- "On July 2nd, they arrive. On July 3rd, they strike. On July 4th, we fight back."
- ―ID4 tagline
Independence Day (also known by its promotional abbreviation ID4) is a 1996 epic science fiction action film directed and co-written by Roland Emmerich and starring an ensemble cast that includes Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, and Harvey Fierstein. The film focus on a a hostile alien invasion of Earth, forcing disparate groups of people who converge in the Nevada desert. With the entire people of the world, they launch a desperate all-out counterattack on July 4 – the same date as the Independence Day holiday in the United States.
While promoting Stargate in Europe, Emmerich came up with the idea for the film when fielding a question about his own belief in the existence of alien life. He and Devlin decided to incorporate a large-scale attack when noticing that aliens in most invasion films travel long distances in space only to remain hidden when reaching Earth. Principal photography for the film began in July 1995 in New York City, and the film was officially completed on June 20, 1996.
The film was scheduled for release on July 3, 1996, but due to the high level of anticipation for the movie, many theaters began showing it on the evening of July 2, 1996, the same day the film begins. The movie's combined domestic and international box office gross is $816,969,268, which at one point was the second-highest worldwide gross of all-time. It holds the 25th highest worldwide gross of a movie all-time.
On July 2, 1996, an enormous alien mothership that has one fourth the mass of the Moon, enters orbit around Earth, deploying assault fortress saucers, each with a fifteen-mile radius, that take positions over some of Earth's major cities. David Levinson, an MIT-trained satellite technician, decodes a signal embedded within global satellite transmissions that he determines is the aliens' countdown timer for a coordinated attack. With the help from his ex-wife, White House Communications Director Constance Spano, David, and his father Julius, they gain access to the Oval Office and warn President Thomas J. Whitmore that the aliens are hostile. Whitmore immediately orders large-scale evacuations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., but it is too late; the timer reaches zero and the saucers fire destructive beams, killing millions. Whitmore, the Levinsons, and a few others narrowly escape aboard Air Force One as the capital is destroyed, along with the other locations over which the saucers are positioned.
On July 3, international leaders begin ordering individual counterattacks. Their air forces attack the saucers positioned above the ruins of the cities, but the saucers are protected by force fields. Each saucer launches a swarm of attack fighters, each with its own shield as well, which wipes out the human fighter squadrons and military bases. Captain Steven Hiller, an F/A-18 jet pilot with the USMC squadron VMFA-314 based out of Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, survives by luring his attacker to the enclosed spaces of the Grand Canyon and sacrificing his plane, forcing the alien to crash-land. He subdues the downed alien and flags down a convoy of refugees, hitching a ride with former combat pilot Russell Casse. They transport the unconscious alien to Area 51, where Whitmore's group has landed. Through Secretary of Defense Albert Nimziki, they have learned that a faction of the government has been involved in a UFO conspiracy since 1947, when one of the invaders' spacecraft crashed in Roswell. Area 51 houses the now-refurbished alien fighter, and three alien corpses recovered from the crash. As eccentric scientist Dr. Brackish Okun examines the alien captured by Steven, it regains consciousness and attacks, telepathically invading Okun's mind and killing all the other doctors. It uses Okun's vocal cords to communicate with President Whitmore, before launching a psychic attack against him. After Secret Service agents and military personnel kill the alien that leaves Dr. Okun in a coma, Whitmore reveals that he had a vision of the aliens' plans. He explains that the invaders are like locusts; their whole civilization travels from one planet to the next, stripping them of all their natural resources. The President reluctantly authorizes a nuclear attack; a B-2 Spirit fires a nuclear warhead tipped cruise missile at a saucer positioned above Houston, but the saucer remains intact. Meanwhile, Steven's fiancée Jasmine and her son survive the destruction of Los Angeles, and use an abandoned service truck to rescue other survivors, in the process finding the injured First Lady, Marilyn , whose helicopter crashed during the initial attack. Though the group is rescued by Steven and taken to Area 51, Marilyn dies of her wounds shortly after being reunited with her family.
On July 4, David devise a plan to defeating the aliens is to deactivate their shields by uploading a computer virus into the mothership using the refurbished alien fighter, which Steven volunteers to pilot. The U.S. military contacts surviving airborne squadrons around the world through Morse code to organize a united counter-offense against the aliens. With military pilots in short supply, Whitmore enlists the help of volunteers with flight experience, including Russell, and leads an attack on a saucer bearing down on Area 51. Flying into space, Steven and David upload the virus and successfully deploy a nuclear weapon on board the mothership, nullifying the aliens' communications system and reinforcements once the malware has filtered into the alien ships over Earth. With the aliens' shields deactivated, the fighter jets are able to successfully fight back against the enemy craft, but their supply of missiles is exhausted before they can destroy the saucer. As it prepares to fire on the base, Russell has one last missile to spare, but when the firing control on the missile jams, he rams his jet into the directed-energy weapon port, causing a chain reaction that destroys the entire saucer.
Human military forces around the world are informed of the alien saucers' weak point, and successfully destroy the others. As humankind is rejoicing in victory, Steven and David return to Area 51 unharmed and reunite with their families. They then accompany Whitmore and his daughter in watching the wreckage from the mothership blowing up, resembling a fireworks display as it enters Earth's atmosphere.
- Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller.
- Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson
- Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore
- Margaret Colin as Constance Spano
- Robert Loggia as General William Grey
- Randy Quaid as Russell Casse
- James Duval as Miguel Casse
- Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson
- Mary McDonnell as Marilyn Whitmore
- Vivica A. Fox as Jasmine Dubrow
- James Rebhorn as Albert Nimziki
- Harvey Fierstein as Marty Gilbert
- Adam Baldwin as Major Mitchell
- Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun
- Harry Connick, Jr. as Captain Jimmy Wilder
- Mae Whitman as Patricia Whitmore
- Ross Bagley as Dylan Dubrow
- Kiersten Warren as Tiffany
The idea for the film came when Emmerich and Devlin were in Europe promoting their film Stargate. A reporter asked Emmerich why he made a movie with content like Stargate if he did not believe in aliens. Emmerich stated he was still fascinated by the idea of an alien arrival, and further explained his response by asking the reporter to imagine what it would be like to wake up one morning and discover 15-mile-wide spaceships were hovering over the largest cities in the world. Emmerich then turned to Devlin and said "I think I have an idea for our next film."
Emmerich and Devlin decided to expand on the idea by incorporating a large-scale attack, with Devlin saying he was bothered by the fact that "for the most part, in alien invasion movies, they come down to Earth and they're hidden in some back field ...[o]r they arrive in little spores and inject themselves into the back of someone's head." Emmerich agreed by asking Devlin if arriving from across the galaxy, "would you hide on a farm or would you make a big entrance?" The two wrote the script during a month-long vacation in Mexico, and just one day after they sent it out for consideration, 20th Century Fox chairman Peter Chernin greenlit the screenplay. Pre-production began just three days later in February 1995. The United States military originally intended to provide personnel, vehicles, and costumes for the film; however, they backed out when the producers refused to remove the Area 51 references from the script.
A then-record 3,001-plus special effects shots would ultimately be required for the film. The shoot utilized on-set, in-camera special effects more often than computer-generated effects in an effort to save money and get more authentic pyrotechnic results. Many of these shots were accomplished at Hughes Aircraft in Culver City, California, where the film's art department, motion control photography teams, pyrotechnics team, and model shop were headquartered. The production's model-making department built more than twice as many miniatures for the production than had ever been built for any film before by creating miniatures for buildings, city streets, aircraft, landmarks, and monuments. The crew also built miniatures for several of the spaceships featured in the movie, including a 30-foot (9.1 m) destroyer model and a version of the mother ship spanning 12 ft. City streets were recreated, then tilted upright beneath a high-speed camera mounted on a scaffolding filming downwards. An explosion would be ignited below the model, and flames would rise towards the camera, engulfing the tilted model and creating the rolling "wall of destruction" look seen in the film. A model of the White House was also created, covering 10 ft by 5 ft, and was used in forced-perspective shots before being destroyed in a similar fashion for its own destruction scene. The detonation took a week to plan and required 40 explosive charges.
The aliens in the film were designed by production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. The actual aliens of the film are diminutive and based on a design Tatopoulos drew when tasked by Emmerich to create an alien that was "both familiar and completely original". These creatures wear "bio-mechanical" suits that are based on another design Tatopoulos pitched to Emmerich. These suits were 8 ft tall, equipped with 25 tentacles, and purposely designed to show it could not sustain a person inside so it would not appear to be a "man in a suit".
Principal photography began in July 1995 in New York City. A second unit gathered plate shots and establishing shots of Manhattan, Washington D.C., an RV community in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin, New Mexico. The main crew also filmed in nearby Cliffside Park, New Jersey before moving to the former Kaiser Steel mill in Fontana, California to film the post-attack Los Angeles sequences. The production then moved to Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, Nevada, where the deserts doubled for Imperial Valley and the Wendover Airport doubled for the El Toro and Area 51 exteriors. It was here where Pullman filmed his pre-battle speech. Immediately before filming the scene, Devlin and Pullman decided to add "Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!" to the end of the speech. At the time, the production was nicknamed "ID4" because Warner Bros. owned the rights to the title Independence Day, and Devlin had hoped if Fox executives noticed the addition in dailies, the impact of the new dialogue would help them win the rights to the title. The right to use the title was eventually won two weeks later.
The production team moved to the Bonneville Salt Flats to film three scenes, then returned to California to film in various places around Los Angeles, including Hughes Aircraft where sets for the cable company and Area 51 interiors were constructed at a former aircraft plant. Sets for the latter included corridors containing windows that were covered with blue material. The filmmakers originally intended to use the chroma key technique to make it appear as if activity was happening on the other side of the glass; but the composited images were not added to the final print because production designers decided the blue panels gave the sets a "clinical look". The attacker hangar set contained an attacker mock-up 65ft wide that took four months to build. The White House interior sets used had already been built for The American President and had previously been used for Nixon. Principal photography completed on November 3, 1995.
The movie originally depicted Russell Casse being rejected as a volunteer for the July 4 aerial counteroffensive because of his alcoholism. He then uses a stolen missile tied to his red biplane to carry out his suicide mission. According to Dean Devlin, test audiences responded well to the scene's irony and comedic value. However, the scene was re-shot to include Russell's acceptance as a volunteer, his crash course in modern fighter aircraft, and him flying an F-18 instead of the biplane. Devlin preferred the alteration because the viewer now witnesses Russell ultimately making the decision to sacrifice his life, and seeing the biplane keeping pace and flying amongst F-18s was "just not believable". The film was officially completed on June 20, 1996.
The film's plot deliberately and closely follows the plots of classic alien invasion fiction, most notably The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells and its 1953 film adaptation. Whereas the premise of the film bears little resemblance, there are many elements from War of the Worlds, including the aliens' resistance against nuclear weapons (on a related note, the same scene shows, in the wreckage, a lamp post twisted into the shape of the Heat Ray from the 1953 film), and the aliens defeat via a virus (however, Wells' aliens were killed by a biological virus). Independence Day has also been an influence on later fiction.
Release and Reception
Independence Day was the highest-grossing film of 1996, beating Twister, Mission: Impossible and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the United States and Canada, it earned $104.3 million in its opening week, including $96.1 million during its five-day holiday opening, and $50.2 million during its opening weekend. Independence Day stayed in the number-one spot for three consecutive weeks and grossed $306,169,268 in the United States and Canada and $511,231,623 in other territories during its theatrical run.
Independence Day is ranked as "fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes with a 63% positive rating, with 33 out of 54 critics giving it positive reviews. It has a metascore of 59 (based on 18 reviews) on Metacritic. Critics acknowledged the film had "cardboard" and "stereotypical" characters. The shot of the White House's destruction has been declared a milestone in visual effects and one of the most memorable scenes of the 1990s.
The nationalistic overtones of the film were widely criticized by foreign reviewers. Movie Review UK described the film as "A mish-mash of elements from a wide variety of alien invasion movies and gung-ho American jingoism." The speech in which Whitmore states that victory in the coming war would see the entire world henceforth describe July 4 as its independence day, was described in a BBC review as "the most jaw-droppingly pompous soliloquy ever delivered in a mainstream Hollywood movie." In 2003, readers of Empire, voted the scene that contained the speech as the "Cheesiest Movie Moment of All-Time". Conversely, Empire critic Kim Newman gave the film a five-star rating in the magazine's original review of the film.
Several prominent critics expressed disappointment with the quality of Independence Day's much-hyped special effects. David Ansen of Newsweek claimed the special effects were of no better caliber than those seen nineteen years earlier in Star Wars. Todd McCarthy of Variety felt the production's budget-conscious approach resulted in "cheesy" shots that lacked in quality relative to the effects present in films directed by James Cameron and Steven Spielberg. Roger Ebert cited a lack of imagination in the spaceship and creature designs as one of the reasons for his marginally negative review, and Gene Siskel expressed the same sentiments in their on-air review of the movie.
Despite this, the movie won the Academy Award for Visual Effects, beating Twister and Dragonheart. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound but lost to The English Patient. Composer David Arnold won a Grammy Award for his work on the film. The movie also won an Amanda Award for Best Foreign Feature Film. Viewers voted for Independence Day to receive an MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss, a People's Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture, and a Kids' Choice Award for Favorite Movie. It received Saturn Awards for Saturn Award for Best Director, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Special Effects. The film was awarded Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects at the inaugural Golden Satellite Award ceremony. The film received a Golden Raspberry nomination in 1996 for Worst Written Film Grossing Over $100 million but lost to Twister.
Independence Day was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound. It won the an award for Best Visual Effects. It won three Saturn Awards in the categories of Best science fiction film, Best direction (Roland Emmerich), and Best special effects (Volker Engel, Douglas Smith, Clay Pinney and Joe Viskocil).
Home video releases
Independence Day was released on VHS on November 22, 1996. A LaserDisc release came out at roughly the same time, which included audio commentary, theatrical trailers, deleted scenes, and a bundled soundtrack CD.
It became available on DVD on June 27, 2000, and has since been re-released, in several different versions of this format, with varying supplemental material, including one instance where it was packaged with a lenticular cover. A special edition of the film was included on the DVD as well, which features nine minutes of additional footage not seen in the original theatrical release.
Independence Day became available on Blu-ray in the United Kingdom on December 24, 2007, and in North America on March 11, 2008 and in Australia on March 5, 2008. The initial single-disc releases only feature the theatrical cut and a few extras, as per the single-disc DVDs. For its 2016 twentieth anniversary, the film was re-released on two-disc Blu-ray and DVD, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, and Digital HD. The 20th-anniversary editions feature both the theatrical and extended versions, all the extras of the previous 2-disc DVDs and more.
In Lebanon, certain Jewish- and Israel-related content in the film was censored. One cut scene involved Judd Hirsch's character donning a kippah, and leading soldiers and White House officials in a Jewish prayer. Other removed footage showed Israeli and Arab troops working together in preparation for countering the alien invasion. The Lebanese Shi'a Islamist militant group Hezbollah called for Muslims to boycott the film, describing it as "propaganda for the so-called genius of the Jews and their concern for humanity." In response, Jewish actor Jeff Goldblum said: "I think Hezbollah has missed the point. The film is not about American Jews saving the world; it's about teamwork among people of different religions and nationalities to defeat a common enemy."
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