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The Untold Truth Of Armageddon

We don't know who needs to hear this, but not all movies have to be scientifically accurate, win Oscars, and make us think really hard about the human condition. Sometimes, you just want to watch a bunch of oil drillers — preferably the best oil drillers in the world — learn to be astronauts in a matter of minutes, land a spacecraft on a giant meteor, and try to insert nuclear weapons into it. Throw in some low-angled 360-degree shots, improbable explosions, and unceasing dramatic music, and that just makes it even better.

Even Armageddon's notoriously prickly director, Michael Bay, admitted in his DVD commentary that the movie isn't exactly rocket science. (Except he said "brain surgery.") In 2001, Bay described the movie to The New York Times as, "a total fantasy for a 15-year-old. ... It's a popcorn movie. It's not supposed to be taken seriously."

However, the shooting of Armageddon was a very serious business, involving multiple rewrites, real shuttle launches, a spacesuit disaster, and extreme dental surgery. Here's what happened behind the scenes to make the finest movie ever made about a meteor on a collision course with Earth (at least since Deep Impact premiered the month before).

J.J. Abrams helped rewrite Armageddon's script

One person you can thank or blame for Armageddon is J.J. Abrams. Today, the director/producer/geek-in-chief is the mastermind behind massive sci-fi projects including Star Wars Episode VII and Episode IX, Star Trek (the Kelvin timeline), and Lost. But back in the late '90s, Abrams was a script doctor being paid to rework screenplays that weren't quite clicking, often without credit. Thanks to his mentor Steven Spielberg, we know he also worked on 1995's Casper, but Abrams' other contributions to pop culture remain as elusive as the friendly ghost. And he's probably fine with that, since he wasn't keen on all of them. Speaking about his script doctor days, he diplomatically told The Guardian, "Over the years [I] had found myself doing things that weren't so meaningful."

Abrams can't take all the credit (or wrath) for Armageddon. Eight other writers were involved in the project at one point or another. Robert Roy Pool wrote the original script, which was reworked by Jonathan Hensleigh into the version that was greenlit, and the other writers added polish until the movie got lift off. But in June 1998, a Writers Guild of America arbitration committee decided that only five — including Abrams — could attach their names to the movie and get that blockbuster boost on their resumes.

Ben Affleck felt awkward kissing Liv Tyler

Ben Affleck has appeared in more than one awkward love scene — and the entire movie of Gigli — but he was still uncomfortable filming his character's romantic moments with Liv Tyler. According to Cinema.com, Affleck claimed that kissing Tyler was like making out with his sister.

Tyler confirmed that the romantic element was hard. On the one hand, she told Cinema.com, "He's my friend. It was nice because we know each other's families and boyfriends and girlfriends, which made it all cool." But that familiarity made the love scenes hard to film. "We would just start giggling like crazy," Tyler recalled. Evidently, some audience members picked up on that cringey chemistry, as the actors earned the dubious honor of a Golden Raspberry (aka Razzie) nomination for Worst Screen Couple in 1999. (Affleck finally scooped that prize with Jennifer Lopez for Gigli and again for his frenemy-ship with Henry Cavill's Superman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.)

Billy Bob Thornton has no regrets about doing Armageddon

If you were watching Armageddon and wondering why Billy Bob Thornton was in the movie, well, you're in good company. According to Thornton, at the table read, Steve Buscemi wondered aloud why he and Thornton had been cast. But Thornton knew. As the actor explained to People TV, his manager had suggested to producer Jerry Bruckheimer — on a plane ride the two just happened to share — that he should cast "some really good, like, actors' actors."

Armageddon may not be on par with some of Thornton's other work, but the actor isn't snobby about appearing in the popcorn crowd-pleaser. He told IndieWire, "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." And while Armageddon doesn't have the emotional clout of, say, Monster's Ball or Friday Night Lights, the emotional climax still gets Thornton. "Every time, when Bruce Willis is buying the farm on the rock ... I tear up." And no, it's apparently not out of embarrassment.

Michael Bay made Ben Affleck get a new set of teeth

Fans of Ben Affleck's earlier films may have noticed something different about him in Armageddon. In his director's commentary, Bay revealed that he made the actor get a new set of teeth. According to Bay, Affleck was stuck in a dentist's chair for eight hours a day for a whole week, at a cost of $20,000 to the movie's jaw-droppingly high budget. Yet when Steve Buscemi expressed a desire to straighten out his teeth after watching the movie, Bay told him not to!

That dental work stayed with Affleck through many more leading roles, literally and metaphorically. His co-star in 2001's Pearl Harbor, Kate Beckinsale, recalled that when Bay forced her to lose weight for the movie, Affleck commiserated with her by telling her about his tooth woes. "I was like, 'Cool, at least I get to hang on to my actual teeth,'" she told Women's Health (via ET).

In the Armageddon commentary, Bay also hinted that another A-list star got the Hollywood tooth treatment before his big break. He said that producer Jerry Bruckheimer had paid for dental work for an actor in what Bay called "a plane movie." He didn't name names, but pay attention when the Top Gun: Maverick finally rolls around.

Ben Affleck takes issue with a major Armageddon plot point

Everyone knows the plot holes in Armageddon are the size of a meteor the size of Texas. Even Ben Affleck knows it. In 1999, the Armageddon DVD was released with commentary from Affleck, Michael Bay, and Bruce Willis. It became the most famous DVD commentary ever — admittedly not a tough category — thanks to Affleck's running mockery of his own movie.

At one point, Affleck explained that he'd asked Bay about what he felt was one of the movie's most glaring issues. "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*** up," Affleck said, before launching into a take down of the movie's central premise.

Over 20 years later, Affleck still isn't over this gaping plot hole, but he's not letting it tarnish his memories of working on Armageddon. "I knew enough to know this isn't really an Oscar type movie, this is a fun movie. ... I have some great memories from that movie," he told GQ.

Astrophysicists like to take aim at Armageddon

If you've spent most of your life studying meteors, watching Hollywood get everything wrong about them is deeply frustrating. So it's not surprising that astrophysicists enjoy destroying Armageddon.

One of their main issues is the size of the meteor. In bad news for movie purists but good news for humanity, the chances of a meteor that size hitting Earth is "very small," according to Edinburgh University PhD student Alastair Bruce in an interview with inews.co.uk. He points out that the most catastrophic meteor to ever hit Earth was 10 km (6 miles) wide. That's the one that wiped out the dinosaurs (and triggered another scientifically inaccurate '90s blockbuster.) The meteor in Armageddon is approximately 10,000 km (6,000 miles) wide.

In more good news for real-life Earth dwellers, Bruce said we'd definitely be able to see something that big "at least a few months before it hit," rather than 18 days in advance. But it's bad news for any presidents who were planning to rely on the movie's plot for guidance should such an event occur. "The whole idea that you can blow it up with a single nuke is just stupid," Bruce summarizes.

Did you spot Michael Bay at NASA?

Many years before Michael Bay was spending millions of dollars to blow things up on movie sets, he starred in an amateur production of Pirates of Penzance. As told to GQ, his own mother's review was, "I never laughed so hard in my life." So it's probably for the best that Bay mostly moved away from acting.

We say "mostly" because despite his early struggles, he's appeared on-screen numerous times. He played a NASA scientist in a couple of scenes in Armageddon — the one who's told, "We're moving to Hubble." He also gave himself cameos in Bad Boys II (as the driver of the car that Will Smith rejects) and in 6 Underground (as a reporter). He even made time to play an MC in Bad Boys for Life, at the invitation of his replacements Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah.

Bay has also popped up in other people's projects. His acting credits include Goon #3 in a 1986 episode of Miami Vice, Frat Boy in the superhero comedy Mystery Men, and a photographer in rom-com Coyote Ugly. And who knows who's underneath all that CGI in Transformers?

A real oil rig let Armageddon shoot on location because of the plot

Oil rigs aren't known for being hospitable to people who aren't trained oil drillers. But Bay managed to sweet talk his way into shooting on a real oil rig, making Armageddon one of the only movies granted that honor. In his director's comedy on the 1999 DVD, Bay said he thought that the plot of the movie — oil riggers save the world — was the deciding factor, proving once again that representation matters.

Specifically, Armageddon was shot on the Garden Banks Oil Rig, 180 miles from the Gulf Coast of Texas. Chief lighting technician Andy Ryan told LiveDesignOnline that all the equipment had to be driven from LA to Galveston, TX, then shipped to the rig on barges. The lighting crew had to go out four days early to set everything up. But after that, it was a remarkably smooth process. "We took a two-hour helicopter ride to get out there, and within two hours we were shooting. Piece of cake," Ryan said.

Michael Bay is not sorry for making Armageddon

Movie lovers who didn't appreciate Bay's vision for Armageddon may have felt a little smug when it was reported that he'd apologized for making the movie in an interview with the Miami Herald in 2013. Bay's quote in the article, as reported by The Guardian, was, "I will apologize for Armageddon because we had to do the whole movie in 16 weeks. It was a massive undertaking." Some thought he was criticizing the movie's fast and loose interpretation of science. But in a now-vanished post published on his blog, Bay clarified that he was only — sort of — apologizing for part of the movie.

He wrote that what he actually regretted was that he hadn't had enough time to properly edit the final act of Armageddon. "I said, I wish we had a few more weeks in the edit room on Armageddon," Bay wrote, as quoted in The Guardian. But he still stands by all two and a half hours of the final product. "And still today Armageddon, is one of the most shown movies on cable TV. And yes, I'm proud of the movie. Enough said," he clarified with an almost audible mic drop.

The Godzilla-fighting dog had a big pay day

The real scene-stealer from Armageddon was Little Richard (Franky), the French bulldog that falls into a meteorite crater (he's rescued by his dedicated owner, played by Eddie Griffin). In real life, Franky belonged to Brendan Kelly, an actor who'd appeared in Armageddon producer Jerry Bruckheimer's previous movies Con Air and The Rock — connections that landed Franky the Armageddon job.

In his DVD commentary, Bay said that Franky cost $20,000 a day and was so good at attacking the Godzilla toys in the opening sequence that the crew had to hide them. However, Variety reported that Franky and Kelly made $20,000 for the whole project — which isn't bad for a couple of scenes.

Kelly made the most of Franky's opportunity. While on set, he put together a short film titled Franky Goes to Hollywood, which showed Franky getting acting advice from Billy Bob Thornton, a career pep talk from Bruce Willis, and kisses from Liv Tyler, among other exciting adventures. Franky quit showbiz while he was ahead, but Kelly went on to have small roles in The Lizzie McGuire Movie, CSI: NY and Angel Has Fallen, among others.

NASA allowed the filmmakers to shoot a real launch

The most realistic thing about Armageddon is the launch sequence, as the team filmed two real shuttle launches at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando, FL. The first, done in daytime, was a practice to get camera angles and lighting correct. But filming the night launch was tense. John Schwarztman, director of photography, explained on Bay's blog that these are only done every 18 months. "We knew if we didn't get it right, there was no second chance," he said. NASA also allowed Bay to film in their six million-gallon neutral buoyancy tank in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. It's effectively a giant swimming pool where trainee astronauts practice doing extravehicular activities (EVA) — aka space walks.

Even Bay was overwhelmed by the scale of the shuttle. He told NASA that filming those sequences was "one of the truest things about being an American." But he was less impressed with the NASA offices. In the DVD commentary, he revealed that those scenes were shot in offices used by a company selling herbal products. "If you saw the real NASA, you wouldn't trust it as far as you could throw it," he added.

Michael Bay threw out the original spacesuits

Bay knew that making an awesome space movie came down to one thing — the spacesuits. In the DVD commentary, he said that these costumes were "the biggest nightmare of the entire shoot." According to Bay, when he went to check on the costumes three weeks before shooting began, the suits looked like "an Adidas jogging suit on a rack." His breaking point came when he found someone spray painting a glove from a gardening store gray and sewing rubber to the knuckles. He estimated that it ultimately cost about $1.5 million to get them right.

The final costumes made a deep impact (ahem) on NASA. They asked Chris Gillman, who designed the helmets, to design real spacesuits. Gillman is well-known for making space come to life in movies. He's designed and made props and costumes for projects including Stargate, The Astronaut Farmer, First Man, and Ad Astra. He helped redesign a NASA suit to fit smaller torsos, and he designed a helmet adapter. Gillman's NASA connection runs in his family. The welding company his dad owned worked on the life support systems used in the Apollo missions.

Jason Isaacs nearly had a much bigger role in Armageddon

In Armageddon, British actor Jason Isaacs plays Dr. Ronald Quincy from research, the man tasked with explaining why burying nuclear missiles inside the meteor is the only way to save Earth from the "global killer." But he nearly got to do so much more.

In 2019, Isaacs explained to The A.V. Club that he was shooting an unnamed independent movie in Ireland (possibly Divorcing Jack) when he got a call saying he'd been cast as one of the Armageddon astronauts, and that he had to report to set immediately. When Isaacs refused to abandon the project he'd already committed to, the surprised executives offered him a smaller part.

Isaacs explained, "They came back and offered me the ... consultation prize of playing the part I played in Armageddon. ... The whole time, I was looking at the astronauts thinking, 'Oh, I could've been you. It could've been me in that orange jumpsuit.'" Apparently being "pretty much the smartest man on the planet" doesn't matter nearly as much on film sets as top billing. "There's tiers of hierarchy on film sets ... and any time someone was a bit iffy with me, I wanted to go, 'I could've had your f****** job,'" Isaacs lamented.

'I Don't Want to Miss a Thing' finally gave Aerosmith a number one single

Now a fixture at weddings, Aerosmith's superpowered ballad "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" was written for Armageddon by Diane Warren. We can also thank Warren for other popular movie songs including "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now " from Mannequin and "How Do I Live" from the previous Jerry Bruckheimer project Con Air, which got her the Armageddon gig.

Warren credits Disney music executive Kathy Nelson for suggesting Aerosmith. At the time, Aerosmith was nearing their 30th anniversary, but they were still extremely popular. Their 1997 album Nine Lives made the top of the Billboard charts, accompanied by some hit (but not number one) singles, and they'd embarked on a huge tour. Plus, it also made sense, given that frontman Steven Tyler is the father of Liv Tyler, aka Grace Stamper. 

Tyler seemed keen on the song, but drummer Joey Kramer had reservations. "It's okay. It's just another song," he told Classic Rock in 2017. Of course, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" proved to be huge — it's still Aerosmith's only #1 US single — which Kramer said enabled the band to extend their aptly named Nine Lives tour for another year.