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Why Will Smith Didn't Return For Independence Day: Resurgence

Independence Day, released in 1996, is a stone-cold classic of rollicking, big-budget, action-packed tentpole cinema. Part of a wave of disaster movies that swept the box office in the '90s, it finds a fleet of city-sized alien spaceships suddenly appearing over several locales around the world. As it turns out, they don't want to share a really excellent recipe for chocolate chip cookies, or even to be taken to our leader. No, they intend to raze our planet and everything on it, and several destroyed cities and one miserably failed counterattack later, it falls to a select few unlikely heroes to find a way to take down the alien invaders and save the Earth. 

The film's all-star cast included Will Smith as fighter pilot Steven Hiller; Jeff Goldblum as tech expert David Levinson; Randy Quaid as Russell Casse, a Vietnam vet whose crazy stories of alien abduction suddenly stop seeming so crazy; and Bill Pullman as President Thomas Whitmore, himself a former combat pilot, who rallies the human resistance by giving one of the single most stirring speeches in film history during Independence Day's third act.

In 2016, we got the belated sequel Independence Day: Resurgence, which brought back most of the original film's cast — but not Smith. Captain Hiller's off-screen death was explained as being the result of a test flight gone wrong, with his stepson Dylan (Jesse Usher) following in his wisecracking shoes. In an interview with Hey U Guys shortly before the flick's release, director Roland Emmerich chalked Smith's absence up to a creative decision. "The first script, which included Will Smith, was a totally different story," he said. "It was a father-son story. And when that didn't work, I said, 'Let's explore other possibilities'... I hired two young writers, and they said, 'This has to be the hand-off to a younger generation,' and that was actually... the real trick to [making the movie] work."

Will Smith's absence from Independence Day: Resurgence probably came down to money

Perhaps Emmerich was attempting to save face, because it sure stands to reason that if he could have gotten one of the biggest stars in the world to return to the Independence Day fold, he probably would have — and in later years, he seemed to remember the situation differently. Speaking with Yahoo! in 2019, the director said, "I just wanted to make a movie just like the first, but then in the middle of production, Will opted out because he wanted to do Suicide Squad."

Smith has also made public remarks which bear this out, to an extent. In 2016, the star explained during a livestream that he simply wanted to do new things, rather than revisiting the early years of his career. "I had the two screenplays in front of me for Independence Day 2 and for Suicide Squad," he said (via MovieWeb). "I had to choose between the two of those. [I made the choice] to go forward versus clinging and clawing backwards. I do want to aggressively go forward and do new things." 

Somehow, it seems like perhaps Smith could have done both — after all, it took 20 years to bring Resurgence to the screen, so what would a year or two more have hurt? Well, the answer might lie in a little news item from 2011, when Emmerich was still attempting to sell then-20th Century Fox on back-to-back Independence Day sequels. At that time, it was rumored that Smith was asking for a cool $50 million to star in both films — and in 2013, Emmerich seemed to confirm that the deal fell apart over money, telling The Independent that Smith was "too expensive."

It seems there may have been multiple factors preventing the return of Captain Hiller, but if there was one overriding issue, we're thinking it was cold, hard cash. Oh, Hollywood... don't ever change.