Deep Impact (film)

This article is about the 1998 film involving a "killer comet". For the NASA mission to several comets, see Deep Impact (spacecraft).
Deep Impact

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mimi Leder
Produced by David Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Michael Tolkin
Starring Robert Duvall
Téa Leoni
Elijah Wood
Vanessa Redgrave
Maximilian Schell
Morgan Freeman
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Dietrich Lohmann
Edited by Paul Cichocki
David Rosenbloom
The Manhattan Project
Zanuck/Brown Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
(United States)
DreamWorks Pictures
Release dates
  • May 8, 1998 (1998-05-08)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million[1]
Box office $349.5 million[2]

Deep Impact is a 1998 American science fiction disaster film[3] directed by Mimi Leder, written by Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, and starring Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Maximilian Schell, and Morgan Freeman. Steven Spielberg served as an executive producer of this film. It was released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in the United States on May 8, 1998. The film depicts the attempts to prepare for and destroy a 7-mile (11 km) wide comet set to collide with Earth and cause a mass extinction.

Notably, Deep Impact was released in the same summer as a similarly themed rival, Armageddon, which fared better at the box office, while astronomers described Deep Impact as being more scientifically accurate.[4][5] Both films were similarly received by critics, with Armageddon scoring 39% and Deep Impact scoring 48% on Rotten Tomatoes. Nonetheless, Deep Impact grossed over $349 million worldwide on an $80 million production budget.

This is the final film of cinematographer Dietrich Lohmann.[6]


On May 10, 1998, teenage amateur astronomer Leo Biederman[7] discovers an unusual object near the stars Mizar and Alcor at a star party in Richmond, Virginia with his school's astronomy club. His teacher alerts astronomer Dr. Marcus Wolf, who realizes that the object is a comet, heading for a collision course with Earth. Wolf dies in a car accident before he can alert the world.

One year later, MSNBC journalist Jenny Lerner investigates the sudden resignation of Secretary of the Treasury Alan Rittenhouse and his connection to "Ellie", supposedly a mistress. After interviewing Rittenhouse, she is intercepted by the FBI and brought before President Tom Beck. Lerner realizes that Ellie is not a mistress but an acronym: "E.L.E.", for "Extinction-Level Event". Due to Lerner's investigation, President Beck makes an announcement earlier than planned: the comet named Wolf-Biederman (named after Wolf and Biederman, mistakenly assuming Leo Biederman was killed along with Professor Wolf) is headed for Earth. It is 7 miles (11 km) long, large enough to cause a mass extinction, and possibly wipe out humanity, if it hits the Earth. He also reveals that the United States and Russia have been constructing an Orion spacecraft called Messiah in orbit in order to transport a team led by Oren Monash and including veteran astronaut Spurgeon Tanner to the comet, so that its path toward Earth may be diverted using nuclear weapons. After his name is mentioned on TV, Leo speaks to the town about the discovery and how the White House thought he died alongside Wolf.

After landing on the comet, the crew members plant nuclear bombs beneath the surface, but are delayed and caught in outgassing explosions when sunlight hits the comet surface. While fleeing to the space vehicle, Monash is blinded due to direct unfiltered sunlight and suffers severe facial burns, while Gus Partenza is lost, ejected from the surface by an outflow of cold gas. When the bombs detonate, the ship is damaged from the blast and the team loses contact with Earth. President Beck announces the crew's failure; the nukes did not divert the comet, but split it into two smaller rocks nicknamed "Biederman" (1.5 miles (2.4 km) long) and "Wolf" (6 miles (9.7 km) long), both heading for Earth.

After President Beck announces the Messiah crew's failure, he declares martial law and reveals that governments worldwide have been building underground shelters. The United States' shelter is in the limestone caves of Missouri. The US government conducts a lottery to select 800,000 Americans under age 50 to join 200,000 pre-selected individuals as well as a massive supply of food, genetically viable populations of significant animals and the seeds of every species of plants. Lerner and the Biederman family are pre-selected, but Leo's girlfriend Sarah Hotchner and her family are not. Leo marries Sarah to save her family, but they are left off the evacuee list. Sarah refuses to leave without her parents.

A last-ditch effort to use Earth's missile-borne nuclear weapons to deflect the comets fails. President Beck reports on this and reveals the final trajectories of the two comets. The Biederman fragment will impact the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, which will generate megatsunamis up to 3,500 feet (1,100 m) high. The people who would be in its way are immediately advised to evacuate. The Wolf fragment will impact western Canada, creating a huge cloud of dust and molten particles that will block out the Sun for two years, killing all present life on the surface of the planet in a matter of weeks. Leo returns home looking for Sarah, but her family has left for the Appalachian Mountains and is caught in a traffic jam. Leo catches up to the family using a motorcycle from their garage. Sarah's parents urge Leo to take Sarah and her baby brother to high ground. Sarah complies and she and her parents sadly part ways. Lerner gives up her seat in the last evacuation helicopter to her friend Beth and Beth's young daughter. She joins her estranged father Jason at their beach house, where they reconcile.

The Biederman fragment enters the planet and makes impact off Cape Hatteras, creating megatsunamis. Jenny and Jason, Sarah's parents, as well as billions of others perish as series of megatsunamis greatly devastate the Atlantic coasts of the Americas, Europe and Africa. Too low on fuel and life support to be able to safely attempt a second landing, the crew of Messiah decides that their only chance to destroy Wolf and save the world is to undertake a suicide mission, with the remaining nuclear warheads to obliterate the Wolf fragment. After they say goodbye to their loved ones via video conference, the ship reaches the Wolf fragment and enters a fissure to blow itself up, which destroys the comet into smaller pieces that burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Leo, Sarah and her baby brother successfully make it away from the megatsunami.

After the waters recede years later, President Beck speaks to a large crowd, encouraging them to remember and honour the heroes for their sacrifice that saved the world, as he believes they've been blessed with a second chance to call Earth their home and urging the nations of the world to continue their recovery.



Jenny Lerner, the character played by Téa Leoni, was originally intended to work for CNN. CNN rejected this because it would be "inappropriate". MSNBC agreed to be featured in the movie instead, seeing it as a way to gain exposure for the then newly-created network.[8]

Director Mimi Leder later explained that she would have liked to travel to other countries to incorporate additional perspectives, but due to a strict filming schedule and a low budget, the idea was scratched.[9] Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar felt that coverage of worldwide events would have distracted and detracted from the main characters' stories.[9]


Deep Impact – Music from the Motion Picture
Soundtrack album by James Horner
Released May 5, 1998
Recorded 1997–1998
Genre Film score
Length 77:12
Label Sony Classical
James Horner chronology
Deep Impact
The Mask of Zorro

The music for the film was composed and conducted by James Horner.


Box office

Deep Impact debuted at the North American box office with $41,000,000 in ticket sales. The movie grossed $140,000,000 in North America and an additional $209,000,000 worldwide for a total gross of $349,000,000. Despite competition in the summer of 1998 from the similar Armageddon, Deep Impact was still a box office hit and was the higher opener of the two.[10] Domestically, it became the highest grossing film directed by a woman and held that record for a decade until Twilight claimed the record in 2008.

Critical reception

The film had a mixed critical reception. Based on 52 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 48% of critics enjoyed the film, with an average rating of 5.8/10.[11] Metacritic gave a score of 40 based on 20 reviews. Elvis Mitchell of The New York Times said that the film "has a more brooding, thoughtful tone than this genre usually calls for",[12] while Rita Kempley and Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post criticized what they saw as unemotional performances and a lack of tension.[13][14]


  1. "Deep Impact". The Numbers. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  2. "Deep Impact". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  3. Olthuis, Andrew. "Deep Impact". Allmovie. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  4. "Disaster Movies". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-03-23.
  5. Plait, Phil (February 17, 2000). "Hollywood Does the Universe Wrong".
  6. Oliver, Myrna (November 20, 1997). "Dietrich Lohmann; Widely Praised Cinematographer". LA Times. Retrieved August 18, 2015.
  7. Many sources spell this "Biederman" because it appears that way in the closing credits. However, there are a few written instances within the movie of the spelling "Beiderman".
  8. AP: MSNBC gets role in Deep Impact after CNN declines 30/4/98:
  9. 1 2 Leder, Mimi and Farrar, Scott. Audio commentary. Deep Impact DVD. Universal Studios, 2004.
  10. "Deep Impact (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  11. "Deep Impact (1998)". Retrieved May 6, 2015.
  12. Maslin, Janet (May 8, 1998). "Movie Review — Deep Impact". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
  13. Kempley, Rita (March 8, 2000). "'Deep Impact': C'mon Comet!". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2009.
  14. O'Sullivan, Michael (March 8, 2000). "High Profile, Low 'Impact'". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2009.

External links

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