Study Guide

Independence Day

Independence Day Introduction


Release Year: 1996

Genre: Action, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writer: Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin

Stars: Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Randy Quaid, Harry Connick Jr.


What do you get when you combine aliens, hilariously antiquated '90s-era hacking, slick dialogue, and aww-inspiring romance?

Unsurprisingly: you get the top-grossing movie of 1996.

Hailing from a time when it was exciting rather than devastating to watch Manhattan buildings explode, and when rousing on-screen presidential speeches provoked inspiration rather than eye-rolls, Independence Day is truly a product of a simpler/less enlightened time. The jokes are light. The patriotism is on high. And there are a few broadly stereotypical characters (neurotic Jewish dad, excitable gay coworker) that make a 21st Century audience cringe.

But, kind of like the national holiday celebrated on July 4th, it's possible to totally love Independence Day even while being aware of its cheesy, problematic aspects.

Hey: July 4th celebrates the signing Declaration of Independence, a document that stated that, "all men are created equal" when slavery was around. (Problematic.) And the actual celebration of July 4th can involve such culinary delights as American Flag Pizza. (Cheesy—literally.)

But the Fourth of July is still one of our favorite holidays…because how can you go wrong with a three-day weekend in the middle of the summer that's all about celebrating all that's awesome about America and watching fireworks?

You can't.

Just like you can't go wrong with Independence Day, a movie that's also all about patriotism and fireworks (or at least alien mother ships exploding).

In case you haven't seen the movie often enough to be able to quote Will Smith's witty banter by heart, we'll recap:

  

Aliens threaten earth…but a dream team including a charismatic pilot (Smith), a brainac cable guy (Jeff Goldblum), and the President of the United States (Bill Pullman) band together to stop the alien scumbags. (We're not being colorful. These aliens are pretty much just bags of interstellar scum.)

Once more: how can you go wrong?

Independence Day was the big summer flick in 1996—and appropriately enough, it came out just before the 4th of July. With a budget of over $50 million, Centropolis films (the producers) must have had high hopes for the film, and it didn't disappoint, grossing over $300 million domestically. (Source)

So this July 4th, as you're waiting for the grill to heat up/the apple pie to cool/the guests to arrive with potato salad and Rocket Pops, queue up Independence Day. It'll make you "ooh" and "aah" almost as much as watching an actual fireworks display, and Bill Pullman's speech will bring almost as many tears to your eyes as watching Whitney Huston's performance of "The Star Spangled Banner."

What is Independence Day About and Why Should I Care?

When we say "the '90s," chances are that a few things spring immediately to mind. Grunge. Dubious fashion: butterfly clips and frosted, spiky hair. Tamagotchis. The Spice Girls.

But no '90s experience was complete without dragging yourself and your all-denim outfit through the summer heat (listening to "I Want It That Way" on your CD Walkman, of course) and going to the local movie theater to watch a disaster movie.

The late '90s were the golden age of movies that showed wide swathes of the world being destroyed in a fiery blaze. Eighty-three movies about things being blown up by massive, unstoppable forces were made in the decade that brought us "Mmm Bop" and "No Scrubs." (Source)

And the movie that kicked off that whole '90s mass-destruction-on-screen trend was Independence Day.

Yeah, there were disaster movies before Independence Day opened. But this movie showcased some new tricks for an old cinematic genre-dog: snappy dialogue, ensemble casts, and a sense that the best way to outsmart impending apocalypse was to laugh right in its apocalyptic face.

After all, the disaster craze of the era was inspired, in part, by the fact that the scary new millennium was approaching. It was a big worldwide event: a thousand year period was ending, and the triple-0 on the end of the year 2000 was a little intimidating. It symbolized a fresh start, sure…but it also symbolized the great unknown. (Source)

And when people think of "the great unknown," they think of "the end of the world." (Humans are weird.)

So Independence Day massively amped up the amount of catastrophe on screen—if the fear of the era is the end of the world, you have to bring on the fireworks. It showed the world that disaster movies could be bigger, badder, and more entertaining than ever before.

A quick search of popcorn flicks made after 1996 will show you a legion of movies that echo elements of Independence Day and its insane success. Armageddon (1998) gives us national landmarks being blown to smithereens, quippy dialogue, and a huge cast of scrappy heroes. San Andreas (2015) gives us national landmarks being blown to smithereens, quippy dialogue, and a huge cast of scrappy heroes. And Pacific Rim (2013) gives us—you got it—us national landmarks being blown to smithereens, quippy dialogue, and a huge cast of scrappy heroes.

Yep, Independence Day has inspired a lot of copycats. But you'll want to go right to the source and give it a (re)watch…not just to pay homage to the great-granddaddy of witty disaster flicks, but also to revel in a film that's as pure '90s as Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry's Windows '95 tutorial.

Trivia

Love this movie? Good news: there's a sequel. (Source)

During filming, unknowing residents of Orange County, CA, saw the filming of the "Welcome Wagon" sequence from afar and reported the lights as a UFO. Guess paranoid alien conspiracy theorists aren't just for fiction, right? (Source)

The film only took 72 days to shoot. For a big-budget film, that's crazy short. (Source)

The set from the White House scenes was also used for Mars Attacks! (1996) (Source)

The movie almost had to be called ID4 because someone else owned the name Independence Day. We're not sure how you can claim ownership over the name of a holiday… (Source)

Independence Day Resources

WEBSITES

Encyclopedia of Independence
Click on to see an entire wiki devoted to the ID4 universe—you know you want to.

When Twitter Meets Alien Invasion
Want to get pumped for the sequel? Check out its Twitter page:

War of 1996
The promo page for the sequel film gives updates on what happened to some of the characters…prepare to be devastated.

BOOK-OR-TV-ADAPTATIONS

From Screen to Page
Yup, there's a novelization of this film that gives a lot more background on the film's events and characters:

ARTICLES-AND-INTERVIEWS

"I kind of liked it."
Read Roger Ebert's glowing (?) review of the film from 1996.

Steve Hiller, Twenty Years Later
Will Smith comments on why he's not going to be in the sequel.

VIDEO

Jeff Goldblum, Spoiler King?
In an interview with Collider, Jeff Goldblum hints at what happened between David and Connie after the movie ended…

That was then…
See how the original movie was advertised

...and this is now.
And now watch the trailer for the new one:

AUDIO

What does every blockbuster need? A blockbuster soundtrack.
Luckily, YouTube is handy for checking out such things.

IMAGES

White House Down and Out
One of the most iconic and horrifying moments of the film.

Hiding in the Clouds
An alien spaceship playing peek-a-boo in the clouds.