Countdown to the Eclipse: Could the End of the World Be Near? These Movies Would Say Yes!

NIGHT OF THE COMET, US poster art, Sharon Farrell, 1984.
20th Century-Fox Film Corp./Courtesy Everett Collection

There is a large ad on the highway with a countdown to the eclipse that I pass every day on my way to work, and for some reason, I find it very disturbing. In a movie, if I saw that, I would assume the end of the world was nigh. Perhaps eclipse is too close to the word ‘apocalypse.’ Or the idea of a countdown to anything is too foreboding.

Or I have seen too many disaster films.

Total Solar Eclipse

wikipedia/ESA/CESAR/Wouter van Reeven

On Monday, April 8, a total solar eclipse will be visible in much of North America. Why there is a countdown to it on the highway, and who would sponsor such an advertisement (the sun? the moon?) are questions I do not know the answer to. But there is something ominous about it. Eclipses have often been described as bad omens, but there’s no logical reason for it anymore. In the past, I can see why it might have been a cause for alarm. Imagine how bizarre an eclipse might be if you had no access to books or the internet. Suddenly, the world goes dark in the middle of the day? What is someone supposed to think?

Well, I’m not the first to have these questions or fears. Eclipses and various other space events have often been the premise behind sci-fi films or used as plot devices that bring forth strange activity. Here’s just a short list of stories screenwriters have come up with to illustrate their fears of celestial objects and the various mysterious happenings beyond our global sphere.

Asteroid City (2022)

ASTEROID CITY, from left: Steve Carell, Aristou Meehan, Liev Schreiber, 2023.

Focus Features/Courtesy Everett Collection

Wes Anderson‘s most recent film takes on odd turn midway through, when residents of a children’s camp for science enthusiasts witness an eclipse during which an alien makes contact and steals a space rock that was left there after an asteroid once crash-landed in the town. As a big Wes Anderson fan until recently, this movie — which had three parallel storylines (the space camp and alien was in fact part of a play within the movie) — felt more like an example of a writer running out of ideas than taking a universal fear and exploring how it reflects human nature. The movie has a star-studded cast (Tom Hanks, Steve Carell and Matt Dillion to name a few) the cinematography is, as always, stunning, but the plot was kind of a mess, not compelling at all, and lacking in depth. I never did finish it, though, so maybe it got better at the end?

Armageddon (1998)

Armageddon 1998 scene

Courtesy of Everett

This epic Michael Bay disaster film was everywhere in 1998. In addition to being a huge success in the theaters and garnering four Oscar nominations, Aerosmith’s song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” recorded for the soundtrack, was all over the radio for what felt like years, and anyone who didn’t yet know that Liv Tyler‘s dad is Aerosmith’s lead singer Steven Tyler definitely knew after the release of this sci-fi drama. There’s no eclipse here, but there is an asteroid on a collision course with earth, with peak public hysteria causing everyone to believe the best way to solve the problem is to train some oil drillers to go into space. But don’t worry: Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck are on it!

Deep Impact (1998)

DEEP IMPACT, 1998 (image upgraded to 17.8" x 10.0")

Courtesy of Everett Collection

The end of the world was definitely on our minds in the late 1990s! During the same year that Armageddon came out, Deep Impact, another disaster flick, this time about a comet on a collision course with Earth, was also released. Starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman, this sci-fi thriller featured an allegiance between the US and Russia to resolve the impending apocalypse. What made this movie resonate was the focus on characters dealing with some deep-rooted issues as it dawns on everyone that they may be living out the last of their days. That’s really the main draw with these end-of-the-world films, and what something like the eclipse can bring out: if your time is running out, it forces you to tackle what is truly important and how you are spending your time on earth.

Night of the Comet (1984)

Zombies, a comet that kills off most of the world’s population, strong female leads with strong female hair, and a pretty bizarre shootout at a shopping mall full of stock-boys-turned-overnight-villains — what more can you ask of a 1980s’ end-of-the-world B-film?

1984 cult classic Night of the Comet checks all the boxes for a campy sci-fi classic. It stars Catherine Mary StewartKelli Maroney and future Star Trek: Voyager commander Robert Beltran as two teenage sisters and a truck driver who find themselves some of the last people left alive when a comet evaporates most of the population and turns the rest into zombies. Cue the fun motorcycle rides on empty streets, exaggerated background music and leg warmers. If you’re gonna kill zombies, might as well do it in style.

Don’t Look Up (2021)

DON'T LOOK UP, from left: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, 2021.

Niko Tavernise/Netflix/Courtesy Everett Collection

How this movie managed to star two of my all-time favorite actors, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, and feature an apocalypse scenario (another approaching comet on a collision course with Earth) and yet not hold my interest at all is clearly a case of mediocre writing, or too much focus on showcasing an agenda over a good story.

With a fairly unoriginal premise (see 1998 space disasters above), you need more than a good cast to catch viewer’s attention; which is, ironically, the main theme of this film, being that these scientists can’t get anyone to care about their impending doom (most likely a not-subtle jab about a lack of urgency towards climate change). Maybe the world is just too inundated with doomsday scenarios!

Meteor (1979)

METEOR, Natalie Wood, Sean Connery, 1979.

American International/courtesy Everett Collection

Starring Natalie Wood and Sean ConneryMeteor is basically Deep Impact, but because it was made in 1979, the allegiance formed is between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Perhaps at the time, it was the only thing anyone could imagine to bring the two countries together and out of the Cold War!

The Blob (1958 & 1988)

This is venturing more into alien territory, but this sci-fi horror film starring Steve McQueen is about a mysterious entity that crash-lands on Earth in a meteor and begins to consume everything in its path is definitely up there with scary things that come from space. Honorable mention goes to Creepshow; in one of the vignettes, Stephen King plays a country bumpkin who brings a meteor to his farm, and it begins to spew a strange green substance.

Watcher in the Woods (1980 & 2017)

THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, form left: Lynn-Holly Johnson, Bette Davis, Kyle Richards, 1980,

Buena Vista/courtesy Everett Collection

A family hears the voice of a young teenage girl who mysteriously disappeared during a total solar eclipse decades before in this horror flick starring Bette Davis and Lynn-Holly Johnson. Good news is: she comes back after the next eclipse!

Apocalypto (2006)

APOCALYPTO, director Mel Gibson (right),on set, 2006,

Touchstone Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

We can’t forget about the epic Mel Gibson historical drama Apocalypto, set in 1511 Yucatán. The most important part about this film, other than the fact that it included an eclipse, is that while filming a waterfall scene, a cow that was trying to cross upstream fell into the waterfall. It emerged at the bottom somehow still alive, and climbed up on the bank and began eating grass. I think the moral of the story here is that cows are not easily ruffled, and probably would care little about the moon passing between the sun and the earth. Maybe we should be more like cows?

More importantly, the world is probably not going to end, so enjoy the upcoming total solar eclipse!


60s Sci-Fi Favorites
Want More?

60s Sci-Fi Favorites

March 2020

Do you remember all the great Sci-Fi TV shows of the ’60s?

Buy This Issue