Considered to be one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood, Will Smith has grown leaps and bounds from his time on ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, following his start as a popular young rapper.
He’s been in a number of blockbuster films since those early days and is among the top 20 actors based on cumulative domestic box office movies in which he’s had a leading role, with close to $3 billion grossed from 30 films. He’ll reprise his role for the third Bad Boys film, Bad Boys For Life in January 2020. Here’s our ranked list of Big Willie’s best movies to date.
13. Hitch (2005)
Hear us out. Sure, the movie had a pretty silly premise about a professional dating consultant (named Alex “Hitch” Hitchens) who earns a living helping men get dates, but it was a sweet film that made for a perfect date night movie. Hitch (Smith) helps his client Albert (Kevin James) snag the woman of his dreams, but the notoriously non-committal bachelor ends up falling for a woman (Eva Mendes) himself. It certainly isn’t complicated or deep, but it’s a fun, light-hearted story and Smith is great in it.
12. Suicide Squad (2016)
Smith has done a bit of everything throughout his career, and in this film, he switched to the realm of superheroes, playing Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, an expert marksman and assassin who joins a task force of dangerous criminals to conduct high stakes missions for the U.S. government. Interestingly, Smith chose to play this role over reprising his role in Independence Day: Resurgence, the sequel to Independence Day. While critics didn’t love it, Suicide Squad performed very well at the box office, grossing $746.8 million worldwide.
11. Concussion (2015)
This biographical sports drama about Dr. Bennett Omalu, who challenged the NFL when the organization tried to suppress his research about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain degeneration, also received mixed reviews. But Smith earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the forensic pathologist. The Denver Post singled out Smith for his performance, particularly his convincing Nigerian accent, and ability to shift away from his usual charming self to play the socially shy Omalu.
10. Hancock (2008)
Another superhero flick, though this one dubbed a comedy-drama, Smith is a vigilante “superhero” who can’t help getting into trouble with the city for his antics. But then a man he saves named Ray (Jason Bateman) decides to try and rehabilitate Hancock’s public image. The film is an intriguing take on the now booming superhero genre, and was the fourth highest-grossing one that year.
9. Aladdin (2019)
We preface this by saying that Smith’s interpretation of the Genie in this new live-action version of the animated film isn’t anything close to the performance of the late Robin Williams. But Smith does an impressive job paying homage to an iconic character while also somehow making it his own. He doesn’t so much try to copy Williams’ fast-talking, quirky style as he does re-invent the genie in a new, modern way (yes, he raps and likes the ladies!). Having alredy grossed hundreds of millions worldwide, it’s clear others agree.
8. Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
Often considered Smith’s breakout role, it was in stark contrast to his simultaneous role on Fresh Prince as the goofy young man who went to live with his auntie and uncle in Bel-Air. In this comedy-drama inspired by the true story of David Hampton who conned and robbed families in the ’80s by pretending to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier, Smith plays a con man named Paul who does the same. Well received, the “against-type” Smith was praised for his excellent performance.
7. I, Robot (2004)
This film was in an important step forward for CG animation, and the visual effects team received an Academy Award nomination. The film is set in the year 2035, when humanoid robots exist among us, but start to turn on humankind when a robot is built to ignore the “Three Laws of Robotics.” Smith beautifully plays police detective Del Spooner who hated the robots to begin with and is now tasked with halting the rise of the machines.
6. I Am Legend (2007)
Smith plays U.S. Army virologist Robert Neville in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror drama film, which is based on the novel of the same name by Francis Lawrence. He largely carried the entire film as the last human left in New York after a virus wipes out almost all of humankind. Surrounded by nocturnal mutants, and immune to the virus, he is left to find the cure while fighting off monsters. It remains the fifth highest-grossing film ever for an opening weekend during the month of December, behind three Star Wars films and The Hobbit.
5. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
The film had an impact far greater than entertainment value, inspiring the mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee to organize a viewing for the city’s homeless to provide them with hope. A biographical drama, it was based on entrepreneur Chris Gardner and his year spent homeless. Smith, who co-starred with his real-life son Jaden Smith, received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for the role, along with widespread acclaim for his heartfelt performance.
4. Ali (2001)
In yet another role where Smith plays a real-life person, here he took on the massive task of portraying the great boxer Muhammad Ali during a critical time in his career. Between 1964 and 1974, the famous boxer won the heavyweight title against Sonny Liston, converted to Islam, criticized the Vietnam War, and was banished from boxing, along with his return and reclaiming of the title from George Foreman. That’s no small task for an actor to take on, and while the film was a box office bomb, actually losing money, Smith received deserved accolades through an Academy Award nomination.
3. Independence Day (1996)
In this iconic sci-fi ensemble film, Smith played Captain Steve Hiller, a Marine pilot who must work with others stuck in the Nevada desert after the world has been attacked by extraterrestrials. The group fittingly plans their counterattack for July 4, Independence Day. The highest-grossing film that year (and an instant classic), Independence Day is also credited with ushering in the disaster/sci-fi film resurgence of the ’90s.
2. Men in Black (1997)
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones wearing dark shades, dark suits, and chatting with alien creatures of all forms was a winning recipe, as this sci-fi action comedy earned big bank at the box office, becoming the second-highest grossing film that year (behind only Titanic). It also earned almost universal praise thanks to the plot, witty dialogue, and the performances of its co-stars. Loosely adapted from The Men in Black comic book series by Lowell Cunningham and Sandy Carruthers, the duo play agents working for a secret organization that handles alien lifeforms who secretly live among humans. The two sequels, released in 2002 and 2012, didn’t quite live up to the original, though both performed decently at the box office. Meanwhile, a spin-off, Men in Black: International starring Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson is set for release on June 14, 2019.
1. Bad Boys (1995)
Fans of the franchise were elated when Smith and Martin Lawrence released a video confirming that the long-time rumors were true, and they would indeed be reprising their roles as Miami narcotics detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, respectively, for a third film in the franchise, Bad Boys For Life, which is set for release in 2020. Playing up the standard mismatched buddy cop genre, Marcus is a family man while Mike is a womanizing bachelor. Lifelong friends, they fight like an old married couple and often find themselves in dangerous, yet oddly hilarious situations. Some of the funniest dialogue for this film was improvised, proving Smith’s quick wit and the amazing chemistry between the two actors.