In the mid 1980s the communist government banned the movie in Hungary, claiming it glorified the United States Armed Forces. However, some illegal copies were circulated on VHS with parts about the Russian trawler spying on the USS Nimitz edited out.
The script called for the Japanese pilot to try to force the F-14 into the water. The pilot who basically did a hammerhead and pulled out real close to the water was Richard "Fox" Farrell (VF-84 XO), now retired. He did kick up quite a bit of seawater and was really pushing the envelope with the Tomcat. WWII ace-in-a-day Archie Donahue was one of the Zero pilots. The Zeroes (converted AT-6 Texans) were flying with the throttle to the stops and the F-14s were flying at stall speed (note wings fully extended in most scenes). That was so they could get both aircraft in the same shot at the same time (remember, no CGI stuff back then!).
Reportedly, the filming wrapped early on the U.S.S. Nimitz as it was recalled to its home base so that it could take on the helicopters and crew that were used in the ill-fated "Operation Eagle Claw", the attempt to rescue the U.S. Embassy Iranian Hostages in 1980.
A total of forty-eight real life US Navy personnel from the USS Nimitz were credited in the closing credits for their performances as extras, background artists, or actors, with some having speaking parts.
During shooting of the opening shot where the CAG's Tomcat is taking off from Pearl Harbor, the film crew actually underestimated the blast radius of the Tomcat's exhaust and one of their cameras was blown over when the plane went to full afterburner, which resulted in the shot being filmed from a slightly different angle than originally planned.
Virtually unknown outside Naval Ranks, there is something known as "breakaway music." Breakaway music is a modern U.S. Naval tradition used to motivate sailors upon the conclusion of underway replenishment (UNREP). When the two ships involved in the UNREP conclude their transfer of fuels and stores, and commence their breakaway, a song (usually selected by the Captain, but sometimes chosen by the Officer of the Deck or Navigation Officer) is played over the 1MC, the "all hands" circuit that talks to the entire ship. Breakaway music may sometimes be related to the name of the ship, such as the "Theme from Star Trek" (USS Enterprise), "Theme from Rocky" (USS Boxer) and the "Theme from Bad Company" (USS Forrestal). The present day breakaway music for the USS Nimitz upon completion of UNREP can only be the music uniquely written for the ship - John Scott's "Theme from The Final Countdown."
As with most pre-CG-effects movies about the Pacific War, the planes standing in for the A6M2 Zeroes are actually specially-modified AT-6 Texans mocked up to look like Zeroes (since from the side - but not the wings - the two planes are remarkably similar).
Filmed in the Atlantic, not the Pacific Ocean (where it takes place). The USS Nimitz was an Atlantic fleet ship until the summer of 1987 when it was transferred to the Pacific. USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) stood in for the Nimitz for the arrival past the 'Arizona' into Pearl Harbor.
In the movie, F-14 Tomcats of VF-84 'Jolly Rogers' are shown engaging in a dogfight with Japanese Zeroes. In August 1981, one year after the movie's release, the Nimitz' other F-14 unit at the time, VF-41 'Black Aces' (Which also appears on-screen) engaged in the first actual combat of the F-14 when a pair of VF-41 Tomcats engaged and destroyed two Libyan SU-22 'Fitters' in the Gulf of Sidra.
When an F-14 does a steep dive and pulls out just before crashing into the ocean while "playing" with one of the Zeroes, the "scream" the F-14 made was created by mixing the sound of the jet engines with the actual scream of the pilot's wife when she saw that clip for the first time.
Filmed during the Nimitz' Sep 1979-May 1980 cruise. Squadrons aboard the Nimitz at the time included VF-41 and VF-84 (F-14A Tomcats), VA-35 (A-6E Intruder), VA-82 and VA-86 (A-7E Corsair II), VFP-63 (RF-8G Crusader), VAQ-134 (EA-6B Prowler), VS-24 (S-3A Viking), VAW-112 (E-2B Hawkeye), and HS-9 (SH-3H Sea King). All squadrons get time on film. Other Navy aircraft types briefly seen include a North American/Rockwell RA-5C Vigilante when Lasky's helicopter is taking off in the movie's beginning (Tailcode code "GJ" is visible on it, which designates it as assigned to Reconnaissance Heavy Attack Squadron Three (RVAH-3) operating out of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida) and an F-4 Phantom II is on the Nimitz' flight deck when the Crusader is recovered following its reconnaissance mission (Markings can't be made out on it).
At the time of filming, The Nimitz's air wing was CVW-8 and the tail code was AJ. All Atlantic air wing tail codes begin with an "A" while all Pacific air wing codes begin with an "N". In WWII the air group codes were geometric designs on the vertical stabilizer and the wing.
As of 2014, most of the aircraft types featured in the movie have been retired by the United States Navy. E-2 Hawkeyes and EA-6B Prowlers are still on active duty in upgraded forms (Though the latter is being replaced by the EA-18G Growler) and, although retired from active-duty carrier squadrons, a few S-3 Vikings are still flown by Naval Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 30 (VX-30) out of Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California.
The island where Senator Chapman and Laurel Scott are flown to by helicopter, to be dropped off, instead of Oahu (the location of Pearl Harbor), is Ni'ihau, which was and is the only completely privately owned island (out of the eight main islands of the Hawaiian Islands, during the time of World War II, and continuing through the time of filming until the present day/2017) and is also the seventh largest out of the eight main islands of the Hawaiian Islands chain. Although Ni'ihau is depicted as unpopulated in the film, it had about 200 permanent residents during the World War II period, plus a US Navy training base, since closed.
There is an 8-ball on the right side of CAG's flight helmet. CAG was previously the acronym for Carrier Air Group, as well as Commander, Air Group. Hence, the air group commander was and is referred to as CAG. Until 1963 the air groups were designated as Carrier Air Group (CAG or CVG being somewhat interchangeable, with CVG being official). In 1963, the designation was changed to CVW, for Carrier Air Wing. However, calling the air group commander "CAW" or "CVW" just wouldn't sound right, so the commander is still called CAG, which is still accurate, since CAG had a double meaning at first, but now just has the single (present) meaning of Commander, Air Group. Further, all air wings are numbered and their aircraft carry a two letter designation.
Captain Yelland's top two awards, as shown in some of the final scenes, include the Navy Cross and Silver Star, indicating bravery in combat. This would indicate he was a Vietnam Veteran and saw combat in that area, as further indicated in the multiple Vietnam associated ribbons.
Charles Durning's character, Senator Samuel Chapman, is fictitious, as is the "Senate Defense Committee" that he co-chairs (in 1941, this would likely have been either the "Committee on Military Affairs" or the "Committee on Naval Affairs"). However Samuel Chapman Massingale was a real person, and a political figure. Representative Sam C. Massingale served in the House as a Democrat from Oklahoma from 1935 until his death in January of 1941.