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'Armageddon,' 'Meteor' and more: Ranking the best planet-murdering comet movies
The Earth-murdering comet genre is a cinematic niche that needs more respect. With Netflix's Don't Look Up joining the pantheon, SYFY WIRE ranks the best of its brethren.
"The sky is falling!"
Technically, Henny Penny, a.k.a. Chicken Little, squawked this warning first way back in a 19th century Danish folktale. What was once a cute story of misunderstanding and a dramatic hyperbole has been adapted by contemporary filmmakers into an entire genre: the planet-murdering comet movie.
Acorns are now ginormous space rocks hurtling right for our puny planet and audiences have been eating it up with nihilistic glee for more than 60 years. To be clear, there are plenty of sub-genre twists on the comet movie like the ones featuring meteor showers that rain down things onto our planet, like The Day of the Triffids (1962) or Impact (2009). But for our list, we're only going for the movies about a mahoosive space rock that threatens to wipe out humanity and all life as we know it. Like a dinosaur extinction event level of threat that redefines, "The sky is falling!"
We're get another addition to the "death by space rock" genre with Netflix's Don't Look Up. To get ready for the end of the world (again), SYFY WIRE presents the best planet-murdering comet movies, ranked.
8. Asteroid (1997)
Michael Biehn knows his way around many a humanity-erasing, apocalyptic films. Perhaps one of his lesser-known resume fillers is Asteroid, in which an epic-sized rock spurs humanity into a tizzy about imminent death. It's kind of hysterical for its outsized performances, as "police, fire and medical agencies" are left to figure out the mess. It's a TV movie, so the effects are pretty bargain basement. However, there's a lot of real pyro blowing up trucks and cars, as well as oddly specific destruction targets like Knoxville's Sunsphere.
7. Meteor (1979)
A Cold War-era take on the "big rock, go boom" genre, Meteor boasts a cast way too good for what this movie is. Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Martin Landau, and Henry Fonda are just some of the star-studded cast who work diligently to stop the Orpheus comet from smashing our planet to bits. It has a The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure vibe, with the extra geopolitical fun of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. having to come together to point their separate, secret nuclear space satellites at the comet in order to have any chance of surviving. The visual effects are extra janky, but there's something especially mesmerizing about watching these film legends give it their all emoting against a ruthless rock.
6. Greenland (2020)
You have to love any movie that labels a comet that is going to wipe out humanity something as innocuous as 'Clarke.' But that's the very name of the comet in Greenland that's heading towards the globe like a rocket on steroids. Gerard Butler is John Garrity, an everyman with a family, randomly selected by DHS for emergency sheltering. What makes this movie work is that it's grounded and uses everyday issues like his son's diabetes as enormous roadblocks to their safety. It's always the small things that screw things up. There's also a ticking time bomb element that makes the 24-hour window to safety structure feel more vital.
5. Seeking A Friend for the End of the World (2012)
Arguably the softest approach to the asteroid apocalypse genre. The almost twee-named asteroid Matilda is coming for the planet in three weeks, which makes every human handle their impending deaths in odd ways. Steve Carell and Keira Knightley play two neighbors who watch their lives go down the proverbial toilet with the news and embark on bucket-list pursuits to find the people they were meant to be with. The ending is bittersweet and subtle; this is the palate sorbet of the list.
4. Deep Impact (1998)
The more cerebral of the 1998's two big comet films, Deep Impact had a strange pace to it as multiple storylines are interwoven as a 7-mile comet is barreling towards Earth. It's populated by a cast of character actors like Elijah Wood, James Cromwell, and Tea Leoni who smarten up the disaster film narrative with a lot of measured drama and gravitas. But you also get the spectacle of big-budget special effects.
3. Night of The Comet (1984)
The guilty pleasure of our list, Night of the Comet is the Valley girl/Christmas/zombie comet movie we can't believe got made and wasn't 100 percent terrible. Catherine Mary Stewart and Kelli Maroney are SoCal sisters who inadvertently survive the destruction wrought by a comet getting too close to Earth. In the morning aftermath they figure out their new reality, which includes depraved scientists, shopping at a mall, and some clever survival scenes. It's pure '80s with some memorable punch.
2. The Day the Sky Exploded (1958)
The first Italian science fiction film, The Day the Sky Exploded was also one of the first movies to use destructive comets as the main threat. The narrative also used real space exploration to create the inciting incident of a rocket's atomic booster in the Delta asteroid cluster dislodging a cluster of asteroids that then head right to Earth. The old chestnut of using a nuclear warhead to implode the comet also was born from this film, so it gets the second-place spot for being such a vanguard in what would become a new disaster film sub-genre.
1. Armageddon (1998)
Armageddon's not a "good" movie, but it sure has become the comfort food of killer asteroid movies. It's the most populist appealing of 1998's two asteroid movies, with Michael Bay at his most Bay-ful pointing his ultra-patriotic lens at the blue-collar drillers sent up to the stars to save our cumulative bacon. Bruce Willis' Harry Stamper is the hero of the piece, with Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler playing the young separated lovers. The movie is packed with plenty of humor and a lot of tears, as well as cinematic things that explode like it was staged by the gods themselves. Plus, it's the rare entry where the great big rock doesn't win in the end.