For more than 20 years now, people the world over have been viciously debating about which 1998 summer blockbuster disaster movie is better – Armageddon or Deep Impact. Friendships have been ruined and families have been ripped apart by not being able to agree on which of the two movies roughly about the same thing that were released three months apart from one another is the better option.
But it doesn't have to be this way. We can be civil and mathematical about it all and decide once and for all which movie about a comet with a collision course set for Earth is best. By taking a look at different aspects of each blockbuster — both good and bad — we can come up with an answer that is based on as much objectivity as you can when finding your favorite and least favorite things about these two ridiculous movies.
So, without wasting any more time, let's decide once and for all which is the better movie — Armageddon or Deep Impact.
Released on the Wednesday before the Fourth of July weekend, Michael Bay's epic disaster film about a group of drillers who are sent to space in order to destroy an asteroid before it wipes out all life on Earth brought in $553 million at the global box office. With a star-studded cast that included the likes of Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, and Billy Bob Thornton, and an expansive ensemble cast of other Hollywood staples and newcomers, it's not hard to believe that Armageddon was the most financially successful movie of not just the summer, but the entire year.
Sending Oil Drillers To Space
From the jump, the idea of NASA agreeing to send a group of oil drillers — albeit the best damn drillers you'll ever see — to space to drill deep below the surface of an asteroid the size of Texas and insert a nuclear bomb that they will then set off is one of the most ridiculous things anyone had ever heard of when the movie came out. And remember, this was 1998. Roland Emmerich's Godzilla came out that year. And while the "fish out of water" concept of transplanting a dozen or so grunts from an off-shore rig to the vacuum of space made for some funny moments, it just doesn't make a lot of sense. And that doesn't even touch on the scientific inaccuracies of the whole mess.
Points: -5 (That plan would never work)
Although the concept of forcing trained astronauts to stay back on Earth while a group of undertrained and ill-suited oilmen goes up to save the day is a far stretch of epic proportions, the concept did lend itself to a great deal of humor, which happens to be the movie's strong suit. The section of the movie that comes to mind is the whole training montage before the Harry and the rest of the drillers can go into space, especially the bit where Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) goes over a few of the not so reasonable requests made by the crew, which include gems like bringing back eight-track tapes, the identity of JFK's assassin, and not having to pay taxes again, ever…
Points: +5 (That's some of the best humor in a disaster movie)
The Success Of The Plan
In case you forgot, or were distracted by all the special effects (more on that later), NASA's plan is to drill a hole in the center of the asteroid, plant a nuclear bomb, and blow the sucker into two smaller pieces that would, hypothetically, miss the planet entirely. And the plan miraculously works and all but a few members of the crew, Harry included (more on that later as well), make it back home safe and sound. The planet, and the billions of its inhabitants live to see another day after the two smaller pieces of the asteroid pass by Earth and back into the darkness of space.
Points: +3 (Despite the plan being laughable, it works)
A Parent's Act Of Self-Sacrifice
Going into the movie there was no doubt that Harry Stamper wouldn't be coming back home to see his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler), but Michael Bay toyed with audiences throughout the movie and tried to make them believe that the absent father would complete his redemption story and see his only child again, especially when A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck) draws the short straw when the bomb's remote trigger is damaged beyond repair. When the big switcheroo goes down and Harry forces A.J. back into the ship and calls him the son he never had, you knew what was about to go down. And even though the shot of Grace crying against the monitor as her dad said goodbye was used in an Aerosmith video, it's a sappy, predictable mess.
Points: -4 (We all saw it coming)
The Special Effects
There's no doubt about it, Armageddon is a Michael Baby movie, perhaps even the most Michael Bay of all of the director's movies from the 1990s (sorry, The Rock). And although Bay's direction is questionable at times, he sure does know how to shoot explosive action sequences and give his movies a distinct look. Just watch the New York City meteor shower scene (yes, the one with Eddie Griffin, Godzilla toys, and Mark Curry of Hangin' With Mr. Cooper fame) and it's not hard to mistake it for something you'd see in 2020, not 1998. And that's just the beginning. The rest of the movie features some of the most inventive and eye-catching special effects shots of the decade, which adds a level of the gravitas to the whole feature.
Points: +5 (They still hold up)
A little less than two months before Armageddon hit theaters, the Mimi Leder-directed Deep Impact arrived in theaters on May 8, 1998. Although it's the lesser known of the two disaster films to come out that year, Deep Impact boasts an impressive cast of actors like Morgan Freeman, Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, and Elijah Wood, and brought in $349 million at the global box office. What this movie lacks in the pizazz that Michael Bay brought to his disaster movie three months later, Deep Impact makes up for it with one of the most realistic plans of handling the whole "the world is probably going to get destroyed" premise.
Morgan Freeman As The President
Is there anything more calming than hearing Morgan Freeman's deep and soothing voice? Actually, there's not… even when he's informing the American public that a comet large enough to wipe out all life is headed towards the planet. That's exactly what everyone got in Deep Impact in which Freeman portrays United States President Tom Beck. Though he keeps his secrets, and is prone to come off a little shady in a few parts of the movie, Freeman's character brings a level of the authority and calm that really sticks with you even when he's not on screen. And the way he handles the situation after all hope is lost is pretty freaking remarkable (more on that in a bit).
Points: +5 (Morgan Freeman as the president)
The Plan To Destroy The Comet
Like the other end of the world movie that came out in 1998, Deep Impact has one hell of a plan to wipe out the seven-mile comet before it's too late — blow it up with nuclear bombs. The initial plan, however, fails and instead of destroying the comet, it breaks it into two smaller pieces that are still set on a collision course with the planet. Although the crew of the Messiah is able to break up one of the comets into smaller pieces on a suicide mission, the other comet still barrels down towards Earth, creating a tsunami that wipes out the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, killing many people in the process. Despite the crew's best efforts, many lives were lost and entire cities were wiped off the map.
Points: -5 (The plan partially fails and hundreds of thousands die)
The Lottery System To Save Part Of The Human Race
When the initial plan to destroy the comet fails in spectacular fashion, President Beck announces to the world that he and other world leaders have been building large underground shelters, with America's being located in Missouri. Beck then announces a lottery to select 800,000 American citizens under the age of 50 to enter the shelter along with 200,000 other people who were preselected for various reasons. As dark and morbid as it may sound to have a lottery of a fraction of the country's population, it does seem like something you would see happening in today's world if something like this went down, especially when you realize that 200,000 of the country's richest and most notable figures would find a way to get in before everyone else.
Points: +5 (It's grim, but you could see it happening)
Parents' Acts Of Self-Sacrifice
If there wasn't enough similarities between these two movies, here's another one — parents sacrifice themselves in order for their children to live on without them. Unlike Armageddon, which only saw one parent sacrifice themselves for others, Deep Impact has more than you can count. For the sake of brevity, we'll focus on Sarah Hotchner's (Leelee Sobieksi) parents who tell Sarah and her boyfriend Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) to not only save themselves, but take Sarah's baby brother to the high ground of the Appalachian Mountains. As a parent of a newborn, I couldn't imagine having to make such a tough decision. And it's heartbreaking to watch.
Points: +4 (Handing off a baby)
The Special Effects
If one thing hasn't aged well about Deep Impact it has to be the dated special effects, which look even more like a made-for-television movie when compared to Armageddon. The comet trail looks okay when Leo, Sarah, and her brother are racing the safety, but that tsunami that sweeps across the Atlantic coast looks more than a little rough after all these years. And besides the dated special effects, the general look of the movie is rather flat and lacks any depth or creative angles outside of the impressive space scenes.
Points: -3 (They did not age well)
Armageddon Vs. Deep Impact
Alright, we've finally reached the end of this vicious and heated debate that I'm sure ruled online movie forums during the summer of 1998. By giving each movie a one point for each thing that was good and taking away a point for everything that wasn't, each movie could earn a maximum of five points. Well, here's how they did:
Armageddon: 4 points
Deep Impact: 6 points
Well, it looks like we finally have a winner in this fight to world destroy the world with comets that were dead-set on destroying the planet. After all of this, Deep Impact is the winner, even if it had one of the most absurd endings with Jenny Lerner and her estranged father Jason Lerner having a nauseatingly sappy final few words before they were carried away by a giant wave.
Which is your favorite disaster movie from 1998? Make sure to let everyone know in the poll found below. And make sure to check back and see if I ever put Volcano up against Dante's Peak.
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Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.
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