Major Differences between the movie and the actual event:

1. How accurately is the sneak attack from the Japanese depicted in the film?
2. Were there actually two pilots named Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker?
3. How accurately are the actions of the nurses and the hospital shown during the attack?
4. Did FDR really stand up from his wheelchair and walk to make a point?
5. Was the Doolittle Raid accurately portrayed in the film?
6. How accurately were the planes and airfields depicted in the film?
7.Admiral Kimmel is shown playing golf when the attack occurs.
8. In the film, the Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania are shown to be damaged.

These are not all of the factual errors, but they are the most drastic.
Picture of ships burning at Pearl Harbor (Left) Scene of Ships burning from the movie Pearl Harbor (Right)

1. The way the Japanese are shown sneaking up on the Americans is depicted pretty accurately. They did disappear from radars and flood the airwaves announcing a possible attack on various targets throughout the Pacific. This confused the Americans and helped the Japanese use surprise to attack Pearl Harbor.
2. No, there never were any pilots by the names of Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker. However, these two pilots are supposed to be based on Second Lieutenants George Welch and Kenneth Taylor. There are quite a few similarities between the fictional characters and the real life people. Welch and Taylor did race in a Buick to an airfield during the attack, and they were the first two pilots off the ground. Also, Welch and Taylor were responsible for taking down at least 6 of the 29 Japanese aircrafts that were lost. However, the love story with the nurse that is shown in the movie never occurred with Welch and Taylor. Additionally, Welch and Taylor did not participate in the Doolittle Raid, but they were an integral part of it in the film. The two real pilots supposedly did not appreciate how they were depicted in the film, Taylor was quoted saying that the film was "a piece of trash; over-sensationalized and completely distorted."
3. This scene is actually depicted accurately. Marking patients that had received morphine with an "M", marking them with a "C" for critical, and "F" for fatally wounded was truthfully what the nurses did during the attack. Also, when running out of ink from their pens, they actually did use lipstick to mark patients instead. Asian nurses were often discriminated against and soldiers would refuse to be treated by them, as shown in the film.
4. No, this entire scene was made up. President Roosevelt never had to convince Admiral Nimitz and General Marshall to plan a retaliatory attack on Japan, the two men were in complete agreement that an attack was necessary. Also, without braces on his legs, Roosevelt could barely stand considering his condition. The fact that the film showed him walking was clearly used for dramatic effect.
5. Yes and no. Most of the raid is depicted fairly accurately, but there are aspects of it that are not. For one, many of the men shown participating in the raid were fighter pilots that fought at Pearl Harbor. In reality, these fighter pilots would not be able to operate bomber planes, and all the men in the raid came from the 17th bombardment group from South Carolina, none of which were a part of the Pearl Harbor attack. Also, the Raiders are shown flying together in formation towards Japan, when in reality each bomber flew by themselves. No U.S. pilots were killed in conflicts with Japanese soldiers, although they did have to crash land into China and did encounter Japanese patrols. Also, Lt. Col. James Doolittle really did tie the Japanese peace medals to the bombs that were dropped on Japan.
6. Most of the aspects of the planes and the airfields are depicted accurately. However, one inaccuracy is regarding the Japanese Navy Zero fighter planes. In the film they are colored a dark green, where in reality they were a light gray.
7. Admiral Kimmel was not on a golf course on the morning of the attack (he was planning to meet General Short for a regular game, but cancelled as news of the attack came in), nor was he notified of the Japanese embassy leaving Washington,D.C., prior to the attack.
8. Attacks against Battleship Row and Pearl Harbor have been further dramatized. The movie depicts the four other battleships that survived the attack with severe damage, Maryland, Nevada, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania being sunk and rendered irreparable. These ships managed to escape further damage during the attack, although Tennessee herself was seen trapped in a listing manner during the attack, and Nevada being beached after the attack. Utah was not depicted.

George Welch and Kenneth Taylor (Left) Fictional Characters Rafe and Evelyn (Right)
The movie is also plagued with dozens of anachronisms and can be found here: