Will ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ be this year’s ‘Jurassic World’ – or this year’s ‘Tron: Legacy’?

When Independence Day arrived in theaters in the summer of 1996, the monument-destroying blockbuster was a genuine box office phenomenon, grossing over $300 million domestically and $800 million worldwide by the end of its run. Unfortunately for the coffers of distributor 20th Century Fox, a sequel to the film never materialized — at least until now, with the extremely-belated followup Independence Day: Resurgence slated to hit theaters next Thursday (sans the original film's breakout star Will Smith). 

The question now is, can the sequel to one of the '90s biggest hits make an impact in the overcrowded marketplace of 2016 the way Jurassic World managed last summer? Or will its performance be closer to that of Tron: Legacy, which failed to match the heights some had predicted when it hit theaters in 2010? After surveying three box office experts for their thoughts on Resurgence“s box office potential, the answer appears perhaps grimmer than the studio releasing it might have hoped.

“Everyone wants to compare this to Jurassic World, but that film's appeal stemmed from the fact that it had a fresh approach to the concept,” said Box Office Prophets founder David Mumpower. “I'm dubious that the same is true of Resurgence, at least not to that degree. At its core, it's an alien revenge film that promises more monument porn.”

Diminished cultural relevance could also affect Resurgence's commercial potential; for his part, Mumpower is dubious on the original Independence Day's lasting impact. “My suspicion is that even though ID4 did extremely well overseas…it didn't leave much of a cultural footprint,” he said. Further, as Box Office Media analyst Daniel Loria notes, the franchise hasn't benefitted from a steady influx of sequels and other related properties the way Jurassic Park has.

“The fact [is,] there hasn”t been even too much of the IP [intellectual property] going on in between — by that I mean TV shows, animated series, anything basically to keep this in the popular conversation and the popular imagination,” said Loria. “Something [like] obviously Jurassic Park stayed around. There were a couple sequels…people spoke about it. [Independence Day] is [a film] that I think that is fondly remembered by a group of people, but I think a lot of [the Resurgence marketing campaign] has been starting over for it.”

One factor that one might reasonably expect would have a negative impact on the film's performance is the absence of Will Smith, who chose not to reprise his role unlike several of his ID4 co-stars like Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Sela Ward, and Judd Hirsch. But the fact is, Smith simply isn”t the commercial draw he once was. Despite an impressive run of blockbusters earlier in his career, over the past decade the A-lister has stumbled as often as he”s soared with such high-profile flops as After Earth and last year's would-be prestige flick Concussion.

Will Smith and Harry Connick, Jr. in the original Independence Day                                              Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

“His run of consecutive $100 million domestic hits is the Joe Dimaggio hit streak of Hollywood. Still, he's struggled since Hancock eight years ago,” said Mumpower. “I'm confident that his presence in the sequel would have helped. His absence isn't a huge setback, though. Star power simply doesn't drive ticket sales the way that it once did.”

Interestingly, Loria sees Smith”s absence as an actual box office advantage in that it has allowed the studio to focus more on the film”s main selling point — large-scale alien destruction — than to service the original movie's biggest star. “The fact that he”s not back puts the marketing emphasis back on the special effects,” said Loria. “Yes, you have Jeff Goldblum, and Bill Pullman….you do have actors coming back, but really the focus of the posters, of the marketing, has squarely been on ‘look at these impressive images of the new invasion.” And I think again, if people show up, it will be more tied to the marketing message that the studio has set out as opposed to the appeal of the returning cast or the new cast.”

As for the nostalgia element that many onlookers saw as integral to Jurassic World“s outsized success, all three experts I spoke with were dubious on how much that will benefit Resurgence at the box office. Indeed, The Numbers founder Bruce Nash feels that the length of time it took to get it to the screen will ultimately have a detrimental effect on its bottom line. “Honestly, I think it's been too long since for the first film,” he said. “The key under-25 audience won't remember the original film coming out, although a lot of that audience will obviously have caught it on TV at one time or another.”

“In the social media tracking we”re doing, we”re really not seeing the sort of activity we were seeing for example with Jurassic World,” Loria noted. “It would be unfair to compare it with Star Wars, of course, but Jurassic World is I think a [fair] comparison, but we just simply haven”t seen a performance there to indicate strong numbers the way Jurassic World had.”

Those observations notwithstanding, if one thing became clear during my survey it”s that the performance of a film like Independence Day: Resurgence is simply difficult to predict. The opening weekend predictions among the trio of experts I spoke with were wildly divergent, with Nash estimating an opening gross somewhere between $75 and $95 million, Mumpower forecasting a “mid $60s” debut and Loria pegging it at a very specific $47 million. Estimates of its total domestic gross, meanwhile, ranged anywhere from $125 million to $300 million — a gap as wide as the monument-sized holes left by ID4's invading aliens.