An Epic Will Smith Movie Is Receiving Lots Of Love On Streaming

By Nathan Kamal | 1 month ago

Will Smith

The sudden and spectacular cancelation of Will Smith has been so shocking in large part because it is such an abrupt reversal of his public image. For decades, Will Smith has been not just a beloved movie star, he has been THE beloved movie star. Even when he had enormous, historic box office flops, he was always able to turn it to his advantage with the famous laugh and a splash of self-deprecation. His abrupt fall from grace made us all feel like perhaps we did not know Will Smith as well as we thought we did, as the charming, irrepressible person we all wish on some level we could be. Few movies have ever deployed the sheer nuclear power of Will Smith’s charisma on the level of Independence Day, the 1996 Roland Emmerich alien invasion disaster film. The film is currently in the top ten most-watched movies on Amazon Prime Video, perhaps because it hearkens back to the days when Will Smith was comforting and easy to watch. 

Will Smith

The plot of Independence Day is practically primeval in its simplicity. Aliens arrive on Earth in an unimaginably enormous mothership and deploy massive, 15-mile-wide ships all around the planet. The aliens attack. The Earthlings defend. The Earthlings win. Really, the film does not need to be more complex than that, and neither do the characters.

Will Smith

Will Smith stars as Captain Steven Hiller, a Marine pilot who dreams of being an astronaut and is in a relationship with an exotic dancer played by Vivica A. Fox. Jeff Goldblum co-stars as a brainy, Jeff Goldblum-type who discovers the aliens’ attack strategy before anyone else, but not fast enough to prevent a devastating first strike. Bill Pullman is there, putting aside his god-ordained role as a boyfriend who gets passed over for the romantic lead in order to play United States President Thomas J. Whitmore, a former fighter pilot. But really, the film stars this: 

independence day

Independence Day is very clearly patterned off the successful disaster films of the 1970s like The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventures. Like those films, ID4 (as it was called in very 1990s style) has a huge, multi-ethnic ensemble cast who must band together to survive a calamity. Like those movies, it has a hero character (Will Smith in this case) who can act as a centering POV for audiences as it shifts back and forth across the world to see giant alien ships blow up stuff.

independence day

While the movie initially makes a good stab at showing the ships arriving simultaneously around the world in locales as different as New York City, Washington D.C., and an unidentified Middle Eastern desert terrain, Independence Day is a movie about Americans fighting back against alien invaders. This would be very troublingly jingoistic if the movie were not directed and co-written by German filmmaker Roland Emmerich (who developed and wrote the film with his Stargate partner, Dean Devlin). Instead, it just comes across somewhat troublingly ham-fisted. It is less American propaganda than wish fulfillment. And while it never gets anywhere close to subversive, it is noteworthy that a key plot of the movie involves the alien artifacts held in Area 51 by a government unwilling to help its citizens by revealing what it knows. On a side note, the US military refused to provide uniforms and equipment to the production unless they removed the idea that the government is hiding things in Area 51, which doesn’t seem suspicious. 

independence day

Independence Day was not intended to be a Will Smith vehicle. The role was initially offered to Ethan Hawke, who did not feel that he could possibly be in a movie that he would later describe as “stupid” and threw his copy of the script out the window of a moving car. He would later say that Will Smith could pull off a movie like this in a way he never could, which is 100% accurate and not a disparagement of Ethan Hawke’s skills. 


But it takes a very specific kind of movie star to star in a movie with such raw, elemental force and pure, unblemished stupidity as Independence Day. At the time, Will Smith was exactly the right actor for the role. Independence Day paved the way for Men in Black and a whole slew of other enormous hits for the actor. It also grossed over $800 million at the box office (completely swamping its ironic sister-film, Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!) and eventually led to a 2016 sequel that was met with tepid shrugs. In large part, you can credit that to the lack of Will Smith in the sequel, because no one (not even Ethan Hawke) can pull something like this off without him.