After Earth star Will Smith has had the most unlikely of career ascensions. The Philadelphia rapper emerged from making hits such as Parents Just Don’t Understand and promptly became a TV superstar thanks to the Quincy Jones produced smash, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
And he didn’t become a movie blockbuster star “fresh” out of the gate. Oh no, he took the challenge of portraying a gay homeless teen in Six Degrees of Separation to announce his cinematic talent… and hasn’t looked back since.
Then… it happened. July 4 became his weekend and what a time period as it is ground zero for Hollywood smash hits of the summer. First, there was Independence Day, then one year later Men in Black was released and as they say, the rest is history.
Now he’s back in a summer film, this time with his son Jaden along for the sci-fi ride. Smith stars in After Earth, from director M. Night Shyamalan, and after two decades in the business, it’s time to look back and present the freshest of the Fresh Prince… The Top 10 Will Smith Movies. You voted for your favorite Will Smith movie, now it's our turn!
10. Enemy of the State
Smith joined forces with Tony Scott in a film that would precede the Patriot Act, but would eerily predict the dark side of government snooping. In Enemy of the State, Smith portrayed a Washington, D.C. lawyer who had the unfortunate timing of running into an old friend as he was being pursued by a team led by Jon Voight’s government agent's team. It seems that he possessed some sort of information that would bring down their entire operation.
Before you know it, Smith is on the run and he is up against the full surveillance power of the United States government. In a case of smarts outsmarting science, Smith prevails. The movie is one of the Top 10 Tony Scott movies, and is a no-brainer to kick off our list of Smith’s best.
9. I, Robot
I, Robot continued Hollywood’s tradition of not trusting the cyborg element. Although charged with working alongside us for our safety, in Smith’s sci-fi action thriller, a few of the hi-tech gadgets turn on humanity, a la The Terminator, and produce a mind-blowing adventure. By the way… where is that sequel we’ve been promised?
Never one to shy away from challenges, Smith took on the role that would have to be the most difficult on so many levels with Michael Mann’s Ali. Smith played an icon that transcended race, time, sport and culture. Not only is Muhammad Ali one of the best boxers of all time, but he was a force of societal change during a time that saw many challenge the system. Smith’s gamble paid off in his first Academy Award nomination.
An interesting note about this film is it also featured Jamie Foxx in a role that would allow him to break out of his comedy-only career and lead the actor down the road that would end with an Oscar for Ray.
7. Men in Black
Barry Sonnenfeld crafted one of the more original sci-fi stories that had been presented in 1997 when he released Men in Black. It’s hard to believe, but Smith was still a cinematic neophyte when he starred opposite living legend Tommy Lee Jones and their chemistry was palpable. The film was a smash hit, became the Men in Black franchise and launched a sea of imitators. And you know what they say… imitation is the highest form of flattery.
6. Six Degrees of Separation
Smith was known as a rapper and a TV star with an abundance of flair when he took the role in Six Degrees of Separation. In hindsight, it was the boldest of moves. Portraying a gay, homeless teen with a penchant for posing as someone he’s not, the actor proved to Hollywood with his first feature that he would be a force to be reckoned with and more importantly, there was little he could not accomplish.
5. Independence Day
The alien invasion film was hardly a fresh concept in 1996. Yet, in the hands of an ensemble cast of which Smith was a mere spoke in a wheel, it became one of the biggest blockbusters of all-time. There was something about the story, penned by director Roland Emmerich and co-writer and frequent collaborator Dean Devlin, that popped off the screen. Independence Day has made such a mark on our society that it is played ad nauseam each July 4 and rightfully so.
Smith proved he could command the comedy field long ago with his TV hit, so the fact he hit it out of the park with Hitch should not surprise. Yet, it was something about his chemistry with a man who “majored” in comedy, Kevin James, that made Hitch something truly special. To this day, many consider Hitch the mold from which an original romantic comedy should be made.
3. Seven Pounds
Smith joined forces with Rosario Dawson to produce the powerful Seven Pounds in 2008 and the film quickly became a favorite of Smith fans, and film aficionados as well. The story of a man (Smith) whose adventure of discovery is nothing short of miraculous is as powerful as movies come. The seven strangers whose lives he changed will never be the same, and so too will anyone who sees this film.
2. I Am Legend
Serving as the only actor (or actress) in a film is a risky endeavor. But, as we’ve shown frequently on this list, Smith never shies away from the impossible. In bringing the graphic novel I Am Legend to life, Smith proves he’s every bit the actor Tom Hanks is, a la Cast Away, in his ability to carry a movie solo. With only his loyal German Shepherd by his side, Smith navigates the streets of New York and tries to find a life beyond the apocalypse.
1. The Pursuit of Happyness
Smith’s second Oscar nomination arrived with his portrayal of the real life father who, while homeless, raised his young son (played by Smith’s son Jaden), while doing his best to climb the ladder of the American dream.
The Pursuit of Happyness is an astounding piece of work on numerous levels. It introduced the world to the power that is Smith’s son Jaden and if there is a man out there who did not cry in that pivotal scene where Smith holds his son for dear life while someone tries to enter their train station closet where they are spending the night, I’d like to meet them.
The film is inspiration personified and at the same time, shows the range and talent of the man that started his journey by rhyming with rhythm and turned opportunity into one of the most successful popular culture careers of all-time.