Armageddon (in Film)

Although numerous religious movies have had apocalyptic themes, only a few attempted “literal” portrayals of Revelation’s battle of Armageddon (at least from an evangelical, dispensational, premillennial perspective popularized by such books as Hal Lindsey’s best-selling 1970 book The Late, Great Planet Earth). The most notable example to do so is The Omega Code series. The Omega Code (dir. Robert Marcarelli, 1999) ends with a massive planned attack by the Antichrist (Michael York) narrowly averted by supernatural intervention. In the final battle of Megiddo: Omega Code 2 (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 2001), when the Antichrist’s victory seems assured, a series of lightening bolts from the sky destroy his forces and blast him underground into a deep pool of molten lava. The final scene is that of a paradisiacal landscape and a quote from Rev. 17:15.

In a more general sense to many people, however, the term “Armageddon” means any immense and catastrophic confrontation. A secularized Armageddon with the “end of the world as we know it” has been a popular theme in science fiction movies since the early days of the nuclear arms race. On the Beach (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1959), Dr. Strangelove (dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964), and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (dir. Ted Post, 1970) examine causes and effects of nuclear war. Biological warfare or terrorism kills most of humanity in The Omega Man (dir. Boris Sagal, 1971) and Twelve Monkeys (dir. Terry Gilliam, 1995). Invasions by seemingly invincible aliens nearly destroy civilization in The War of the Worlds (dir. Byron Haskin, 1953, remade by Steven Spielberg, 2005) and Independence Day (dir. Roland Emmerich, 1996). Machine intelligence becomes humanity’s apocalyptic mortal enemy in the Matrix and Terminator trilogies.

In disaster films, instead of literal warfare with a sentient enemy, people struggle against impersonal cataclysms that may even threaten the entire earth. In the movie Armageddon (dir. Michael Bay, 1998), an asteroid “the size of Texas” is on a collision course with earth. In addressing the situation, the President of the United States (inaccurately) claims, “The Bible calls this day ‘Armageddon,’ the end of all things.” The end is averted, however, by astronauts that plant and detonate a nuclear bomb inside the asteroid. In spite of the title and the one explicit reference, Armageddon has little parallel with its namesake in Revelation. The more subdued and thoughtful rival film Deep Impact (dir. Mimi Leder, 1998), however, has significant religious symbolism. The crewmembers of a spacecraft named the Messiah give their lives to intercept a large comet and pulverize it with nuclear bombs. Most of the comet explodes into countless small fragments that burn up harmlessly in the atmosphere, and the millions of shooting stars are reminiscent of Rev. 6:13, “the stars in the sky fell to earth.” A large incandescent fragment, however, hits the Atlantic Ocean, echoing Rev. 8:7, “a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea.” Although millions of people along the continental coasts are lost in the resulting titanic tsunamis, humanity is saved from an apocalyptic “extinction level event” by the sacrificed Messiah.

Bibliography: C. Oswalt, Secular Steeples (New York 2003)..

Copyright 2009 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published as section XI of the "Angels and Angelic Beings" entry in The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception, Vol. 2 (Walter de Gruyter, 2009).

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