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Deep Impact

Original theatrical poster
Directed by Mimi Leder
Produced by David Brown
Richard D. Zanuck
Steven Spielberg
Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Michael Tolkin
Starring Robert Duvall
Téa Leoni
Elijah Wood
Morgan Freeman
Vanessa Redgrave
Blair Underwood
Laura Innes
Ron Eldard
Maximillian Schell
Jon Favreau
Mary McCormack
Richard Schiff
James Cromwell
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Dietrich Lohmann
Editing by Paul Cichocki
David Rosenbloom
Kurt Kustellson
Distributed by North America:
Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) May 8, 1998 (1998-05-08)
Running time 121 minutes
Country USA
Language English
Budget $75 million
Gross revenue $349,464,665

Deep Impact is a 1998 disaster/science-fiction-drama film released by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures in the United States on May 8, 1998. The film was directed by Mimi Leder, and stars Elijah Wood, Téa Leoni, Morgan Freeman, and Robert Duvall. The plot describes the attempts to prepare for and destroy a comet, which is expected to collide with the Earth and cause a mass extinction.

Another "space impact" film, Armageddon, was released about two months after Deep Impact in the United States.[1] Deep Impact was lauded by astronomers as being more scientifically accurate[2], but Armageddon fared better at the box office.[3] They were about equally received by critics (Armageddon scoring 41% and Deep Impact scoring 46% on the Tomatometer). The MPAA has rated this movie PG-13 for Intense Disaster-Related Elements and Brief Language.



At a star party on May 10, 1998, amateur astronomer Leo Biederman (Elijah Wood) discovers an unusual object near the stars Mizar and Alcor, and alerts professional astronomer Marcus Wolf (Charles Martin Smith) at a local observatory. Wolf learns that the object is a comet and calculates that its trajectory will intersect with Earth's orbit, but is killed in a car accident before he can relay the information.

A year later, MSNBC reporter Jenny Lerner (Téa Leoni) investigates the resignation of the United States Secretary of the Treasury Alan Rittenhouse (James Cromwell) and his connection to an "Ellie". Initially believing Ellie to be a mistress, she discovers the references may be to "E.L.E.", an acronym for "extinction-level event". President Tom Beck (Morgan Freeman), forced by Lerner's investigation, announces the discovery of the comet, now named Wolf-Biederman, and the danger it poses to Earth. He also announces the existence of the Messiah, a large spacecraft secretly constructed in orbit by the U.S. and Russia. They plan to send Messiah to intercept the comet. Life changes drastically worldwide, and Leo, who was presumed dead after a series of miscommunications and Lerner both become celebrities.

After landing on the comet Messiah's crew successfully plants several nuclear devices beneath its surface, but one crew member is lost and another is seriously injured. When the devices are initated, Messiah is damaged and loses contact with Earth. The initiations do not destroy the comet, instead splitting it into two pieces, "Wolf" and "Biederman", both still world-threatening. Beck acknowledges Messiah’s failure, declares martial law, and announces that governments worldwide are building underground shelters. The United States' national refuge is in the limestone caves of Missouri. The U.S. government conducts a lottery to select 800,000 ordinary Americans under 50 years of age, to join 200,000 pre-selected scientists, engineers, teachers, artists, soldiers, and officials. Lerner, Leo, and his family are pre-selected, but Leo's girlfriend Sarah Hotchner (Leelee Sobieski) is not. Leo marries Sarah to save her family but the Hotchners are mistakenly left off the evacuee list; Sarah refuses to leave without them. Leo and his family depart for the caves.

A last-ditch effort to use intercontinental ballistic missiles to deflect the comets fails, and Beck makes an address in which he details the location, timing and anticipated effects of the imminent cometary impacts.

After a change of heart, Leo separates from his family and returns home for Sarah, but finds she and her family have already left. Using the Hotchners' motorcycle, he catches up with them on a highway, and Sarah's parents insist that Leo take her and their infant daughter to higher ground. Meanwhile, Lerner gives up her seat in an evacuation helicopter to her coworker Beth (Laura Innes) and her young daughter, and travels to Hatteras Island where she reconciles with her estranged father (Maximilian Schell). Lerner was selected by nation lottery, but she foregoes this in order to meet her father.

The Biederman fragment impacts in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. The resulting supersonic megatsunami quickly becomes hundreds of feet high as it heads inland. Leo and Sarah survive, but the Lerners, Sarah's parents, and millions of others are killed along the Atlantic coasts of North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.

Messiah—believed lost—reaches the remaining "Wolf" fragment and enters a fissure on its surface, in which the crew initiate their remaining nuclear devices. This shatters the comet into much smaller pieces that burn up in Earth's atmosphere, sparing humanity, and destroying the ship along with the surviving astronauts.

The film closes with Beck addressing a large crowd before the ruins of the United States Capitol—under reconstruction—commemorating the astronauts and urging the nation to continue its recovery.



As Deep Impact was a Paramount/DreamWorks co-production, Paramount distributed it in the USA, and DreamWorks overseas. International video distribution rights were originally with Universal Studios. Deep Impact was also the first DreamWorks film to be co-produced with another major studio.

Jenny Lerner, the character played by Tea 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 newly created network.[4]


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 $350,000,000. 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.[5]

The film had a mixed critical reception. Based on 50 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 46% of critics enjoyed the film, with an average rating of 5.7/10.[6] 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"[7], however Rita Kempley and Michael O'Sullivan of the Washington Post criticized what they saw as unemotional performances and a lack of tension for the scenario.[8][9]


In 2005, Paramount's parent company, Viacom, announced its acquisition of DreamWorks, and completed it in early 2006. Around that time, Viacom split into two companies, the other being called CBS Corporation. CBS inherited Paramount's TV operations, now called CBS Television Studios. Worldwide video and theatrical rights to Deep Impact are with Paramount, while American television rights are in the hands of Trifecta Entertainment & Media (inherited from CBS Television Distribution in 2009.[citation needed]


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