When Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin decided that they wanted to make a disaster film, they homed in on a new idea. Previously, films had been made with giant ants and swarms of bees, but aliens seemed like something that hadn’t been done. When they came to make what would become the 1996 smash hit Independence Day, they planned for the help of the military. However, that help disappeared when Emmerich and Devlin refused to change a key part of the plot.
The shoot of Independence Day was certainly spectacular, with a large chunk of the $75 million budget splashed on a record-breaking number of visual effects. Depicting the response of the Earth – and the U.S. in particular – to a massive alien invasion, the film needed to depict the U.S. military on a grand scale. So who better to supply backing and extras than the real U.S. armed forces?
In the film, after alien spacecraft arrive and start blasting cities, the world’s air forces try fruitlessly to defeat them. However, one bold pilot – one of the movie’s two heroes, played by Will Smith – tricks an alien into crashing. Capturing the extraterrestrial, Smith’s character takes it to Area 51. The military base, it is revealed, has been housing an alien craft since 1947 – just as conspiracists have long suspected.
But when the military’s representatives found out about this, they didn’t like it one bit. On the movie’s DVD commentary, Devlin confirmed, “In fact, the United States military was going to support this and supply us with a lot of costumes and airplanes and stuff. Their one demand was that we remove Area 51 from the film, and we didn’t want to do that. So they withdrew their support.”
There was just no way that Emmerich and Devlin would be willing to drop the massive plot twist that centered on Area 51. Emmerich explained on the DVD, “For Dean and I, it was the most important part because it ties together this mythology that people believe into the movie. So it feels more real.” And their judgment was proved right: making $871 million, the film topped the box-office charts for 1996 and at the time was the second-biggest moneymaker on record.