TLDR: President Thomas J. Whitmore, played by Bill Pullman, gave a passionate speech in the movie Independence Day that inspired the world to fight alien invaders. It’s since joined the ranks of the most iconic movie speeches of all time, because it’s inclusive, it inspires change, and it offers hope.
So What? You might remember Independence Day as a cheesy sci-fi film starring Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum, but there’s more to the speech than meets the eye. Communicators can study it to make their own communication more effective.
The movie Independence Day, made in 1996, is not exactly a timeless classic. It’s not on most “best movie” lists. It tells the story of an attack by extraterrestrials who want to annihilate Earth.
The U.S. and the rest of the world decide to fight back, and at the apex of the story, when captains played by Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum fly off to destroy the alien mothership, the American president (played by Bill Pullman) gives an inspirational speech to the nation.
This speech was never meant to take on any importance other than firing up the cavalry in the movie to save the day, but it has taken a place next to other famous movie speeches like Mel Gibson’s famous monologue from Braveheart because of its passion and powerful delivery.
Here are some insights about the speech that communicators can take away to better inspire their own audience.
It Includes Everyone
In the movie, the speech was delivered on July 4th. Even so, Pullman’s character includes all nations in its significance.
“We can’t be consumed by our petty differences, anymore. We will be united in our common interests,” he says as a preface.
He then continues, “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!’”
Great communicators unite everyone around a common purpose. They’re inclusive. Even better than fighting a common enemy, as in the movie, achieving a common goal empowers a group to bring everyone under the umbrella, accomplishing more than they thought possible.
It Brings Change
Fun fact: the speech was so powerful, it changed the movie’s title.
Before the speech was written and filmed, the movie was going to be called ID4 or Doomsday because Warner Brothers owned the rights to the movie title Independence Day. The writers specifically referenced the words “Independence Day” in the speech as an attempt to wrestle the title from Warner Brothers, and it worked.
It Borrows From Other Greats
The speech may have seemed timeless and important because both the writers and Bill Pullman studied other famous speeches before it was written and delivered. Although writer Dean Devlin said he wrote the speech in five minutes as a placeholder and thought it would be replaced later, he had in mind the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
Pullman said he modeled the delivery after a speech Robert Kennedy gave when he learned of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The takeaway here is that if famous speeches inspire you, try to capture their spirit and power in your own communication.
It Has Allusions
No, we didn’t say illusions or delusions, like the idea that the world’s military could defeat an extraterrestrial threat. The speech contains an allusion, or a reference to another famous work.
While Pullman doesn’t deliver the line exactly like the original does, he paraphrases Dylan Thomas’ famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” when he says, “We will not go quietly into the night.” Allusions give added depth to your words, calling on timeless wisdom and allowing you to stand on the shoulders of giants.
It Offers Hope
The world created by the movie was facing long odds in defeating the alien threat, but Pullman’s speech offered hope to the American military and others around the world who were taking on that threat.
The speech ends with the iconic line, “Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!”
After that, in true blockbuster movie fashion, the military forces were successful, the alien threat was destroyed (at least, until the sequel), and all the hopes of Pullman’s speech were fulfilled. Hopeful words are more inspiring than pessimistic ones, and should be the focus of great communicators.
It Made People Want More
Independence Day had enough staying power that Independence Day: Resurgence was made in 2016 to give fans more of the franchise. The famous speech by Pullman was part of the draw that helped the first movie make almost $900 million on its release (more than ten times its budget).
When you communicate in a powerful way, not only will your message land, but people will want more.
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