Dating back to the '70s, with films like Jaws and Star Wars: A New Hope, a growing cinematic trend was the summer blockbuster. Every year, it seemed like there would be one must-see experience of the summer that would dominate all of pop culture. While the '90s delivered hits like Jurassic Park, Armageddon, and Men in Black, there's arguably only one film which defines the '90 summer blockbuster better than the others, which is 1996's Independence Day. From director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin, the film found the perfect blend of jaw-dropping spectacle, thanks to its worldwide destruction of iconic landmarks, and a compelling cast that would result in an experience that is just as compelling visually as it is from a narrative standpoint.
Emmerich and Devlin were no strangers to ambitious sci-fi fare, having delivered audiences Stargate in 1994, though it was their follow-up outing that really established the formula for entertaining audiences equally with both hilarious performers in a character-driven story as well as awe-inspiring action. The embrace of CGI allowed the pair to craft sequences never before possible, while performers like Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman were all immense talents in their own right ahead of the film, with the film's worldwide appeal and popularity taking their careers into the stratosphere.
In honor of Independence Day's 25th anniversary, ComicBook.com caught up with Emmerich to talk the initial development of the project, unexpected discoveries on set, and what the future could hold for the franchise. Emmerich's next film, Moonfall, will be hitting theaters on February 4, 2022.
Header photo courtesy of Reiner Bajo/20th Century Fox
ComicBook.com: It's the 25th anniversary of Independence Day and it has such a passionate following after all these years, and you've done so many movies, so many big-budget, spectacle movies, so where does Independence Day rank in your own personal connection you have to it, as compared to some of the other films you've done?
Roland Emmerich: It was a very special time because I had just done my first own Hollywood movie, which was called "Stargate," which was a sleeper hit, to the surprise of everybody. And that's the first time I said, "Okay, so this worked once. Now let's do another original." But I always had it in my head and I was actually at Warner Bros. and they wanted me to direct a Harrison Ford movie about some prison escape. And I said, "Oh."
I always asked [about] the budget. And I said, "What's the budget of this?" And they said, "Like, $70 million." And, afterwards, venting to the lady I just had hired as a development person, I said, "For $70 million I can make my alien invasion movie." And that's what I did. I mean, it was just super simple. I already had great ideas and then I had to only convince Dean of it because he said, "Well, I don't know. Alien invasion movie?" And I said, "Come to the window. Everything, what you see skyward, will be the underbelly of a ship. Get it?" He said, "Oh!"
So then we did it. But we also learned that Warner Bros. ... I had a good friend, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who became later a producer of the Transformers movies. I called him up and said, "I heard that my favorite director, Tim Burton, is also doing something like this [with Mars Attacks!]." And he said, "Yes, yes, yes." And I said, "When is that coming out?" And he said, "Oh, that's slated for August." And then I said to Dean, "We have to do this earlier." And he said like, "Is that possible?" I said, "Yeah, everything is possible," and that's why the movie is called "Independence Day," because we had to find some sort of a way to tie it to a date which was before August.prevnext
"Only Over My Dead Body."
And ... the studio wasn't allowing you to use the title Independence Day at first, correct? And you were able to sneak it into the speech?
Well, that's another story. We did, [for] the first time, an auction. We auctioned the film and there were certain conditions. We wanted to have the title pre-approved, the script pre-approved, and the budget pre-approved. So they had to come to us and said, "Oh, we tested the title and the title, Independence Day, didn't test as well as two other titles we tested." I said, "What are the two other two titles?" And one was "Invasion Earth," and the other one was "Doomsday." And I said, "Did you buy them from Roger Corman?" I said, "Only over my dead body." That's great when you have some power, in a way. I was so convinced that Independence Day is a great, great title for a movie.
The cast, everybody is perfect in this movie. It's hard to imagine anybody else taking on these roles. And not that they weren't already established performers, but it took their careers to new levels. Have there been some other actors who, over the years, have managed to find their own success that you remember thinking back like, "Oh, that's somebody that we considered for Independence Day," but for whatever reason it didn't work out?
No. Dean and I even, we'll write [with] actors in mind. So we wrote this for Jeff Goldblum. We were big, huge fans of Jeff. And then I discovered, because I saw this film Six Degrees of Separation, and I said, "Dean, let's look at this because there's a kid in there who is awesome." And that was Will Smith. That was pretty much our two main guys ... there was also the president, there were a lot of other characters, but these two were the most important for us because they had to also later work really well together in the spaceship. And actually, Fox didn't agree at all.
No, they didn't like your picks?
The only thing that they had, probably, still a hand in was casting. It took us a long, long time to get them on the movie, to put it politely.prevnext
Impromptu, Perfect Speech
Of all of the various elements of the film, there are so many memorable and iconic things, but Bill Pullman's speech, of course, is ... no speech has happened in the past 25 years that doesn't earn a comparison to how good that speech was. Was that electricity there on set? Was it as powerful in the moment as audiences would come to witness?
Well, the first thing was, when we wrote it, we always had a card, "President holds speech," right? Rallying the troops. We were kind of ... this was at the end of the movie and we were like, just returned after two and a half, three weeks, we started in Mexico, but we were not quite finished with the script. So we had to write two more days and that was a thing we hadn't written yet. There was only, "President holds a speech." Then I said to Dean, "Why don't I just do one, something like Crispin's Day speech [from Henry V] or something like that?" He said, "Ah, let me try something." And he came out like three or four or five minutes later and said, "What do you think about this?" And I said, "Oh, that's fantastic. We can always change it later." Never one word was changed in that speech. Not one word.
I think Bill Pullman was born to play that part. Because he always said, "I want to play this like, don't laugh now, but I want to play this like John Wayne." I said, "Okay, give it your best John Wayne." I have no idea why he said that, but he played John Wayne in his mind. And he was perfect for this part, because, at the beginning, we wrote him as a little bit a weaker president who cannot make up his mind, and all these kinds of things. And then when the aliens come, he rises to the occasion, and that culminates, naturally, in the speech. And then after the speech, he gets into a plane himself.
The John Wayne definitely comes out there, for sure.
When we screened the movie in the Clinton White House, afterwards, Hillary said to me, "You know what Roland? Do you think Bill should take flying lessons?" I said, "No, he's already in the White House and he's doing pretty good."
A little late to be signing up for active duty for Mr. Clinton.prevnext
When you look back at the movie, a two-part thing, what do you think ultimately ended up being the toughest scene to pull off and what is the scene that you are the most proud of having pulled off?
I always love the moment when Will is alone with the alien. We actually had no lines there because we said, "We have Will Smith. He will make something up." And we were like ... I mean, behind the camera, it was so hard not to laugh because he was kicking this thing. He was doing all kinds of things. And then when he yells, "And what is that smell?!" You hear, actually in the dailies, everybody started laughing. We did it a couple of times and he's always pretty right on when he does it again. It was, for me, probably one of my favorite scenes.
Then, also, we had just a line in the script where David Levinson and Hiller sit in the [ship] and they start and fly off. That was super simple, and I realized at that point that's not going to fly, right? On the day, I drew a little ... you know in cars they have these little gauges or wherever that says like forward, backwards? And I put [directional notes] there and then I think Jeff, or maybe Will, or somebody had the idea, why don't we do it the other way around? Then it was really a fun scene that made this all so much more menschy. It's so much more character-y. That was always, for me, the idea about this movie, to make it as a character movie as much as possible.
Definitely. And I think that's what gives the movie so much charm is that these two guys who are about to fly to the alien mothership, can't get off the ground because the little sign is backward.
With an Apple laptop.prevnext
Now that it's 25 years on, I can see behind you that it has the box office totals of Independence Day, you could never have predicted how big of a success initially this movie was, but that year was Independence Day, Mission: Impossible, Twister, there were tons of great action, adventure, comedic experiences. When did you realize that Independence Day was in a world of its own when it comes to the legacy and when it comes to fans, that it's a movie people watch at least once a year, every July? Was there a specific moment, an encounter, that you had that you realized that?
No, because it all came as a total surprise for me. There was a gentleman at Fox, Tom Sherak, he always said, "This will be a phenomenon." I always said, "Okay, whatever." I always go away when a movie of mine opens and I was already in Puerto Vallarta in this empty big house, because nobody else came with me that early. Then the telephone calls came in and I couldn't believe it. Then, at the end, Rupert Murdoch calls me, and is like, "Emmerich, congratulations." And I said, "Hell, great." Anyhow, so it was like a little bit of an out-of-body experience. Then, don't forget, the movie was doing really well in America, but it did even better internationally. I always said that this is a movie for the whole world. And it was the first movie that crossed over $500 million, ever.
And it replicates the theme of the movie, that, sure, Independence Day is an American holiday...
It's now like a worldwide holiday.prevnext
This is the 25th anniversary of Independence Day. And then Independence Day: Resurgence came out five years ago, and so, looking to the future, I know a lot of it is tied up in what Disney wants to do, what they might think they could do. Could you see maybe, not necessarily an Independence Day 3, but can you see the world expanding to a TV show, a spinoff, a prequel? Is the world possibly going to expand in your mind, regardless of the Disney part of it?
Well, yes. I mean, they have now a streaming service and they need product. I would love to do maybe a third one, or a TV show, continuing the story because we actually ... when we did Independence Day: Resurgence, we already had, also, the third part already. And actually, the third part has much more to do with the first part, because we learned, more or less, that out there are a lot of refugees and they're living on a refugee planet. And where [the aliens] finally come there because, somewhat like these aliens on earth, found out about it and telepathically or whatever gave it to their super queen. They're all humans, but in all different forms. So it's this thing that we have Brent Spiner and Jeff Goldblum and we have them with all these different forms of people, which would be a great movie. But we'll see what happens.
And especially between the first movie and the second movie, you have so many years that there could be an idea that comes [between there].
Yeah, I mean also ... I have enough to do, so I don't have to [focus on the franchise].
You recently did Midway, you've got Moonfall coming up. Do you feel passionate about Independence Day in that that you wouldn't let it go? Or could you see someone else exploring something [in that world]?
It doesn't matter, whoever does it, but I feel very passionate about it, very, very passionate, because it was a little bit like ... this movie single-handedly also got me total freedom. I have final cut since then. I pretty much do my own thing. And now, even producing my own films, no studio anymore, I got myself a studio, you know what I mean? In a very small form, like a little garage studio. Anyhow ... I feel very, very passionate about it because it was my first -- actually, that's why both Stargate and Independence Day are seminal movies for me. They pretty much created all of what I did afterwards, you know?prevnext
"Oh, My God, This Is Something Much Bigger Than That."
Just looking towards the future, you're currently working on Moonfall, is there anything that you can tell Roland Emmerich fans, this is what's going to be different from what you're expecting with Moonfall and this is what you're definitely going to get as far as the tone of the adventure?
It has a very, very similar tone to Independence Day. And it's, at first, you think it's a disaster movie and then you realize, "Oh, my God, this is something much bigger than that." And I mean, obviously, like I said, the Moon is falling on the Earth, which is a bad thing. But on top of it, it's not what we think it is, which makes it some sort of a thing, and there's like an alien aspect of it.
Very cool. And, once again, you've brought together this incredible cast, so I can't wait to see it. And I love the way that you're able to weave in things like climate change or environmentalism into all of your films. Obviously, sometimes in more subtle ways and other times more overt. So it's always really exciting when I hear you're working on something, because I know if I expect [one thing] from you, it's going to be this [other thing]. It's going to be something even bigger than what I anticipate.
And Moonfall is even like ... a lot of people read the script. When they finally saw the script, they couldn't believe it. They said, "Oh, my God. I never saw that. And it's that big."
Moonfall is currently slated to land in theaters on February 4, 2022.
In Moonfall, a mysterious force knocks the Moon from its orbit around Earth and sends it hurtling on a collision course with life as we know it. With mere weeks before impact and the world on the brink of annihilation, NASA executive and former astronaut Jo Fowler (Academy Award winner Halle Berry) is convinced she has the key to saving us all – but only one astronaut from her past, Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson, Midway) and a conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley, Game of Thrones) believe her. These unlikely heroes will mount an impossible last-ditch mission into space, leaving behind everyone they love, only to find out that our Moon is not what we think it is.0comments
The film also stars Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, and Donald Sutherland. Moonfall is directed by Roland Emmerich. The writers are Roland Emmerich & Harald Kloser & Spenser Cohen. The producers are Roland Emmerich and Harald Kloser.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.prev