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Independence Day: 7 Thoughts I Had After Rewatching The 1996 Movie

Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith in Independence Day
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

I have watched Independence Day so many times over the years, I've lost count. Since July 1996, I've consumed Roland Emmerich’s iconic disaster action thriller just about every way imaginable including on the big screen with my dad and brother, when it aired on TV, or by watching Independence Day streaming on various digital platforms. All of this is to say, I can’t get enough of this movie and it’s something I think about way more than I should.

So, in the lead-up to the Fourth of July holiday (which I will be spending camping and without access to the movie) I decided to hold my annual one-man Independence Day viewing party a few days earlier than usual. In doing so, I collected seven thoughts to flesh out (as well as a handful of other points) for those who also have an unhealthy obsession with the 1996 box office champ.

Will Smith with cigar in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Can We Talk About How Great Will Smith Is In This Movie?

Will Smith was on top of his game in the second half of the 1990s. He was already a household name thanks to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his hip-hop career by the time he was cast alongside Martin Lawrence in Michael Bay’s 1995 action comedy Bad Boys, but it was his portrayal of Steven Hiller in Independence Day that took Smith from an up-and-coming star to one of the biggest names in show business.

The thought of anyone else besides Smith playing Hiller in Independence Day has never even crossed my mind. There wasn’t another actor around at the time that had more style and command of the screen than the “Fresh Prince,” and him being front and center takes the movie from being great to an all-time classic. 

Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

I’ll Never Not Be Down With Jeff Goldblum In Action Movies

The 1990s also gave use one of the most unlikely leading men: Jeff Goldblum. Sure, Goldblum was already an established star with ‘80s hits like The Big Chill and The Fly, but this quirky and mysterious actor defied action movie logic with memorable roles in Jurassic Park (and its sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park) and the 1996 sci-fi popcorn flick Independence Day.

The decision by Steven Spielberg and Roland Emmerich to cast Goldblum as Ian Malcolm and David Levinson, respectively, made both movies more unique and gave  smart and not-so-muscular guys a hero to root for. In the years following, Goldblum found success in several of Wes Anderson’s best movies (and Thor: Ragnarok), but he’ll always be that unlikely action star from the ‘90s.

The White House in Independence Day

(Image credit: Fox / Disney)

The Alien Attack On The White House Is Still One Of My Favorite Scenes Of All Time

Whenever I am flipping through channels and come across Independence Day I will stop what I’m doing if the movie is anywhere near the scene where the White House is destroyed. No, I’m not an anarchist or anything, this scene is just really freaking cool. It was cool when I first saw it in the trailer way back when, it was cool in the theater, and it’s still in 2022. 

And even though I know all of the major characters in and around Washington, D.C. survive the destruction of the nation’s capital, I still can’t help but get nervous whenever the alien spaceship opens its laser beam over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and covers it in that eerie bluish green light.

Entering Area 51 in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

The Area 51 Reveal Is As Cool Today As It Was In 1996

About halfway through Independence Day, what is left of the United States government is looking for a place to land when the top secret Area 51 is brought up. Even though President Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman) scoffs at the idea and says it doesn’t exist, Secretary of Defense Albert Nimzicki (James Rebhorn) breaks the news to him before saying he couldn’t tell the commander-in-chief due to “plausible deniability.”

When we land at Area 51, it is everything you’d expect and more. Eccentric scientists obsessively working on crashed alien spacecraft and deceased extraterrestrials with a sense of glee despite everything going on in the outside world, cool gadgets, doors that hiss, and other aspects look so cool. And then there’s the autopsy scene which always reminds me of my friend telling me he lost his lunch when they cut into the alien.

Jeff Goldblum shirtless in Jurassic Park

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Jurassic Park References Never Get Old

The final act of Independence Day is one hell of a thrill ride with the action split between the air battle between Earth’s forces and alien spaceships and David Levinson and Steven Hiller attempting to escape the mothership after installing the virus that cripples the aliens’ defenses. But what makes this whole battle even better in my eyes is the inclusion of not one but two references to Jurassic Park.

There's the scene where Russell Casse (Randy Quaid) sacrifices himself when his jet’s missile firing system fails. After he brings the ship down by flying into its laser beam, President Whitmore looks back and says “He did it! The son of a bitch did it." This is strikingly similar to remarks made by Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park after seeing a dinosaur for the first time. Then there is the “must go faster” line from Levinson as Hiller is flying the alien craft out of the mothership. Jeff Goldblum even addressed this reference in 2021. 

Randy Quaid in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

I Have Never Understood Why Everyone Keeps Dismissing Russell Casse’s Claims Even After Aliens Are Discovered

Random farmers and diner patrons giving Russell Casse a hard time about his alien abduction story in the early parts of Independence Day is understandable because they sound like something out one of Kate McKinnon’s “close encounters” SNL sketches, but everyone remains just as dismissive about them even after the aliens reveal themselves. It bothered me as a kid and it bothers me as adult, and I still feel bad for the guy. Would that random small-town bully or government officials dismiss the man so much if they knew he was willing to sacrifice himself to save the world?

Bill Pullman in Independence Day

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Bill Pullman’s Thomas Whitmore Is The Undisputed Champion Of Movie Presidents

Is there a movie president who is as great as Thomas J. Whitmore in Independence Day? Don’t worry, I’ve already come to the conclusion that none compare to his oratory skills or bravery (he straight up jumped in a plane). I remember being a kid thinking that President Whitmore was the coolest President of the United States (and this is four years after I watched Bill Clinton play the sax on The Arsenio Hall Show). There's also the fact that Bill Pullman helped come up with movie’s title.

Will Smith stands stunned on his lawn in Independence Day.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Other Random Thoughts

I also have some random thoughts that don't really need to be fleshed out but still take up residence in my brain.

  • The supporting cast is STACKED!
  • Best example of “the dog has to live”?
  • This movie always makes me think about James Rebhorn’s moving self-written obituary
  • Why did it take so long for Steven and Jasmine to spot the aliens?
  • Harry Connick Jr. really gets the most out of his five minutes.

Is Independence Day a perfect movie? Depends who you ask. Is it a great movie? You're damn right it is. Is it a movie that I will love no matter what? You bet!

Philip Sledge
Philip Sledge

Philip grew up in Louisiana (not New Orleans) before moving to St. Louis after graduating from Louisiana State University-Shreveport. When he's not writing about movies or television, Philip can be found being chased by his three kids, telling his dogs to stop yelling at the mailman, or yelling about professional wrestling to his wife. If the stars properly align, he will talk about For Love Of The Game being the best baseball movie of all time.