Deep Impact (film)

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Deep Impact
Deep Impact poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mimi Leder
Produced by David Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Michael Tolkin
Starring Elijah Wood
Téa Leoni
Robert Duvall
Vanessa Redgrave
Maximilian Schell
Leelee Sobieski
Morgan Freeman
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Dietrich Lohmann
Edited by Paul Cichocki
David Rosenbloom
DreamWorks Pictures
The Manhattan Project
Zanuck/Brown Productions
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • May 8, 1998 (1998-05-08)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $80 million[1]
Box office $349.4 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, Leelee Sobieski, 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-wide comet set to collide with the Earth and cause a mass extinction.

Deep Impact was released during 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] Deep Impact grossed over $349 million worldwide on an $80 million production budget.

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


On May 10, 1998, teenage amateur astronomer Leo Biederman[6] (Elijah Wood) 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 (Charles Martin Smith), who realizes that the object is a comet on a collision course with Earth. Wolf tries to get the information out, but dies in a car accident before he can alert the world.

One year later, MSNBC journalist Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) investigates the sudden resignation of Secretary of the Treasury Alan Rittenhouse (James Cromwell) and his connection to "Ellie," supposedly a mistress. On the ride back from interviewing Rittenhouse, she is intercepted by the FBI and brought before President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman). Lerner soon 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 its discoverers Wolf and Beiderman, the latter of whom was erroneously believed killed in the earlier car accident) is 7 miles (11 km) long—large enough to cause a mass extinction, and possibly wipe out humanity, if it hits Earth. He also reveals that the United States and Russia have been secretly constructing an Orion spacecraft called Messiah in orbit, in order to transport a team led by Oren Monash (Ron Eldard) and including veteran astronaut Spurgeon Tanner (Robert Duvall) to the comet, so that its path toward Earth can be diverted using nuclear weapons. Leo speaks before his town, amused by the error of the White House thinking that he died with Dr. Wolf.

After landing on the comet, the crew members plant nuclear bombs 100 meters beneath the surface. While returning to the space vehicle, Monash is blinded due to direct unfiltered sunlight and suffers severe facial burns while Gus Partenza (Jon Favreau) is ejected from the surface by an outflow of gas. When the bombs are detonated, the ship is damaged and the team loses contact with Earth. Instead of being knocked off course or destroyed, the comet splits 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.

President Beck announces the Messiah crew's failure, 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 ordinary Americans under age 50 to join 200,000 pre-selected scientists, engineers, teachers, artists, soldiers, and officials as well as a massive supply of food plus two of every animal and the seeds of every species of plant. Lerner and the Beiderman family are pre-selected, but Leo's girlfriend Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski) and her family are not. Leo marries Sarah to save her family, but the Hotchner family is 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 comets. The Beiderman fragment will impact the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, which will cause a tidal wave up to 3,500 feet high. The people who would be in its way are advised to leave now while they still can. President Beck then states that the Wolf fragment will impact western Canada creating a cloud of dust that will block out the sun for two years, destroying all life on Earth in a matter of weeks. Leo returns home looking for Sarah, but her family has left for the Appalachian Mountains and is trapped in a traffic jam. Leo catches up to the family using a small motorcycle from their garage. Sarah's parents urge Leo to take Sarah and her baby brother to high ground. Sarah complies after much hesitation and she and her parents part ways. Lerner gives up her seat in the last evacuation helicopter to her friend Beth (Laura Innes) and her young daughter. She joins her estranged father Jason (Maximilian Schell) at their beach house where they reconcile.

The Beiderman fragment impacts in the Atlantic Ocean, creating a megatsunami. Lerner, Jason, Sarah's parents, and millions of others are killed as the tsunami devastates the Atlantic coasts of North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. Low on fuel and life support, the crew of Messiah decides to undertake a suicide mission with the remaining nuclear warheads to obliterate the Wolf fragment. After saying goodbye to their loved ones by video conference, the ship reaches the Wolf fragment and enters a fissure to blow itself up, which breaks the fragment into much smaller pieces that burn up in Earth's atmosphere. Leo, Sarah, and her baby brother are among the people that escape the megatsunami.

After the waters recede, President Beck speaks to a large crowd in front of the reconstructing United States Capitol building, urging the nation and 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.[7]

Director Mimi Leder later explained that she would have liked to travel to other countries to incorporate additional perspectives, but that there ended up being no time or budget to allow it.[8] Visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar felt that coverage of worldwide events would have distracted and detracted from the main characters' stories.[8]


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. Much of the score used for Deep Impact was recycled and reused in Bicentennial Man, released the following year.[citation needed]


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 (which cost almost twice as much as Deep Impact to make), Deep Impact was still a box office hit and was the higher opener of the two.[9] 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.

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.[10] Metacritic gave a score of 40 based on 20 reviews. Janet Maslin of The New York Times said that the film "has a more brooding, thoughtful tone than this genre usually calls for",[11] while Rita Kempley and Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post criticized what they saw as unemotional performances and a lack of tension.[12][13]


  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. ^ 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 Biederman, indicating that it was the intended spelling during production, and the closing credits were in error.
  7. ^ AP: MSNBC gets role in Deep Impact after CNN declines 30/4/98:
  8. ^ a b Leder, Mimi and Farrar, Scott. Audio commentary. Deep Impact DVD. Universal Studios, 2004.
  9. ^ "Deep Impact (1998)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-02-22. 
  10. ^ "Deep Impact (1998)". Retrieved May 6, 2015. 
  11. ^ Maslin, Janet (May 8, 1998). "Movie Review — Deep Impact". The New York Times. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  12. ^ Kempley, Rita (March 8, 2000). "'Deep Impact': C'mon Comet!". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 
  13. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (March 8, 2000). "High Profile, Low 'Impact'". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2009. 

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