Armageddon opened in theaters only two-and-a-half months after a similar impact-based movie, Deep Impact, which starred Robert Duvall and Morgan Freeman. Armageddon fared better at the box office; astronomers described Deep Impact as being more scientifically accurate. Both films were equally received by film critics. Armageddon was an international box-office success, despite generally negative reviews from critics. It became the highest-grossing film of 1998 worldwide surpassing the Steven Spielberg war epic, Saving Private Ryan.
A massive meteor shower destroys the orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis, enters the atmosphere and bombards New York City, the East Coast, and Finland. NASA discovers that the meteoroids came from a parent body asteroid with a Texas-sized surface, and that another impact on Earth will occur in 18 days, starting another extinction event, and eventually a 6-mile wide asteroid will impact into the Pacific Ocean and wipe out most life on the planet. NASA scientists, led by Dan Truman (Thornton) plan to drill a shaft into the asteroids' surface of at least 800 ft. (243 m) deep, and plant a H-bomb device into it which, when detonated, will split the asteroid in two, driving the halves apart so that they both will fly safely past the Earth. NASA contacts Harry Stamper (Willis), considered the best deep-sea oil driller in the world, for assistance and advice. Harry returns to NASA along with his daughter Grace (Tyler) to keep her away from her new boyfriend, one of Harry's young and rambunctious drillers, A.J. Frost (Affleck). Harry and Grace learn about the asteroid and Harry explains he will need his team, including A.J., to carry out the mission. Once they have been rounded up and the situation is explained, they agree to help, but only after their list of unusual rewards and demands are met.
As NASA puts Harry and his crew through a short and rigorous 12-day astronaut training program at Johnson Space Center, Harry and his team re-outfit the mobile drillers, named the "Armadillos", that will be used on the asteroid. When a meteorite from the asteroid wipes out the coastal area of Shanghai, NASA and other space agencies are forced to reveal their plans to the world before Harry and his crew go to Florida for training revisions and last-minute preparations. Afterwards, two of the latest Space Shuttles, named Freedom and Independence, are launched from Cape Canaveral. Once in orbit, the shuttles dock with the new 11-year old modified Russian space station Mir manned by Lev Andropov (Stormare) to refuel. A fire breaks out during the transfer and the station is evacuated just before it explodes, with Lev and A. J. making a narrow escape. After 60 hours, the shuttles slingshot around the Moon at a maximum speed of 22.500 miles per hour in order to land on the backside of the asteroid. Traveling through the asteroid's debris field Independence's hull is punctured and crashes onto the rock. Grace, watching from NASA headquarters, is distraught by A.J.'s apparent death.
Freedom lands safely, but misses the target area, so the team must now drill through a 50 ft. thick crust of compressed iron ferrite rather than the planned softer stone, but still on the fault line parallel with the asteroids' course. When they fall significantly behind schedule and communications are about to fail after one and a half hour, the military initiates "Secondary Protocol"; to remote detonate the weapon on the asteroid's surface, which apparently will not have any effect. While Truman delays the military at Mission Control, Harry persuades the shuttle commander to disarm the bomb so they can complete the drilling.
Distracted by "Rockhound" (Buscemi), who is having a mental breakdown, the Freedom crew loses their Armadillo and another crew member when it strikes a methane gas pocket and is blown into space. Worldwide panic ensues as the mission is assumed lost and martial law is declared to evacuate people to underground shelters, just as another meteorite destroys most of Paris. Suddenly, A.J., Lev, and "Bear" (Duncan), having survived the Independence crash, arrive in the Independence's Armadillo in time to complete the drilling.
As the asteroid approaches the Earth, it heats up, causing a dangerous rock storm that damages the bomb's remote trigger and kills munition specialist Gruber. They realize that someone must stay behind to detonate it manually. After all the non-flight crew volunteers, they draw straws, and A.J. is selected. As he and Harry exit the airlock, Harry rips off A.J.'s air hose and shoves him back inside, telling him that he is the son he never had and he would be proud to have him marry Grace. Harry prepares to detonate the bomb and contacts Grace to say his last goodbyes. After the Freedom moves to a safe distance, Harry pushes the button at the last minute (after some difficulty) and his life passes before his eyes as the asteroid is destroyed. It breaks in two and both halves fly past the Earth. Freedom lands, and the surviving crew are treated as heroes. The film ends with A.J. and Grace's wedding, complete with photos of Harry and the other lost crew members present in memoriam.
- Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper: Leader of shuttle Freedom drill team.
- Ben Affleck as A. J. Frost: Leader and Armadillo operator of shuttle Independence drill team.
- Billy Bob Thornton as Dan Truman: Head of NASA, discovers the asteroid and organizes the plan to destroy it.
- Liv Tyler as Grace Stamper: Daughter of Harry Stamper and A.J.'s fiancee.
- Will Patton as Charles "Chick" Chappel: Harry's best friend and drill team member of shuttle Freedom.
- Steve Buscemi as "Rockhound": Geologist of shuttle Freedom.
- Michael Clarke Duncan as J. Otis "Bear" Kurleenbear: Member of shuttle Independence drill team.
- Peter Stormare as Lev Andropov: Russian cosmonaut and overseer of the Russian Space Station.
- William Fichtner as Air Force Colonel Willie Sharp: Mission Commander of the shuttle Freedom, Senior Commander of the Mission.
- Ken Hudson Campbell as Max Lennert: Operator of the Armadillo of shuttle Freedom drill team.
- Keith David as General Kimsey: Member of US government who proposes using nukes to shoot down the asteroid.
- Owen Wilson as Oscar Choice: Geologist of shuttle Independence.
- Jessica Steen as Air Force Captain Jennifer Watts: NASA Pilot of shuttle Freedom.
- Clark Heathcliffe Brolly as Freddy Noonan: Member of shuttle Independence drill team.
- Grayson McCouch as Sgt. Gruber: Munitions specialist of shuttle Freedom.
- Jason Isaacs as Dr. Ronald Quincy: Head scientist at NASA, who comes up with the idea of blowing up the asteroid from inside.
- Judith Hoag as Denise Chappel: Chick's ex-wife and the mother of his child.
- Dyllan Christopher as Tommy Chappel: Chick's son who does not know his father till the end of the movie.
- Marshall R. Teague as Air Force Colonel Davis: Mission Commander of the shuttle Independence.
- Anthony Guidera as Air Force Captain Tucker: NASA Pilot of the shuttle Independence.
- Greg Collins as Lt. Halsey: Munitions specialist of shuttle Independence.
- Chris Ellis as NASA Flight Director Clark, the coordinator of the mission and Truman's immediate subordinate.
- Stanley Anderson as the president of the United States.
- Charlton Heston as the narrator.
- Lawrence Tierney as Harry Stamper's father (uncredited)
- Udo Kier as extremely cynical NASA flight surgeon who finds himself subjected to the rambunctious behavior of the flight crew he is supposed to psychoanalyze.
In May 1998, Disney chairman Joe Roth expanded the film's budget by $3 million to include additional special effects scenes. This additional footage, incorporated two months prior to the film's release, was specifically added for the television advertising campaign to differentiate the film from Deep Impact which was released a few months before.
Prior to Armageddon's release, the film was advertised in Super Bowl XXXII at a cost of $2.6 million.
Armageddon was released on July 1, 1998 in 3,127 theaters in the United States and Canada. It ranked first at the box office with an opening weekend gross of $36 million. It grossed $201.6 million in the United States and Canada and $352.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $553.7 million.
Despite the general critical disdain, a DVD edition of Armageddon was released by The Criterion Collection, a specialist film distributor of primarily arthouse films that markets what it considers to be "important classic and contemporary films" and "cinema at its finest". In an essay supporting the selection of Armageddon, film scholar Jeanine Basinger, who taught Michael Bay at Wesleyan University, states that the film is "a work of art by a cutting-edge artist who is a master of movement, light, color, and shape—and also of chaos, razzle-dazzle, and explosion". She sees it as a celebration of working men: "This film makes these ordinary men noble, lifting their efforts up into an epic event." Further, she states that in the first few moments of the film all the main characters are well established, saying, "If that isn't screenwriting, I don't know what is".
Armageddon received generally negative reviews from film critics, who mainly took issue with "the furious pace of its editing". The film is on the list of Roger Ebert's most hated films. In his original review, Ebert stated, "The movie is an assault on the eyes, the ears, the brain, common sense and the human desire to be entertained". Todd McCarthy of Variety also gave the film a negative review, noting Michael Bay's rapid cutting style: "Much of the confusion, as well as the lack of dramatic rhythm or character development, results directly from Bay's cutting style, which resembles a machine gun stuck in the firing position for 2½ hours." Subsequent to its release, the film has a cumulative 40% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while achieving a 42% aggregate score on Metacritic.
According to Bruce Joel Rubin, writer of Deep Impact, a "president at Disney" took notes on everything the writer said during lunch about his script and initiated Armageddon as a counter film at Disney.
The film was nominated for four Oscars at the 1999 Academy Awards: 'Best Sound' (Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Keith A. Wester), 'Best Visual Effects', 'Best Sound Effects Editing', and 'Best Original Song (I Don't Want to Miss a Thing performed by Aerosmith)'. The film received the Saturn Awards for Best Direction and Best Science Fiction Film (where it tied with Dark City). It was also nominated for seven Razzie Awards including: Worst Actor (Bruce Willis), Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actress (Liv Tyler), Worst Screen Couple (Tyler and Ben Affleck) and Worst Original Song. Only one Razzie was awarded: Bruce Willis received the Worst Actor award for Armageddon, in addition to his appearances in Mercury Rising and The Siege, both released in the same year as this film.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Michael Bay admitted that the central premise of the film, "that [NASA] could actually do something in a situation like this," was unrealistic. Robert Roy Pool, a contributing screenwriter, stated that his script, in which an anti-gravity device is used to deflect a comet from a collision course with Earth, was "much more in line with top-secret research." Additionally, near the end of the credits there is a disclaimer stating, "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's cooperation and assistance does not reflect an endorsement of the contents of the film or the treatment of the characters depicted therein."
NASA shows the film as part of its management training program. Prospective managers are asked to find as many inaccuracies in the movie as they can. At least 168 impossible things have been found during these screenings of the film.
In 2012, following a mathematical analysis of the situation, an article titled "Could Bruce Willis Save the World?" was published in the Special Physics Topics Journal. It found that for Willis' approach to be effective, he would need to be in possession of an H-bomb a billion times stronger than the Soviet Union's "Big Ivan", the biggest ever detonated on Earth. Using estimates of the asteroid's size, density, speed and distance from Earth based on information in the film, postgraduate students from the University of Leicester found that to split the asteroid in two with both pieces clearing Earth, would require 800 trillion terajoules of energy. In contrast the total energy output of "Big Ivan", which was tested by the Soviet Union in 1961, was only 418,000 terajoules.
A novelization was written by C. Bolin, based on the screenplay by Jonathan Hensleigh, J.J. Abrams, Tony Gilroy and Shane Salerno and the story by Jonathan Hensleigh and Robert Pool.
Theme park attraction
Armageddon - Les Effets Speciaux is an attraction based on Armageddon at Walt Disney Studios Park located at Disneyland Paris. The attraction simulates the scene in the movie in which the Russian Space Station is destroyed. Michael Clarke Duncan ("Bear" in the movie) features in the pre-show