320 user 58 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)
1,160 ( 731)
Nominated for 6 Oscars. Another 13 wins & 10 nominations. See more awards »



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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.


Drama | History | War


PG | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

25 December 1987 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Empire of the Sun See more »

Filming Locations:

UK See more »


Box Office


$35,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,314,509, 13 December 1987

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

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:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


In Rescue Dawn (2006), 19 years after this film, Christian Bale recounts an incident during World War II in which an American fighter plane on a strafing run flew closely past him with the canopy open, and the pilots looking straight at him, with his goggles up. See more »


In the POW camp, when Basie stands at the dead woman's stretcher and tells her children "She's with God now", she blinks behind the veil. 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 ...
See more »


Featured in The Movie Game: Episode #1.7 (1988) See more »


The British Grenadiers
Arranged and Conducted by John Williams
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A Movie Of Great Moments Without Being A Great Movie
22 July 2004 | by Theo RobertsonSee all my reviews

From Spring Of 1940 to the Summer of 1941 Britain experienced " Its finest hour " where an island people found itself fighting alone against Nazi Germany and fascist Italy . We experienced Dunkirk , the blitz , the battle of Britain and 36,000 British and commonwealth troops held back a force of 400,000 Italian troops in North Africa . If Britain had accepted the Nazi peace deal on offer the history of the human race would have been entirely different and not in a good way either . Ironically after this zenith of British courage we went onto lose the peace which is something we've been resentful about ever since

I'm being neither nostalgic nor nostalgic when I point out the above . It's just in the early scenes of EMPIRE OF THE SUN the Brits in China are shown as being arrogant , ignorant phillistines who all live in nice big houses . Maybe this might have been true of those Brits living in ivory towers running the empire but it's an atypical view of the average Brit during the second world war . I might have let it pass but seeing as the director's Steven Spielberg who insists on always casting British actors to play Nazis in all his movies and who put the boot into Monty in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN I can't help thinking he's somewhat Anglophobic . Read my opening paragraph and you'll learn more about Britain in the second world war than you will from seeing this movie

There's other flaws in the screenplay ( Written by Tom Stoppard who's not an American by the way ) which people have noticed . It is rather disjointed and episodic . The audience is shown the events of the Japanese Imperial Army invading Shanghai in 1941 where all the Westerners are put into a holding camp then events jump forward almost FOUR years later where the prisoners are held in an internment camp . What ? Nothing of any interest has happened in four years ? Some critics have also mentioned the rather clichéd characters and I agree . The Brits are all rather stiff upper lipped types while the Yanks have a cheeky extrovert attitude with plenty of scams going on . Did the Americans have a monopoly on scams during the war ? I also have serious reservations on the way the Japanese are portrayed in this movie . When Alexander Solzhenitsyn said " The only difference between the Nazis and the communists is that the Nazis used gas " it's a statement that could have been used to describe the Japanese occupation forces of the 1930s and 40s , but here they're shown as noble warriors ( I don't dispute the raw courage of the Japanese of the time but there's nothing noble about mass murder ) who salute the young James . If the author of the book JG Ballard said it this scene happened then it happened but I do have many reservations about the Japanese portrayal

There are many positive aspects to EMPIRE OF THE SUN . Technically it's very good with some fine scenes like the above saluting scene and the mustang flying over the internment camp with the pilot waving to young James in slow motion and the scene where the young protagonist believes he can resurrect his dead friend but for me the best scene is where Basie is allowed onto a truck where he turns his back on James who is left behind in a heart wrenching moment . It's these moments that linger long in the memory and certainly make EMPIRE OF THE SUN a far better regarded film than it certainly deserves to be

It's also a film with a very good cast who rise above the material . It's surprising to think this now but when the movie was released in 1987 both Nigel Havers and Miranda Richardson where only known for their sit com roles. Richardson ( So awful in BLACKADDER 2 ) is very good here and went onto to become more or less Britain's best actress in the early 1990s and there's early screen appearances by Joe Panoliano , Ben Stiller ( Yes that one ) and Paul McGann . Despite playing an irritating character ( And characters don't come anymore irritating than a 14 year old boy with a bi-polar disorder ) Christian Bale is excellent and it's nice to know he still gets regular employment as an adult actor . The only disappointment is John Malkovich but I've never been a fan of his " Stoned Jack Nicolson " type of acting and like I said he does appear in the movie's best scene

EMPIRE OF THE SUN has it's moments but that's all they are - moments . They stay in the mind making you believe that it's a far better movie than it actually is . It's not by any stretch of the imagination a bad or even average film but it's not a masterpiece either . Perhaps the fact that it was nominated for several Oscars ( None of which were for best film or director ) but failed to win any shows up it's true worth

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