Independence Day (also known by its promotional abbreviation ID4) is a 1996 science fiction film about a hostile alien invasion of Earth, focusing on a disparate group of individuals and families as they coincidentally converge in the Nevada desert and, along with the rest of the human population, participate in a last-chance retaliation effort on July 4. It was directed by Roland Emmerich, who co-wrote the script with producer Dean Devlin.
Emmerich came up with the idea for the film when he was promoting the film Stargate in Europe. Devlin decided to incorporate a large-scale attack into the film after questioning why aliens would travel long distances in space to Earth just to keep hidden. The film's script was written during a month-long vacation in Mexico, and principal photography for the film began in July 1995 in New York City. 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 film, many theaters began showing it on the evening of July 2, 1996, the same day the action in the film begins. The movie's total worldwide gross was $816,969,268, which at one point was the second-highest worldwide gross of all-time. It currently holds the 19th highest worldwide gross for a movie all-time, and was at the forefront of the large-scale disaster film and science fiction resurgences of the mid-to-late-1990s.
On July 3, the United States conducts a coordinated counterattack; the movie follows the Black Knights, a squadron of Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornets, as they participate in an assault on a destroyer near the destroyed city of Los Angeles. Their weapons fail to penetrate the craft's force field, and it responds by releasing scores of smaller "attacker" ships which are similarly shielded and armed with directed-energy weapons, and a one-sided dogfight ensues. Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) manages to survive the attack by luring a single attacker to the Grand Canyon. There, he blinds the alien with the braking parachute on his jet and ejects just before running out of fuel, causing both to crash in the desert. Having parachuted to safety, he subdues the injured alien. Hiller is picked up by Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), who is traveling across the desert with a group of refugees in a convoy of RVs. From there they take the captured alien to nearby Area 51, commanded by Major Mitchell (Adam Baldwin), where the President and his remaining staff have also landed. Area 51 conceals a top secret facility housing a repaired attacker and three alien bodies recovered from Roswell in 1947.
When lead scientist Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) removes a "bio-mechanical" suit from the alien, the specimen regains consciousness. It attempts escape and takes control of Okun's mind, killing an examination crew in the process. When questioned by President Whitmore, it reveals through a telepathic connection that its species travels from planet to planet, destroying all life and harvesting a planet's natural resources before moving on. The alien attempts a psychic attack against Whitmore but is killed by Major Mitchell. Whitmore orders a nuclear attack on all of the destroyers using B-2 Spirit bombers; the first one to be hit is the alien destroyer hovering over a deserted Houston, but this too fails to penetrate the craft's shield and destroys the city instead; as a result, the remaining bombers were called back.
On July 4, Levinson devises a plan to use the repaired attacker to gain access to the interior of the alien mothership in space in order to introduce a computer virus and plant a nuclear missile on board. This, it is hoped, will cause the shields of the Earth-based alien craft to fail long enough for the human resistance to eliminate them. Hiller volunteers to be the mission's pilot, with Levinson accompanying him to upload the virus. With satellite communications knocked out, the Americans use Morse code to coordinate an attack with the remaining forces around the world, timed to occur when the invaders' shields are set to fail. With not enough military pilots to man all available aircraft, the battle requires several volunteers, including President Whitmore and Russell, who both have previous combat flight experience.
With the successful implantation of the virus, President Whitmore leads the American jet fighters against an alien destroyer on approach to Area 51. Although the aliens now lack shields, the fighters' supply of missiles are quickly exhausted against the colossal craft and its large complement of assault ships. The underside of the alien craft opens up as its directed energy weapon prepares to fire on the base. Russell possesses the last remaining missile, but his firing mechanism jams; changing his plan, he pilots his aircraft into the alien weapon in a kamikaze attack. The ensuing explosion causes a chain reaction which annihilates the ship. Human resistance forces around the world use the same weak point to destroy the remainder of the alien ships, while the nuclear device planted by Hiller and Levinson destroys the alien mothership soon after the duo escape. Hiller and Levinson return unharmed, crash-landing their captured alien fighter in the desert close to Area 51. The film ends as the main characters watch debris from the mothership enter the atmosphere like shooting stars.
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 that 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 sending it out for consideration, Twentieth Century Fox chairman Peter Chernin greenlit the screenplay. Pre-production began just three days later in February 1995. The United States military was 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 3,000-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 . 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 by , 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 tall, equipped with 25 tentacles, and purposely designed to show that it could not sustain a person inside so that 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 that 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 that the blue panels gave the sets a "clinical look". The attacker hangar set contained an attacker mock-up 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 bi-plane. Devlin preferred the alteration because the viewer now witnesses Russell ultimately making the decision to sacrifice his life, and that seeing the biplane keeping pace and flying amongst F-18s was "just not believable". The film was officially completed on June 20, 1996.
Fox's Licensing and Merchandising division also entered into co-promotional deals with Apple Inc. The co-marketing project was dubbed "The Power to Save the World" campaign, in which the company used footage of David using his PowerBook laptop in their print and television advertisements. Trendmasters entered a merchandising deal with the film's producers to create a line of tie-in toys. In exchange for product placement, Fox also entered into co-promotional deals with Molson Coors Brewing Company and Coca-Cola.
The movie was marketed with several taglines, including: "We've always believed we weren't alone. On July 4, we'll wish we were", "Earth. Take a good look. It could be your last", and "Don't make plans for August". The weekend before the film's release, the Fox Network aired a half-hour special on the movie, the first third of which was a spoof news report on the events that happen in the film. Roger Ebert attributed most of the film's early success to its teaser trailers and marketing campaigns, acknowledging them as "truly brilliant".
The film had its official premiere held at the now-defunct Mann Plaza Theater in Los Angeles on June 25, 1996. It was then screened privately at the White House for President Bill Clinton and his family before receiving a nationwide release in the United States on July 2, 1996, a day earlier than its previously scheduled opening.
Author Stephen Molstad wrote a tie-in novel to help promote the film shortly before its release. The novel goes into further detail on the characters, situations, and overall concept not explored in the film. The novel presents the finale of the film as originally scripted, with the character played by Randy Quaid stealing a missile and roping it to his crop duster biplane. Following the success of the film, a prequel novel entitled Independence Day: Silent Zone was written by Molstad in February 1998. The novel is set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and details the early career of Dr. Brackish Okun. Molstad wrote a third novel, Independence Day: War in the Desert in July 1999. The novel is both a midquel and sequel to the film. Set in Saudi Arabia on July 3, it centers around Captain Cummins and Colonel Thompson, the two Royal Air Force officers seen receiving the Morse code message in the film.
On August 4, 1996, BBC Radio 1 broadcast the one-hour play Independence Day UK, written, produced, and directed by Dirk Maggs, a spin-off depicting the alien invasion from a British perspective. None of the original cast were present. Dean Devlin gave Maggs permission to produce an original version, on condition that he did not reveal certain details of the movie's plot and that the British were not depicted as saving the day. Independence Day UK was set up to be similar to the 1938 radio broadcast of The War Of The Worlds; the first 20 minutes were set as being live.
An Independence Day video game was released in February 1997 for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC, each version receiving mostly timid reviews. The multi-view shooter game contains various missions to perform, with the ultimate goal of destroying the aliens' primary weapon. A wireless mobile version was released in 2005. A computer game entitled ID4 Online was released in 2000.
After a six-week, $30 million marketing campaign, Independence Day was released on VHS on November 22, 1996. It became available on DVD on June 27, 2000, and has been re-released on DVD under several different versions with varying supplemental material ever since, including a release as part of 20th Century Fox's "Five Star Collection", a Limited Edition, Collector's Edition, a 10th Anniversary Edition, and one instance where it was packaged with a lenticular cover. Often accessible on these versions is a special edition of the film, which features nine minutes of additional footage not seen in the original theatrical release. It has been packaged alongside The Day After Tomorrow, The Abyss, and I, Robot. It has also been packaged with Chain Reaction and The X-Files as part of a "Sci-Fi 3-Pack", and with Chain Reaction, Volcano, and The Day After Tomorrow as part of a "World Destruction - Box Set". Independence Day became available on Blu-ray discs in the United Kingdom on December 24, 2007, and in North America on March 11, 2008.
A month after the film's release, jewelry designers and marketing consultants reported an increased interest in dolphin-themed jewelry, due to the fact that the character of Jasmine in the film wears dolphin earrings and is presented with a wedding ring that features a gold dolphin.
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film his highest rating, declaring it the "apotheosis" of Star Wars. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+ for living up to its massive hype, adding that "charm is the foremost of this epic's contemporary characteristics. The script is witty, knowing, cool." Eight years later, Entertainment Weekly would rate the movie as one of the best disaster movies of all-time. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times felt that the movie did an "excellent job conveying the boggling immensity of [the] extraterrestrial vehicles [...] and panic in the streets" and the scenes of the alien attack were "disturbing, unsettling and completely convincing".
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 as "the most jaw-droppingly pompous soliloquy ever delivered in a mainstream Hollywood movie" in a BBCi review. In 2003, readers of the United Kingdom's most popular movie magazine 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. Newsweek's David Ansen, claimed the "special effects [were] no improvement on anything George Lucas did (with Star Wars)". Todd McCarthy of Variety felt the production's budget-conscious approach resulted in "cheesy" shots that were no comparison to "the cutting-edge perfection of effects in Cameron and Spielberg films". 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, and a People's Choice Award for Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture. It received Saturn Awards for Best Director, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Special Effects The film was awarded Best Film Editing and Best Visual Effects at the first annual Golden Satellite Award ceremony.
The possibility of a sequel had long been discussed, and Devlin once stated that the world's reaction to the September 11th attacks influenced him to strongly consider making a sequel to the film. Devlin began writing an outline for a script with Emmerich, but in May 2004, Emmerich said that he and Devlin had attempted to "figure out a way how to continue the story", but that this ultimately did not work. No serious discussions in planning a sequel have been in the works since.