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SYFY WIRE Independence Day

Dean Devlin Explains Two-Part Independence Day Sequel that Will Smith Turned Down

The return of Independence Day was originally set to star Will Smith.

By Matthew Jackson
Independence Day

In 2016, two decades after the original film hit theaters, we got Independence Day: Resurgence, the long-awaited sequel to Independence Day that, despite a lot of ambition and a big ensemble cast, couldn't quite reach the same heights as its blockbuster predecessor. But what about the version of the follow-up that we almost got, the one that was set to star none other than Will Smith.

RELATED: Will Smith's 5 Best Sci-fi Roles

Back in 1996, Independence Day, and the role of hero pilot Steven Hiller, was the launching pad that turned Smith from star to superstar, making him a box office powerhouse unto itself and one of Hollywood's biggest stars ever since. It's no surprise, then, that ID4 creators Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich wanted Smith front and center for the eventual follow-up, which they started to craft well after the original film had come and gone.

In an interview with Yahoo! about some of the biggest blockbusters he never got to make, Devlin (who most recently created SYFY's new series The Ark) explained that the original plan was for two Independence Day sequels that would form the first and second part of a story dubbed ID Forever. Smith would have returned as Hiller, this time as an American legend who had to find a way to get back to his old warrior ways when the aliens who menaced the Earth back in '96 launched a counterattack. 

"It was a bit like Rocky III," Devlin said. "He'd gotten rich and he'd gotten famous, and he had to get the eye of the tiger back you know? He's a little too comfortable and it's his chance to bring the old Will Smith out of retirement."

Devlin and Emmerich pitched the idea to Smith, who loved the story, and then wrote the script on spec before they brought it to 20th Century Fox executives. The warm reception continued, and everyone was on board. Devlin even recalled hearing executives tell him the draft he and Emmerich turned in was the best first draft they'd ever read. The greenlight came quickly, with the studio prepared to make both parts of the ambitious sequel. 

So, what went wrong?

"All of a sudden, [Smith] turned it down," Devlin said. "We were shocked. Looking back, I think he felt a little burned because he had done that sci-fi movie [2013's After Earth] that didn't do well and he was generally worried about doing sequels. Ultimately, he wouldn't do it, but the studio wanted to go forward anyway and we kind of ended up in development hell for a bit."

Even with Smith stepping away from the project, though, the studio was keen on creating some kind of Independence Day follow-up. What we got was Resurgence, a film that killed off Smith's character in the intervening years and shifted focus to members of his family, along with other new and returning characters. The film made money, but while Devlin called Emmerich's work in the director's chair "interesting," he also admitted he's "not crazy about" what the sequel eventually became.

But who knows? Almost no franchise stays gone forever. Maybe in another 10 years Devlin will write another script that reveals Smith's character faked his death, setting up yet another alien return.

Independence Day and Resurgence airs on SYFY all summer long. Check your local listings to see when it's playing next.