Roland Emmerich might be one of the most polarizing directors in Hollywood history. A few of his movies are undeniable classics, but most of them fall somewhere in the so-bad-it’s-good zone. After the success of Independence Day, Emmerich found his apparent sweet spot and continued to chip away at it with The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, and more. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that he managed to rekindle that original flame by going back to what made Independence Day so great in the first place. Two words: science fiction.
Released in early 2022 to a lackluster box office and even worse reviews, Moonfall is finally streaming on HBO Max — and it might just be the most underrated sci-fi movie of the century. Here’s why you owe it to yourself to give Roland Emmerich’s most recent apocalypse epic a try.
The premise of Moonfall is delightfully simple. The Moon... falls. Of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that — but not much! The movie stars Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson as astronauts Jocinda and Brian, who witness something spooky in space. Years later, Brian is all washed up after taking the blame for the accident he witnessed, while Jocinda has risen through the ranks at NASA. But when the Moon starts to crash down to Earth, they’re forced to reunite to save the world with the help of Hollow Moon conspiracy theorist K.C. Houseman (John Bradley).
Unlike 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow, Moonfall swerves hard into science fiction, mixing the spectacle of those films with the basic framework of Independence Day. I won’t spoil the movie’s best twists, but the trailer alone confirms that something sentient is wreaking havoc on the Moon (and down below on Earth). Just trust me when I say that there’s absolutely no way you can guess how this story will end.
The final act of Moonfall is so absurd that you can’t help but love it while also wondering how the hell Roland Emmerich ever came up with this story. It’s worth noting that the director is so enamored with this film (and the world he created) that he’s even considered breaking his own no-sequels rule.
“I don’t have to,” he told The Hollywood Reporter when asked if he plans to explain Moonfall’s cliffhanger ending. “If it’s an enormous, enormous success, why not? What I will then do, is do two and three together. And have a real, clear cliffhanger [in between].”
Somehow, the story behind Moonfall is even more incredible. Emmerich financed the movie himself, claiming a 50 percent stake in the film and raising funds to cover the other half at Cannes using a trailer created by VFX studio Scanline.
As a result, the director declined to send his movie straight to streaming, instead releasing it in theaters in the hopes that he’d make his money back (and then some) at the box office. Sadly, that didn’t happen. Moonfall made just under $60 million in ticket sales on a budget of roughly $140 million (making it the most expensive independent movie ever made).
Moonfall didn’t do much better with moviegoers. It has a critic score of 36 on Rotten Tomatoes and a 70 from general audiences — suggesting that at least some people get what Emmerich was going for. Still, that’s probably not enough to get a sequel, at least on the director’s own terms.
But now that Moonfall is streaming for the first time, there’s a chance this misunderstood sci-fi movie could finally find the audience it deserves. If we’re lucky, maybe Emmerich will get his trilogy after all — even if the final two movies are straight-to-streaming originals.
Moonfall is streaming now on HBO Max.