2016’s Independence Day: Resurgence is destined to go down as a cinematic footnote. The long-delayed sequel to the 1996 original picked up the story 20 years later, with Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, and Brent Spiner reprising their roles from the original, while new faces Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe, and Charlotte Gainsbourg fill out the cast.
But there’s an obvious glaring omission. Where is Will Smith’s pilot Steven Hiller? Independence Day was Smith’s breakout movie as a blockbuster lead and propelled him to megastardom. Now, courtesy of a new interview in The Wrap with director Roland Emmerich, we know what went on behind-the-scenes:
“I’m proud of Independence Day: Resurgence but we had one problem: Will Smith decided while we were preparing, to drop out. That was a huge, huge blow to me.”
The departure (to be in Suicide Squad) came extremely late into pre-production, with various teams already working from a script centered on Smith’s character. Emmerich continues:
“At that point I had to decide, should I keep going or not? I realized we had spent $10 or 12 million and you don’t drop out easily. I got two young writers and we locked ourselves in my New York apartment, because one couldn’t leave New York, he had a TV show there. And we wrote a new script in two weeks. We had to.”
Resurgence eventually explained that Smith’s character had died during a test flight of an experimental alien hybrid fighter. Elements of the old script were extensively modified to create Liam Hemsworth’s Jake Morrison, and the movie moved forward without him.
When Resurgence was eventually released in summer 2016, critics weren’t kind. The speedy rewrite clearly didn’t do the film any favors, and it ended up with just 30% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite that, it still managed to gross $390m against a $165m budget, so while it wasn’t a huge hit, it at least made a little bit of money.
Emmerich has since said he’d like to continue the Independence Day story in a third movie, though after the Fox purchase, Disney owns the rights and doesn’t seem interested.