5 Bonkers Ways 'Independence Day' Was Almost A Giant Disaster

This weekend, we celebrate dead aliens.
5 Bonkers Ways 'Independence Day' Was Almost A Giant Disaster

This weekend, the United States celebrates July 4th – which for anyone who grew up in the ‘90s, is best remembered as the historic date when President Bill Pullman blew up a fleet of alien spaceships with the help of drunk Randy Quaid (and also a floppy disk). God bless America.

But as successful as Independence Day may have been, the filmmakers behind the 1996 blockbuster still had to overcome more imposing hurdles than a dachshund at the Westminster Dog Show, such as how …

Its Patriotic Theme Was Only Invented To Screw Over Another Movie

It’s hard to imagine Independence Day without the connection to its namesake American holiday. Like would audiences have flocked to theaters to watch humans battle aliens in … Flag Day? Or National Taco Day? Surprisingly, the decision to set the invasion during the July 4th weekend came, not from a sincere desire to allegorically retell America’s founding with hideous outer space monsters instead of British soldiers, but in order to screw over a competing movie. 

After throwing together an original screenplay/rip-off of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in just three-and-a-half weeks, director Roland Emmerich and writer-producer Dean Devlin found out that Tim Burton was planning a similarly-themed sci-fi movie: Mars Attacks. When the team learned that Burton’s movie was scheduled for an August release, Emmerich told Devlin: “We have to do this earlier.” So they decided to call their movie Independence Day purely because, according to Emmerich, they “had to find some sort of a way to tie it to a date which was before August,” thus beating Mars Attacks to the punch. 

But once the project landed at Fox, the studio wasn’t so thrilled with the title and suggested calling it either Invasion Earth or Doomsday – both of which sound like DVDs currently rotting in an abandoned Redbox. They also wanted to move the film’s release date to Memorial Day, a move that the filmmakers obviously objected to. And speaking of Fox’s terrible suggestions …

The Studio Didn’t Want To Cast Will Smith (For Racist Reasons)

A big reason why Independence Day resonated with audiences at the time is the charm of the central cast; Bill Pullman as President Thomas Whitmore, Jeff Goldblum as satellite tech David Levinson, and of course Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller, a pilot so badass, he casually assaults an extraterrestrial as if it were a common award show presenter.

While Devlin and Emmerich had decided on the “combo” of Smith and Goldblum, the studio wasn’t so sure. Fox objected to the casting of Smith because he was an “unproven” movie star at that point, and, more unfortunately, because he wouldn’t “work in international” markets. One exec allegedly told Devlin, “You cast a Black guy in this part, you’re going to kill” the foreign box office. The pair stuck to their guns and even told the studio that they would take the project to rival studio Universal if Smith didn’t get the gig. 

One casting idea that the duo thankfully backed down from was making Kevin Spacey the President, who originally was going to be more of a “villain,” with an end “twist” in which he becomes “heroic” during the final air battle. When Pullman was cast instead, the character was modified to be more likable, and presumably, this rejected production memo was later adapted into the second season of Netflix’s House of Cards.

The U.S. Military “Withdrew Their Support” Over The Area 51 Storyline

It’s no secret that the U.S. military gives Hollywood productions good deals on expensive equipment in exchange for favorable portrayals that may or may not include more beach volleyball scenes than instances of brutal violence. According to Devlin, the military was originally supposed to supply the Independence Day production with “costumes and airplanes and stuff” but ultimately “withdrew their support.” Why? Because the film includes a storyline about how Area 51 is secretly housing a crashed alien ship.

The truth is slightly more complicated; according to internal documents, the Pentagon had other objections too, ranging from the notion that the President would lead a military attack himself, to the general “impotent and/or inept” portrayal of the army, to the fact that Will Smith’s character both steals a helicopter and is “dating a stripper.” Really, that’s what would have made the U.S. military look not so great in the second half of the 20th century; a fictional character’s association with an exotic dancer?

Devlin, still courting military involvement, suggested edits that would help with recruitment efforts, claiming: “If this doesn’t make every boy in the country want to fly a fighter jet, I’ll eat this script.” But despite some changes, and including making Area 51 under the authority of the fictional “National Information Agency,” the Pentagon still didn’t want to be associated with conspiracy theories they had “officially labeled as myths.” So don’t expect to see any F-16s in Saving Private Bigfoot.  

The Screenwriter Forgot To Rewrite The Half-Assed First Draft Of The President’s Iconic Speech

Perhaps the most memorable (and beer commercial-worthy) moment in all of Independence Day is President Whitmore’s rousing speech, in which he likens a global defense against otherworldly genocidal threats to the celebration of an American holiday – energizing nearby U.S. troops and, presumably, eliciting offscreen eye-rolling and disgust from everyone else in the world. 

According to Devlin, when they were writing the screenplay, rather than torturously craft the perfect inspirational speech, Emmerich suggested writing some “temp” dialogue which they could fix at a later date. So by his own admission, Devlin “vomited out a speech” and never even bothered to re-read it. 

Unfortunately, Devlin forgot all about the speech and “panicked” when he found out they were filming it before he had a chance to revise it. He ran to the set but discovered that everyone was seemingly super-into the “vomit” draft, so he let it be – except for the addition of a new final line: “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day,” because the studio was still trying to change the name of the movie to Doomsday

The Climax Was Reshot After Audiences Laughed At The Original Ending

In retrospect, the weirdest thing about Independence Day is that the world is ultimately saved by Randy Quaid, whose conspiratorial paranoia and fringe theories are all ultimately proven to be correct – just like Quaid’s subsequent real-life trajectory … but without the vindication and the whole “suicide bombing a flying saucer to free humanity” part.

While test audiences went wild for Independence Day, the original ending found Quaid’s character showing up at the last minute, flying his crop duster with a bomb tied to the wing, which was intended as a nod to Dr. Strangelove. This wackier version of the scene got a big laugh from audiences, but Emmerich noted that it was “not a good laugh.”

The studio had to be talked into ponying up the money to reshoot that one scene, which gave us the more emotional, slightly less goofy, climax we remember. In the end, the movie was finished at the last minute and shipped to theaters just “four or five days” before its release date – which was seemingly the biggest production hiccup, outside of any delays caused by the canine actor’s alleged humping problem.

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Thumbnail: 20th Century Studios


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