Independence Day 2's Roland Emmerich Shares How Will Smith's Exit Drastically Changed Resurgence

Will Smith with cigar in Independence Day
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Although a sequel to 1996’s Independence Day (which is available to watch on HBO Max) had been talked about as early as 2001, it wasn’t until 2016 that such a project finally arrived in theaters. However, Independence Day: Resurgence was nowhere near as well received as its predecessor, with its plot being one of the many criticized elements. Well, according to director Roland Emmerich, it turns out the story we got in Resurgence came out of necessity from Will Smith exiting the sequel.

Will Smith spent the first half of the 1990s being best known on screen for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it was Independence Day, along with Bad Boys and Men in Black, that established him as a movie star in the latter half of the decade. Originally Will Smith was supposed to reprise Steven Hiller in Independence Day: Resurgence, but he ended up dropping out at the last minute, which naturally caused a lot of problems. As Roland Emmerich recalled to The Wrap:

I’m proud of Independence Day: Resurgence but we had one problem: Will Smith decided while we were preparing, to drop out. That was a huge, huge blow to me. At that point I had to decide, should I keep going or not? I realized we had spent $10 or 12 million and you don’t drop out easily.

Considering that Will Smith’s Captain Steven Hiller was one of the main protagonists in Independence Day, along with Jeff Goldblum’s David Levinson and Bill Pullman’s Thomas J. Whitmore, it’s a no-brainer why Roland Emmerich and the other creative minds behind Independence Day: Resurgence wanted him back. Ultimately though, Will Smith ended up being more impressed with the script for Suicide Squad, so he decided to play Deadshot in that DC movie instead and bailed on Resurgence. That placed Roland Emmerich in the difficult position of having to reimagine the entire movie in the midst of preproduction.

With just a few weeks to go until Independence Day: Resurgence began principal photography, and too much money having been spent to just scrap the sequel (though in hindsight, he’s acknowledged that this is what he should have done), Roland Emmerich recruited some people to help him rewrite the script. The filmmaker continued:

I got two young writers and we locked ourselves in my New York apartment, because one couldn’t leave New York, he had a TV show there. And we wrote a new script in two weeks. We had to. There were daily calls from [Fox president] Emma Watts at that time.

Perhaps there’s a reality in the multiverse where Will Smith decided to stick with Independence Day: Resurgence instead of picking Suicide Squad, so Steven Hiller could take part in battling the new invading force of Harvesters. Alas, that’s not the reality we live in. Instead, the version of Resurgence Roland Emmerich and his writing partners came up with in just a few weeks revealed that Hiller died in 2007 while test flying an experimental alien hybrid flyer. But Resurgence still featured a Hiller in the form of Steven’s stepson Dylan, a captain in Earth Space Defense played by Jessie Usher.

In the end, Independence Day: Resurgence made almost $390 million worldwide off a reported $165 million budget, but it was met with primarily negative critical reception (it has 30% for both its Tomatometer and Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes). Despite Resurgence’s ending teasing a sequel, Independence Day 3, which would have depicted an intergalactic journey, never got greenlit. That being said, in early 2020, Emmerich expressed hope that the threequel could still happen.

Roland Emmerich fans can catch his latest movie, Moonfall, in theaters this weekend, and keep on the lookout for how the PG-13 flick managed to sneak in a second f-bomb. Those of you wondering what cinematic entertainment is coming out later in the year should scan through our lineup of 2022 movie releases.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.