Our list of the best asteroid movies has crashed to Earth, but which of them made the deepest impact?
A fictional threatening comet or asteroid provides perfect fodder for a science fiction film. Happily, NASA and its partners scan the skies regularly for threatening small bodies and so far, in real life, they have found nothing imminently worrying (unless you count Jeff Bezos). But there is a rich history of movies dealing with the consequences of comets and asteroids hurtling themselves towards Earth.
Technically, these aren’t all asteroid movies… some of them are comets. Yes, we know, boo the pedants, but it’s an important distinction scientifically speaking, though we doubt it matters much to the unfortunate souls being obliterated by them in the movies listed below.
In this rundown, ranked worst to best, are movies that involve a threatening asteroid or a comet and how humanity – and, in some cases, aliens or other species – responded to the threat. Some of these focus on the asteroid, while others use the impending disaster to tell a more human (or dinosaur) story.
We’ve also got a mix of stone cold classics and guilty pleasures, so let’s get stuck in. If you want to see more horrific things from outer space, check out our best space horror movies guide too.
- Release date: February 16, 1997
- Cast: Michael Biehn, Annabella Sciorra, Zach Charles
Technically this is a TV miniseries, but the run time was similar in length to a movie. The story begins with a gas tanker getting wiped out by a meteorite hitting the front of the truck, just outside of Billings, Montana. It turns out that this is just a preview; the orbits of two asteroids (Helios and Eros) were disrupted by a comet that is going to pass by Earth on the fourth of July, Independence Day…and it looks like they’re going to hit Earth square-on. The miniseries involves discussions of potential extinction-level events and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s attempts to protect the population of the United States from the threat.
19. Color Out of Space
- Release date: January 24, 2020
- Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur
This movie stars Nicholas Cage in a literal H.P. Lovecraft plot based on a 1927 tale of the same name. The plot begins with a somber tone, as Nathan Gardner (Cage) moves his family to a rural area due his wife’s illness. A meteor crashes into their front yard and scares the kids, but that’s not the worst of it. Before long, the space rock gets hit by lightning, the groundwater starts to get infested, and strange beings emerge from the property. It’s a rather oddball horror plot, but Cage – as usual – does a good job keeping a straight face and carrying us viewers through the movie.
- Release date: June 21, 1985
- Cast: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth
Look for a pre-Star Trek: The Next Generation Patrick Stewart in this very British science fiction horror flick. In the movie, a space shuttle crew visits Halley’s Comet (which, at the time, was safely approaching Earth in real life) and discovers a bunch of bat-like lifeforms inside. The crew attempts to take the creatures back with them and, of course, the space shuttle soon disappears and a rescue mission must find out what happened – we’re getting some Alien vibes from this. Bonus points for this plot being a bit creative and where the comet itself didn’t threaten Earth, but comet-dwelling creatures did.
17. Night of the Comet
- Release date: November 16, 1984
- Cast: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran
With a bit of an innocent beginning, this movie begins with the Earth passing through the tail of the same comet that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years before. Everyone hosts skywatching parties to celebrate its passage, even though we (the viewers) know that something bad is bound to happen. True to form, the movie quickly progresses from showing terrible relationships and then-cutting edge video games to portraying zombies in the streets. That’s quite the plot twist, but yes, the comet is responsible. The movie is now said to be a cult classic.
16. The Monolith Monsters
- Release date: December 18, 1957
- Cast: Grant Williams, Lola Albright, Les Tremayne
Starring Grant Williams (also star of The Incredible Shrinking Man from the same year), this movie shows a huge meteorite crashing into southern California. What happens next isn’t exactly modern-day realistic science, but it’s great fun to watch. The meteorite fragments grow very large when exposed to water, and then they have unexpected effects on the typical small town that seems always in the way of such cosmic events. Soon, there’s worry that these fragments will begin taking over Earth’s entire ecosystem.
15. The Day the Sky Exploded
- Release date: September 4, 1958
- Cast: Paul Hubschmid, Madeleine Fischer, Fiorella Mari
This early Italian science-fiction film begins with a moon mission gone wrong. While the pilot safely escapes and returns to Earth, the rocket continues further into space and explodes inside the Delta asteroid cluster… with predictable results. The swarm of asteroids begin to approach Earth and the inhabitants of our planet seem a little hapless (in many ways) as they try to stop the space rocks from crashing into us. The plot is a little dated, especially with its near-lecture on the dangers of nuclear weapons that so haunted the population of that day, but it’s an interesting point in space science fiction history.
14. The Day of the Triffids
- Release date: April 27, 1963
- Cast: Howard Keel, Nicole Maurey, Janette Scott
Based on the 1951 novel by John Wyndham of the same name, this film takes threatening small bodies in a very unusual direction. The plot sees most of Earth’s inhabitants blinded by what appears to be a meteor shower (the book speculates it could have been nuclear weapons in orbit accidentally detonating, so take your pick). Then a species of plant, perhaps sensing an opportunity to finally gain control of our planet, begins killing people and taking over cities. This was said to be an inspiration for the much later zombie movie 28 Days Later.
13. Asteroid vs Earth
- Release date: May 1, 2014
- Cast: Tia Carrere, Jason Brooks, Tim Russ
Following in the footsteps of many movies before this, Asteroid vs Earth comes with a threatening asteroid about to hit the Earth and the American military mobilizing as quickly as it can to save the world. The solution, as they see it, is to blow up the asteroid with nuclear warheads. If that fails, their backup idea is to alter the Earth’s orbit itself to move out of the way. We’ll let you watch the movie to see how successful the military is with this, er, highly implausible idea. The science obviously isn’t so great in this movie, but the plot is entertaining enough.
12. BattleQueen 2020
- Release date: May 22, 2001
- Cast: Julie Strain, Jeff Wincott, Zerha Leverman
There’s very little science to this film and many would say there is also little plot, but here goes. Basically, a comet hits Earth and only a few lucky inhabitants of our planet remain. So, of course, evil emerges and somebody has to protect the weak, right? Bonus points, however, for having that strong person be a woman – Julie Strain, trying her best to carry this B-movie plot to a sensible conclusion. Astute viewers may also recognize a young Jeff Wincott, now far better-known for his role in Sons of Anarchy.
11. Ice Age: Collision Course
- Release date: July 22, 2016
- Cast: Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo
This is the fifth movie in the popular Ice Age series of animated films, this time with the ragtag troop facing an accidental launch of deadly meteors to Earth. (We say “accidental” because it took place while one of the characters was trying to bury an acorn; you’ll have to watch it to believe it.) This is definitely a movie where you’ll have to sort of accept the science explanations as they come, but it is a cute attempt at involving aliens, electro-magnetic properties, and a few other things as prehistoric animals try to stop an incoming threat.
10. Futureshock: Comet Impact (aka Impact Earth)
- Release date: December 1, 2007
- Cast: Cristian Solimeno, James Wilby, James Cosmo
A comet slams into Ireland with predictable terrible consequences, and naturally the United States is next in line and we have to do something about it this time because… it’s America, we guess? It’s an interesting movie for involving NASA and for everyone’s attempts to try to evacuate 900 million people from the affected area, but the science gets a light touch in favor of the plot. The movie is pretty poorly rated, but might be worth a watch for the entertainment value.
- Release date: July 1, 1998
- Cast: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck
Released just weeks after Deep Impact, this movie is probably the most famous among space buffs in terms of ‘worlds colliding’ movies. To stop a huge asteroid from hitting Earth, NASA sends a bunch of oil drillers (led by Bruce Willis and a very young Ben Affleck) to intercept the comet and try to divert it. There are also a few scenes of the space station Mir, which the astronauts visit while on the way to their destination.
While widely lampooned for its poor science (so it’s safe to say it did not make our top 5 most realistic space movies list), Armageddon was a box office star in its day and had some pretty impressive special effects, so you don’t want to close your eyes, don’t want to fall asleep, ‘cause you’ll miss it baby, and you don’t want to miss a thing.
8. Deep Impact
- Release date: May 8, 1998
- Cast: Robert Duvall, Téa Leoni, Elijah Wood
A teenage astronomer (Elijah Wood, prior to his more famous Lord of the Rings trilogy role as Frodo) discovers a comet that before long, poses a serious threat to Earth. Astronauts try to counteract the extinction-level-event by planting nuclear bombs on the surface, which echoes some of the real-life science performed in how to nudge threatening bodies from the path of our planet. The movie gives a glimpse into how to prepare for a comet strike, both from the ground and from space.
- Release date: May 19, 200
- Cast: D. B. Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Samuel E. Wright
This early computer-animated film from Disney follows the adventures of an Iguanodon who grows up in a family of lemurs in the tropics. The space connection comes after the family finds themselves under threat from a really bad meteor shower, and not the kind that produces pretty trails in the sky, but a highly unusual shower of meteoroids that slam into Earth. It’s a dinosaur movie that mainly goes into the whole predator-versus-prey problem of nature, but it does integrate a bit of space into the plot.
6. Maximum Overdrive
- Release date: July 25, 1986
- Cast: Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington
Complete with Emilio Estevez and an amazing AC/DC 1980s-style soundtrack, this deliberately campy Stephen King story sees Earth going through the tail of a comet. Before long, inanimate machines begin, well, animating (our favorite being the ATM that insults King himself, in a cameo role.) Of course, these machines soon try attacking humans and the humans need to fight back. One person muses that perhaps interstellar aliens did this to take control of our planet, we guess because it seemed too easy to just fly to Earth Independence Day style and take out our infrastructure that way.
- Release date: December 18, 2020
- Cast: Gerard Butler, Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd
An interstellar comet turns from a daytime astronomical wonder into a civilization threat. We see the destruction (and how humans either panic or help, depending on their personality) from the eyes of a dad (Gerard Butler) and his struggling family. The movie makes an attempt to integrate real-life science on interstellar comets and how comets strike the Earth. Long-time space fans will also recognize a near-cameo by Scott Glenn, who played Al Shepard in the 1983 Hollywood version of The Right Stuff.
4. The Good Dinosaur
- Release date: November 25, 2015
- Cast: Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Maleah Nipay-Padilla
This is a cute alternate timeline movie for kids that ask ‘what would happen if the dinosaurs weren’t made extinct by an asteroid slamming into Earth 66 million years ago?’ Without spoiling too much of the adorable plot, millions of years after the asteroid cruises past Earth, an Apatosaurus named Arlo meets a little human in a very strange landscape. While this is more a dinosaur movie than an asteroid movie, in media reports, Pixar did say it deliberately wanted to explore how the Earth’s history would have been different if the asteroid had passed us by. If your little one enjoys this, they’ll also love this collection of best animated space movies for kids.
3. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
- Release date: June 22, 2012
- Cast: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley, Melanie Lynskey
Starring a more sweet Steve Carrell than from his more famous role as Michael Scott in The Office, and Keira Knightley after her breakout role as Elizabeth Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, the movie sees these two people forming a special relationship just before a killer asteroid hits Earth. The movie focuses more on the strange adventures that this pair has in what we think are the final days of their lives, and the ending is sure to make you want to reach for some tissues.
2. Starship Troopers
- Release date: November 7, 1997
- Cast: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer
Based on a Robert A. Heinlein 1959 novel with the same name, this famous science fiction film follows the exploits of a futuristic military force trying to fight insectoid aliens and includes a young Neil Patrick Harris among the cast (before his Emmy-nominated performance in How I Met Your Mother.
The asteroid portion of the film is admittedly a cameo appearance, but you may remember the Arachnids – meaning, the aliens – launching an asteroid to Buenos Aires and wiping out the population there, prompting a key plot twist. Would you like to know more?
- Release date: October 7, 2011
- Cast: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Suntherland
Okay, technically in this flick it’s a rogue planet about to hit Earth and not a rogue asteroid or comet, but it’s still a fun ride. The plot is more arthouse-focused than others in this list, but essentially it involves two sisters. One of the sisters (Kirsten Dunst) is planning her wedding when the planet is approaching Earth. The planet doesn’t really make an appearance until quite far in the film, but when it does, it’s a pretty cool naked-eye view in the daytime sky.
Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth’s on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.