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Ben Affleck has more than 75 acting credits to his name, but there's only one that his kids can (mostly) agree on: Armageddon.

Despite negative reviews, the 1998 disaster blockbuster about a ragtag group of deep-core drillers tasked with stopping a gigantic asteroid from destroying Earth became the highest-grossing film of that year, and helped cement Affleck's status as a leading man in the role of A.J. Frost, a hunky driller and one of the movie's central heroes.

In a conversation with friend and collaborator Matt Damon for EW's latest cover story, Affleck admits he wasn't entirely prepared for the particular brand of filmmaking director Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer were known for — or what appearing in a movie of that scale would mean for his career. As a broke young actor, Affleck — currently in our Contenders Issue for his scene-stealing performances in The Tender Bar and The Last Duel — recalls, "I was like, 'I'll do any asteroid movie!'I would've done, I don't know, Pampers commercials for $600,000, you know what I mean? 'This is amazing, I'm set!' My father had trouble working. My mother was a public school teacher."

Coming to set, too, was a revelation: "Bruce Willis, Owen Wilson, Billie Bob [Thornton], Mike Duncan — this was real Hollywood, which I felt like I had never seen. They dug out two stages of Disney for huge asteroid craters. And I didn't even think about the fact that the basic premise of the movie was totally absurd. Why are they training oil drillers to be astronauts rather than astronauts to be oil drillers? You would think that the learning curve would be somewhat more steep on the oil-drillers-to-astronauts route, but it was fun, and the right time."

Still, Affleck admits, "I was a little naive about the opinions people would form about me. Or the way in which Michael [Bay] and Jerry [Bruckheimer]'s focus on aesthetics and, 'You guys gotta go to the tanning bed!' They made me fix my teeth and work out and be sexy. Be sexy, how do I do that? 'Go to the gym!' Running in the gym and putting oil on my body and stuff, and it just turned out to be a long-form version of one of those male topless calendars, in a garage, carrying a tire, kind of greased up. Michael had a vision of a glistening male torso in the oil, and he was like, 'That's going to go in the trailer and sell tickets!' And you know, what can you say? We could have made, I think, 400 Chasing Amys for what we made Armageddon for."

In the end, those asteroids went on to gross $553 million worldwide on a reported $140 million budget. And nearly 25 years later, the movie has found a new and very specific audience: "It's funny because that's the one movie of mine that my kids have watched and they'll kind of all admit to liking," the actor says. "Even though they relentlessly mock it, and me. 'What are you, driving a tank on the moon?' But they had fun, you know what I mean? They could make fun of me, but they kind of got it, the spirit of it. They won't even watch The Town. So there you have it."

Additional reporting by Leah Greenblatt.

A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Jan. 21 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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