A Look At The Wild Wild Career Of Will Smith

Will Smith has been gracing our television screens and movie theaters since 1990 when we were blessed with NBC’s The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Since then, there has rarely been more than a few years where Smith hasn’t appeared in some sort of production. However, not all of his movies can be considered “successes.”

Some did much better than others, and some are just better left in the 90s (sorry Six Degrees of Seperation). We’re going to look at one Will Smith film first that’s doing particularly well right now, then we’ll get into the other hits and misses.

Aladdin’s Fulfilling Wishes

will smith and mena massoud on set of Aladdin
Photo Credit: Instagram / @willsmith
Photo Credit: Instagram / @willsmith

On June 27, 2019, Will Smith shared a video to his Instagram account for his 34 million followers to celebrate Disney’s Aladdin as his highest grossing film to date, in which he plays the role of the Genie.

However, there are some technicalities behind this proclamation, as Will’s video doesn’t address which box office records the film has beat. He simply says that it’s surpassed his former highest grossing film, Independence Day (1996). After some research, we learned that this is a true fact.

Claiming The Number One Spot

Aladdin main cast Will Smith, Naomi Scott, Mena Massoud and Marwan Kenzari
Photo Credit: Instagram / @naomigscott
Photo Credit: Instagram / @naomigscott

Aladdin has surpassed Independence Day as Will Smith’s highest grossing film in both the International and Worldwide Box Office rankings. The film was released near the end of May in 2019, and has been smashing records since. It quickly became the second most successful Disney Remake, behind Beauty and the Beast.

For the Domestic Box Office stats, the live-action remake was still ranked behind Independence Day and Suicide Squad (2016) but quickly closed the gap.

Six Degrees Of Separation From Success

Will Smith at Six Degrees of Separation premiere in 1993
Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

One of the first movies Will Smith acted in was Six Degrees of Separation and if you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of it, it’s probably because it wasn’t very successful. We can’t only blame Will for that though.

There was some serious competition when the film was released in 1993. Jurassic Park and Mrs. Doubtfire were the top two ranking box office hits for that year. The top 10 for ’93 also included Schindler’s List, and America’s sweetheart Tom Hanks starring in Sleepless in Seattle. Smith’s film never really stood a chance.

Here Come The Men In Black

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith in Men in Black, 1997
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the 90s also gave us the epic Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones blockbuster Men in Black. A smash hit on all accounts, it still ranked second for the highest grossing films of 1997, behind Titanic.

Another case of stiff competition, it would’ve been hard to beat out the classic Kate and Leo film. Men in Black did, however, make nearly twice as much as Titanic on their respective opening weekends, which is no small feat.

Men In Black‘s Continued Success

MIB Jones and Smith screencap from second film
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Men In Black has kept its rank as the highest grossing Action Buddy Comedy since its debut. Rush Hour 2 and 22 Jump Street pull in the 2nd and 3rd spot. Men in Black II and 3 ranked at fourth and fifth, so clearly, sequels do just as well with this movie-going crowd.

Back in 2014, the rumor mill churned out the possibility for a 21 Jump Street – Men in Black crossover. The crossover would’ve been the third movie of the Jumpstreet franchise.

From A Rapper To The Fresh Prince

Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince rap duo
Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is the breakout role we can’t not talk about. Smith started his rapping career in his late teens when he was part of the West Philadelphia (born and raised) hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.

Their debut 1987 album Rock The House featured one of their biggest hits, “Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble’ and they had five albums in total from 1987 – 1993. The group went on to win multiple awards including two Grammys. Smith’s rapping alias was the inspiration for the show’s title (obviously).

Smith’s TV Debut

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast - October 1990
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was Smith’s first foray into acting and was responsible for launching his Hollywood career.

For those of you who live under a rock, the show was about a fictionalized version of Will Smith played by none other than – you guessed it – Will Smith. The show ran for six seasons and is considered to be an all-around success, especially for Will’s first time ever acting. There was talk of a reboot to the popular show, but Smith shut those rumors down in a 2016 interview.

Bad Boys Was Just The Beginning

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith Bad Boys 1995
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Following the less than successful Six Degrees of Separation, Will went on to star in the 1995 film Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence, which was a far bigger success. There was a sequel released in 2003, and a highly anticipated third movie has been officially confirmed, 16 years later.

Both Martin Lawrence and Will Smith have confirmed the movie on their social media channels so it’s definitely happening. Filming reportedly began in January of 2019.

Did You Know He Was Almost Neo?

The Matrix 1999 Keanu Reeves and Hugo Weaving
Photo Credit: Siemoneit/Sygma via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Siemoneit/Sygma via Getty Images

Will Smith actually turned down the chance to play Keanu Reeves’ role of Neo in The Matrix franchise. After the success of Men In Black, fans and movie casting agents alike thought Will would be a great choice.

Smith released a video to his YouTube channel in February of 2019 titled “Why I Turned Down The Matrix.” At the time, he didn’t fully understand the concept of the film, which is why he turned the role down, but he has also said he believes the film wouldn’t have been such a success had he been involved.

An Independent Success

Independence Day film cast at premiere of movie
Photo Credit: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Credit: JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

The original Bad Boys was the beginning of a hot streak for Will, with a number of blockbusters following in the years right after. That’s not even including all of the successful sequels.

During that streak, Smith made Independence Day, which was, as previously discussed, his highest selling film in the U.S. to date. The movie also ranks as his second-highest best selling film worldwide, making an estimated 817.4 million dollars at the box office, only bumped out recently by Aladdin.

Would It Be The Same Without Will Smith?

Will Smith with wife Jada at Independence day premiere in June 1996
Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The script for Independence Day reportedly only took director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Delvin only a month to complete in its entirety. One month to create one of the Top 40 biggest hits in U.S. box office history.

Just as Keanu was nearly robbed of his Matrix role, Will Smith almost didn’t get his role of Captain Steve Hiller. The part was originally offered to Ethan Hawke, but he apparently hated the script so much he threw it out the window of a moving vehicle. Seems like a missed opportunity…

Wild Wild West Was The Worst

wild wild west movie poster Will Smith and Salma Hayek
Photo Credit: Instagram / @boxofficehistory
Photo Credit: Instagram / @boxofficehistory

Wild Wild West was Will Smith’s 1999 steampunk science-fiction comedy (intriguing right?) that can only be described as a flop. Featuring Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Salma Hayek alongside Smith, the potential was there, but it, unfortunately, fell short.

One Rotten Tomatoes reviewer described the film as “two hours of mind blogging mediocrity” while a critic from CNN described it as “a cautionary tale about boys and their toys and what happens when a star and a director are given way too much money to play with.” Yikes.

King Of The Fourth

Will Smith at Cannes Film Festival in May 2017, black tux
Photo Credit: Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Matthias Nareyek/Getty Images

For part of his career, Will Smith’s lesser known nickname was “The King of the Fourth.” He had multiple successful films whose opening weekends occurred over the fourth of July, which is where the nickname stemmed from.

Both Independence Day and Men in Black had July 4th openings. The sequels for Men in Black and Bad Boys both opened on the celebratory weekend in 2002 and 2003, respectively. To really solidify the nickname, 2007’s I Am Legend, as well as the 2008 movie Hancock, followed the same pattern.

His Transformation Into Ali

Will Smith as Muhammad Ali scene with Michael Bent
Photo Credit: Peter Brandt/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Peter Brandt/Getty Images

Though he had a number of successful films prior to it, Will Smith didn’t receive an Oscar nomination until his 2001 film Ali. The film was a biographical dramatization of one of the greatest boxers of all time, Muhammad Ali.

Smith received rave reviews for his performance in the film as Ali himself, with critics commenting on Smith’s incredible transformation. He was nominated for Best Actor, but ended up losing to Denzel Washington for Training Day.

The Pursuit Of An Award

Will and Jaden Smith with Chris Gardner UK Pursuit of Happyness premiere
Photo Credit: Claire Greenway/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Claire Greenway/Getty Images

Smith’s only other Oscar nomination to date came for his performance in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness. He was again nominated in the Best Actor category but lost to Forest Whitaker.

That same year, The Pursuit of Happyness earned Smith a Golden Globe nomination for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama.” Unfortunately, history is doomed to repeat itself; Smith once again lost to Forest Whitaker for his role in The Last King of Scotland.

Still A Winner

GWill and Jaden Smith Pursuit of Happyness premiere
Photo Credit: Tony Barson/WireImage via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Tony Barson/WireImage via Getty Images

Despite its inability to win Will Smith an Oscar or Golden Globe, The Pursuit of Happyness is considered a major role in Will Smith’s canon of work. The film stars Will alongside a baby faced Jaden Smith, who plays Will’s on-screen son.

The Pursuit of Happyness was a big step away from the action-comedy-sci-fi films fans had become accustomed to seeing Smith star in. The film earned Will nominations from the MTV Movie Awards for Best Male Performance, the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actor, as well as two Teen Choice Awards – which he actually won!

Breaking Records At The Box Office

Will Smith with Hancock Cast Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron
Photo Credit: Marc Ausset-Lacroix/WireImage
Photo Credit: Marc Ausset-Lacroix/WireImage

Despite a few not-so-great films, Will Smith is the only actor to have eight consecutive films to gross over $100 million at the U.S. box office. Starting with Men in Black II and ending with Hancock, no other actor has accomplished this.

Tom Cruise comes close with five consecutive $100M+ domestically grossing films starting with his 1992 hit A Few Good Men and ending with Jerry Maguire. America’s Sweetheart Tom Hanks holds the record for most movies to gross over $100M at 18 films, but Smith holds the highest consecutive record.

Smith’s Performance in Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad cast in New York - Davis, Smith, Robbie and Leto
Photo Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Samsung via Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Samsung via Getty Images

After 65 years of comic books, Smith is the first and only actor to ever portray Suicide Squad‘s Deadshot character on the big screen, and he crushed it. Suicide Squad is one of Will Smith’s most successful films ever, ranking in the top 5 most successful films worldwide for him.

Known for always fully committing to his characters, prior to his Deadshot debut, Smith took it upon himself to go through extensive firearm training, which is Deadshot’s weapon of choice. He reportedly trained with Navy SEALs and Army Rangers to prepare for the role.

Say Goodbye To The Suicide Sequel

Will Smith Suicide Squad European Premiere
Photo Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

The second Suicide Squad is one sequel Smith won’t be signing on for. The sequel’s release date is set for August 6, 2021, and production is aiming to start in September 2019, despite the cast for the film having not been released yet. It was, however, released in March 2019 that Idris Elba would likely be replacing Smith in the DC Comics film.

Smith reportedly had to bow out due to “scheduling conflicts” despite not seeming to have any projects filming during the estimated production time frame.

What Comes Next?

Will Smith Gemini Man 2019 movie poster
Photo Credit: Instagram
Photo Credit: Instagram

Smith has a handful of films set to be released later in 2019 and through 2020, including Bad Boys for Life, Gemini Man, and King Richard.

Gemini Man will hit theaters in October 2019, which stars Will Smith fighting against a CGI younger version of himself. It seems to be a return to the action-sci-fi Smith portrays so well, minus the comedy. It’s too early to tell whether the film will be the next franchise for Smith or if we’ll sweep it under the rug along with Wild Wild West.