I spent part of last year digging around for space rocks — that’s movies about space rocks — the idea being to compile a list of every asteroid and comet disaster movie ever made, from the very first silent film in 1916, to the massive blockbusters that launch every special effect at us that digital mastery can conjure up today. The next big task was to watch them all.
And here it is: an A to Z list, which provides links to where you can watch the drama, because tracking down some of the more obscure titles is a challenge in itself. And fans can rest assured that the asteroid and comet impact disaster genre is definitely not extinct, with at least four releases in 2020 and 2021.
A new release in 2020 is Collision Earth (not to be confused with a 2011 movie of the same name). This made-for-TV drama is about an approaching swarm of debris masking a larger asteroid threat. It features a lot of highly colourful on-the-ground monitoring using virtual reality headsets and Marcel Marceau mimicry.
The second is Greenland, a big budget film about a comet impact and the search for sanctuary in an underground shelter in Greenland. If you find you’re forced to do what the comet doesn’t and give this one a miss because it’s not available in your country, don’t fret because there are plenty of other films on the A-to-Z list, some with more comet impact drama. Greenland is more about clinging onto the fragment of a marriage and a bag of medication (much like another on that list).
The third, for release in 2021, is Don’t Look Up, a big budget cast in a satire about two astronomers who go on a media tour to warn the world about an impending impact that no-one really believes will happen. Most recent news snippets refer to a comet when it comes to this film, but Netflix originally said it was about an asteroid. Maybe the PR department was confused about the difference between an asteroid and a comet (I can help with that) or maybe the writers changed the script during lockdown? I did message Leonard DiCaprio to ask what was in his script, but didn’t get a reply.
The final one is Meteor Moon. Due for release in 2021, it’s a A-to-Z of physics jargon, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Stick with the trailer.
If I were to pick a handful of recommendations to watch from the hundred (or so) on the A to Z list, here are my top twelve, in no particular order — although I do leave the best ’til last.
Start with the first ever comet impact movie The End of the World (1916) (but note…it’s silent) and then watch A Fire in the Sky (1978), the one that revived a lost genre and provided a more realistic story than all the others up to that point.
Then watch the mini-series Salvation (2017–18), a story which encompasses almost everything featured in all the other movies combined and undertakes relentless attempts of everything known to man to try and mitigate the disaster and methods which need to be invented regardless of cost or consequence. Then watch The Expanse (2015–) — it’s astonishing good, but you’ll need to commit.
If you’ve only got minutes to spare, watch the short film Hope (2016) and the comedy sketch The Size of Texas (2011). Or for another light-hearted take on events, watch the opening episode (S2) of The Onion News Network (2011).
For a more realistic telling of what might happen before, during and after a massive impact, watch the docu-drama The Super Comet (2007).
If you want a giant creature thrown in the mix too, watch the Japanese films Warning from Space (1956) and Gorath (1962). I love a Japanese flick, with or without subtitles.
I was totally gripped by the anime Your Name (2016) aka Kimi no Na wa, which is an absolute joy to watch. But perhaps the best of the bunch (and that’s no big fish story) is the Japanese film, Fish Story (2009).
Here’s the A to Z list with all the links you need.
Just remember, asteroids and comets are not the same thing, although there are ambiguous types. Think of them, perhaps, as rocky and icy end members of a whole host of compositions in between. And don’t confuse meteoroids, meteors and meteorites, because the term ‘meteor’ is almost always misused in this movie genre. For a brief (I’m lying) synopsis of each drama, read Making an Impact: Lights, Camera and Asteroid!