Movies with storylines about holidays are timely when they open, but often fade quickly once the celebrating ends. Sometimes, however, boxoffice lightning strikes, creating a blockbuster, as it did 25 years ago when INDEPENDENCE DAY opened July 3, 1996.
ID’s storyline actually began on July 2, 1996 with worldwide communications on Earth interrupted by atmospheric interference from an enormous unidentified object about to collide with the planet. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a gigantic alien spacecraft that on July 3 destroys major cities around the world. Survivors head for Nevada’s Area 51, where the U.S. military’s rumored to be hiding a captured spaceship, and fight for their freedom July 4, making it their Independence Day.
Directed by Roland Emmerich & produced by Dean Devlin, who’d made the 1994 sci-fi adventure STARGATE, ID’s stars included Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith & Bill Pullman. ID, which cost about $75 million, opened via 20th Century Fox to $50.2 million. It did $306.2 million domestic and $511.2 million international for a global total of $817.4 million.
That success sparked a resurgence of sci-fi disaster films, recalling 1950’s Hollywood classics like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, INVADERS FROM MARS & IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. But that’s not what inspired Emmerich & Devlin to develop ID. They’ve explained the idea came to them while in Europe promoting STARGATE about a planet with beings like ancient Egyptians. When a journalist asked why Emmerich, who didn’t believe aliens existed, had made such a film, he said he was intrigued by the idea of aliens arriving here. Soon he was imagining enormous spaceships hovering over Earth’s largest cities and told Devlin, “I think I have an idea for our next film.”
They wrote ID while on a month’s vacation in Mexico and then things started happening at warp speed. A day after they sent it out, Fox’s then chairman, Peter Chernin, gave ID a green light and three days later in February 1995 pre-production began.
What drove ID to blockbuster success was Fox’s then innovative massive marketing campaign, which kicked off in January 1996 with the first ever Super Bowl movie ad — on Game XXX for $1.3 million. At the time, studios weren’t promoting films six months before they opened. Using costly Super Bowl :30 spots to create awareness of a movie was brand new. A year after ID’s boxoffice touchdown, Super Bowl ads were part of every event film’s marketing playbook.