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10 History Movies That Mostly Get It Right


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"Tora! Tora! Tora!"
Japanese and American filmmakers worked together to create a fairly accurate -- and kind of boring -- two-and-a-half-hour film. 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images
Japanese and American filmmakers worked together to create a fairly accurate -- and kind of boring -- two-and-a-half-hour film. 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

An experiment in film and in diplomatic relations, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) tells the story of the momentous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from the perspectives of both Japan and the United States. Actually, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is two films made by two different directors, but they were edited together, alternating between the two perspectives. The result is a remarkably accurate and even-handed retelling of how the United States got pulled into World War II.

Because of a strong commitment to historical accuracy, the filmmakers do a decent job of setting the context of tense diplomatic relations between Japan and the United States. But the film isn't perfect. Some historians take issue with how the Japanese represent themselves. The film ignores the context of Japanese aggression in China and depicts Japan as "forced" into war [source: Iriye]. In addition, the film over-emphasizes the clerical errors that delayed getting an ultimatum to Washington before the attack. This falsely implies that delivering it in time would have changed the course of history and that the ultimatum would have been perceived as an act of war [source: Iriye].

Aside from a few inaccuracies, critics say the rest of the film falls flat artistically: Both the script and visuals disappoint. In fact, some say it was the commitment to accuracy that made the two-and-a-half-hour film dull. It certainly failed to enthuse American audiences, and the big-budget film was a disaster for 20th Century Fox.