In honor of Independence Day: Resurgence, the Ringer staff has gathered here to honor its beloved predecessor. Our topic today: Who is the MVP of Roland Emmerich’s 1996 classic Independence Day? Let the debate begin.
Micah Peters: I watched the first trailer for the Independence Day reboot without any prior knowledge that Will Smith wasn’t going to be in it. When “June 2016” flashed across the screen after there’d been nary a mention of Colonel Steven Hiller, I damn near changed the channel with a hammer. How could they do that to the man that knocked out a 10-foot alien with one punch, wrapped it in a parachute, and dragged it all the way across Groom Lake to Area 51?
What’s more, how can you do that to the man that vanquished a gigantic space cockroach and saved the entire galaxy, which was curiously located on Orion’s belt? Will Smith was our single greatest defense in the event of a fictional alien invasion and charismatically saved our collective asses countless times in the ’90s. He was also indisputably the best part of the original Independence Day. So I don’t care if he priced himself out of the role. Give him a Brink’s truck full of million-dollar bills if that’s what he asked for. I also don’t care if there were scheduling issues with Suicide Squad. Clone him or something. The world needs Steven Hiller. I need Steven Hiller.
The Alien Will Smith Knocked Out
Claire McNear: From what little we know about T.A.W.S.K.O., the alien survived: invading a foreign planet, crash-landing on said foreign planet, getting punched in the head by Will Smith, being dragged across a desert, and getting scalpelled by a bunch of dumb nerds. Then, when it woke up and decided it was done with Earth’s bullshit, it easily dispatched of two grown adults and possessed another in order to calmly tell the leader of the free world to die. T.A.W.S.K.O. is LeBron James from last year’s finals — it should have won MVP even though its team lost.
Kate Knibbs: Before character actor Randy Quaid became notorious for his eccentric, Canada-themed life of crime, he played Russell Casse, the true hero of Independence Day. Casse, like Quaid, is an unreliable, languishing conspiracy theorist — until he kamikazes himself in the pursuit of freedom. It sucks that Quaid’s acting career got derailed, because he steals scenes in every movie he’s in, including this one. He even out-bombasts Will Smith, and while I can’t deny that Bill Pullman gives the most memorable speech in the movie, “All right, you alien assholes, in the words of my generation, UP YOURS!” is both more succinct and decidedly less jingoistic than Pullman’s ode to American exceptionalism.
Juliet Litman: Bill Pullman was a king. He was the king of New York in Newsies. He was the king of my heart in A League of Their Own. He was as close to an American king as we’ll ever see (or want) in Independence Day. As the fictional 42nd president of the United States, he was a man of grace and calm, which are hugely important as aliens invade your planet. It’s easy to imagine President Whitmore on the balcony where the English royals do all of their waving. No, he did not go into space to save the planet. But space cowboys are only as useful as the placid leaders who get them there. Independence Day is nothing without the president.
Bill Pullman’s PA system
Amanda Dobbins: Let’s talk about the speech. It’s a classic — St. Crispin’s Day–level, a true rallying cry for our alien-infested times. Bill Pullman is great at it, too. I always felt bad for him in Sleepless in Seattle; he’s up there with Patrick Dempsey in the pantheon of Other Dudes in Romantic Comedies Who Didn’t Deserve What They Got. Anyway, the point is: We wouldn’t have the speech without the PA system. He’s speaking in a big open field — there are fighter jets and stuff; humans absorb sound. But delivery systems can change the course of history. Without the PA, Pullman is just a dude in a bad shirt and a flak jacket, whispering about petty differences and common interests. With the PA, he’s our new Declaration of Independence. Put that PA in the Smithsonian.
Sam Schube: Jeff Goldblum is cool now. Have you heard? He is dressing well. He recently had a baby (name: Charlie Ocean)! At 63, Jeff Goldblum is in his prime. But here’s the thing: He probably shouldn’t be. He wears fedoras. He plays jazz in public. He agreed to appear in ID4 2. He’s 63! This is secretly Jeff Goldblum’s most magical quality: He’s actually not that cool. But he owns it so confidently that … he is? I’m calling it the Tao of Goldblum, and it’s the secret to his MVP-level performance in Independence Day. He’s a hyperverbal Jewish “satellite technician” (space electrician) who spends the movie hanging out with his dad. Whatever Will Smith is here to do, Goldblum is here to do the opposite. And yet Goldblum emerges from his run-in with Smith’s human charisma bomb largely intact. He even gets to smoke a cigar in the spaceship. I’m calling that a win.
Justin Charity: On Twitter, I follow at least 10 people who say “neoliberal” a lot. Naturally, I’m fascinated by the acute effect of Coca-Cola’s product placement in the original Independence Day. Toward the end of the second act, Jeff Goldblum’s character instructs a junior military officer to shoot a shielded Coke can off the grill of an alien spacecraft. There’s really no way to watch this scene, as focused as it asks you be, and not be entranced by the calm, careful zoom on this can. It’s easily one of the most memorable bits of the movie, which some retired advertiser is happy to hear, I’m sure. There’s the Adam Sandler school of product placement, which entails cluttering every single frame of a movie with a sponsor’s product or brand, and then there’s Independence Day, where we’re just staring at a Coke can for three minutes. This pivotal bit of the characters’ resistance to the landed alien invasion is, effectively, a full commercial break. Jack and Jill could never.
Justin Charity (again!): Vivica Fox got a Saturn Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Independence Day, which is crazy, because on the one hand I can’t immediately recall her character’s name, but I also don’t recall her character as some supplemental figurehead. Wasn’t she the only character smart and fast enough to outrun all the major explosions without overthinking their cause? While saving every other character she came across? And then wasn’t she starring in Set It Off four months later? Her character had no military training, just human will, a working knowledge of disaster film tropes, and a keen sense of cardinal direction. She saved her son and the first lady while breaking only the most telegenic sweat. By the end of the movie, she’s found Area 51 without even trying. Vivica Fox had the range. (She also saves the dog.)