The Dark Herald’s Top 5 Asteroid Movies

The Dark Herald’s Top 5 Asteroid Movies

For no reason whatsoever…

…I have decided, completely out of the blue, to do an Asteroid movie listicle.  

Planet Impact films are a subgenre of disaster flicks.   These stories have been around for a while.  Arguably H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds was the first novel to use it as a device.  And while it occasionally showed up as a motif here and there, the genre didn’t really find its footing until the impact theory of dinosaur extinction became popularly known.  That was when people first became concerned about it. After all the “thunder-lizards” had been around on Earth for hundreds of millions longer than we have.  If a big meteor took them out what chance do we have?

End-of-the-world fiction wasn’t all that popular before the Cold War.  But after people got used to having atomic weapons in the backs of their minds, it seemed to be difficult for people to not worry about instant Armageddon after that threat became a less active threat.  The timing of when these films are popular seems to be addressing a certain zeitgeist. 

Ready?

Of course, you’re not.  No one ever is. It’s a freaking asteroid.

When Worlds Collide (1951)

The grandaddy of them of all.

World War II was over and done with.  The boys had come home from the war and married the gals they’d been writing to for years.  Everybody had a good job and America bestrode the world like a colossus, a great cigar cost a dime, your Daddy was rich and your Mama was good looking.  

Yet for all of that everyone was kind of unsettled. People weren’t quite worrying about nuclear war yet.  Sure, the Russians had the Bomb but their airplanes were crap and everybody knew it.  Regardless, people were kind of on edge.  I suppose it’s not a surprise, everybody had gone through the Great Depression when you didn’t know if you were going to be able to eat when you came home that night.  Then came World War II where you didn’t know if you were coming home at all.  

Being on edge etches itself into your brain.  You can’t really unprogram it once you don’t need it.

When Worlds Collide has an intriguing combination of 1930s futurism and 1940s science fiction.

The movie opens with a pilot David Randall flying top-secret photos from a South African observatory to New York.  Doctor Henderson and his daughter Joyce have their worst fears confirmed, the dual planet system of Bellus and Zyra are approaching Earth.  Zyra will make a close flyby causing unspeakable damage and then assume an orbit in Earth’s orbital path around the sun.  Bellus on the other hand will collide with Earth destroying it completely.

Doctor Henderson makes an impassioned speech before the United Nations (people still believed in the UN when the US was running it), warning of what was coming and that we need to start building rocket “Arks.”  They will transport a lucky few so that perhaps the Man can avoid extinction.  He is of course pooh-poohed.  He tries to get private funding but has trouble there until an evil old millionaire named Stanton agrees to fund it in exchange for deciding who gets to go on the ship.  The Doctor refuses, telling him that his money will only buy a seat for himself.  Stanton reluctantly agrees.

The desperate venture begins.

There is an Alpha male rivalry for the affections of Joyce between the pilot Randall and Doctor Tony Drake. It has an interesting resolution to it.

Zyrus makes its flyby and creates as much devastation as 1950s special effects can provide.  George Pal was the George Lucas of his day.  He really did a great job with scenes of earthquakes, floods, eruptions, and devastation in general. Those scenes got recycled in various films endlessly.

After that, it’s obvious that the world is ending.  Henderson’s group loads up the livestock, farming equipment, and microfilmed books. There is a lottery held by the project’s workers to decide who goes.  Randall is the designated co-pilot so his seat is reserved but he decides he doesn’t have the skills that will be needed to restart civilization.  So, he pretends to take a lottery number and announces he was one of the losers.

His rival Doctor Drake then lies to him about how the pilot in command has a heart condition and can’t survive the G-forces of liftoff.  So Randall has to go now.

There is a nice riot as the sore losers of the lottery try to take the ship.  Good movie all around.  Still worth a late night watch.

Meteor (1979)

This 1970s disaster blaster starred Sean Connery and Natalia Nikolaevna Zakherenko (AKA Natalie Wood, yes that was her real name) and a whole bunch of other people.  

In the 1970s a reliable indicator of a bad move was a poster like this:

Any movie poster that featured a collection of people starring in it was a guaranteed stinker by the end of the seventies. And Meteor didn’t disappoint in that regard.

The plot is that a comet has collusion with the Asteroid Orpheus, cutting off a giant splinter and sending it hurtling towards Earth.  

As contrived luck would have it, the United States has set up a response for just such an emergency.  There is a specialized satellite with a bunch of meteor-killing nuclear-tipped rockets attached to it ready to go.  There are two problems, however, first, the missiles are currently aimed at the Soviet Union and the military doesn’t want to give them up and second, there aren’t enough missiles.

Turns out the Soviets have built their own version of the satellite and it’s aimed at America.

President Fonda makes a speech going public about the satellite stating only its original purpose and good news the Soviets had the same foresight as the United States.  Giving Brezhnev a face-saving out.  

The rockets work but a few splinters hit the Earth allowing the producers to give the required scenes of destruction.

This film’s biggest problem is that it showed up too late.  Earthquake, The Towering Inferno, and Poseidon Adventure had made decent bank.  However, that run had ended when Star Wars was released.  It just wasn’t obvious yet.  Although everybody figured it out when Meteor bombed.    

 Without Warning (1994)

A forgotten little gem.  For the fiftieth anniversary of Orson Welles’ War of the World, broadcast CBS decided to do something similar on Halloween night.  This TV film is done in the form of an emergency TV news broadcast.  Expenses were kept within limits by extensive use of stock footage and videotape. Veteran TV newsman Sander Vanocur played, veteran TV newsman Sander Vanocur.  He was a familiar figure back then and his presence gave it a feeling of authenticity. 

CBS was, of course, hoping to set off a panic while pretending they weren’t. And no, they didn’t really get one.

The plot starts off with shots of a TV movie of the week and then it’s interrupted to inform the audience that three meteors have hit the Earth.

Over an accelerated timeline it becomes clear that these impacts were not a natural event and that there are more on the way. 

We successfully nuke the first one, which pisses off the aliens who then send another three.  Earth nukes those but then the Aliens throw the kitchen sink at us and all major cities are destroyed.  Sander Vanocur quotes Shakespeare before signing off resigned to humanity’s genocide.

Interesting little time capsule from a time when we were completely dependent on TV for the rapid dissemination of information.

Deep Impact (1998)

Who cares?  It was just a clone of the next movie on this list.

Armageddon (1998)

Big, loud, dumb and I still love it.

Armageddon is one of those films that people watched and enjoyed.  Then pretended that they didn’t like it, claiming it wasn’t all that, and a bag of chips after all. And that it was only for low brows.

I’ve never claimed to be anything other than a low brow.  The people who say that they hate it are the worst kind of snobs. They’re plebian, fashion snobs. If it is suddenly in fashion to hate a film that they liked, then they start trumpeting, how much they hated it all along, which was why they saw Titanic four times.

The movie starts out with a surprise meteor shower destroying a space station, then going on to take huge chunks out of New York City.  I will be the first to admit this scene aged badly over the next three years.

Turns out a Texas-sized asteroid is going to collide with the Earth.  Definitely, an extinction-level event, and it arrives in eighteen days.  So, an insane spur of the moment scheme is launched to send oil jacks to the asteroid to drill down into it, insert an H-bomb and safely shatter it. 

I liked the characters; they did what they were supposed to do.  Michael Bay did a good job with the key scenes and I appreciated how he kept the tension going by never having the camera do a fixed shot.  The characters were fun, the leads had appropriate story arcs.  Harry wanted something much better in life for his daughter than a guy who was completely like him. His daughter, being a Daddy’s Girl wanted a man like her father, leaving AJ caught between the two.  Harry chasing AJ with a shotgun may have been blunt but it certainly did the job it was supposed to. 

“Harry, I love her!”

Way wrong answer!”

*BLAM*

The supporting characters did their jobs they were amusing and endearing.  They filled out the team nicely.  

Now I will grant there were a few conflicts with the military which were there just to kill a little time until they could reach the climax but given the kind of film it was, this needed to be done or the running time would have been one hour.  That wouldn’t have worked for the level of tension that was needed by the time it was ready to blow the meteor.   

At the climax, the remote control MacGuffin on the H-bomb is broken and somebody has to stay behind and blow the bomb manually.  AJ gets the short straw but Harry tears out his air hose at the last second, incapacitating him.  He hurls AJ into the airlock, tells him loves him like a son, and knows he’ll take good care of his daughter.  AJ cries like a Ben Affleck. 

Bruce Willis got the kind of death scene that was reserved for Charleton Heston back in the seventies.  I liked the peaceful look on his face as his life flashed before his eyes.  It wasn’t a long life, but it was a full one.

And that’s my listicle. The funny thing about this list is the unwavering confidence Hollywood had in H-bombs to save the day.  Particularly when you consider how many of them had been anti-nuke assholes in Reagan’s day. 

Also, it wouldn’t have done a damn bit of good.  There is no way in hell an H-bomb can vaporize a rock the size of Texas.  At most you might be able to use an Orion drive to push a meteor out of the way but even that is a pretty bad bet.

George Pal was right. Getting off the planet is your only real hope.

Okay, I’m done here.

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Comments (14)

  • Dane Reply

    Sweet Meteorite of Death, cleanse the wicked from our sight!

    April 9, 2021 at 9:08 am
  • Mik Reply

    I remember “Without Warning”. My poor (80 year old) mother was watching TV when that came on. She was legitimately frightened. It took me a while to calm her down.

    April 9, 2021 at 9:39 am
  • Mike Reply

    Also, I didn’t cry at the end of Armageddon when she said good-bye to her dad, Bruce Willis. Shut up.

    April 9, 2021 at 9:41 am
  • Sanders Reply

    There is a scene in Armageddon that I hate, the infamous “Steve Buscemi’s Space Madness” one.

    If there is a scene to ruin a perfectly good entertaining movie is that one.

    April 9, 2021 at 11:58 am
    • Codex Reply

      For NO reason at all, eh…?

      We’ll check out the oldie next family movie night nonetheless.

      April 15, 2021 at 7:35 am
  • Star Tripper Reply

    I remember seeing Armageddon in the theater with a friend who was taking his 8 year-old son. When we were coming out my friend said, “I will have to read 3 or 4 college physics books to wash that out of my brain.” Same with me. If you know too much about a subject then Hollywood jacking around with it just takes you out of the movie. I liked Bruce Willis hitting golf balls at the Greenpeace boat but it went downhill from there.

    April 9, 2021 at 12:50 pm
  • Fractal Rabbit Reply

    You’re casual dismissal of Deep Impact is golden.

    Deep Impact is a Gamma male in movie form. It was the “Well, actually…” gamma response to the Armageddon Alpha’s testosterone’s soaked wild ride.

    Armageddon has many flaws, like the space madness scene mentioned up thread. But I saw it in a packed theater and it was a very good time. The entire theater was excited from beginning to end, with half of them still wiping a tear from their eyes after the lead astronauts asks to “shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man he’s ever known.”

    Armageddon was a crowd pleaser. Dumb fun but a crowd pleaser and there will always snobs who get their pantys in a bunch because people enjoyed it.

    April 9, 2021 at 1:08 pm
    • Zeedub85 Reply

      Right, like “Independence Day,” which was even dumber than “Armageddon” and got a standing ovation at the theater where I saw it. Hollywood hasn’t forgotten how to make crowd-pleasers, they’ve deliberately chosen to stop making them.

      This was a nice little list. I have never seen “When Worlds Collide” and should rectify that.

      April 9, 2021 at 10:31 pm
      • Mike Reply

        I never saw the movie either, but I read the book as a kid. It even had a sequel “After Worlds Collide”. I remember them both as great stories.

        April 10, 2021 at 3:09 pm
  • Chief_Tuscaloosa Reply

    Respectfully disagree about Deep Impact. Many great elements of that flick (spoilers, obviously, the movie is over 20 years old):

    – Tea Leoni dies.
    -James Cromwell totally believable loading up crates of Ensure on his boat so he can try to ride the wave out in the ocean with his daughter. Cromwell’s contempt for the media (Tea Leoni) was so awesome, I often hit the rewind button when re-watching this movie.
    – Robert Duvall is the experienced astronaut who has to deal with young guns on the crew who are convinced experience means nothing compared to their youth and exuberance (and diversity!).
    -Jon Favreau gets a peaceful death (eventually, after the explosion thing).
    – The Russian astronaut is about to leave on a mission to save Earth, but at a party just before launch all he’s doing is trying to score two chicks. Plausibility box checked.
    – Tea Leoni dies.
    – The Federal government announces they’ve got a giant underground system with food stockpiled out the yin-yang, which I found plausible. But then they said non-Cabal people would be allowed in with a lottery, which I found non-plausible.
    – Robert Duvall comes up with a plausible way to sacrifice the crew but give Earth a chance. This idea drives one of the characters to mutter “we’ll all have high schools named after us.” Nodded my head first time I heard it.
    – Everyone on the crew about to sacrifice themselves gets to say goodbye to family members first…except Duvall, who has sons who are in the Navy and non-reachable. This one hurt.
    – Tea Leoni dies.

    At the time (1998), I thought a black president was a bit of a stretch. But then we were told Barack Obama won the Electoral College six years later.

    April 9, 2021 at 3:36 pm
    • David Reply

      Tea Leoni dies

      I am going to go out on a limb here and assume you are not a big fan of the Madam Secretary TV series.

      April 9, 2021 at 4:53 pm
  • Sasha Hrongmitts Reply

    You can tell it was made by a woman by the amount of scenes with crying women handing off children to others. You’d get blackout drunk taking a shot everytime it happens on-screen.

    April 9, 2021 at 9:02 pm
  • MrUNIVAC Reply

    Armageddon is a movie that I should theoretically enjoy, but the constant smash and jump cuts every second or two literally make me ill. I’ll have to give it another chance, but I could never make it to the end of it.

    Funny thing about that one and how nostalgia works…I HATED Aerosmith’s “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” in its day because it was one of the most overplayed songs of all time. Now it reminds me of happier days.

    April 9, 2021 at 9:44 pm

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