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How Bruce Willis Starred in Armageddon to Avoid a Lawsuit

In the latest Movie Legends Revealed, learn how Bruce Willis’ involvement in Armageddon was part of a settlement with Disney to avoid a lawsuit

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Bruce Willis starred in Armageddon to avoid a lawsuit with Disney over a Willis movie that fell apart during production.

1998 had one of the most hyped summer movie battles of the past thirty years, as Michael Bay’s Armageddon, about an asteroid headed to destroy Earth, was set to go up against Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, the first film starring the iconic monster that was wholly produced by a major Hollywood studio. Both movies were huge budgeted action films by directors who were coming off massive hits two years earlier (Bay’s The Rock and Emmerich’s Independence Day). The showdown was hyped up so much that Bay even worked in a joking reference to it within Armageddon. In the end, both movies made a lot of money, but Bay was the ultimate winner, with his film taking in over $150 million more than Godzilla at the worldwide box office (and over $200 million at the North American box office).

The film starred Bruce Willis as Harry Stamper, the world’s best deep core oil driller (isn’t it funny how movie characters are always somehow the “best in the world” in their very specific field?). He and his group of offbeat drillers are brought in by the United States government to go on a special daring mission to fly a few space shuttles that will land on the asteroid and then drill into the asteroid and blow it apart using nuclear weapons so that the asteroid will not destroy the planet.

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The film was a major return to the top of the box office charts for Willis, who had certainly had a number of hits in the years leading up to Armageddon (like both The Fifth Element and The Jackal, which each came out in 1997 and did finish #1 at the box office in at least one week apiece), but since 1991, he had only appeared in a single film that finished the year in the top ten at the box office and that was Die Hard With a Vengeance, part of his popular Die Hard franchise. So Armageddon was a big boost to Willis’ career and amazingly enough…he only did it to avoid a lawsuit!

You see, in 1997, Willis began filming a movie that would have been called Broadway Brawler, a romantic comedy about a down-on-his-luck former professional hockey player who strikes up a romance with a character played by Maura Tierney. The idea of the film was that it would be in the same vein as the major 1996 hit, Jerry Maguire. Things went awry almost a month into the production when Willis insisted that the director, Lee Grant, the producer Joe Feury (who was Grant’s husband), cinematographer William Fraker and wardrobe designer Carol Oditz all be fired. The studio, Cinergi, a division of Walt Disney Films, agreed to do so and director Dennis Dugan, who Willis had worked with on Moonlighting before Dugan had become a successful film director on a string of Adam Sandler movies, was brought in briefly before production was shut down.

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At the time, Grant told the Los Angeles Times, ” I wake up every morning wanting to do this film. It was our project. We went to [Willis] because we knew he would be perfect for it. He was marvelous in it but he was cursed with not being able to see how marvelous he was. The chemistry between him and Maura Tierney was working, But Bruce was very compulsive and had his own vision, which was different from mine. What I can tell you is that Cinergi loved the work we did and the bond company loved it too, even though we were a day and a half behind schedule.”

The cinematographer Parker noted, as well, “Lee was doing a great job. Bruce was telling other actors how to act. It was a great script and Lee’s vision was a love story about two people with the background of hockey. But Bruce just took over. I’ve been in this business a long time and I kinda feel that the actors are taking away the director’s job. We all work for the director. The director is the boss. If the actors want to direct, they should go direct,”

Since Willis was also a producer on the film, there was an issue of the $17 million that Cinirgi had already spent on the film (not even counting the $7.5 million it owed Willis for his role in the movie, a paycut from the normal $20 million he was getting at the time). Willis, being arguably the person “responsible” for the movie getting shut down, could have been sued by Cinirgi. Instead, Disney film head, Joe Roth, had an idea.

Roth would have Disney cover the $17 million that Cinirgi had already spent, and then Willis would sign a three-picture deal with Disney, with Willis being paid $3 million for the first film instead of his usual $20 million, thus paying off the $17 million right off the bat, and then the second and third films would be for more. Willis wasn’t thrilled, but he agreed to the deal with the understanding that when the deal was finished, they could revisit Broadway Brawler (it never happened).

So Armageddon was the first film (done for Disney’s Touchstone Pictures), and it was a massive hit. The second film was 1999’s The Sixth Sense (for Disney’s Hollywood Pictures), which was ALSO a massive hit and then the final film was 2000’s Disney’s The Kid, which was a minor hit. Willis was so grateful to Roth for working things out that he went on to work with Roth many more times over the years (after Roth left Disney). Roth was also the executive who got Robin Williams to come back to Disney after a major dispute over Aladdin.

The legend is..

STATUS: True.

Be sure to check out my archive of Movie Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of film.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over fifteen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed).

He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo.

He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References.

Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you’d like to see featured at brianc@cbr.com!

WHY DID BRUCE WILLIS REALLY STAR IN ARMAGEDDON?

WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE BROADWAY BRAWLER?

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