Using fictional main characters, "Pearl Harbor" (2001) depicts the dramatic Japanese attack on the United States that triggered the nation's entry into World War II. Although the film used realistic explosions, Pearl Harbor historians were underwhelmed with the historical accuracy.
The story follows U.S. military pilot Rafe McCawley, who leaves behind his country to fight Hitler with the British. After returning to his best friend, Danny, and girlfriend, who are stationed in Hawaii's Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Japanese attack. Rafe and Danny quickly jump in their planes to shoot down the enemy. The boys survive to fight another day as they are soon sent to bomb Tokyo.
Historian Lawrence Suid has said that the film's action bears little more than a "remote resemblance" to the real event [source: McCrisken]. In addition, Rafe and Danny shoot down dozens of planes during the attack, while the real U.S. pilots hit much fewer [source: Flynn]. What's more, no fighter pilots would've been sent to Tokyo to serve as bomber pilots [source: LaSalle].
Some even more ridiculous inaccuracies amuse historians. For instance, the film lifts a fictional line from the Japanese admiral directly from "Tora! Tora! Tora!" -- a 1970 movie about the attack. Also, the idea that a crippled Franklin Delano Roosevelt would get up from his wheelchair doesn't seem to have any basis in reality [source: LaSalle].
If we've learned anything after perusing this list, it's probably that we should watch even seemingly realistic historical movies with a skeptical eye. For more interesting lists, look over the links below.
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- "Full Synopsis for Gladiator (2000)." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=341478&category=Full%20Synopsis
- "Overview for Battle of the Bulge." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=68208
- "Overview for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=69690
- "Overview for The Far Horizons (1955)." Turner Classic Movies. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title.jsp?stid=4562
- "Pocahontas." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online.
- Barta, Tony. "Screening the Past." Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=np5TA-0215sC
- Benoit, William L. Dawn M. Nill. "Oliver Stone's Defense of JFK." Communication Quarterly, Spring 1998. Vol. 46, Issue 2.
- Carnes, Mark C. "Past Imperfect." Macmillan, 1996. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=EOavGxnbh6UC
- Davies, Peter N. "The Man Behind the Bridge." Continuum International Publishing Group, 1991. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=k1E_wzIY7xwC
- Flynn, Gillian. "Pearls of Wisdom." EW.com. May 31, 2001. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,128642,00.html
- LaSalle, Mick. "Hollywood vs. history: Historians say 'Pearl Harbor's version of World War II attack is off the mark." May 29, 2001. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/chronicle/archive/2001/05/29/DD192071.DTL
- McCrisken, Trevor B., Andrew Pepper. "American History and Contemporary Hollywood." Rutgers University Press, 2005. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=AK9bmadu-AUC
- Monk, Claire, Amy Sargeant. "British Historical Cinema." Routledge, 2002. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=C-AS7fkHqJ8C
- Niemi, Robert. "History in the Media." ABC-CLIO, 2006. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=WVFhcBcv_X8C
- Normey, Robert. "JFK." LawNow. April 1, 2006. Article Archives. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.articlearchives.com/humanities-social-science/visual-performing-arts-visual/1606312-1.html
- Silver, Marc. "Pocahontas. For Real." U.S. News & World Report. June 19, 1995. Vol. 11, Issue 24.
- Silverblatt, Art. "Genre Studies in Mass Media." M.E. Sharpe, 2007. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=_Mmy8wYWI3EC
- Summers, Julie. "The Colonel of Tamarkan." Simon & Schuster, 2005. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=FPafAAAAMAAJ&pgis=1
- von Tunzelmann, Alex. "Braveheart: dancing peasants, gleaming teeth and a cameo from Fabio." Guardian.co.uk. July 31, 2008. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2008/jul/30/3
- Ward, Allen. "'Gladiator' in Historical Perspective." Classics Technology Center. Copyright 2001. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://ablemedia.com/ctcweb/showcase/wardgladiator1.html
- Washington Times. "Anachronistic howlers." Washington Times .March 21, 2008. Pg. D01.
- Winkler, Martin M. "Gladiator: Film and History." Blackwell Publishing, 2004. (Feb. 16, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=q3Hfhdv_o0kC
Not all conspiracies are bogus. Some have managed to be real, and the work of the government. Stuff They Don't Want You To Know looks at a few.