“You Can’t Actually Blow Up the White House”: An Oral History of ‘Independence Day’

“Today, we celebrate our Independence Day.” Twenty-five years ago, those words electrified audiences, who braved long lines and sold-out crowds to see the most anticipated movie of 1996.

Independence Day, which opened over the July Fourth weekend, free guy turned Will Smith into a global star, birthed one of the most famous speeches in cinema history, and changed movie marketing with an explosive Super Bowl ad remembered decades later.

It also established filmmaker Roland Emmerich as a master of destruction who would go on to helm films such as The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and the upcoming Moonfall (the German filmmaker’s latest disaster pic, due out in February 2022.).

Before ID4, Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin were best known for Stargate (1994). In 1995, the duo emerged from a Mexican screenwriting binge with storyboards and an alien invasion script that sparked a bidding war among every studio in Hollywood.

That was only the beginning of their journey. The two went to battle with 20th Century Fox to cast Smith, whom the studio feared couldn’t sell the movie overseas. They had to reshoot the ending with just weeks to spare. And they fought to blow up the White House in a TV ad, something that was controversial, to say the least.

Independence Day went on to earn a massive $817.4 million globally, making it the second-highest-grossing film ever at that time. Here, the key players — including Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid and Margaret Colin recount how it all happened.