Now considered to be a significant turning point in the history of the Hollywood blockbuster, the film was released worldwide on July 3, 1996, but began showing on July 2 (the same day the film's story begins) on limited release as a result of a high level of anticipation among moviegoers. The film grossed over $817.4 million worldwide, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1996, and briefly, the second highest-grossing film worldwide of all time behind 1993's Jurassic Park. As of June 2016, it ranks 55th on the list of highest-grossing films, and was at the forefront of the large-scale disaster film and sci-fi resurgence of the mid-1990s. The film won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing. A sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, was released on June 24, 2016.
On July 2, 1996, an enormous alien mothership that has one fourth the mass of the Moon, enters orbit around Earth, deploying gargantuan assault fortress saucers, each fifteen miles wide, that take positions over some of Earth's major cities and military bases. David Levinson, an MIT-trained satellite technician, decodes a signal embedded in the global satellite transmissions that he determines is a timer counting down to a coordinated attack. With the help of his former wife, White House Communications Director Constance Spano, David, and his father Julius, gain access to the Oval Office and warn President Thomas J. Whitmore that the aliens are hostile. Thomas 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 activate devastating directed-energy weapons, killing millions. Thomas, the Levinsons, and a few others narrowly escape aboard Air Force One as the capital is destroyed, along with other locations over which the saucers are positioned.
On July 3, international leaders begin ordering individual counterattacks. Their aviation 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 wipe out the human fighter squadrons. Captain Steven Hiller, a 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 injured alien pilot 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 Thomas' group has landed. Through Secretary of Defense Albert Nimzicki, they learn that a faction of the government has been involved in a UFO conspiracy since 1947, when one of the invaders' attack fighters crashed in Roswell. Area 51 houses the refurbished alien fighter, and three alien corpses recovered from the crash.
When eccentric scientist Dr. Brackish Okun examines the alien captured by Steven , it regains consciousness and attacks. It telepathically invades Dr. Okun's mind and uses his vocal cords to communicate with Thomas before launching a psychic attack against him. Thomas sees visions of the aliens' plans: their entire civilization travels from planet to planet, exterminating all indigenous life and harvesting the planet of all natural resources. After Secret Service agents and military personnel kill the alien, Thomas 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.
On July 4, David demonstrates that the key to defeating the aliens lies in deactivating their force fields, and devises a way to do so by uploading a computer virus into the mothership. He proposes using the refurbished alien fighter to implement the plan, which Steven volunteers to pilot. The two are able to upload the virus and deploy a nuclear weapon on board the mothership. With military pilots in short supply, Thomas enlists the help of volunteers with flight experience, including Russell, and leads an attack on a saucer bearing down on Area 51. With the aliens' shields deactivated, the fighters are able to inflict damage, but their supply of missiles is quickly exhausted. As the saucer prepares to fire on the base, Russell has one last missile to spare, but his attempt of firing it jams, leaving him no choice but to sacrifice his own life. He flies his plane kamikaze-style into the directed-energy weapon port, which results in an explosion that destroys the saucer. Human resistance forces around the world successfully destroy the other saucers using this vulnerability. As humankind is rejoicing in victory, Steven and David return to Area 51 unharmed and reunite with their families. They and military officers nearby accompany Thomas and his daughter in watching the wreckage from the mothership burn up, resembling a fireworks display as it enters Earth's atmosphere.Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller, a Marine F/A-18 pilot. Devlin and Emmerich had always envisioned an African-American for the role, and specifically wanted Smith after seeing his performance in Six Degrees of Separation.
Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore, a former fighter pilot and Gulf War veteran. To prepare for the role, Pullman read Bob Woodward's The Commanders and watched the documentary film The War Room.
Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, an MIT-educated technological expert.
Mary McDonnell as First Lady Marilyn Whitmore.
Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson. The character was based on one of Dean Devlin's uncles.
Robert Loggia as General William Grey, USMC, the head of the United States Space Command. Loggia modeled the character after World War II generals, particularly George S. Patton.
Randy Quaid as Russell Casse, an eccentric, alcoholic former fighter pilot and Vietnam War veteran.
Margaret Colin as Constance Spano, Whitmore's White House Communications Director.
Vivica A. Fox as Jasmine Dubrow.
James Rebhorn as Albert Nimzicki, the Secretary of Defense and, as former CIA Director, one of the few aware of the aliens' existence due to the ship recovered at Roswell. Rebhorn described the character as being much like Oliver North. The character's eventual firing lampoons Joe Nimziki, MGM's head of advertising, who made life unpleasant for Devlin and Emmerich when studio executives forced recuts of Stargate.
Harvey Fierstein as Marty Gilbert.
Adam Baldwin as Major Mitchell, USAF, Area 51's commanding officer.
Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun, the unkempt and highly excitable scientist in charge of research at Area 51. Dr. Okun appeared to have been killed by an alien but returned in the sequel, where it was revealed that the character had merely been in a coma. The character's appearance and verbal style are based upon those of visual effects supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun, with whom Emmerich had worked on Stargate.
James Duval as Miguel Casse.
Bill Smitrovich as Lt. Col. Watson.
Harry Connick Jr. as Marine Captain Jimmy Wilder. Connick took over the part from Matthew Perry, originally cast in the role.
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 film 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 to discover 15 mile-wide spaceships were hovering over the world's largest cities. 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 U.S. military originally intended to provide personnel, vehicles, and costumes for the film; however, they backed out when the producers refused to remove the script's Area 51 references.
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 film, including a 30-foot (9.1 m) destroyer model and a version of the mother ship spanning 12 feet (3.7 m). 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 feet (3.0 m) by 5 feet (1.5 m), and was used in forced-perspective shots before being destroyed in a similar fashion for its destruction scene. The detonation took a week to plan and required 40 explosive charges.
The film's aliens were designed by production designer Patrick Tatopoulos. The actual aliens in 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 feet (2.4 m) 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 that if Fox executives noticed the addition in dailies, the impact of the new dialogue would help them to 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 65 feet (20 m) 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 film 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 on flying modern fighter aircraft, and him flying an F/A-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/A-18s was "just not believable". The film was officially completed on June 20, 1996.
The Grammy Award-winning score for the film was composed by David Arnold and recorded with an orchestra of 90, a choir of 46, "and every last ounce of stereotypical Americana he could muster for the occasion". The film's producer Dean Devlin commented that "you can leave it up to a Brit to write some of the most rousing and patriotic music in the history of American cinema." The soundtrack has received two official CD releases. RCA released a 50-minute album at the time of the film's release, then in 2010, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 2-CD set that comprised the complete score plus 12 alternate cues. The premiere of Independence Day live took place at the Royal Albert Hall in September 2016, with the film's score was performed live to a screening of the film. This celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the film's release, and the event also featured a pre-film talk by David Arnold.
While the film was still in post-production, Fox began a massive marketing campaign to help promote the film, beginning with the airing of a dramatic commercial during Super Bowl XXX, for which it paid $1.3 million. The film's subsequent success at the box office resulted in the trend of using Super Bowl air time to kick off the advertising campaign for potential blockbusters.
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 film 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 film, 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 Los Angeles' now-defunct Mann Plaza Theater 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.
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 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. 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. 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 20th Anniversary, the film was re-released on 2-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 besides.
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."
The film had both its twentieth anniversary and premiere at a special live-orchestral screening performance at the Royal Albert Hall on September 22, 2016. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the original orchestrator Nicholas Dodd, performed/ the score live during the film, and the film's composer, David Arnold, was a presenter at the event.
Independence Day was the highest-grossing film of 1996, beating Twister and Mission Impossible. In the United States, 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. All three figures broke records set by Jurassic Park three years earlier. That film's sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, claimed all three records when it was released the following year. Independence Day stayed in the number-one spot for three consecutive weeks, and grossed $306,169,268 in North America and $511,231,623 in other territories during its theatrical run. The combined total of $817,400,891 once trailed only the worldwide earnings of Jurassic Park as the highest of all time. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 69.26 million tickets in the US. It has been surpassed by multiple 21st century films since, and currently holds the 51st-highest worldwide grossing film of all time. Hoping to capitalize on the film's success, several studios released large-scale disaster films, and the already rising interest in science fiction-related media was further increased by the film's popularity.
A month after the film's release, jewelry designers and marketing consultants reported an increased interest in dolphin-themed jewelry, as the character Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) wears dolphin earrings, and is presented with a wedding ring featuring a gold dolphin.
Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 60% of 62 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 6.4/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The plot is thin and so is character development, but as a thrilling, spectacle-filled summer movie, Independence Day delivers." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 59 out of 100 based on 19 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Critics wrote that the film has "cardboard" and "stereotypical" characters, and weak dialogue. Yet 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. In a 2010 poll, readers of Entertainment Weekly rated it the second-greatest summer film of the previous 20 years, ranking only behind Jurassic Park.
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 "charm is the foremost of this epic's contemporary characteristics. The script is witty, knowing, cool." Eight years later, Entertainment Weekly would rate the film as one of the best disaster films of all time. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times felt that the film 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".
However, the film's nationalistic overtones were widely criticized by reviewers outside the U.S. 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 during 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 this 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 critics expressed disappointment with the quality of the film's special effects. Newsweek's David Ansen 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. In his review, Roger Ebert took note of a lack of imagination in the spaceship and creature designs. Gene Siskel expressed the same sentiments in his At the Movies review of the film.
American Film Institute listsAFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills – Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Science Fiction Film
Disaster elements portrayed in Independence Day represented a significant turning point for Hollywood blockbuster films. With advancements in CGI special effects, events depicting mass destruction became commonplace in films that soon followed, such as 1998's Armageddon and Deep Impact. The trend continued throughout the 2000s and 2010s, evident in films like 2004's The Day After Tomorrow and 2012's The Avengers.
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 concepts not explored in the film. The novel presents the film's finale as originally scripted, with the character played by Randy Quaid stealing a missile and roping it to his cropduster biplane.
Following the film's success, 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. 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.
A Marvel comic book was also written based on the first two novelizations.
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 was present. Dean Devlin gave Maggs permission to produce an original version, on the 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 live.
An Independence Day video game was released in February 1997 for the PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and PC, each version receiving mostly tepid 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.
Trendmasters released a toy line for the film in 1996. Each action figure, vehicle or playset came with a 3 1⁄2" floppy disk that contained an interactive computer game.
In June 2011, Devlin confirmed that he and Emmerich had written a treatment for two sequels to form a trilogy; both expressed the desire for Will Smith to return. In October 2011, however, discussions over Smith returning were halted, due to Fox's refusal to provide the $50 million salary demanded by Smith for the two sequels. Emmerich, however, made assurances that the films would be shot back-to-back, regardless of Smith's involvement.
In March 2013, Emmerich stated that the titles of the new films would be ID Forever Part I and ID Forever Part II. In November 2014, the sequel was given the green light by 20th Century Fox, with a release date of June 24, 2016. This would be a stand-alone sequel, that would not split into two parts as originally planned, with filming beginning in May 2015 and casting being done after the studio locked down Emmerich as the director of the film. In December 2014, Devlin confirmed that Emmerich would indeed be directing the sequel. On June 22, 2015, Emmerich announced the official title, Independence Day: Resurgence.
With respect to Smith's decision not to return to film a sequel, Emmerich told Screen Crush that: "In the very beginning, I wanted to work with him and he was excited to be in it but then after a while he was tired of sequels, and he did another science fiction film, which was his father-son story [After Earth], so he opted out."
Independence Day: Resurgence was released on June 24, 2016.