352 user 65 critic

Empire of the Sun (1987)

1:39 | Trailer
A young English boy struggles to survive under Japanese occupation during World War II.


Steven Spielberg


Tom Stoppard (screenplay), J.G. Ballard (novel)
1,912 ( 133)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 13 wins & 11 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Christian Bale ... Jim
John Malkovich ... Basie
Miranda Richardson ... Mrs. Victor
Nigel Havers ... Dr. Rawlins
Joe Pantoliano ... Frank Demarest
Leslie Phillips ... Maxton
Masatô Ibu ... Sgt. Nagata
Emily Richard Emily Richard ... Mary Graham, Jim's mother
Rupert Frazer Rupert Frazer ... John Graham, Jim's father
Peter Gale Peter Gale ... Mr. Victor
Takatarô Kataoka Takatarô Kataoka ... Kamikaze Boy Pilot (as Takatoro Kataoka)
Ben Stiller ... Dainty
David Neidorf ... Tiptree
Ralph Seymour ... Cohen
Robert Stephens ... Mr. Lockwood


Based on J. G. Ballard's autobiographical novel, tells the story of a boy, James Graham, whose privileged life is upturned by the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, December 8, 1941. Separated from his parents, he is eventually captured, and taken to Soo Chow confinement camp, next to a captured Chinese airfield. Amidst the sickness and food shortages in the camp, Jim attempts to reconstruct his former life, all the while bringing spirit and dignity to those around him. Written by Jeff Hansen <jmh@umich.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


To survive in a world at war, he must find a strength greater than all the events that surround him.


Action | Drama | History | War


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


The film received six Oscar nominations, but lost all of them to The Last Emperor (1987). See more »


During the very last shot of Jim's suitcase floating in the river, a rope is visibly tied to its top right corner, leading off the right side of the screen, keeping the suitcase from drifting out of the shot. See more »


[first lines]
Narrator: [title card] In 1941 China and Japan had been in a state of undeclared war for four years. A Japanese army of occupation was in control of much of the countryside and many towns and cities. In Shanghai thousands of Westerners, protected by the diplomatic security of the International Settlement, continued to live as they had lived since the British came here in the 19th century and built in the image of their own country... built banking houses, hotels, offices, churches and homes ...
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Referenced in Eldorado: Episode #1.30 (1992) See more »


Suo Gan
Performed by The Ambrosian Junior Choir
Arranged and conducted by John McCarthy
Soloist James Rainbird
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User Reviews

An Underrated Classic
21 November 2019 | by JMichaelAtchueSee all my reviews

In 1987 Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" opened to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. But the film's reputation has grown with time, and it's now rightfully considered an underrated Spielberg classic. "Empire of the Sun" tells the true story of Jim Ballard, an English boy who's separated from his parents in China during World War II. Featuring an excellent performance from the young Christian Bale, "Empire of the Sun" is an emotional and visually striking drama about loss, family, and the horror of war. Spielberg also uses Ballard's story to address thought-provoking questions about social privilege, militarism, and the lengths that humans will go to in order to survive. Spielberg doesn't provide easy answers to these questions, making this one of his more mature and contemplative works.

Having seen "Empire of the Sun" multiple times, I've grown to deeply appreciate it as both a sweeping historical epic and a powerful tale of a traumatic childhood. The movie isn't perfect - at two and a half hours it's too long. The second act in particular drags and this causes the movie to lose much of its dramatic momentum halfway through. But despite its length "Empire of the Sun" does more than enough to maintain your interest with compelling performances, amazing visuals, and of course John Williams' award winning score. 8/10.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Release Date:

25 December 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Empire of the Sun See more »

Filming Locations:

Hertfordshire, England, UK See more »


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,314,509, 13 December 1987

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

70 mm 6-Track (70 mm prints)| Dolby (35 mm prints)


Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

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