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What Makes ‘Independence Day’ Work So Well?

Is Independence Day a good movie? Is it a classic? Is it a perfect representation of blockbuster cinema? Those are tricky questions open to interpretation. But one thing is certain: ID4 has become a cultural touchstone, a movie that is held up again and again as a perfect example of summer movies. The dialogue and alien designs and characters have become iconic and remain relevant all these years later.

Why? What is it about Independence Day that keeps people interested 20 years after its debut? It’s due in part to Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s lively (yet flawed) script and also Emmerich’s truly awe-inspiring directorial vision. It’s essentially the movie he was born to make, full of massive explosions, fun characters and a scope that screamed expensive. Below we have compiled just some of the reasons why the love for Independence Day has lasted all these years.

The Cast

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We were truly spoiled by the cast of Independence Day. Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Margaret Colin, James Rebhorn, Mary McDonnell, Judd freakin’ Hirsch! This cast was stacked.

But it wasn’t just their star wattage that makes the film so memorable, it’s their abilities. Every performer nailed their part, delivering witty dialogue and reacting accurately to the near destruction of Earth. All actors were on the same page, none were too campy while none were too serious. They all had a handle on the script and knew what type of movie this was and what type of characters they were playing. Independence Day is one of those great movies that walks the thin line between uber-serious and light-hearted and that’s thanks to the stellar work of the cast. We know how important this is because other Emmerich films haven’t had a cast as enthusiastic as this and the films have suffered because of it.

The Director

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Nowadays, movies where the entire planet is in danger are common, but that wasn’t so in 1996. Emmerich’s destructive tale was remarkably new. Even though aliens had attacked Earth many times before in many different films, it never looked like this. Never this big, never this real. That’s the power of Roland Emmerich: the man absolutely understands how to convey his vision to film. He’s not subtle but the man has a firm grasp on the power of cinematic action.

It’s hard to see it now since so many filmmakers have made their names wrecking humanity but Independence Day is such an Emmerich film. It has his personal touch all over it, it feels like one of his movies. In another director’s hands – especially in 1996 – ID4 could have been a radically different, less fun and less interesting film. Emmerich is one of the primary reasons this film has stuck around for so long. No matter how times you’ve seen the movie, it’s hard to look away when the destruction starts. It’s incredibly exhilarating even after dozens and dozens of views.

This is loud, fiery movie-making and Emmerich was giddy to watch the world burn. It was surely as fun to make as it was to watch.

The Script

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Is there any monologue from modern cinema quoted as much as Bill Pullman’s “Today is our Independence Day” speech? There are so many people (yours truly included) who can recite the thing verbatim. And that’s not the only dialogue from the film that is well known. Independence Day is filled with quotable moments, one after the other. Like a great comedy, millions of fans have memorized nearly the entire script and drop them into their daily lives. That’s part of the fun of the movie, one of the reasons why it’s remained so prevalent years later. This is a movie that with a tight, quick script full of fun dialogue and witty characters delivering it.

It’s a script that moves along quickly, despite its lengthy runtime. Looking back at it now, it’s remarkable how little downtime there is in Independence Day. It just moves along, from one action beat to the next. Devlin and Emmerich crafted a screenplay that is light on pathos and heavy on aliens, explosions, and lively one-liners. On paper, that sounds like a mess. Many other films have attempted and failed at doing the same thing. It works here. The script openly and happily embraces the type of film it is and turns it up to eleven.

With the release of Independence Day: Resurgencemany are looking back at the first film and reassessing it. The truth is it’s not without its flaws. It was never going to win an Oscar for screenwriting, that’s for sure. But by fully investing in the three major aspects listed above, Roland Emmerich created a blockbuster that had scale, spirit, and character unlike anything else at the time. It’s a treasure from yesteryear when you didn’t see our planet getting destroyed every weekend in theaters. Independence Day might not be perfect – no movie is – but what it does, it does incredibly well.


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