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The 3 A.M. Phone Call That Will Smith’s Dad Made To Him When Independence Day Opened

Will Smith stands stunned on his lawn in Independence Day.
(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

No one could have predicted that when Independence Day was released in 1996, it would become a box office smash hit. Director Roland Emmerich’s intergalactic disaster picture certainly defied the odds and turned its novel spin on alien warfare into a huge cash cow. It also turned Will Smith into a bonafide box office star, and if anyone were to ask him the first moment he knew something was up, he’d probably say it was the 3 a.m. phone call he got from his father on opening day. 

During his Brooklyn tour stop for Will Smith: An Evening of Stories with Friends, Smith told Spike Lee, as well as the audience, about this fateful phone call in great detail. CinemaBlend was on hand for the event, which also promoted Will Smith’s new autobiography Will, and thus shared several stories from various points in Mr. Smith’s career. One such tale, which also tied into the relationship with his father, Willard Smith Sr., started out as follows: 

When the box office receipts came out, my father was in Philly. So it’s 6 a.m. in Philly, and he had seen that Independence Day had broken all these box office records. So I pick up the phone, ‘Hello,’ and he said, ‘HEY! Did you see these numbers?’ And I said, ‘No, Dad, I didn’t see these numbers. It’s 3 o’clock in the morning.’

To truly understand why Will Sr. was freaking out with Will Jr., you have to turn the clock back to July 2, 1996. Independence Day, at the last minute, decided to start showing the movie a day earlier than its planned July 3rd release date. People were so hyped about this all-star sci-fi movie that 20th Century Fox gave the people what they wanted.

Those box office receipts only proved that it was a shrewd idea to do so, as Independence Day broke the records for an opening weekend, an opening week and a five-day holiday weekend upon release. All three of those titles were previously held by Jurassic Park, but shattered when Will Smith delivered on his promise to “whup E.T.’s ass” on screens across the globe. Which seems all the more amazing when, as Roland Emmerich admitted on the film’s 25th anniversary, the studio was initially against casting Smith in the role.

Some might say luck was on Will Smith’s side at this point in time, and his father was certainly convinced himself. Will Sr. told his son as much over the phone, and he did so in a rather funny and roundabout way. Sharing the rest of his phone call with his father, here’s what Will Smith remembers his father saying to him in that very early phone call:  

Remember when I told you there ain’t no such thing as luck, only what you make? … Remember I told you there ain’t no such thing as luck, luck is when opportunity meets preparation, you remember I told you that? … Man, that’s a bunch of bullshit, because you’re the luckiest motherfucker.

Independence Day may have seemed like a lucky break at the time, but in the 4th of July holidays that would follow, Will Smith would practically own the holiday. Films like the first two Men In Black movies, 2008’s superhero spin Hancock, and even Wild Wild West, saw him claim #1 openings on that same weekend on the calendar. But even on the back of Independence Day and Men In Black alone, Smith had earned the title “The King of the 4th of July.”

25 years later, Will Smith still remembers the good fortune that he encountered on Independence Day as a career highlight. Though he may have skipped out on returning for the film’s sequel in favor of starring in Suicide Squad, there’s nothing but love between Smith and his blockbuster star making turn. So while he might still be absent if Independence Day 3 ever gets made, it’s not because he’s turned his back on his historic success. 

This, and other stories, are covered in Will Smith's autobiography Will, which is on sale now. Should you want to watch Independence Day all over again, HBO Max has that title available for streaming on their library. That would be a handy subscription to have next week, as Smith's latest film, King Richard, will be debuting in theaters and on HBO Max's streaming library. 

Mike Reyes

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.