The True Story Behind Bill Pullman's Famous Speech in Independence Day
Bill Pullman drew inspiration from Bobby Kennedy for his recitation of the speech
Bill Pullman has resumed his role as American President Thomas Whitmore in the sequel to the 1996 film Independence Day.
This is great, because Pullman makes for a pretty decent president. The speech Whitmore orates in the original film, before flying off for the final battle against the invading aliens, has become a pop culture fixture over the past 20 years, joining similar scenes from Braveheart and Hoosiers in the pantheon of cinematic inspirational speeches.
Here’s the text, in case you forgot.
“Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.”
“‘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 interests. 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 are 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 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!”
Good stuff, right? The filming of the scene was also weirdly synchronistic: It was shot in front of the hanger that once housed the Enola Gay, one of the bombers that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan on Aug. 6, 1945. The scene was filmed exactly 50 years later.
A more prosaic bit of trivia about the speech: It ends with the film’s title because up until then, the movie was called ID4; Warner Bros. owned the rights to the title Independence Day. Screenwriters (and directors/producers) Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin added the line to the end of the speech, hoping it would convince the studio backing their film, 20th Century Fox, to fight for Independence Day, their preferred title. (Fox had been lobbying for Doomsday.) Devlin and Emmerich’s efforts worked.
Complex has a fantastic oral history of the speech, in which Devlin reveals that he told Emmerich during the writing process they should give Whitmore “a kind of a St. Crispin’s Day speech,” referencing a similarly famous speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
Devlin, by his own account, wrote the speech in “literally five minutes,” as a placeholder, with the thought that it could always be changed later.
Pullman told Complex that he researched various acclaimed speeches from the 20th century to inform his recitation, drawing particular inspiration from a speech Robert Kennedy made shortly after finding out Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot. He “just knocked this one out of the park,” Devlin said. “None of us were prepared for it until his first rehearsal and then we were just staring in awe and wonder.”
Talking to Complex, Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center for Justice and Director of Speechwriting for President Bill Clinton from 1995-1999, said, “I wrote a book that was a collection of great presidential speeches, and if in fact the world had been invaded by aliens, this speech would have made the collection, so that’s high praise.”
That said, the speech does contain a mangling of an even more famous line. Whitmore’s declaration, “We will not go quietly into the night” seems to be a reference to Dylan Thomas’ classic poem “Do not go gentle into that good night,” though Devlin and Emmerich haven’t ever mentioned it. Interestingly, the poem is recited in full in Interstellar, a movie that’s about humans trekking to other planets, rather than the other way around.