Back in the mid-90s, CGI was still fairly new. Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park had blown the minds of audiences worldwide, pointing to the potential of this new special effects technology – and the only way for filmmakers to go was bigger. So it was that 1996’s Independence Day presented one of the biggest SFX extravaganzas we’d ever seen at the time.
It may have aged a bit since its release, but when we first saw Independence Day in the cinema, we were blown away even faster than the buildings that the aliens were vaporising on screen – and it definitely proved influential on the blockbusters that followed. Here are some explosive facts about this big, loud, fun slice of 90s sci-fi action.
20. Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin got the idea for the film in an interview for Stargate
Independence Day was the third collaboration between writer-director Roland Emmerich and co-writer/producer Dean Devlin, and it’s clear from their earlier work that the duo have a taste for sci-fi. Emmerich and Devlin had previously worked together on 1992’s futuristic action thriller Universal Soldier, and 1994’s epic fantasy adventure Stargate. It was in fact during a promotional interview for Stargate that Emmerich, almost completely by accident, came up with the idea for Independence Day.
Asked by a journalist about his interest in aliens, the director responded by asking the interviewer to imagine getting up one morning and seeing 15-mile wide spaceships over every major city on Earth. Hearing this, Dean Devlin told his colleague, “I think I have an idea for our next film.” The pair began work on what would become Independence Day shortly after.
19. The script was written in just four weeks
Hot from the success of Stargate, Emmerich and Devlin wasted no time in getting their large scale alien-invasion movie off the ground. The duo got away from it all holidaying in Mexico’s Puerto Vallarta and got their heads down writing, getting the full script written in just under a month. Laughing about it years later, Emmerich says he and Devlin “weren’t swimming a lot – we didn’t go to the beach.”
Part of the reason the process was so fast was that studio 20th Century Fox were desperate for Independence Day to beat a similarly-themed movie to screens: the Warner Bros production Mars Attacks! The Tim Burton-directed Mars Attacks! ultimately made it to cinemas in December 1996 – roughly five months after Independence Day opened in July (and to the tune of far lower ticket sales than Emmerich’s movie).
18. Kevin Spacey was the first choice to play President Whitmore
For the key role of US President Thomas Whitmore, Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin had one specific actor in mind: Kevin Spacey. Spacey (who would later play another president in Netflix’s House of Cards) was in fact a former school friend of Devlin, and the role had been written with him in mind. However, studio 20th Century Fox felt Spacey wasn’t enough of a star name, and the role went to Bill Pullman instead.
Ironically, whilst Independence Day was in production, Spacey won his first Oscar for The Usual Suspects, so his casting might have been a coup at the time. Of course, given the career-ending revelations about Spacey that have since been brought to light, it’s probably good that Independence Day hasn’t been tainted by that association.
17. The studio wanted to change the title because another movie called Independence Day already existed
While Independence Day became the biggest hit of 1996 (and for a while one of the biggest hits ever), 20th Century Fox were not sold on the title at first. Executives at the studio were pushing for the movie to instead be called Doomsday – a title that most of the cast and crew were not too keen on. It wasn’t purely an issue of taste: Warner Bros had previously made a film entitled Independence Day in 1983, so Fox would have to pay the rival studio for the right to use the title.
In a (successful) last-minute attempt to persuade the studio to change their mind, the movie’s producer and co-writer Dean Devlin wrote Bill Pullman’s famous “today, we celebrate our independence day” speech – and they made a point of shooting this scene early on. This, as hoped, proved more than enough to convince Fox executives that Independence Day had to be the title, and the studio finally agreed to pay for the title rights.
16. Will Smith’s future wife Jada Pinkett came close to playing Jasmine
Will Smith was always the actor Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin wanted for the key role of Independence Day’s high-flying hero Captain Steven Hiller – but finding his love interest wasn’t such a clear-cut decision. While the part of Jasmine, Hiller’s exotic dancer girlfriend, ultimately went to Vivica A. Fox, the filmmakers also considered a certain Jada Pinkett.
While Smith and Pinkett were not together at the time, they’ve since gone on to become one of Hollywood’s premier power couples. Smith and Pinkett wed in 1997, the year after Independence Day conquered the box office, and have two children, Jaden and Willow. Vivica A. Fox’s subsequent films have included Kill Bill, Batman & Robin, Idle Hands and 2016 sequel Independence Day: Resurgence (for which Smith did not return).
15. A misunderstanding made actor Robert Loggia think the film was an Airplane!-style spoof
Independence Day is heavily inspired by the disaster movie genre, massively popular in the 1970s for its large-scale catastrophes and star-heavy ensemble casts. With this in mind, Dean Devlin had suggested to actor Robert Loggia (who plays USMC General William Grey) that he watch the movie Airplane! for reference.
Devlin had in fact meant to say the 1970 disaster epic Airport, which 1980’s hit comedy Airplane! was a direct parody of. After watching Airplane!, Loggia became very angry and refused to leave his trailer, thinking he’d been misled into signing up for a spoof. Happily, Devlin was able to explain his mistake, after which Loggia agreed to shoot his scenes knowing he was actually making an Airport-style old school disaster flick.
14. Vivica A. Fox nearly blew her audition by dressing like a stripper
Independence Day was a pretty big break for Vivica A. Fox, who at the time had three minor film roles to her name, and was a regular on TV soap The Young and the Restless. The actress was naturally very keen to land the role of Jasmine in the sci-fi spectacular – but she almost blew her chance by going a little too far at her first audition. Fox recalls that she “took the character very literal. The very first audition, I heard she was a stripper and I showed up in tight, pad-leather white pants and a jumpsuit with the boobs and everything.”
“The casting director told me, ‘It’s a good thing you can act because I wouldn’t have called you back. This character is a stripper with a heart of gold.’” Fox dressed less outrageously for the remainder of the audition process (she notes “I had to audition six times”), and wound up being offered the role.
13. Witnesses thought a heavily lit-up helicopter used in production was an actual UFO
Early on in Independence Day – when it hasn’t yet become clear that the aliens’ intentions are hostile – the humans attempt to make contact by sending out what they call the ‘Welcome Wagon.’ This, viewers may recall, is a helicopter fitted with a large amount of flashing lights, intended to offer a signal of friendship to the hovering spacecraft.
This doesn’t have quite work out as intended in the movie – but in reality, the use of this helicopter had another unintended effect on the world below. A large number of unwitting spectators saw the helicopter’s lights in the sky from afar, and took it to be a genuine Unidentified Flying Object. Police in California received over 150 calls from alarmed eyewitnesses reporting what they took to be a UFO sighting.
12. It cost $75 million to make
In these days of blockbuster movies routinely costing hundreds of millions of dollars, you might have thought that the globe-trotting mass destruction of Independence Day would carry a similar price tag. However, the epic sci-fi blockbuster wasn’t quite as expensive as all that, with a production budget coming in at a reported $75 million. Admittedly, this was by no means a small amount of money in 1996, nor is it today – but by Hollywood standards, it’s not too out of the ordinary.
Contrast Independence Day’s price tag with that of Titanic, which was released only one year later and cost an estimated $200 million. At the same time, Independence Day was a little pricier than 1993’s Jurassic Park ($63 million), as well as its 1997 sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($73 million).
11. Many of the props and sets came from other movies
A big part of why large scale blockbusters wind up costing so much to make is the sheer amount of things that need to be specifically constructed for the movie. Independence Day got around this the logical way: a whole lot of its props and sets were in fact borrowed from other movies. For example, the submarine that we see in Independence Day is the same one that was used in 1995 thriller Crimson Tide.
The B-3 stealth bomber, meanwhile, was also used in action movie Broken Arrow, released earlier in 1996. As for the White House sets, these had already been used in both The American President and Nixon (although in those films they emerged comparatively unscathed).
10. Matthew Perry pulled out of starring in the film at the last minute
Originally, Independence Day was set to co-star a cast member from the most popular TV sitcom of the 90s: Matthew Perry of Friends. The role of Captain Jimmy ‘Raven’ Wilder was offered to the Chandler Bing actor before anyone else, but Perry pulled out before filming began. Perry’s father, John Bennett Perry, however, does have a part in the movie, appearing as a Secret Service agent.
Jimmy, a pilot buddy of Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller, was ultimately played by singer and actor Harry Connick Jr. Matthew Perry’s CV has since been fairly low on movies; he starred in Fools Rush In, as well as The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel, but to date Perry hasn’t made another film since 2009’s 17 Again.
9. Due to all the CGI, Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith had no idea what they were meant to be looking at most of the time
While the rise in computer-generated imagery has resulted in ever-more spectacular big screen entertainment, it has also proved somewhat challenging for movie actors. Where the audience ultimately sees the characters running from, or doing battle with, some fantastical phenomena, the actors often only get to see green screens and tennis balls on sticks. This was very much the case for Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith on Independence Day, who often had no idea what they were meant to be looking for much of the shoot.
As a result of this, Smith and Goldblum wound up ad-libbing a fair amount of their dialogue, including the entire ‘fat lady’ conversation. Director Roland Emmerich was happy to allow the actors to improvise in this fashion; Goldblum similarly did a lot of ad-libbing in his scenes with Judd Hirsch.
8. Will Smith’s ad-libs while dragging the alien through the desert were a genuine reaction to smells nearby
One of the funniest moments in Independence Day sees Smith’s Captain Hiller knock out an alien with one punch, after which he wraps its unconscious body in a parachute and drags it through the desert. Most of the dialogue Smith delivers in this scene was improvised – including when he angrily screams, “what is that smell?” and kicks the inert alien a few times for good measure.
As easy as it is to believe that the alien would indeed have a horrendous body odour, Smith was in fact reacting to real smells in the air. The sequence in question was shot on the salt flats not far from Great Salt Lake in Utah, which is home to a crustacean called the brine shrimp. What Smith was smelling was the decomposed corpses of this shrimp, which – as the actor makes clear – do not give off a particularly pleasant aroma.
7. The US military withdrew their support from the movie because of references to Area 51
The US military was originally meant to be supplying Independence Day’s production with realistic vehicles and costumes. However, the military ultimately withdrew their support from the film as they took exception to one key plot device. The problem for the military was that Independence Day stresses the existence of Area 51, the infamous alleged military base which – according to popular myth – houses evidence of alien life forms having visited Earth.
The US military would not give Independence Day their support unless all references to Area 51 were removed from the script. As this was a significant part of the movie, the filmmakers refused to make these changes, and in the end had to go without the military’s support.
6. There are numerous references to The War of the Worlds
As a story of humanity fighting back in the face of a planet-wide invasion from an aggressive, technologically superior alien race, Independence Day owes a great deal to H.G. Wells’ classic science fiction novel The War of the Worlds. First published in 1898, The War of the Worlds is one of the most influential sci-fi works ever, and has been adapted a great many times for film, radio, TV and the stage. Independence Day directly acknowledges its debt to Wells’ novel, and its previous adaptations, in a number of ways. For one, Will Smith and his fellow pilots are stationed at real-life California air station El Toro.
While El Toro had not been opened at the time Wells’ novel was published, the station was featured in the 1953 film The War of the Worlds from producer George Pal, as the site from which the US Air Force tries and fails to use atomic weaponry against the Martians. The way the aliens are ultimately defeated is also a nod to The War of the Worlds. In Independence Day, Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson infects the alien mothership with a computer virus, which plays on the fact that in The War of the Worlds, the Martians are defeated as it turns out they have a fatal reaction to the common cold.
5. Jeff Goldblum repeats one of his Jurassic Park lines in the film
For a time, Jeff Goldblum was statistically one of the biggest movie stars in the world, having taken starring roles in both Jurassic Park and Independence Day. However, can you name the one line of dialogue which Goldblum utters in both of these epic 90s blockbusters? Okay, we’ll tell you: it’s “must go faster, must go faster,” which he says as he and Will Smith are escaping the alien mother-ship (Goldblum previously said this in Jurassic Park as they’re driving away from a charging T-Rex).
As we don’t actually see the words leave Goldblum’s lips on camera in Independence Day, it was widely believed the filmmakers added the line during post-production. However, Goldblum has since confirmed he dropped the line in himself as an ad-lib – and he says that Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg wasn’t too happy about it afterwards!
4. The ending was originally a little different
In the final battle sequence of Independence Day, the Air Force grabs every able-bodied pilot they can find to join the assault on the alien spacecraft – among them Randy Quaid’s drunken crop-duster, Russell Casse. However, in the first cut of Independence Day, things played out a bit differently as regards to Quaid’s tragic hero, who ultimately sacrifices himself in the film to take out an alien ship.
Originally, Casse was not trusted at the controls of a fighter jet because of his alcoholism – but joined the fight of his own accord, in his crop-dusting plane, to which he had affixed a missile. This was changed to make Casse’s fate a little less bleak, as in the original ending it was clear that he was on a suicide mission straight away. Also, director Roland Emmerich admits that showing a rickety crop-dusting plane keeping up with high-powered military aircraft seemed a little too implausible.
3. President Bill Clinton was a big fan and insisted on a private screening
Despite the fact that it depicts the White House being blown up, President Bill Clinton was a big fan of Independence Day. During a promotional tour in the US, director Roland Emmerich and his crew were visited by men in suits, who told them “you have to stop now, there’s a jet waiting to take you to the White House.” It seems that the film’s famous promotional campaign didn’t only build anticipation amongst the general public, but with the Commander-in-Chief as well.
Independence Day wound up having an advance screening at the White House for the Clinton family, shortly before the film opened nationwide on July 3rd (the release date obviously timed to coincide with the actual American holiday of Independence Day). Roland Emmerich recalls Hillary Clinton telling her how thrilled her husband was by the film’s climax when the President himself joins the pilots in battle; the First Lady told the director, “Looks like Bill has to get a pilot’s licence now.”
2. It was the 2nd biggest film in box office history (now it’s the 48th)
By the end of its theatrical run, Independence Day had rung up box office receipts to the tune of a staggering $817.4 million worldwide. At the time, this made Independence Day the second highest-grossing film in box office history. The number one spot was at the time occupied by Jurassic Park, which had taken $914 million from its initial run (it’s since earned more thanks to a 3D re-release in 2013).
However, both these records were soon thereafter wiped out by James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic, which was the first film to break the $1 billion mark in ticket sales. As of February 2020, Independence Day is rated the 84th highest-grossing film of all time (although that’s without adjusting for inflation).
1. Roland Emmerich regrets making sequel Independence Day: Resurgence without Will Smith
Roland Emmerich made several more sci-fi/disaster movie blockbusters – including 1998’s Godzilla, 2004’s The Day After Tomorrow and 2009’s 2012 – before finally making an Independence Day sequel, 20 years after the original. Sadly, 2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence didn’t have anything like the impact of its predecessor, meeting largely negative reviews and comparatively meagre box office takings of $389.7 million. Emmerich has since admitted he regrets making the sequel, as they had to “cobble another script together” in a hurry after Will Smith unexpectedly dropped out. (Reportedly the actor was wary of making too many sequels, and felt burnt out on sci-fi following his 2013 flop After Earth.)
The director says he “should have stopped making the movie” without Smith, insisting the original Independence Day: Resurgence script was “much better.” Independence Day: Resurgence was originally hoped to set the stage for a third film, but this now looks unlikely to happen.