Bruce Willis Attempted A Spacecraft Break-In On The Set Of Armageddon

Two decades before Marvel took over the box office, Bruce Willis propelled down Nakatomi Plaza supported by a fire hose and became the ultimate superhero. Throughout the '90s and 2000s, Willis occasionally stepped out of the action genre and gave stellar performances in flicks like "Death Becomes Her" and "The Sixth Sense," but audiences liked him best in air ducts with glass-ridden feet. Willis embraced the love and spent the majority of his career taking out bad guys and saving the day.

Throughout the past three decades, Willis' charcters have become the archetypal larger-than-life hero who always manages to escape from impossible situations. It seemed as though he would always be Hollywood's go-to savior, which is why his Aphasia diagnosis and abrupt retirement in March 2022 came as such a shock. The news of the megastar's departure was met with messages of love and support via social media for the actor and all of the kick-ass characters he's brought to the screen. In an interview with Yahoo Finance in April of 2022, Michael Bay reflected on working with Willis on the blockbuster hit "Armageddon" and revealed that the actor tried to break in to a NASA space shuttle.

The end of the world as we know it

After decades of fighting terrorists, drug lords, and more, '90s action flicks transferred their focus to existential threats like massive asteroids, violent aliens, and simulated realities. The shift began with 1996's "Independence Day," which pondered what might happen if aliens suddenly arrived on Earth with white house exploding lasers and nasty attitudes. The film earned a staggering $817 million dollars worldwide and kicked off a new apocalyptic trend in Hollywood.

It made perfect sense for Bruce Willis to take advantage of viewers' new interest in world-ending threats. Moviegoers loved watching Willis take out a building full of average bad guys with guns, so why wouldn't we want to watch him kick an asteroid's ass? Willis' apocalyptic-themed movie, "Armageddon" earned about $300 million less than "Independence Day," but it gave us space traveling, world-saving Willis, and that Aerosmith song. Don't even try to pretend like you didn't like it at the time. The film didn't break the box office the way "Independence Day" had two years earlier, but /Film considers it one of Willis' best films, and we're a group with impeccable cinematic tastes.

For a solid chunk of the late '90s and early 2000s, humanity was on the brink of death every weekend at the block office, and audiences loved watching the impending doom and impossible rescue of their cinematic counterparts. We were addicted to the high drama and overwhelming intensity brought on by the end of the world, and Willis' "Armageddon" character reflects the no-nonsense nature of such a life-threatening situation, but he wasn't always so serious behind the scenes.


Willis' characters are usually smart-ass grumps who complain about humanity's stupidity while doing everything in their power to save us. The actor even has a bit of a reputation for playing this role in interviews, but director Michael Bay saw a lighter side of Willis while filming "Armageddon." He told Yahoo Finance that Willis has "a great fun energy" and that he helped make the set "like camp." Not like any camp most of us have been to, though, because the production set up shop at NASA for some of the space scenes. I can imagine it's difficult to keep your mind on your work when you're in such close proximity to state-of-the-art space shuttles and rockets. Instead of standing in awe of such things, Willis decided to break open one of the shuttles for a closer look.

According to Bay, the actor was allowed to walk up to the shuttle's door, but he wasn't supposed to open it. "'Mike, we're gonna do one take; the second take, I'm going to make a run for it,'" Bay recalls Willis saying. "'I'm going to go inside the shuttle.'" Bay followed the actor as he swaggered up to the shuttle door, but he was quickly turned away by NASA employees. Too bad that interaction wasn't caught on film. I would have loved a "Mission Impossible" type featurette that followed Willis' attempts to break into various NASA assets.

There were no hard feelings about the attempted B&E, at least on NASA's part, because they invited Willis back to their facilities in 2021 to watch a Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which uses kinetic energy to knock Earth-bound asteroids off course. Willis denied the invitation. I bet they regret not letting him in that shuttle now.

A hero's Legacy

If a career full of blockbuster hits and an invite to NASA isn't enough to convince you that Willis' is an important part of pop culture, allow me to offer up one more piece of evidence. Last year, a Russian cell phone service created a deep fake of the actor for one of their commercials. Of course, the advert featured two tied-up heroes (one being Willis) and a ticking bomb, but the actor saves the day by uttering a simple word. The commercial won't be winning any awards for its story, but it's another example of how thoroughly Willis has become intertwined with the savior image.

It's always exciting to see the possibilities that AI can offer, like the de-aging tech used in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story," but it has pitfalls, some of which we discuss here. One huge problem is its inability to truly capture the energy and charisma of a movie star like Willis. It takes much more than a digital overlay and practiced expressions to pull that off. Of course, there will be action movies with tough guys like John McClane in the future, but there will only ever be one Bruce Willis. Luckily, there are multiple decades worth of movies to pour over for years to come, and now you also have the image of a strutting, conspiring Willis sneaking up to a shuttle, fully prepared to commit the most famous B&E in the history of NASA.