Will Smith was born to be a movie star. After test driving his charisma as a television actor and rapper (a skill he still polishes to this day), Smith broke out onto the movie scene in the 1990s and has been a global sensation ever since.
In the upcoming film GEMINI MAN, director Ang Lee is benefiting from multiple Will Smith performances, thanks to some groundbreaking advancements in visual technologies. Smith plays his modern self as well as a much younger, cloned version of himself, back from his BAD BOYS days.
That got us thinking. What do you consider to be Will Smith’s most memorable roles? These are the seven titles we came up with, if ever we had to convince a non-believer about Smith’s magnetism, his range and his status as one of the most entertaining actors on our planet.
The first of Will Smith’s back-to-back, world-saving alien adventures. Remember the Fresh Prince punching an alien, welcoming them to Earth, and then lighting up the biggest celebratory cigar in movie history? Will Smith in INDEPENDENCE DAY oozed confidence, showed off his action-movie chops, and established himself as the King of July 4 Weekend, an unofficial title he would hold for years.
Men in Black
Not content to stop one alien invasion in 1996, Will Smith was back at it the following year, teaming with Tommy Lee Jones to play the sunglass-sporting Men in Black. Far more comedic than INDEPENDENCE DAY, MIB still tapped into Smith’s irreverent attitude because it played so perfectly off of Jones’ stiff-collared do-gooder. Add in that amazing Smith title tune, and MIB was poised to launch the actor into Hollywood’s stratosphere.
One blockbuster sensation was not enough for Will Smith, who sought to prove to the industry that he was a talented and prestigious leading man as well. This led him to collaborate with esteemed filmmaker Michael Mann in a biopic on Muhammad Ali during his prime years of 1964–74. The role earned Smith his first Oscar® nomination (he lost to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY) and opened up Smith to more types of roles, so he wouldn’t be pigeonholed as “just an action/comedy star” anymore.
Still happy to prove that he was capable of more than just fighting aliens on the big screen, Smith took a role in a winning romantic comedy and found invaluable chemistry with Kevin James for HITCH. When he’s loose and limber, few are as funny and lovable as Smith, and the film part of a “date doctor” is perfectly tailored to his skills. HITCH makes us wish that Smith would try more roles like this, because he’s so good at rom-com leading man, while also sharing the spotlight with an equally funny comic like James.
The Pursuit of Happyness
Possibly Smith’s most personal and memorable role — probably because he’s acting alongside his son, Jaden, in the difficult story of struggling father Chris Gardner. It’s an inspirational true story about a man who dreams of a better life for himself and his child, even though he has to overcome extreme obstacles and stifling lows before they come out on the other side. The scene in the public restroom, where he holds his son and blocks the door with his foot, might be Smith’s best scene in a feature film.
In SUICIDE SQUAD, Will Smith returns to blockbuster form and also gets into the superhero comic book game (which he dabbled in when he starred in HANCOCK in 2008). By playing Deadshot in David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD, Smith got to bring his arrogant confidence to a villainous role and even briefly got to fist fight Batman (Ben Affleck). Though Smith won't be returning for the second SUICIDE SQUAD movie directed by James Gunn, at least we’ll always have this debut team-up movie to remember the Fresh Prince by.
As Disney continues to ramp up production on numerous live-action remakes of its animated classics, the studio hits home runs in the casting department. Very few actors would have the ability to fill the massive shoes left by Robin Williams in the role of the Genie from ALADDIN. But Will Smith wisely decided not to impersonate Williams and to turn the Genie into more of a Smith product. The results were surprisingly entertaining, with ALADDIN soaring past the $1 billion mark at the global box office. Beyond impressive.
Will Smith co-stars with Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Benedict Wongin in Ang Lee’s GEMINI MAN. The thriller is now available on AMC Theatres On Demand.