Twenty years ago, on June 30, 1998, Michael Bay unleashed Armageddon on the world. It was the story of an asteroid hurtling towards earth, the efforts to stop it, and the lives of the people caught up in an epic global rock-block. It was also a story familiar to audiences who, just a month and a half earlier, had seen Mimi Leder’s Deep Impact.
The two films form perhaps the most famous example of “Dueling Movies,” films with the same premise, released in the same year. Deep Impact was the nerdy cousin of the pair; Armageddon the rampaging jock. They shared their themes of sacrifice and their filmmakers’ willingness to destroy huge chunks of our planet with giant space rocks on the hunt for box office supremacy. But they took different approaches. Which is the better of the two? And which has stood the test of time?
The following pits the two films against each other in an effort decide, once and for all, which is the greatest destruction movie of the summer of 1998. There will be six categories, two films, and one winner.
Deep Impact: 45%
Watching Deep Impact today, it’s a bit surprising the Tomatometer sits at just 45%. Director Mimi Leder, along with writers Michael Tolkin and Bruce Joel Rubin, crafted a thoughtful end-of-the-world movie that stretched across a full year and put the emphasis on human drama. Props. Critics took notice, too, with Entertainment Weekly‘s Lisa Schwarzbaum writing that Leder’s experience directing episodes of ER was felt on Deep Impact: “When she’s in the groove in Deep Impact (populated, by the way, with familiar ER faces Laura Innes and Ron Eldard), Leder establishes a syncopated rhythm unlike anything we’re used to in a catastrophe spectacle.”
Deep Impact’s Tomatometer is seven points higher than Armageddon’s 38%, but let’s face it, Armageddon wasn’t meant to be a critical hit. If it was, the people making it would have wondered, How? Its many fans may love it, but Ben Affleck has made fun of it, and director Michael Bay wishes he could’ve had more time for editing. We’ll leave the final critical assessment of the two movies to the late Roger Ebert, writing about Bay’s movie: “The plot covers many of the same bases as the recent Deep Impact, which, compared with Armageddon, belongs on the American Film Institute list.”
Winner: Deep Impact
Deep Impact: 43%
If you watched Armageddon in a theater back in 1998, you might remember the rock-show atmosphere it created. Between the blaring Aerosmith soundtrack, the loud explosions (in Dolby Surround!), and an ending that made you wish Bruce Willis was your dad, it had something for everyone who didn’t want to think too hard. You came looking for dudes going to battle with a giant rock? You got it, and then some. The film’s 73% Audience Score, with votes from some 900,000 Rotten Tomatoes community members, suggest it has stood the test of time as a rock-’em-shock-’em watch-it-on-cable good time.
Deep Impact: $554 million
Armageddon: $862 million
Both movies turned a solid profit, but it was Armageddon that ran away with the box office. It was the second-highest domestic grosser of 1998, behind Saving Private Ryan, and no. 1 for the year internationally. Michael Bay learned a little something form his 1998 success, and, since then, seven of his summer releases have made more than $300 million at the international box office.
It’s worth noting Deep Impact had a better return on investment (408%) than Armageddon (290%), because it made $554 million, on a relatively small $109 million budget (both budgets and box office are adjusted for inflation). We don’t know the print and advertising costs for each, but we’re guessing Dreamworks was happy with Deep Impact’s box office.
Deep Impact: Accurate-ish
Armageddon: “Science”? I’ve heard of it…
Deep Impact may raise a few scientists’ eyebrows, but it received praise from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and other experts who believe it is “accurate-ish” for a fictionalized disaster movie featuring people outrunning tsunamis on dirt bikes. On the other hand, we almost gave Armageddon serious chutzpah points for totally ignoring science completely. How can you dislike a movie whose characters excuse themselves for not seeing a Texas-sized asteroid by saying, “It’s a big-ass sky?” Because, damn, they’re not wrong.
Winner: Deep Impact
Deep Impact: $50 Trillion (at least)
Armageddon: $1.5 Trillion (poor Paris)
SPOILER ALERT: The final 10 minutes of Deep Impact feature the entire East Coast of the United States being overrun by a tsunami after a sliver of the comet lands in the Atlantic Ocean. Massive NYC skyscrapers are wiped out, the Statue of Liberty is destroyed, and jam-packed highways are submerged by the rising ocean. Leder stretched the film’s budget expertly by waiting until the end to unleash chaos, but it was also an effective storytelling tool: the impact is deeper (!) because we’ve had time to become familiar with those people giving each other hugs before they’re wiped away by giant waves.
It’s a bit shocking that Armageddon lost this round, because it destroyed all of Paris ($1.5 trillion to rebuild – educated guesstimate), dropped asteroid bits on New York City and Shanghai (Grand Central Station is valued at about $2 billion), and decimated a $150 billion space station. However, those totals couldn’t touch the trillions upon trillions it would take to rebuild all those skyscrapers, and replace the entire electrical grid of the eastern seaboard (let’s say a cool $2 trillion) after the comet strike in Deep Impact.
Winner: Deep Impact
Deep Impact: 7 out of 10
Armageddon: 11 out of 10
If Independence Day defined the ’90s summer blockbuster, Armageddon perfected it: it’s big, loud, dumb, and very fun. Bay used every bit of his $200 million budget, adjusted for inflation, to make sure audiences were pinned back, Clockwork Orange-style, as he played relentlessly with cinema’s shiniest new toy (CGI). All that and it had a hit soundtrack (a key to many ’90s blockbusters; think Batman Forever, Godzilla, The Bodyguard, MIB). The soundtrack went six times platinum (in the U.S. and Japan) and featured Aerosmith’s chart-busting I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. James Horner’s Deep Impact score is great and all, but you’re not gonna hear it – ad nauseam – at your local karaoke bar.
It’s a tie! However, we anticipated this and came up with a perfect tiebreaker: Which movie features the most iconic speech or line of dialogue? We love President Beck’s (Morgan Freeman) speeches in Deep Impact, but this answer is a no-brainer. It’s Armageddon‘s Willie Sharp (William Fichtner), approaching the distraught Grace Stamper (Liv Tyler) and gifting us with this:
“Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”
We’re not crying. You are. Congratulations Armageddon, we’ll catch you on cable.
Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.