A film that delivers the most patriotic speech in the history of cinema should definitely be in the conversation for Best Summer Movie Ever.


It’s Debate Week. This article is one of sixteen arguments competing for the prize of being named ‘Best Summer Movie Ever.’ Read the rest throughout the week here.


“This is like our generation’s Star Wars.
That quote comes from someone I know and love, even if I don’t always respect him. It’s my former self. I said it a few feet outside of the Englert Theatre in Iowa City during the summer of 1996 after my first viewing of Independence Day. Do I think it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen in the theater during the summer, summer, summertime (thanks to Will Smith it’s time to sit back and unwind)? No. But it would be foolish to discount how I felt then.
When I think of the best summer movie ever, there are certain criteria that pop into my head.
  • It must be a big movie, typically with a big budget.
  • It must have someone for almost everyone.
  • It is an easy escape.
  • It’s quotable.
  • You remember where you saw it.

Did you already decide Independence Day is a piece of crap and so are my criteria? If so, I bid you a good day. Stop reading. You have better things to do with your time. Don’t be upset. I’m agreeing with you.

For those who remain, let’s see if my current 41-year-old self can justify what the hell my 19-year-old self was thinking.

In ’96, sci-fi epics weren’t a thing. In ’94 we had Stargate overperform at the box office, making almost $200 million domestically. That gave director Ronald Emmerich the juice he needed to make Independence Day. Its budget was $75 million and it made $306 million domestically ($817 million worldwide). If you wonder what the huge Fourth of July film will be each year, it’s because of Independence Day.

Smith became a movie star because of this film, but Independence Day smartly used TV to help it feel familiar. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was important, and it seemed like everyone liked Smith. Heck, he makes the line “Welcome to Earth” really work. This cast also included Judd Hirsch (TaxiDear John). If you don’t think he resonated with an older audience, you don’t talk to enough old people. The senior citizens were also placated with Robert Loggia and Harvey Fierstein. We had strong women showcased with Vivica A. Fox, as well as Mary McDonnell playing the first lady. Do we get McDonnell as President Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica if this film doesn’t exist? Nerds got Jeff Goldblum (because he wears glasses and everything he says sounds deliciously intelligent) and the super nerds could point to Brent Spiner (Star Trek: Next Generation). Heck, even Randy Quaid is able to charm as the trailer park dad we don’t want to have.

I haven’t described the plot yet, but if you need it, here goes … aliens attack, and humans, especially the United States, mount the defense of our planet on July 4th. That’s an easy escape. As a 19-year-old I was a summer camp counselor at the University of Iowa having the time of my life. I was already euphoric with camp counselor hook-ups and being paid well for a job that felt easy. Heading to the theater only meant things could be better. Look, I can’t choose Jaws because I didn’t see it in the theater. You can’t choose a film that has multiple Oscar nominations because that isn’t what you cared about when your family or friends climbed into the station wagon and drove to the air-conditioned theater on a hot summer day. My life practically dictates I must choose this film even though the Englert Theatre was the single worst movie theater of my life. It was an old giant theater that was simply cut in half to make two screens. The seats actually still slanted to the old center of the theater so you never felt like your seat was perfectly facing the screen. I was in the front row with the giant sub-woofer just out of reach of my long legs. Still, I loved it.

A vote for Independence Day is a vote for finding that moment from your past and … You know what? I can’t do it. I was going to give a big, inspiring speech in an attempt to influence you to choose my movie. But how can I when the wonderfully cheesy Bill Pullman as President moment is just sitting here? So, I’ll leave you with this:

“… Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interest. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution, but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist and should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice, ‘We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive.’ Today we celebrate our independence day!”

Star Line

The artwork for #DebateWeek was created by the wonderful Eileen Steinbach, whose work can be found on her website sg-posters.com and on Twitter @sg_posters.

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