(Check out the list so far)
The Movie: Independence Day (1996)
One Sentence Plot Summary: Aliens come to earth but succumb to a virus created by Jeff Goldblum.
Why It’s on the List: This is one time I am posting one of these articles on a Saturday, traditionally one of the lowest traffic days. Not only is it Saturday, but it’s also a holiday. I have very different feelings about the holiday this year compared to the past, but that’s for another column at a different time. I saw this movie for the first time in theaters around July 4, and it’s pretty much the perfect summer blockbluster. It’s not exactly the most intelligent, but you’ve got Will Smith on the rise, Jeff Goldblum in his prime, a number of character actors who dial it up, and a director who was ambitious to blow up the White House among other places.
I can’t pretend this movie doesn’t have its issues. Literally, the first image we see is of an America flag and moments later, see the Statue of Liberty. This movie isn’t exactly, but when you want to get out of the heat and see a movie, sometimes you just want to see Will Smith punch aliens in the face and Randy Quaid play a drunk pilot. There’s nothing wrong with having movies like this, and I think this remains a favorite because the story is simple. The action and special effects are extremely well done. CGI has overwhelmed many a disaster movie since but it’s well balanced here.
So much of what holds up also is the performances. No one deserves an Academy Award, but Will Smith comes across like a major star, and he became the king of summer movies for a time specifically because of ID4. Jeff Goldblum brings more leading man energy than he did to Jurassic Park, and there’s Bill Pullman. His speech just before the final attack is one of the most famous movie speeches ever, even being desecrated by people connected with the current administration. It’s cheesy and again, not subtle. This is a movie I will probably rewatch frequently around this time every year in perpetuity.
*This was just before the Clinton sex scandal broke out, but Whitmore joking about having a beautiful woman in his bed and that person being his daughter is weird.
*There’s a gay panic visual joke when Harry Connick Jr. finds an engagement ring and is on one knee seemingly ready to propose to Will Smith.
*Adam Baldwin and Randy Quaid are right wing loons.
*Russell Casse’s “friends” are interviewed on the news and a reference is made to Casse being sexually abused by aliens. This is clearly meant to be for laughs. Gross.
MVP and Best Performance: I’m as big a Jeff Goldblum as anyone in this movie, but it’s Will Smith. He was already a rising star before this film, but he solidified his position as an A-lister. You might even narrow it down to the moment when he says “Welcome to earth” to one of the aliens and punches it. His charm shines through in every scene with Vivica A. Fox and he has great comedic chemistry with Goldblum. This is not an award worthy performance, but a movie like this needs Will Smith to really bring it home.
Best Quote: “Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. ‘Mankind.’ That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” – President Thomas J. Whitmore (Duh)
Is there a sequel? They waited 20 years to make a sequel and didn’t want to pay Will Smith for two sequels, so they created one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and there will not be a second sequel. They also recast Mae Whitman for not being “conventionally attractive,” and it deserves to be pointed because of how awful and sexist Hollywood is.