assigned to join the RAF while in reality he went there on his own accord) and is, in general, a classic case of Toxic Friend Influence — but again, he expects Danny to be there for him regardless, and keep an eye on his girlfriend. Talking about "all take and no give" kind of relationship, which Rafe remains totally oblivious to.
  • It's Probably Nothing: As happened in real life, a radar station detects the incoming Japanese strike force, but their superior believes it's actually a flight of B-17s due at that time.
  • I Warned You: While briefing the President after the attack, Captain Thurman sends a look to Admiral Nimitz, who ignored his analysis that the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor.
  • Jerkass: Rafe, full stop. He becomes angry at Danny and Evelyn for hooking up, when they both believed he was killed in action and thus wouldn't be coming back.
  • Just Plane Wrong: The dogfight and chase scene between the P-40s and Zeroes during the attack is practically full of this. Realistically, Rafe's and Danny's planes would have been reduced to scrap, much like one of their pilot buddies who tried to takeoff before them. See Artistic License – History above for even more examples.
  • "L" Is for "Dyslexia": The condition is conditions for grounding a pilot and Rafe, who is an expert pilot, suffers from it. He tries to memorize the eye chart. Evelyn sees through the ruse, but passes him anyways.
  • Location Theme Naming: All of the American battleships are named for US states. Arizona (the battleship that is blown up) and West Virginia (where Doris Miller mans a machine gun) both get featured during the fighting.
  • Marked Bullet: The Doolittle raiders write messages on their bombs, with Colonel Doolittle also attaching friendship medals the Japanese had given Americans, something that happened in real life. In particular, Red writes "This is for Betty," as she died in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • Morning Sickness: Evelyn spends over an hour in a bathroom after spending time with Danny.
  • Nasal Trauma: A champagne bottle pops its cork straight into Rafe's already-broken nose.
  • Never My Fault: Rafe willingly left the U.S. in order to fight against Germans in the Battle of Britain and made sure neither his friend nor his girlfriend had any word to say about it (he lied to Danny that he was assigned to join the RAF and he courted Evelyn only to leave her shortly thereafter and expect her to be there for him nonetheless). When he miraculously reappears after being shot down and declared killed in action only to find out that Danny and Evelyn fell in love, he shifts the blame squarely on their shoulders and refuses to take any responsibility for his own decisions.
  • Never Trust a Title: This movie is 3 hours long — 183 minutes. Only 45 of those minutes entail the battle of Pearl Harbor. Then the movie even rambles on after Pearl Harbor.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Trailers and posters either severely downplayed the love story, or didn't mention it at all. It's telling that many commented the trailers were better than the movie.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rafe and Danny's action at Pearl Harbor is based on that of Lieutenants Kenneth Taylor and George Welch. This was not taken well by the critics, who deemed leaving the real historical characters out of the movie in favor of two fictional ones an abuse of artistic license.
  • Noble Demon: Admiral Yamamoto is portrayed as this.
  • Oh, Crap!: A black crewmember on the USS Arizona is in the kitchen pantry peeling potatoes and complaining that the noise outside is just another dumb drill. He is then startled out of his seat by a huge object punching through the upper deck and several compartments until it stops at the forward magazine room of the ship. His initial confusion turns into horror when someone yells that it's a bomb and he realizes that he's too close to survive.
    Son of a- *Explosion*
  • Old School Dog Fight: During the attack, Refe and Danny get a couple of planes and start shooting the Japanese planes.
  • Outside-Context Problem: After one of the heroes points out that the attacking planes are Japanese, a bystander remarks "I didn't even know the Japs were sore at us!"
  • Politically Correct History: While it was really nice to show that Britain was fighting the war before America even got involved, it was still inaccurate. The US Military could not send their military to fight when the US was neutral at the time; Rafe would had to have been a civilian in order to enlist for the RAF.
    • Japanese aircraft are shown strafing a hospital, and chasing civilian cars, which didn't happen in real life.
  • Pretty in Mink: Fur trimmed coats worn by the ladies, a few more furs in the club scene, and even Faith Hill wore a fox wrap for the music video.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The scene where a sailor cries out he can't swim was based on real events. Being able to swim wasn't mandatory in the US navy until after World War II.
  • Rousing Speech: FDR gives one over the radio when the Doolittle Raid begins.
    "From Berlin, Rome, and Tokyo, we have been described as a nation of weaklings and playboys who hire British or Russian or Chinese soldiers to do our fighting for us. Let them repeat that now. Let them tell that to General MacArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the soldiers who today are fighting hard in the far waters of the Pacific. Let them tell that to the boys in the Flying Fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines."
  • Shout-Out: After being ordered to land after an exercise, the pilots instead decide to do a flyby. Sure the details are different, but the allusion to Top Gun is clear (and some would say very inappropriate).
  • Sitting Duck: The American aircraft and ships at Pearl Harbor. In Real Life, only eight American planes were able to get airborne, and only a handful of ships were able to make the run to open sea, with only one of the eight battleships, Nevada, even managing to get clear of her moorings, only to have to run aground to avoid sinking anyways.
  • Skewed Priorities: One soldier continues to brush his teeth as the Pearl Harbor attack is going on.
  • Social Media Before Reason: One of Rafe's friends keeps on recording the attack with a camera even when all hell is breaking loose just inches away from him. He gets hit by gunfire from a passing Zero and dies.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Evelyn's biological son, named for his father.
  • Stock Footage Failure: The montage at the beginning, set 1939-40, shows an M26 Pershing tank in Cologne. The M26 arrived in Europe in 1945, and wasn't even on the drawing board by 1940.
  • Tattered Flag: Seen lying in the water during the attack.
  • Tempting Fate: "It's a dud!" No, it's a delayed-detonation bomb.
  • Theme Naming: The American battleships in the film, as in Real Life, are all named for US states. At the time, this theme extended to cruisers being named for cities, and later on "Large Cruisers" (never to be called "Battlecruisers" despite very strong design similarities) being named for territories. Destroyers were named for deceased servicemembers, and submarines for fish, sharks, and other aquatic life. Carriers of the time mostly inherited Legacy names from older ships. In later years submarines would be named for states (Missile Subs) and cities (Attack Subs), carriers mostly for Presidents, and battleships and cruisers have mostly been phased out of US Naval service in favor of bigger more powerful destroyers.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Upon seeing the attack unfolding, Evelyn screams for the other nurses to get to the hospital.
  • This Is Not a Drill:
    West Virginia PA system: This is no shit! They just sank the Arizona!
  • Too Dumb to Live: The dude with the camera. During an aerial assault with everyone running for cover, he stands exactly in the middle of the target area so he can take better footage of the incoming planes. He is, of course, cut down by the gunfire. His dropped camera ends up shooting his lifeless face.
  • War Is Hell: In one of his letters to Evelyn, Rafe writes that he befriended two British pilots, who then were shot down the following day.
  • Weapons Understudies: Infamously, little to no effort was used to try and hide or disguise modern warships to match the early 1940's setting. Giveaways include angled flight decks on aircraft carriers (not introduced until 1952) and the lack of gun turrets on a group of Spruance class destroyers (most warships built after World War II were armed with missiles, rather than guns, and the gun-armed ships phased out of service). As mentioned on this page, all of the planes shown in the film are either later-war models or replicas being used as stand-ins for the actual models used during the time period, most notably A6M5 Zeroes instead of the more appropriate A6M2.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Rafe calls him a lousy friend for stealing his girl, while Danny calls Rafe out for leaving them both in the first place to "fight in someone else's war".
  • Widescreen Shot: The attack squadron shot is a notable one.
  • Worthy Opponent: Rage speaks admirably about the Luftwaffe pilots he faced after he arrives in Pearl.
  • Wronski Feint: With two planes and two pursuing Japanese fighters.
  • You Are in Command Now: After the captain of the West Virginia is killed in the attack, Dorie Miller races to the XO, who's huddled and barking orders into a radio to yell "Sir, Captain's dead, you're in charge, sir!" The XO barely nods before continuting to give orders.
  • Your Other Left: Used as a Chekhov's Gun.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: