All the Roland Emmerich Movies Ranked

INDEPENDENCE DAY, 1996. TM and Copyright (c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. Courtesy: Everett Collection

All the Roland Emmerich movies ranked

Few directors are synonymous with blockbusters and end-of-the-world extravaganzas the way Roland Emmerich is.  Legend has it that he always wanted to be a production designer, but after watching the original Star Wars, he was inspired to direct.  After a few minor successes with smaller films in his native Germany, he met his long-time producer Dean Devlin.  The pair took the world by storm with Universal Soldier in 1992.

After the incredibly successful follow-up of Stargate in 1994,  Emmerich went on to provide us with the most ostentatious special effects films of all time.  Stargate was so revered that it spawned television shows that lasted well beyond 300 total episodes.  Roland Emmerich’s stock soon skyrocketed alongside Will Smith in the incredibly popular Independence Day.  Cinema snobs write him off as simply bloated special effects director.  However, if you look closely, he is an incredibly talented director.  For his next project, he will be tackling the battle of Midway, to be released late 2019 with Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Patrick Wilson, and Luke Evans.  Sure, he has had some duds, but his best work is actually Academy Award worthy. The prospects for Midway are very exciting.  Few directors have the ability to hold together films with such grandiose scope.  From worst to best, here is the ranking of Roland Emmerich’s filmography.

#12: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Twenty years is a long time to wait for a sequel, and to sequel-ize such an iconic movie like Independence Day brings a lot of baggage with it.  We all love Jeff Goldblum, but this movie really needed Will Smith to come back.  Smith was essentially the entire heart of the original movie. What we get here is a heartless, special effects focused bombardment that has none of the magic the original film had.  The destruction is so extravagant that it ceases to be believable at any level. Bigger is not always better.  The original ID4 ships were as big as cities. We didn’t need them as large as the moon. 

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#11: Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla is so profoundly of its time.  While some of the special effects are fine, too often they are overly cartoony.  But there are story beats that are astonishingly confusing. Could a creature the size of Godzilla really disappear in Manhattan? While thousands of soldiers, cameras, radars, and citizens have eyes on him?  Can he really burrow all the way to Madison Square Garden to lay hundreds of eggs without any noticing.?  When the Taco Bell ad campaign is more memorable than the actual film, you know something has gone amiss.

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#10: Stonewall (2015)

In 2015, Roland Emmerich released a film about the Stonewall riots in New York City, a pivotal moment in the history of LBGTQA+ rights in America.  Despite subject matter close to his heart, as Emmerich is an out gay man, the movie flopped. It made a paltry $180K. The reason being is it is a bit of a whitewashed snooze-fest.  Emmerich cast Jeremy Irvine as the white mid-western pacifist whose character arc leads to him throwing the first brick in the riots. That is not what happened and it is insulting to the diverse, oppressed, actual authors of the movement. The first brick at Stonewall was actually thrown by Marsh P. Johnson, a black trans woman.  It is akin to putting a Caucasian on Rosa Parks’s bus as the man who encouraged her to move. 

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#09: 10,000 B.C. (2008)

This movie makes it very hard for its audience to enjoy themselves.  The amount of civilization and technology this film hypothesizes humanity had access to 12,000 years ago is so far outside the popular mainstream imaginings of audiences that it can come across as absurd. Mostly because not that many people know about Gobleki Tepe, which is from the era of pre-history. Emmerich certainly directs the film with skill when D’Leh follows the kidnapped Evolet, moving through breathtaking action scenes with CGI mammoths until he arrives at a city that rivals the Egyptians. 

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#08: Universal Soldier (1992)

Universal Soldier is the movie that put Roland Emmerich on the map.  Having Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren as re-animated cyborg Vietnam vets in your movie is going to be a fun confection of action and sci-fi.  There is not much room for character development or maturity, but when you have one of the world’s greatest action stars in your arsenal, you just have to let the camera roll.  

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#07: White House Down (2013)

This happens a lot.  1998 had Armageddon and Deep Impact.  1997 had  Volcano and Dante’s Peak.  Well, 2013 had Roland Emmerich’s  White House Down up against Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus had Fallen.  In any other year, this explosion-fest would have been fine escapism.  Channing Tatum out to save Jamie Foxx’s president is a lot of fun.  But this PG-13 fare pales in comparison to the R-rated, gritty Fuqua version, in Gerard Butler out to save Aaron Eckhart’s president.  Without Fuqua’s film, White House Down may have been able to stand alone.

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#06: 2012 (2009)

Proof that sometimes a little less is more.  Roland Emmerich destroyed many major American cities with Independence Day and the entire northern hemisphere with The Day After Tomorrow.  Where was he supposed to go with 2012, a film about the end of the world according to the Mayan prophecy?  Well…he decided to destroy the entire Earth and have way too many stars. The film is populated with John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover, Oliver Platt, Amanda Peet, and countless character actors you will not be able to place a name to.  But the real star is the disaster. It is bigger than big, with cities crumbling and falling into the sea, tidal waves crashing over the Himalayas, and Yellowstone exploding with the force of several atomic bombs. It all looks amazing, as it always does with Emmerich, but instead of it being exciting, it eventually becomes exhausting.  With that said, you may not ever see better end-of-the-world special effects then you do here.

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#05: Stargate (1994)

You’d think the idea of finding an ancient, hieroglyphic gateway in Egypt that can send someone to a far away planet would be silly.  Well, at one level it is.  But Kurt Russell as the badass soldier and James Spader as the goofy scientist lend plenty of legitimacy to the proceedings.  Stargate is a fun romp that is kind of a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and B-grade, 1950’s science fiction.  The forced romance and cliche villain motivations are a bit frustrating, but the movie is never boring.  The film’s biggest success? The myriad of successful television spinoffs. If Emmerich misfired with this spectacle, it would have never jumped mediums and lived on for so long.

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#04: Anonymous (2011)

A Roland Emmerich movie with hardly any explosions, disasters, or special effects.  What this costume drama does have a clever premise and insanely gorgeous production and costume design.  It tells the story about how William Shakespeare may not have been the author of his most famous plays.  The best part about it is that it does it in the grandest of Shakespearean fashion. There is love, tragedy, royalty, secrecy, incest, subversity, and execution.  Also, so much plot that you really have to focus in order to keep it all in your head.  Props to Rhys Ifans for leading the charge for such a great film far outside Emmerich’s wheelhouse.

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#03: The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Independence Day and 2012 are tongue-in-cheek disaster films.  They have lots of comedy peppered throughout and the stars even spout Schwarzenegger-esque tag-lines (“Welcome to Earth!”).  The Day After Tomorrow is much different than that, possibly because the eco-message is too serious to joke about in the opinion of Roland Emmerich.  Dennis Quaid is a climatologist whose data suggests that the ice caps have melting have disrupted the North Atlantic Current.  He warns that the planet is about to slip into a new Ice Age.  The film is also full of great supporting players like Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Ian Holm, and Sela Ward. The speed at which things progress is the high of absurdity, but the effects, once again, are extraordinary.  The tidal waves engulfing manhattan. The encroaching deep freeze.  It will all have you snuggling up to your loved one for warmth. 

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#02: Independence Day (1996)

Without a doubt, Independence Day is Roland Emmerich’s most iconic film.  Ever since that original Super Bowl trailer where audiences were shown the White House getting blown up, the film has sat comfortably among the best of modern science-fiction films.  The premise was nothing new.  Aliens invade and the country has to unite to survive.  But never had that been done to such an astonishing scale. Additionally, without ID4, Will Smith’s career would have turned out quite different.  The effects are as good as you could get back in 1996. When all is said and done, you couldn’t ask for more in a sci-fi disaster film.  That moment when Bill Pullman gives his rousing speech in the wee hours of July 4th? Leading up to the worldwide offensive strike against the aliens? The patriotic verve hits a fever pitch that few movies have ever accomplished.

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#01: The Patriot (2000)

Although Independence Day is his most popular film, The Patriot is his best.  Having a famous German director make a film focusing on the most idealistic American era is a bit odd. Emmerich pulls it off admirably, though.  Mel Gibson leads the charge as farmer Benjamin Martin, a famous veteran of the French-Indian War. Through nearly identical narrative developments to Gladiator, Gibson’s character becomes embroiled in the American Revolution by joining the colonial militia.  Roland Emmerich, of course, brings the spectacle he does so well, with CGI armies believably marching across the countryside and cannonballs flinging across the fields. The theme of duty conflicts between family and country adds a layer of maturity to the film.  With an R-rating, the violence is graphic and no punches are pulled which allows Jason Isaac’s sadistic villain to be gloriously extreme. Add in a little John Williams music and you have a wonderful patriotic exercise.  

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