Lots of people like to pin the birth of the blockbuster on either 1975’s Jaws or 1977’s Star Wars. The former is laughable – Jaws is very much of its time and basically plays like The French Connection on the water – the latter is more reasonable. But if either one is accurate, then 1996’s Independence Day took the blockbuster to the next level and more closely resembles today’s products. While it’s not based on a comic or other existing property, it does feature a bunch of actors who either weren’t that big (Will Smith) or who were playing down from their usual level (Jeff Goldblum) or blandly recognizable enough (Bill Pullman) that they didn’t get in the way of the plot (note I didn’t say “story”) of a bunch of aliens invading the planet because reasons. It was a fun roller coaster ride of a movie that you laughed about afterward and which left no lasting impression, setting the stage for two decades worth of unambitious but visually stunning summer movies.
Now, 20 years later, we’re returning to the story in Independence Day: Resurgence. In the wake of the battle two decades ago, the residents of Earth came together, creating a society that was more inclusive, shared and respected resources and forming a global defense force using alien tech left behind. Now, though, they find that the aliens are on the cusp of returning, stronger and more determined than ever to…do…whatever it is they were going to do in the first movie, but more. Returning are Goldblum as David Levinson, now the head of Earth’s alien intelligence unit because of his earlier actions. But Smith is not back, apparently because of scheduling and other issues, replaced by Jesse T. Usher as his son Dylan, himself now a hotshot pilot in the planetary defense force along with Liam Hemsworth as Jake Morrison. So with a big sequel to sell here, let’s take a look at the campaign making the case to a public that’s way different than it was 20 years ago.
The first poster pretty effectively recreates the teaser for the first movie, with a giant spaceship looming over the United States. The copy at the top tells us “We had twenty years to prepare. So did they.” That makes it clear that they’re back to try again what they failed at a couple decades ago and sells the scale of the story.
An IMAX poster put Will Smith’s iconic “They messed with the wrong planet” line from the first movie at the top and had a small group of soldiers, guns in hand, mounting a pile of rubble as they look up at a massive red-tinged alien ship that’s hovering in the sky above them. It’s a much more interesting artistic design than we usually get and works rather well by invoking at least a couple elements from the first story.
The first trailer starts out with a military convoy taking what we soon see is Jeff Goldblum out to a site where they’ve found something that hints at the aliens being ready to come back. He talks about how the Earth has tried to get ready for their return but that it wasn’t enough. We see Bill Pullman’s character is having a rough time of things, haunted by dreams of the aliens and sure they’re coming back. Then we hear Pullman’s speech from the first movie played over scenes that show this battle is going to be bigger and badder than the first.
It’s a decent trailer that shows what the value proposition here is, which is that we can expect most of what we enjoyed about the first one but with the promise that it’s even bigger this time around. There’s a good bit of nostalgia here, which isn’t surprising, as we at least kind of catch up with Goldblum, Pullman and Hirsch from the original cast.
The second trailer starts out with characters talking about how it’s been 20 years since alien invasion, an occasion that’s being marked with big memorials and remembrances. We meet the new President and see mentions of Will Smith’s character and hear about how the earth is now better prepared for this kind of emergency. That’s soon called into questions as a massive ship appears above the planet and the attack starts. So lots of buildings are destroyed, inspirational speeches given and quips quipped as the planet begins to fight back as the invasion begins again.
The shots of the classic characters (I can’t believe I just typed that) are cool and overall it looks like a lot of fun. Someone on Twitter pointed out that this now looks like every fifth movie that’s released and that’s true. But hopefully this one can bring some of the fun that the first movie had.
Online and Social
When you load the official website you get the iconic key art at the top along with links to the movie’s social networks. Scroll down and you can search for tickets and buy them through the site of your choice.
The first section of actual content is “Videos,” where you can watch the trailers, TV spots and the in-world videos about the War of 1996. That’s followed by “About” which has a story synopsis along with cast and crew lists and then “Mobile Games,” encouraging you to download the movie tie-in game Battle Heroes that lets you take on an alien invasion on your phone.
After you scroll past the single “Poster” that’s on the site you can check out the “Gallery” of five stills from the movie.
When the first trailer hit the studio also launched a website – which was teased at the end of that trailer online – that served as a memorial to “The War of 1996.” That site not only revisited the events of the first movie but also filled in some of the gaps in the story over the 20 intervening years. So you can see everything from the aliens’ first attack to how world leaders came together to fight this new threat and more. As many people noted, this also explained where Will Smith’s fighter pilot character is and why he’s not in the new movie, having died test piloting one of the first hybrid craft created using stolen alien technology.
“Featured Content” has some interactive element and links to other sites like “Your Street” which shows you what your street would look like after an alien invasion by overlaying some war footage over what I assume is something like Google Earth. There’s also a feature on how the character from the first movie have changed over 20 years and a call to join the Earth Space Defense that actually takes you to a U.S. Army site where you can find out more about the fictional and real military groups.
Finally, there’s a “Partners” section highlighting the companies who are helping to promote the movie.
Facebook and Twitter have been used to sell tickets, share trailers and clips, offer up countdown and other images and more. Not much super-original here, just the studio doing what they need to do to keep the drumbeat of publicity up for the public.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
A Super Bowl commercial ran that setup the return of the aliens and showed the destruction being brought down on the world’s cities. It’s not clear at all what the details are here, but that doesn’t matter, it just wants to show you huge special effects.
More TV spots would run throughout the campaign that played up the action and special effects of the movie, many of them using the “We had 20 years to prepare…So did they” copy point.
- Denny’s: Offered a “Slamsurgence” menu of movie-themed items that were promoted in various ways, including inclusion in their online video series and more. This menu was, of course, dutifully consumed all in one sitting by ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer.
- U.S. Army: The Army ran a cobranded campaign not only promoting the movie but also its own STEM-related careers and opportunities, a nice tie-in to the science-heavy nature of the movie.
- Jeep: The carmaker’s Grand Cherokee is seen prominently in the movie and got some cobranded marketing as well.
- LG: Ran cobranded ads for its G5 phone, touting it as the best phone to capture every moment.
- Hamilton Watch: Seem to be running cobranded campaign as the official watch of the movie.
- Twizzlers: Offered cobranded packaging and ran some TV spots to support a sweeps giving people a chance to enter to win an adventure getaway.
Online ads used the key art and motion video and there was also plenty of social network advertising using videos and CTAs to buy tickets.
Media and Publicity
Outside of the news that the movie was simply happening, the first bit of real publicity was when it was announced that the film would be getting a prequel comic series that would fill the gaps between it and the original.
In the lead-up to the big press push the cast and crew talked here and there with the press about both the comfort and challenges of returning to a movie two decades after the fact as well as hinting at what the new movie had in store for fans.
The next big bump in conversation was when press and execs got a first look at more footage as part of the studio’s CinemaCon presentation. A while after that Sela Ward talked about coming to the movie to play the president and who she modeled her performance after. Emmerich and others talked about bringing the characters back and why they returned to the story after all these years.
That focus on Emmerich continued throughout the campaign, with a big feature that accompanied him getting a Hollywood Walk of Fame star and lots of appearances by him in the press talking about the 20 year journey of the sequel through many iterations. There were also primers on what’s been added to this movie and what’s missing from the first story and how they enhance or detract from the story.
There was also plenty of conversation and coverage around each of the elements of the marketing campaign, including all the in-world videos about the Earth Space Defense, explanatory videos about what happened to characters from the first movie and more. There was a constant churn and it kept people talking.
So yes, as I said above, there’s been a steady stream of material in the campaign to keep people talking, but is anyone else sensing a distinct lack of actual buzz? It’s like everyone knows the movie is happening but no one is actually excited about it. That might just be me and my experience but for the much-anticipated sequel to a movie that changed the landscape of big-scale movies I would expect something more palpable in the air. Perhaps the lack of such electricity is part of the general sequel and franchise fatigue that’s plaguing the movie industry and audience right now.
The campaign, for what it’s worth, does what it needs to do to sell this to the audience, presenting it as the chance to revisit the story and characters. But I think what we’re dealing with here is that the first movie just isn’t particularly beloved. This isn’t a movie a lot of people wax nostalgic about, even if they will admit to enjoying it at the time or even now. So who the target audience is isn’t exactly clear: Is it people in their late 30s or early 40s who saw the movie in theaters and now have kids who might be interested? Well there isn’t a strong emotional reason for me to do so. Is it actually those kids? Well how many have strong awareness of the first movie, enough to get them out to the theater to see this new one? I’m honestly not sure, despite that being the question everything hinges on.