20 Wild Details Behind The Making Of Independence Day

Manys moviegoers love Independence Day, but only true fans know these wild behind-the-scenes facts about the movie.

Alien Ship Comes in Over the George Washington Bridge in Independence Day

The possibility of extraterrestrial life is a tantalizing one; however, it carries with it the chance that creatures from another world might not be friendly. Authors from Lucian to H. G. Wells have written about the fascinating concept of hostile aliens. The alien invasion movie was a staple of American cinema in the 1950's, but largely fell out of favor in the following few decades. During that time, Hollywood sci-fi films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. tended to depict aliens in a more positive light. The alien invasion genre was practically gone in 1996, when filmmaker Roland Emmerich's spectacle Independence Day was released.

While it lacked established movie stars and wasn't a part of a pre-existing franchise, the film still became a staggering box office success. Finally, there was a movie to accompany Fourth of July celebrations. While the film itself remains popular, the story of its creation is still fairly obscure. While behind the scenes stories about other blockbusters like Jaws, The Lion King, and Titanic are commonplace knowledge for movie buffs, facts about Emmerich's most famous film to date seem to be about as well known as the true nature of Area 51. Rather than having Christmas in July, let us discuss Independence Day in December and look back at some of the interesting facts surrounding this landmark special effects movie.

From a one-sided feud with a Tim Burton movie to a scene based on a Shakespeare speech, we are looking at 20 Wild Details Behind The Making Of Independence Day.

20 Ethan Hawke Was The First Choice For Will Smith's Role

Following the modest success of the cult comedy-drama Reality Bites, Ethan Hawke became very selective about what roles he would take. During this time, Hawke was offered the part of Captain Steve Hiller in Independence Day. When he read the film's script to a friend, Hawke thought that a joke in the film referencing E.T. was bad. In fact, he hated the film's script so much that he threw his copy of it out of the window of his car onto a Texas highway.

After seeing the film in theaters, Hawke immediately regretted his decision. To be honest, we couldn't imagine anyone besides Smith in the role.

19 Independence Day Did Not Inspire Mars Attacks!

Mars Attacks

When Tim Burton's zany sci-fi comedy Mars Attacks! was released, numerous critics and viewers thought it was a satire of Independence Day, which beat it to theaters by less than six months. The parallels between the two films are obvious - they are both alien invasion movies which focus on dozens of characters from different walks of life. In actuality, Mars Attacks! went into production first and was designed as an homage to 1950s science-fiction films like It Came from Outer Space and Plan 9 from Outer Space, rather than Roland Emmerich's star-spangled opus.

Emmerich and company were worried that they would look like plagiarists, and pushed for their film to be released to theaters first. Sadly for Burton, Emmerich's film quenched the public thirst for aliens that year, and Mars Attacks! was a tremendous flop.

18 The Title Was Chosen To Force its release date

Alien Ship Comes in Over the George Washington Bridge in Independence Day

Emmerich knew that Mars Attacks! was slated for a release late in the year and was determined to beat it to the market. He decided to call his film Independence Day to encourage 20th Century Fox to give it a summertime release date. Emmerich and his co-writer Dean Devlin came up with the film's title long before they completed its script and "wrote the concept around the release date." After all, who wouldn't want to see a film called Independence Day on Independence Day?

Apparently 1990s ironic detachment did not apply in this situation, but what did you expect from a film this sincere and straightforward? Once Emmerich named his film, it was sure to be everyone's Fourth of July film of choice for 1996-- unless, of course, another studio released a film starring Julia Roberts as Martha Washington.

17 It Was Almost Called Doomsday

Independence Day Improvised Unscripted

In spite of what Emmerich and company wanted, 20th Century Fox considered changing the film's title to Doomsday. Bill Pullman thought that the new title was bad, and it's not hard to see why. The film wasn't bleak and apocalyptic. It actually takes a very hopeful view of human nature, positing that times of great distress can bring out the best in people and that even people society has written off, like Randy Quaid's character, can become heroes.

The film, in its own way, does embody some of the humanistic ideals that led to the revolution in the first place. The studio's marketing department was apparently not thinking in such philosophical terms.

16 The Studio Didn't Cast Any "Movie Stars"

Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day

When looking for ways to describe the cast of Independence Day, the term "star-studded" comes to mind. Between Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, and The Fresh Prince himself, Will Smith, the film's cast is full of familiar faces. However, 20th Century Fox refused to cast anyone in the film considered to be "movie stars."

Emmerich did not believe that the film's supposed lack of star power would hurt its chances at finding an audience. As Emmerich's agent noted in a New York Times article, many of the most lucrative films ever made, from E.T. to Star Wars, did not star anyone who was well known when the film first appeared in theaters.

15 Doubts about Will Smith

Will Smith as Steven Hiller in Independence Day

Early into the film's conception, Emmerich decided that he wanted Will Smith to play Captain Steven Hiller. The director believed that no one embodied the film's core values like Smith. Initially, the studio was not on the same page. It was felt that Smith was so identified with his role in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that audiences might have a difficult time accepting him in a new role.

In the studio's defense, Smith had never carried a major studio film before, and well-known sitcom actors don't always have prominent film careers. Eventually, studio heads were convinced that Smith was right for the part. This gamble paid off, and Smith became one of the most bankable stars of the late 1990s and 2000s.

14 It Sparked A Craze For Dolphin-Themed Jewelry

Film and television have a major influence on what we do and buy. The Hunger Games repopularized archery. Lisa Simpson inspired kids to learn to play the saxophone, and Walt Disney's 101 Dalmatians convinced numerous people to buy Dalmatian puppies. Independence Day inspired a craze for dolphin jewelry.

If it's been a while since you've caught the film on cable, you might not remember that Smith's character gives his fiancée, played by Vivica A. Fox,  a wedding ring with bottlenose dolphins on it. This inspired a brief craze for similar rings. Sadly, the company that created the rings was not licensed to produce replicas of it; if they were, they might have made a ton of money. On a happier note, Fox was kindly allowed to keep the ring by the film's producers.

13 Emmerich Doesn't Believe In Aliens

Independence Day Alien

Just because a director depicts an entity in their films does not mean that they believe in said entity. Stanley Kubrick didn't believe in ghosts despite making The Shining, Steven Spielberg isn't Christian even though he directed Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and George Lucas (probably) doesn't believe in the Force. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that Roland Emmerich doesn't believe in aliens.

Polls suggest that a majority of citizens from US and Germany do not think that we are alone in the universe, and a plethora of scientists have said that the existence of extraterrestrial life is highly likely given the vastness of outer space. Thus, it's surprising to know that a director whose made several films about aliens does not think that they exist.

12 Will Smith Turned Down A Role In the sequel

Fans of Independence Day were surprised to hear that the film's long-awaited sequel would not feature so much as a cameo from Will Smith. Instead, the actor chose to play Deadshot in the comic book blockbuster, Suicide Squad. When asked why he declined to appear in Resurgence, Smith replied that he would rather move forward in his career than nostalgically reprise an old role.

He also told Roland Emmerich that he was worried that he had been making too many science fiction films as of late, due to his back-to-back appearances in Men In Black 3 and After Earth. Perhaps if Smith had been in the film, it would have had a fighting chance at the box office.

11 Emmerich Has criticized the movie


Usually, when a filmmaker admits that one of their films has flaws, it's because that film was lambasted by critics and rejected by the public. Examples of this would be Joel Schumacher apologizing for the shortcomings of Batman & Robin, and Will Smith saying that he should not have made Wild Wild West. Emmerich, however, had admitted that there are flaws in Independence Day, a film that was immensely popular with moviegoers and received a mostly positive response from critics.

He has said that the film's plot relies on massive coincidences where characters just happen to bump into each other. However, Emmerich also feels that the film's contrivances aren't too significant, as the film is, in his words, "a fable."

10 It Broke A Record Held By Jurassic Park

Jeff Goldblum's life finds a way speech from Jurassic Park.

Like some of the Spielberg films that inspired it, Independence Day managed to break a box office record. Specifically, it broke the record for the shortest amount of time for a film to gross $100 million, accomplishing the feat in a mere six days. Previously, that record was held by Jurassic Park, which grossed $100 million in nine days.

As impressive as that was in 1990s, both of these accomplishments seem a little quaint today, when the latest superhero releases seem able to gross $100 million in their opening weekends. It also feels quaint that once a film could be a blockbuster spectacle and only feature special effects during its set pieces, unlike modern blockbusters, which are often shot primarily in front of a green screen.

9 A Second Sequel Probably Won't Get Made

Bill Pullman as Former President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day: Resurgence

After the success of the first film, plans for a trilogy were quickly made. The second film in the franchise was not released until 2016 because Emmerich kept getting involved in other projects. Twenty years was apparently too long of a wait, as Independence Day: Resurgence was a box office disappointment, making 53% less money than the original film. With a domestic pull of just $103 million, it did not even make back its production budget.

This disappointment raised the question: would Emmerich's planned third film ever get made? Devlin recently said that there are no current plans to complete the trilogy. Given Fox's deal wiith Disney, we can only hope that the House of Mouse decides to keep the franchise going.

8 The hidden reference

Ships from Independence Day

When you think of Independence Day, one of the first things that comes to mind is images of massive spaceships destroying American landmarks. That idea was not born directly out of Emmerich and Devlin's heads; instead, it was inspired by the beloved 1950's sci-fi extravaganza Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, a film mostly remembered for its scene of a stop-motion flying saucer crashing into the Washington Monument.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was having a bit of a pop culture renaissance in 1996, as it was also a primary inspiration for Mars Attacks! Ray Harryhausen, the late special effects genius who created the spaceships for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, would certainly be glad to know that his work has influenced generations of filmmakers.

7 Steven Spielberg Feels That Independence Day Changed The Course of Cinema

Will Smith Independence Day

In crafting the film, Emmerich drew inspiration from Steven Spielberg projects like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. With that in mind, it must have been amazing when Emmerich met Spielberg who told him that Independence Day had changed the course of cinema through its combination of genres. Part of why Independence Day has such mass appeal was that it's a little bit of everything. It's part war film, part 1950s sci-fi flick, and part 1970s disaster film, with a sprinkling of romance and a heavy dose of patriotism.

Spielberg felt that the film's genre fusion was enormously influential on subsequent Hollywood features and Emmerich himself sees the film as a template for many of the recent Marvel movies.

6 Emmerich's secret message

Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day

During the final assault on the mothership near the end of the film, characters of different ethnicities are seen teaming up to defeat the alien menace. This was not an accident. Emmerich wanted to show that people from different backgrounds could all work together in times of great conflict.

In that way, Independence Day embodies an optimism that is sorely lacking in more recent Hollywood blockbusters like Batman v Superman, which has a darker understanding of human nature. No wonder Independence Day managed to stick with people. It depicts an ideal of teamwork and inclusion. Or maybe it's just because it's entertaining to watch Will Smith punch an alien in the face and say "Welcome to earth!"

5 A Key Scene Was Inspired By William Shakespeare

Bill Pullman as President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day: Resurgence
Bill Pullman as Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day: Resurgence

Faced with a possible title change that could have resulted in the film being released after Mars Attacks!, Roland Emmerich needed to find a way to keep the film's original title. His solution was to work the phrase "Independence Day" into Bill Pulllman's iconic speech in the film. The speech was modeled on the famous St. Crispin's Day speech from William Shakespeare's Henry V, one of the Bard's most oft-quoted passages. The filmmakers simply replaced Shakespeare's references to St. Crispin's Day with references to the Fourth of July.

According to Emmerich, he was comfortable doing this because he didn't think that Shakespeare was going to sue him anytime soon. Emmerich's plan worked, and after seeing footage of the speech, Fox executives decided that the film should be released on Fourth of July weekend.

4 The Filmmakers Were In Awe Of Pullman's Delivery

Bill Pullman in Independence Day

Bill Pullman may have appeared in a lot of silly comedies like SpaceballsScary Movie 4, and Lake Placid, but that does not mean that he does not take the art of acting very seriously. Before performing his rousing speech for the cameras, he spent time listening to recordings of some of the most well-known speeches from the 20th century to help him perfect his line delivery. When he gave the speech, he channeled those speeches and the performances of John Wayne and the rest of the film's cast and crew were completely blown away.

Emmerich requested that almost no changes be made to the raw footage of Pullman in the editing room, as he wanted the organic energy of Pullman's delivery to remain in the final cut.

3 State-of-the-art effects

Aliens attack New York in Independence Day

Independence Day was produced just before a total reliance on CGI became the norm for Hollywood special effect bonanzas. Therefore, the film relied heavily on state-of-the-art miniatures to bring its most important moments to life. Members of the press were invited to watch one of the film's models get destroyed as part of a scene of destruction and mayhem.

This stands in stark contrast to modern movie productions, which usually want to keep major effects from being seen before the film is released. The film won an Academy Award for its special effects; one of the four effects artists who got to share the award, Volker Engel, even got the chance to return to work on Independence Day: Resurgence, though the later film made no use of models.

2 It came out When Scientists Thought They Discovered Life On Mars

Independence Day: Aliens in Tanks in Area 51

Roland Emmerich might know something that we don't. Independence Day is fun popcorn entertainment to be sure, but for a second it looked like it could be prophetic. In 1996, scientists briefly believed that they had discovered evidence of bacterial life on Mars. The supposed evidence turned out to be nothing, but it would probably have increased public interest in the film and Mars Attacks! if actual aliens had been discovered.

Perhaps the discovery of extraterrestrials could have been an interesting counterpoint to the film if the extraterrestrials found turned out to be harmless. In that situation, we earthlings would have looked paranoid, but at least we would have two cool movies on our hands.

1 The Film Has Become Standard Fourth Of July Fare On Cable

Independence Day: Alien Scout Ship in Area 51

Christmas has numerous specials. Halloween has the entire horror genre. Groundhog Day has Groundhog Day, and Independence Day has Independence Day. It's rather surprising that cinema has been around for over a century, yet there still isn't a popular film about the Founding Fathers that can be used as a Fourth of July movie. The few films which do portray the revolution, like 1776 and Emmerich's The Patriot, are all but forgotten.

On that front, we will probably have to wait until the long awaited film adaptation of Hamilton makes it to the screen. Until then, we have Independence Day to serve as the viewing experience nearly as intertwined with our national holiday as barbecues and fireworks.


Do you have any trivia to share about Independence Day? Let us know in the comments!

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