“Armageddon” was one of the biggest films of the late 1990s. Part of the decade’s “disaster film revival,” this Michael Bay movie follows a group of oil drillers who are trained to become astronauts and sent into space to stop an asteroid that threatens to destroy the earth.
The film featured an incredible cast, with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck in leading roles. It received poor critical reception but was a smashing success, racking up over half a billion at the box office. Here’s the story of how it was made, with fascinating behind-the-scenes facts and cast member profiles.
A 15-Year-Old’s Fantasy
“Armageddon” was the third feature film by director Michael Bay. He’d started his career with commercials and music videos before moving on to big blockbusters with “Bad Boys” and “The Rock”, both of which had proven very successful.
Bay wanted “Armageddon” to be even bigger and better than his previous films, believing that a director’s third film is always an important one. He also wanted it to be as fun and exciting as possible, calling the film “a total fantasy for a 15-year-old” and later describing it as a “popcorn movie.”
Nine Writers Edited the Script
It’s quite common for multiple writers to make changes and alterations to big film scripts before the movies are made. For example, a writer might be asked to add a romantic subplot to a story or bring in more humor to make the film more entertaining.
However, it’s quite rare for nine writers to work on the same screenplay. But that’s exactly what happened with “Armageddon”, with J.J. Abrams, Paul Attanasio, Robert Towne, and Jonathan Hensleigh making changes to the script at one time or another.
South Dakota Was a Key Filming Location
Some of the film’s scenes take place on the surface of the asteroid, and it was important for the filmmakers to find a location that looked suitably dark, rocky, and inhospitable. So, they went to the Badlands in South Dakota.
The Badlands National Park is famed for its dramatic landscapes and fascinating rock formations, so it was a super filming location for this movie. It’s also been used in a range of other movies that involve alien landscapes and space travel, such as “Starship Troopers”.
An Oil Rig Was Also Used for Filming
Another interesting location used during the filming of “Armageddon” was an oil rig. Often, it’s quite difficult to get oil rigs to allow film crews aboard, but Bay managed to persuade the Garden Banks oil rig, off the coast of Texas, to let him film there.
It was quite a big procedure to get everyone over to the rig. Lighting technician Andy Ryan said all of the equipment had to be driven to Galveston, Texas, before being shipped over to the rig on barges.
A Real Space Shuttle Was Used
Authenticity is always important when it comes to making movies, and Bay wanted to make his film look as realistic as possible. So, for one of the scenes, they got permission to make use of a real-life space shuttle.
The shuttle only appears in one scene, but it helps the film feel more real. Bay and the production team had to negotiate with NASA to get access to the shuttle, and they were strictly not allowed to board it, as it was scheduled to take off just a few days later and NASA didn’t want anything to interfere with the launch.
Two Real Shuttle Launches Were Also Captured on Camera
Not only did the team get to film near a real shuttle for one of their scenes, but they also got to film two space shuttles taking off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. One was done in the day, and one at night.
The film’s director of photography, John Schwartzman, said the launches only happened every 18 months, so the team had just one chance to get its shots right. Bay also commented on the experience, calling it “one of the truest things about being an American.”
The Film Was Strangely Similar to Another 1998 Release
In 1998, two films were released about asteroids that were close to colliding with the planet Earth. “Armageddon” was one of them, and the other was “Deep Impact”, which came out a month earlier than “Armageddon”.
It seemed like quite a strange coincidence, and one man, Bruce Joel Rubin, alleges that there was no coincidence at all. Rubin was one of the writers of “Deep Impact”, and he claimed that Disney stole his idea and used it to make “Armageddon”.
The Budget Was Expanded to Avoid ‘Deep Impact’ Confusion
In May 1998, Joe Roth, the then-chairman of Walt Disney Studios, decided to add $3 million to the budget of “Armageddon” to film some more special effects scenes. This was specifically done to avoid people getting confused between the two movies.
The scenes that were filmed were used for TV ads for “Armageddon” to make it look more explosive and exciting than “Deep Impact”. So, even though the studio ended up spending more money on the film, it might have gotten a bigger return on the investment thanks to this shrewd advertising technique.
Bruce Willis as Harry S. Stamper
Willis played the lead role of Harry in “Armageddon” at a time when he was already one of the biggest action stars in the world. Before “Armageddon”, Willis had appeared in such action blockbusters as “Die Hard”, “Pulp Fiction”, “12 Monkeys”, and “The Fifth Element”.
His action-hero career continued in the years that followed, as he went on to appear in movies like “Tears of the Sun”, “Hostage”, and “Surrogates”, in addition to movies in other genres, like the “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Sixth Sense”. In more recent years, he’s been seen in a range of direct-to-video action movies.
Billy Bob Thornton as Dan Truman
Billy Bob Thornton played the part of Dan in “Armageddon”. Like Willis, Thornton was already a household name, having made his big break in the 1992 thriller “One False Move”, and being nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in 1996’s “Sling Blade”.
In the years that followed “Armageddon”, Thornton had more success in movies like “Monster Ball” and “Bad Santa”, as well as on TV in shows such as “Fargo”. He has also released several albums. In recent years, he has been seen in shows like “Goliath” and films such as “Bad Santa 2”.
Ben Affleck as A.J. Frost
Affleck played the part of A.J. in “Armageddon”. He had previously made a name for himself in films like “Good Will Hunting” and later went on to appear in other big blockbusters like “Pearl Harbor” and “The Sum of All Fears”.
Affleck continued to act in the new millennium, while also doing more work behind the camera as a writer and director. He has received great acclaim for his directorial talents with movies like “Gone Baby Gone”, “Argo”, and “The Town”. Some of his latest appearances have included “Triple Frontier” and “The Way Back”.
Liv Tyler as Grace Stamper
Liv Tyler played Grace, the daughter of Willis’ character. The daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, Liv has appeared in a range of movies, most notably starring as Arwen in the “Lord of the Rings” films. “Armageddon” was one of her first big movies and helped her gain more work in Hollywood and beyond.
In recent years, she’s been seen both in films and on TV, with some of her most notable performances coming in “The Strangers”, “Ad Astra”, “The Leftovers”, and “Harlots”. She’s also a successful singer, a UNICEF ambassador, and a model.
Will Patton as Chick
Will Patton played the part of Chick, one of the most experienced drillers of the team. By the time “Armageddon” was made, Patton already had a successful movie career, appearing in films like “No Way Out” and “The Postman”.
He went on to appear in various big action movies like “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “The Punisher”, as well as having a recurring role in the TNT sci-fi show “Falling Skies”. He has recently been seen in the latest “Halloween” franchise films, as well as becoming a popular audiobook narrator.
Steve Buscemi as Rockhound
Steve Buscemi played the part of Rockhound, a geologist. He was already a big actor in the 90s, having appeared in movies like “Reservoir Dogs”, “Desperado”, and “Con Air”. “Armageddon” continued his success, paving the way to many more big roles.
Buscemi has become known for his versatility, appearing in everything from gangster movies to comedies. He’s had notable performances in “Fargo”, “The Big Lebowski”, “The Death of Stalin”, “30 Rock”, and “Boardwalk Empire”. Lately, he’s appeared in the “Hotel Transylvania” movies and “Miracle Workers”.
William Fichtner as Colonel Willie Sharp
William Fichtner played Colonel Sharp in “Armageddon”, an astronaut who helps to train the miners. Fichtner is an actor with a long history of roles in films and on TV. Some of his most notable roles have been in the likes of “Heat”, “Contact”, “The Perfect Storm”, and “Prison Break”.
In more recent times, Fichtner has continued to appear in a range of roles on the big and small screens, including shows like “Veep”, “Mom”, and “Empire”. He’s also lent his voice to video games like “Grand Theft Auto”.
Owen Wilson as Oscar
Owen Wilson played the part of Oscar, a geologist, in “Armageddon”. A highly successful actor, writer, and producer, Wilson was already well known for his performances in movies such as “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore”, but “Armageddon” was one of the biggest roles of his early career and helped him become more widely known to cinema-goers.
Over the years, Wilson has become known for his comedic roles, appearing in the likes of “Zoolander”, “Starsky & Hutch”, and “The Internship”, as well as his collaboration with Wes Anderson in movies like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. He has recently been seen in the Disney+ show, “Loki”.
Michael Clarke Duncan as Bear
Michael Clarke Duncan played the part of Bear, one of the team’s drillers. He wasn’t too well known at the time, but “Armageddon” gave him the exposure he needed to get many more successful roles, with notable roles in “The Green Mile” and “Daredevil”.
In the latter years of his career, Clarke Duncan appeared in films like “Green Lantern” and “The Challenger”, as well as on TV in shows like “Bones”. He passed away at the age of 54 in 2012, due to complications from a heart attack. Several films he appeared in were released in the years following his death.
Peter Stormare as Lev Andropov
Peter Stormare played the part of Lev, a Russian cosmonaut. He was quite well known when “Armageddon” came out, having appeared in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Fargo”. After “Armageddon”, Stormare appeared in many other big movies like “Mercury Rising” and “Minority Report”.
In recent years, the Swedish actor has been seen in a range of action movies, like “John Wick: Chapter 2”, “Kill ‘Em All”, and “Rage”. He’s also been on TV in shows like “Arrow”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, and “American Gods”, as well as in video games.
Michael Bay Made a Cameo
It’s always fun to look out for little cameo appearances in our favorite movies, and there are many examples throughout cinematic history of directors inserting themselves into their movies in minor roles. Directors Alfred Hitchcock and M. Night Shyamalan did this many times.
Michael Bay also decided that he wanted to make an appearance in front of the cameras during “Armageddon”, so he cast himself as a NASA scientist and can be spotted in a couple of scenes. He’s also appeared in cameos in other movies, like “Mystery Men” and “Bad Boys II”.
A Very Special Dog
Another key member of the cast was a dog named Franky, who played the part of Little Richard. The dog, a French Bulldog, had been specially trained to attack Godzilla toys for its scene in the movie. The toys had to be hidden most of the time to keep Franky calm.
It cost $20,000 per day to have the dog on set, so the film crew made sure to get all of Franky’s filming done in a single day. He belonged to actor Brendan Kelly who appeared in blockbusters like “Con Air” and “The Rock”.
Jason Isaacs Almost Had a Much Bigger Role
One of the smaller roles of the film was played by British actor Jason Isaacs. He played the part of Dr. Ronald Quincy, who essentially explains the “science” behind burying nuclear bombs in a meteor to save the planet.
Isaacs was originally cast as one of the astronauts and had a much bigger role in the film. However, he was filming an independent movie in Ireland at the time and didn’t want to abandon that project, so he ended up accepting a smaller role.
Ben Affleck Felt Awkward During His Kissing Scene
Actors often had to pretend to be in love with people who might be almost strangers to them or even close friends in real life, and it can be quite awkward. Affleck found himself in that situation while filming “Armageddon”, as his character was in love with Tyler’s character.
In reality, Affleck and Tyler were good friends and had a brother-sister kind of relationship. So, when they had to get romantic and kiss in front of the cameras, they found it a little awkward. Affleck said it was like making out with his sister, and Tyler said the pair would “start giggling like crazy” during filming.
Billy Bob Thornton Doesn’t Regret Taking Part
Thornton is well known for appearing in a lot of successful, thought-provoking, artistic movies. So, the idea of such an actor appearing in a big Bay blockbuster seemed a little strange to many people. Even some of Thornton’s castmates wondered why he was there.
So, does he have any regrets? Well, apparently not! In an interview, Thornton stated, “I don’t really do blockbusters, but I thought on the level that it was supposed to work, I always thought it did, and I enjoyed my time on that movie.” He also said that he rewatches the film from time to time and tears up at the emotional ending.
Michael Bay Made Ben Affleck Get Dental Work
An actor’s appearance can be very important, and especially back in the 90s, if an aspiring star didn’t have the “right look,” they could miss out on roles and opportunities. Not only that, but stars often have to have surgery or strict diets to control their appearance.
Affleck discovered this the hard way while filming “Armageddon”. Bay wasn’t happy with the actor’s smile, so made him get $20,000 in dental work to straighten his teeth. Affleck’s co-star, Buscemi, wanted similar treatment, but Bay discouraged him, saying that Steve had a “million-dollar smile.”
Scientists Have Had Fun Mocking the Film
One thing that you might already know about “Armageddon” is that it’s not very accurate from a scientific point of view. As Bay himself says, this is a “popcorn movie.” It isn’t supposed to be realistic. But still, scientists have had fun over the years poking fun at some of the more ridiculous aspects of the plot.
One common criticism that scientists, especially astrophysicists, bring up is the fact that the odds of a meteor of such a size hitting Earth is exceptionally small. Another issue was the size. One scientist from Scotland explained that the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs was 6 miles in width. The one in Armageddon is 6,000 miles wide.
The Asteroid Was Supposed to Look Mean
One of the most important elements of the film’s plot is, of course, the asteroid itself. In a way, the asteroid almost feels like a character, and that’s exactly what Bay intended. He even went to lengths to make the big rock look “mean.”
He wanted the asteroid in his movie to look very different when compared to the big floating rocks seen in so many other sci-fi films of the past and present. He chose to add visual flair, such as the blue and green gases emanating from the asteroid, to make it look harsher and more alien.
A Vague Apology
In an interview with the Miami Herald, it seemed that Bay apologized for making “Armageddon”, stating, “I will apologize for ‘Armageddon’ because we had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking. That was not fair to the movie.”
Bay later said that his words had been taken out of context. He wrote on his blog, “I’m not in the slightest going to apologize for the third movie in my movie career, a film called ‘Armageddon’”, going on to explain that he simply wished he had more time to edit the film and make some changes.
Affleck Nearly Passed Out On Set
The spacesuits used in Armageddon were very realistic and had quite complicated designs, costing more than a million dollars to make! They were crafted from a special nylon-style material, with fancy fiberglass helmets. Unfortunately, Affleck had a pretty bad experience while trying on one of those helmets.
The actor found that he couldn’t breathe properly with the helmet on, as not enough oxygen was flowing through it. After he nearly passed out, modifications had to be made and ventilation was added to make the suits more breathable for the actors.
Affleck Had a Pretty Tough Time in General
Not only did Affleck need to get extensive dental work and nearly pass out in a spacesuit, but he also had a tough time with his stunts. Originally, he’d hoped to perform all the stunts himself, but after one of his first filmed scenes, he changed his mind.
In the scene, his character is climbing a ladder and a fireball flies past. Affleck got a little freaked out by this and decided to leave the rest of the stunts to the professionals. Still, for the rest of the filming, Bay goaded the actor and tried to make him do more stunts.
Michael Bay Was Very Picky About the Suits
The design of the suits wasn’t just important to allow the actors to breathe and move around comfortably; they also needed to look great on the big screen. And Bay was not happy at all with the initial designs.
Just a few weeks before filming, Bay ordered that all of the suits be remade to look more impressive. He said that they looked like “Adidas jogging suits” and included basic gardening gloves that were being spray-painted gray, and that simply wasn’t good enough for Bay.
Bruce Willis Did Not Enjoy Working with Michael Bay
There are many stories from the world of cinema involving actors and directors who don’t have the best relationships and don’t enjoy working together. And it turns out that Willis had a pretty bad experience of working with Bay on “Armageddon”.
In interviews, Willis said he enjoyed working with the other actors and the crew. However, when asked about Bay specifically, he commented, “A screaming director does not make for a pleasant set experience.” He later added, “I know I will never work with him again.”
The Most Emotional Scene
Arguably the most emotional scene in the whole movie is when Willis’ character has to say goodbye to his daughter, played by Tyler, after he decides to stay on the asteroid and sacrifice himself. This scene has a couple of interesting facts behind it.
Firstly, this scene, despite appearing near the end of the film, was shot on the very first day of filming! To portray the most authentic emotions, Willis was looking at photos of his real daughters while filming and imagining that he was having to say goodbye to them.
The Theme Song Is Aerosmith’s Biggest Hit
The music of “Armageddon” is another big part of the film’s iconic status, with the theme song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” going down in history as one of the most memorable movie theme songs ever written.
The song was written by Diane Warren and performed by Aerosmith. Despite being one of the most famous rock and roll bands of all time, responsible for classic hits like “Janie’s Got a Gun” and “Sweet Emotion”, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was Aerosmith’s only No. 1 hit single.
Over a Million Feet of Film Was Shot
Back in the 90s, celluloid was still being used for making movies, and “Armageddon” used a whole ton of film. Records show that more than a million feet of Kodak film was created, a truly staggering amount even for a film of the time.
The film used so much Kodak-branded film that the Kodak company sent them a gift consisting of a fancy basket filled with bottles of classy Korbel champagne. Bay and his fellow filmmakers were thrilled to receive such a fine gift.
Michael Bay Isn’t Interested in Plot Holes
It’s fair to say that the plot of Armageddon isn’t exactly scientifically sound. There are a few holes in the science and logic of the story, and many of the people who worked on the movie accept that fact. But Bay, the director, doesn’t want to hear about it.
One day, Affleck decided to ask Bay about an issue he had with the storyline. Affleck explained, “I asked Michael why it was easier to train oil drillers to become astronauts than it was to train astronauts to become oil drillers and he told me to shut the f*ck up. So that was the end of that talk.”
Bay Purposely Made the Film Family-Friendly
Bay specifically planned to make “Armageddon” a PG-13 film. He knew that the story had to involve some violence and curse words, but he wanted to make sure that younger viewers and families were able to watch it, without any of the usual R-rated aspects like gore and excessive language.
Bay admits that he had to make some concessions to achieve this aim. For example, he says that the scene where the Independence crashes on the asteroid should have involved much more blood. However, he wanted the film to be seen by as many people as possible to become as successful as possible.
Changes Were Made to Sell Toys
Part of the reason behind making the film PG-13 rated and allowing younger viewers to watch it with their parents was so that more merchandise could be made and sold to boost the film’s revenue even more. Mattel was in charge of creating an Armageddon-branded toy line.
While working on some toy designs, the company contacted Bay and told him that the movie’s toy trucks would sell better if they had guns attached to them. So, Bay changed the design of his movie’s trucks to feature big Gatling guns on each one, even though the weapons aren’t needed in the film’s story.
Affleck Helped to Decide the Film’s Ending
Originally, “Armageddon” was going to end with the crew landing back on solid ground, with the mission completed. However, Affleck felt that this wasn’t a good enough ending, and Bay agreed, believing that the film’s finale needed more of an emotional impact to affect the audience.
Affleck and Bay discussed the situation and felt that the film needed to end with images of Affleck’s character and Tyler’s character reuniting and celebrating their marriage. Interestingly enough, Affleck brought in his own Super 8 camera to use for shooting the wedding scene.
A Huge Success
Even though “Armageddon” was a huge challenge to make, took its toll on some of the cast and crew, and has been criticized for a lack of scientific accuracy, there can be no denying that it was by far one of the biggest films of the 90s.
Critically, it received poor ratings, but it was a major hit at the box office. It was the biggest grossing film of the year worldwide, earning more than $553 million, and it even received four Oscar nominations, for its sound design, music, and visual effects.