This week a very large asteroid officially described as "potentially hazardous" will come very close to Earth.
Chances are it will miss us, but we can't be totally certain until it actually does. And it's only fitting this summer will end with a close celestial call, because it's also the 20th anniversary of the greatest cinematic asteroid season ever.
Twenty years ago Armageddon crashed into theaters, and the occasion was marked by plenty of articles all over the internet paying homage to Michael Bay's disaster film. However this year also marked 20 years since the release of that other movie about a potential planet-ending comet, Deep Impact, which landed two months before Armageddon. Clearly time has declared a winner in the great Apocalyptic Asteroid Movie of 1998 War, but did the wrong film emerge victorious? Should Deep Impact be the one getting the fond remembrances instead?
To get the definitive answer once and for all, before all life on Earth is possibly wiped out by an actual asteroid, we are doing a full, comprehensive head-to-head breakdown, for every category big and small, to see which one will serve as a greater testament to mankind whenever it goes extinct.
(Note: If you are reading this after the asteroid passed us, well, yay! We survived! If the asteroid did hit us though take solace you didn't spend your last days alive breaking down two twenty year old movies.)
Analysis: Neither trailer is particularly great, but both highlight their major difference: Armageddon is a silly space movie about blowing stuff up, and Deep Impact is a serious Earth movie about people in danger. Deep Impact's trailer does a better job building suspense (and you can't go wrong using Morgan Freeman as your de facto narrator), but it also shows way too much from the third act, whereas Armageddon leaves a lot more mystery. WINNER: Armageddon, because Deep Impact gives away too much of the movie.
Armageddon: Leads - Bruce Willis, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck Co-stars - Billy Bob Thornton, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Owen Wilson, Peter Stormare, Will Patton, Keith David, Jason Isaacs, Eddie Griffin, Shawnee Smith, Udo Kier, Grace Zabriskie
Deep Impact: Leads - Téa Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Elijah Wood Co-stars - Robert Duvall, Leelee Sobieski, Jon Favreau, James Cromwell, Ron Eldard, Laura Innes, Kurtwood Smith, Richard Schiff, Mike O'Malley, Mark Moses
Analysis: Deep Impact has a really good cast, and Téa Leoni has always been underrated, but it has more actors who you know by face, not by name. Armageddon has even bigger names while also having plenty of character actors. WINNER: Armageddon, both for its leads and minor roles.
Armageddon: A group of blue-collar drillers have to train to be astronauts in two weeks so they can fly to space and place a nuclear bomb inside a giant asteroid that threatens all life on Earth.
Deep Impact: A journalist discovers the government has secretly been preparing for over a year to send a team of astronauts to place a nuclear bomb on a comet that will wipe out all life on the planet.
Analysis: The basic story foundation is exactly the same, except in Armageddon they have to bury the bomb deep inside the meteor as opposed to Deep Impact's surface explosion, which doesn't work. That creates a second, non-extinction-level-but-still-devastating comet, which hits the planet and kills most of the U.S. Eastern seaboard. Most of Armageddon is told from Bruce Willis's point of view, whereas Deep Impact follows multiple storylines equally in the style of Fail Safe. WINNER: TIE. This is the exact same plot, just told from different perspectives. Armageddon's shorter timeframe makes it more exciting, but Deep Impact's longer timeline makes it more interesting.
Armageddon: Bruce Willis doesn't want his daughter Liv Tyler dating his reckless employee Ben Affleck. It's a whole thing. Also every member of the drill crew has a comically bad personal life.
Deep Impact: Téa Leoni doesn't get along with her dad. Young Elijah Wood, who discovered the comet, marries his girlfriend so she and her family can also be saved, but it's a whole thing.
Analysis: Bruce Willis raises an amazing, brilliant daughter, then tries to murder her boyfriend because he works for him, as though she's his property. It was dumb 20 years ago, and it feels ways worse now. Deep Impact's characters all feel like real human beings who experience real human emotions. You actually want them to live. WINNER: Deep Impact.
Armageddon: Hahaha! AHAHAHAHAHA! This is maybe the least scientifically-accurate movie ever made. It's aggressively not accurate. For example, at the beginning a basketball-sized meteorite lands in New York City NEXT to someone, and they are totally fine, as opposed to the entire borough being a disaster zone. This movie plays on a continuous loop in Neil deGrasse Tyson's own personal hell. I bet in his obituary it gets blamed for his death.
Deep Impact: Not totally sure, which is all that matters. How many of us are scientists? Not many of us in the moment can specifically say, "That's not technically right," or "Oh, that's 100% accurate." It all seems plausible, and the meteor collision looks as devastating as you'd imagine. I know explosions in space don't make a sound so it's not all correct, but a normal viewer won't be shaking their head at any of the science.
Analysis: Michael Bay's disregard for science makes me think he hates physics more than he loves blowing stuff up. WINNER: Deep Impact.
MOST ABSURD MOMENT
Armageddon: "The entire movie" is an acceptable answer, but the opening sequence is impossibly stupid, just a master class on being as ridiculous as possible. No one could be surprised by how absurd everything else is after that first scene.
Deep Impact: Young Leo and Sarah get married so she and her family can get a spot in the humanity-saving bunker, but then her parents aren't on the list for the bus so she doesn't go. Then Leo leaves the bunker to go back for her. At no time do either sets of parents refuse to let their child willingly die.
Analysis: Do you think the more absurd the movie the better? Because if so, Armageddon might be the best movie ever made. If you only want some normal absurdity, like parents letting their 14-year-olds go the full Romeo and Juliet Deep Impact is for you. But in the spirit of celebration this is probably WINNER: Armageddon.
BEST DRAMATIC MOMENT
Armageddon: Bruce Willis tricks everyone so he can take Ben Affleck's place, sacrificing himself to save all mankind.
Deep Impact: Robert Duvall tells the rest of the crew there's a way for them to stop the bigger of the two comets, but they won't make it out alive.
Analysis: This one is genuinely tough, because both characters are brave people making the ultimate sacrifice, and they all get tearful goodbyes with loved ones. However, like everything else in Armageddon, Bruce Willis's death is surrounded by lots of silliness, whereas the astronauts in Deep Impact get to die honorably. WINNER: Deep Impact in a close one.
Armageddon: Stanley Anderson plays the President, and he oversees one of the worst plans ever concocted, which he then abandons despite knowing the alternative is absolutely doomed to fail. He would have been responsible for the end of mankind if not for Billy Bob Thornton going rogue at NASA.
Deep Impact: Morgan ****ing Freeman, who is everything you'd want in a president during a crisis. He is under control, direct, honest, and he somehow keeps America from falling apart despite the threat of the Apocalypse.
Analysis: This is so easy it's not worth analyzing, but it is the perfect excuse to point out that Armageddon takes place in the same cinematic universe as Michael Bay's The Rock, where Stanley Anderson also plays the President. In terms of crises, he's the movie equivalent of FDR, only if FDR was bad at being the President. WINNER: Deep Impact.
BEST CHARACTER NAMES
Armageddon: Bruce Willis' Harry S. Stamper and Steve Buscemi's "Rockhound."
Deep Impact: Robert Duvall's veteran astronaut Spurgeon Tanner and Ron Eldard's cocky young astronaut Oren Monash.
Analysis: Harry Stamper is a sneaky super silly name, especially for a lead character. "Mr. Stamper will save the world!" But Oren Monash is uniquely weird. WINNER: Deep Impact.
Armageddon: So. Many. Explosions. In space, on the ground, on an oil rig, everything is constantly blowing up, including all of Paris. There's also a big bar fight, and plenty of other fisticuffs. The movie is really just one long action scene.
Deep Impact: A lot less than you think. The movie relies more on the tension of whether mankind will survive than on how they try to stop the comet. The biggest action sequence takes place when the small piece of the comet hits the Eastern seaboard. It's genuinely terrifying.
Analysis: The single best moment goes to Deep Impact, but it can't compete on the whole. WINNER: Armageddon
Armageddon: Honorable Mention: "You and your men are the biggest mistake in the history of NASA!"
"None of you have to go. We can all just sit here on Earth, wait for this big rock to crash into it, kill everything and everybody we know. United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody want to say no?"
Best: "Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I ever met."
Deep Impact: Honorable Mention:"You know you're gonna have a lot more sex than anyone else in our year."
"Famous people always get sex, Mr. Perry. That's the main reason it's good to be famous."
Best: "So, that's it. Good luck to us all."
Analysis: Armageddon is far more quotable on the whole, but Deep Impact's best line still need appreciation. It comes at the end of the President's speech when he tells the entire world the mission has failed and they are all doomed. "So that's it," is a totally sincere and believable thing to say right then, and also really funny. Not as funny as "Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I ever met," though. WINNER: Armageddon
Armageddon: Often, it's genuinely fun, and even occasionally funny. The rest of the time it's so stupid that it's impossible not to have a great time.
Deep Impact: Very little here is "fun" in the traditional sense, but if you enjoy a contemplative story about real people experiencing real emotions you'll prefer it to Michael Bay's space explosions.
Analysis: Despite being about a life-ending comet hitting the planet, Deep Impact is boring for the first 75% of the movie. Meanwhile Armageddon is so obsessed with entertaining there's a sequence in the middle where the ship stops to refuel at a space station run by a totally insane Russian cosmonaut. Of course the station blows up. WINNER: Armageddon
MOST FAMOUS SONG
Armageddon: "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" by legendary rock band Aerosmith, whose singer is Liv Tyler's dad. Amazingly it's the only number 1 hit the band has ever had. Really.
Deep Impact: None.
Analysis: WINNER: Deep Impact Are you kidding me? "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" is a cheesy, unoriginal garbage power ballad, and the fact an all-time great rock band like Aerosmith recorded it makes it even worse. I'd be fine with an asteroid destroying all life on the planet if it meant never hearing it again. "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" will definitely be blamed in my obituary.
AND THE BEST APOCALYPTIC ASTEROID MOVIE OF 1998 IS...
If you count up the categories it's actually a 6-6-1 tie. (And I promise that happened naturally. If I was fudging these categories I would have made the "song" one be the only one that counted.) But it's pretty clear watching both films and breaking them down head-to-head that one of them is a totally fine, kind of boring/kind of interesting film that you would never watch again, and the other is the dumbest, most explosive space movie ever made and you will never forget just how stupid, silly, absurd, and fun it was.
WINNER: Armageddon definitely left a deeper impact.