It’s been 21 years since Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day changed the summer blockbuster forever. Steven Spileberg’s Jaws might have been the first, but the 1996 film was instrumental in shaping today’s blockbuster-driven movie industry. Independence Day isn’t among the greatest movies ever made, but it’s among the most important. Even its critics have to admit that.
Independence Day also turned Will Smith into one of the biggest stars on the planet. Michael Bay’s Bad Boys established him as a potential action movie star, but this film took the former Fresh Prince of Bel Air sitcom star to international fame.
E! Network is running an all-day marathon of Independence Day.
Here’s a look at the making and impact of Independence Day for the Fourth of July.
1. Emmerech & Dean Devlin Came Up With the Idea for ‘Independence Day’ When Asked if He Believed in Aliens
The idea for Independence Day came to Emmerich and co-writer/producer Dean Devlin while they were promoting 1994’s Stargate in Europe. As Entertainment Weekly reported in 1996, Emmerich was asked by a reporter if he thought aliens really existed. Emmerich said he was interested in aliens coming to earth and asked the reporter to imagine 15-mile-wide spaceships arriving to attack Earth’s most populous cities. He then told Devlin, “I think we have our next movie.”
As reported in The Making of Independence Day, Devlin said he didn’t like how old alien invasion movies had creatures arriving in isolated back fields. They crafted a screenplay where the aliens made a big entrance on earth.
They took the script to 20th Century Fox, which greenlit the movie. As Entertainment Weekly reported in 1996, the film started shooting on July 28, 1995, just 340 days before the film opened on July 3, 1996.
2. ‘Independence Day’ Cost Just $70 Million to Make & Featured Practical Effects
Independence Day was one of the last summer blockbusters to rely mostly on practical effects. Fox avoided using computer-generated effects to keep the budget down, meaning Independence Day cost “just” $70 million to make. That sounded like a lot then, but if you adjust it for inflation, it’s still only $110.1 million in 2017 dollars. By comparison, Independence Day: Resurgence cost $165 million to make in 2016, according to The-Numbers.com.
Entertainment Weekly reported in 1996 that there were over 3,000 special effects shots in the film. All that hard work paid off though, since ID won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. The film was also nominated for Best Sound, but lost to Best Picture winner The English Patient.
In a 2016 interview with Nerd HQ, Emmerich said the special effects for Resurgence still wasn’t easy. He explained:
When you look at these movies in the nineties, there were, like, five thousand special effects. There were a lot of special effects. And there were those kind of movies like Star Wars, which had like maybe sixteen hundred or so, but even they tried to do a lot of that, which were completely built, etcetera. So when you have to do these things, you have to work a lot of blue screen, you have to have a lot, lot more effects. It’s just kind of the competition. So it was quite different. But I’m doing these kind of movies regularly, so it was not, for me, that different. Over the last twenty years, a lot has changed.
3. Emmerich & Delvin Chose Will Smith Based on his Performance in ‘Six Degrees of Separation’
The 1993 movie Six Degrees of Separation, which earned Stockard Channing an Oscar nomination and is based on John Guare’s play of the same name, is surprisingly the film that inspired Emmerich and Delvin to cast Will Smith in ID4, Indiewire notes. The film was just Smith’s third, following Where The Day Takes You (1991) and Made In America (1993). The Los Angeles Times review of ID4 praised Emmerich and Delvin for casting an African American in a prominent role.
In ID4, Smith plays the wise-cracking Marine Captain Steven Hiller. Unfortunately, between the time of ID4 and Resurgence, his character died. Smith couldn’t be in the film because he was making Suicide Squad and he was disappointed to learn about the character’s fate.
“I was working on Suicide Squad during that time,” he told Yahoo Movies in 2015. “[Independence Day director] Roland [Emmerich] and I had talked about it. The trailer looks really cool. I’m going to be sitting around with tears in my eyes when that one comes out… It was terrible when I found out my character died.”
In a 2013 interview with the New York Daily News, Emmerich said he thought Smith would be “too expensive” to bring back for Resurgence.
4. The Last Line of Bill Pullman’s Famous Speech Was Written to Convince Fox That ‘Independence Day’ Had to be the Title
Could you imaging ID4 being known as Doomsday? That almost happened. Once Fox learned that Warner Bros. had the rights to the title Independence Day, the studio was pushing for Doomsday. In an interview with Complex on the making of Bill Pullman’s famous speech, Delvin said the line “Today we celebrate our Independence Day” was added as a last-ditch effort to get the studio to change their mind. He explained:
The only thing we changed was we added at the last minute the line, “Today we celebrate our Independence Day.” And the main reason we did that is ‘cause the studio at the time was threatening to change the title to “Doomsday.” So we thought, let’s get it into the speech.
Pullman also told Complex that he thought Doomsday would be a terrible title.
“That would’ve been a horrible title, and I’ve gone through a couple movies that got stuck with bad titles,” Pullman recalled. “So it was urgent to get it in and to have the words, ‘Today we celebrate our Independence Day’ to prove why that had to be the title. I felt the urgency to get it right.”
Delvin told Complex that he wrote the speech in just five minutes. At first, it was just a “placeholder.” Like so many other iconic film moments, it was a surprise. Michael Waldman, who was the director of speechwriting for President Bill Clinton, compared the speech to the St. Crispin’s Day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
In May 2017, Pullman delivered the speech again during his Warren Wilson College commencement speech.
5. Emmerich Wants ‘Independence Day 3’ to Be an ‘Intergalactic Journey’
Since Resurgence flopped, making just $387.6 million worldwide, the chances that Emmerich gets to make a third ID movie are pretty slim. Before the film took shape, he envisioned making a two-part sequel, and that idea fell apart. After the film came out, he told Empire Magazine that he wants ID 3 to be an “intergalactic journey.”
“The next one will be an intergalactic journey,” Emmerich told Empire. “It’ll be [set] maybe a year or two later, not 20 years [on]. I want to maintain this group of people, especially the young characters, and Jeff [Goldblum] and Brent [Spiner] will take part in it. It’ll be fun to keep that group together.”
The Cast of Independence Day
Will Smith as Captain Steve Hiller
Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore
Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson
Marry McDonnell as First Lady Marilyn Whitmore
Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson
Randy Quaid as Russell Casse
Vivica A. Fox as Jasmine Dubrow
Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun