Picture-Illustration: Emily Denniston/Vulture and images courtesy of the studios

This text has been up to date to incorporate Smith’s latest movies.

At 51, Will Smith is without doubt one of the most profitable film stars of the final couple many years, and his trajectory to that place was meteoric. From youthful rap to The Contemporary Prince of Bel-Air to Independence Day to international domination, Smith was on you so quick you barely had time to register that he’d taken over the world. And lately, he has remained likable and relatable, even when his star has taken a dip or two. He even managed to nonetheless be charming in Suicide Squad, which one would have thought unimaginable.

And don’t assume he doesn’t have depth, both, enjoying “serious” roles in each dramas (Ali) and four-quadrant blockbusters (I Am Legend). Even together with his missteps, Smith stays the form of film star you simply don’t see anymore. With the discharge of King Richard, we went again and ranked all of his film performances.

(Fast word: We determined to exclude his voice work in animated movies. And sorry, Brilliant didn’t get a theatrical launch, so it’s not on right here. It’s finest for Smith if we ignore it anyway.)

30. After Earth (2013)

The debacle that prompted Smith to take an 18-month hiatus from appearing, After Earth actually is as dangerous as you bear in mind: an excessively ponderous, drag-ass sci-fi action-drama by which Will’s son Jaden wholly lacks the charisma that made his dad a mega-star. What undoubtedly made its failure more durable on Smith was that he had dreamed up the unique story and thrust his son into the central function, figuring it could propel him up the Hollywood meals chain. Possibly that’s why Smith appears to be like so glum all through the movie: He appears to be realizing in actual time what a nasty concept After Earth was.

29. Collateral Magnificence (2016)

Yeah, it’s the entire misguided mess that you simply’ve heard it’s, however all advised, it’s extra embarrassing for Edward Norton, Michael Pena, and Kate Winslet — who play the terrible human beings meant to be the “good guys” of this bewildering “heartwarmer” — than it’s for Smith, who is generally put-upon and thus escapes the true awfulness. The true downside with Smith right here is one which’s frequent to a lot of his “serious” performances: He turns down the star wattage that we love about Will Smith and turns mopey and morose. There are already sufficient mopey and morose actors: There’s no want so that you can be one, Will. Although to be truthful: It’s attainable he realized the canine of a film he was in and simply couldn’t work up any smiles anyway.

28. Men in Black II (2002)

Every thing that was terrific concerning the first Males in Black — the witty premise, the hip tone, the oil-and-vinegar rapport between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones — evaporates on this strained, unfunny sequel. The place Smith’s Agent J was as soon as an superior smartass, Males in Black II presents him as only a smug dick. That is the primary time Smith appeared to take a film exactly as a result of he wanted successful — which, within the wake of Wild Wild West, was the case.

27. Seven Kilos (2008)

The notorious Jellyfish film. That is the closest Smith ever got here to John Travolta’s Battlefield Earth territory, a private mission that’s a nightmare to take a seat by way of and significantly made you surprise for a second if Smith had some form of Jesus advanced. And significantly: Watch that jellyfish scene:

26. Wild Wild West (1999)

This actually did make sense on the time. Barry Sonnenfeld of the Males in Black movies, Kevin Kline because the trusty sidekick, and a sci-fi-meets-Western premise. However, wow, did it ever go unsuitable. (Beginning with that horrible theme track. We guess Smith would really like that one again.) Pandering, chaotic, disorganized Hollywood filmmaking at its worst. The one true big-budget flop of Smith’s profession, and you may’t say it doesn’t earn the designation.

25. Where the Day Takes You (1991)

What’s it like when a seemingly random smattering of early ‘90s up-and-coming young “stars” all don’t take a shower for a day and fake to be “troubled” drug addicts on the streets of Los Angeles? Effectively, it appears to be like like a movie-of-the-week with everyone sporting flannel. Critically, try this loopy forged: Dermot Mulroney, Sean Astin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Christian Slater, David Arquette, Nancy McKeon, Alyssa Milano, Ricki Lake! Smith, in his first movie, performs Manny, a legless homeless child who largely exhibits as much as be pleasant, transfer a wheelchair rapidly, and get crushed up. Luckily, Smith could be out of those roles very quickly.

24. Winters’s Story (2014)

Smith has only a small half on this Akiva Goldman misfire, nevertheless it’s a brilliant foolish one: He performs the satan! He doesn’t do a number of devilish issues, however he does do that:

23. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

We had kinda forgotten he was on this, too. Or, perhaps we simply wished to neglect: Smith is a part of the epic, lame battle royale that occurs close to the tip of this just-good-enough sequel. He’s the anchor of the ESPN crew, and his cameo consists largely of a goofy early-’80s hairdo. And what’s together with his voice? Is he attempting to make his character sound prissy or nerdy or what? Don’t really feel too dangerous, Will: Everyone on this scene — Tina Fey, Kanye West, Jim Carrey — comes off badly.

22. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)

A basic “Magical Negro” role that Smith was capable of keep away from the remainder of his profession, it is a low level for each Smith and director Robert Redford. The function is beneath Will Smith, and actually beneath any outstanding black actor; it’s unimaginable to think about it being made at the moment. Critically, watch this once more: You’ll be fairly bowled over. (It was additionally the final movie of Jack Lemmon.)

21. Suicide Squad (2016)

Effectively, you definitely can’t blame Smith for all the pieces that goes unsuitable with Suicide Squad, and on the very least, he’s a motive to maintain watching when the film is flapping everywhere and operating into partitions. He and Robbie are the one individuals who appear to have put a lot thought into what went onscreen, and for that, we should specific our gratefulness. After which run out of the theater.

20. Bad Boys II (2003)

Smith didn’t have to do that sequel — he was already the most important film star on the planet at this level — and he in all probability ought to have stayed away. That is Michael Bay attempting perhaps a little bit an excessive amount of comedy, to the purpose that the opening sequence takes place at a Klan rally by which Martin Lawrence will get shot within the butt. It goes downhill from there, however Smith someway retains it afloat, largely as a result of he’s Will Smith and has an inside governor that gained’t let him sink too low. (One suspects he cringes when he watches this now.) There are rumors {that a} Unhealthy Boys III is coming. Let these keep rumors.

19. Jersey Girl (2004)

Sure, Will Smith was in a Kevin Smith film. Solely briefly, although. This transient, and ill-fated, try by Kevin Smith to change into a Critical Hollywood Filmmaker fell on its face — to be truthful, it could have tough for something to outlive Bennifer — nevertheless it’s value stating that Smith has an exquisite little cameo right here. Enjoying himself, he comes throughout Ben Affleck’s character in a hospital ready room and offers the movie its solely real second, by which he and Affleck share a second of understanding and commiseration that feels earned. It’s additionally humorous how Smith performs himself. Not like most film stars, who really feel the necessity to ship up their persona, Smith is simply how he sees himself, and perhaps how he really is: A laid-back man who’s residing the perfect life and may’t imagine how fortunate he’s. Few film stars have felt so comfy in their very own pores and skin. You see that surprisingly properly right here.

18. Aladdin (2019)

After the preliminary Aladdin trailer, which revealed Will Smith because the Huge Blue Dude, obtained less-than-stellar responses from the web, it was affordable to enter this live-action remake with main worries. Lowered expectations are in all probability for the perfect: The brand new film isn’t horrible, though it’s definitely a far cry from the unique. Ditto Smith because the jovial genie. Weirdly, for all of the hits he’s been part of over the many years, he’s not often performed what you’d name a straight-up household movie, exterior of perhaps Shark Story, so it’s fascinating to see him faucet into his big-kid gusto in such a pronounced manner. Nonetheless, anybody trying to outdo Robin Williams is asking for bother, so it’s simply as properly that Smith doesn’t attempt, largely enjoying the character because the Contemporary Prince of Bel-Air all grown up. An excessive amount of of this Aladdin appears designed mainly to become profitable, and likewise Smith’s efficiency is profoundly environment friendly — it’s a considerably spectacular technical and artistic feat that nobody actually wanted.

17. Focus (2015)

Smith is extraordinarily enjoyable as a con man — the primary con man he’d performed since Six Levels of Separation 20 years earlier, a film that strikes a really completely different pitch — in a film that by no means fairly figures out whether or not it’s a heist comedy, a darkish thriller, or one thing. He has apparent rapport with Margot Robbie, which might carry over to a worse film in Suicide Squad, and, as typical, he effortlessly will get the viewers on his aspect. The story has too many twists and turns to be taken significantly, nevertheless it’s value it simply to hang around.

16. Concussion (2015)

Smith’s finest straight-drama efficiency since 2006’s The Pursuit of Happyness finds him enjoying Bennet Omalu, a soft-spoken Nigerian physician residing in Pittsburgh who helped uncover the traumatic mind accidents devastating NFL gamers. It’s a modest portrayal with out a lot in the way in which of actorly fireworks, and the two-time Oscar nominee leans closely on his quiet decency. If you’re among the many most charismatic people on the planet, that’s greater than sufficient.

15. Made in America (1993)

The idea of this film is so inherently weird — Whoopi Goldberg discovers that the daddy of the kid she conceived from a sperm donor is dumbass automotive salesman Ted Danson — that you simply search for any form of escape. And also you definitely discover it in Smith, who performs the love curiosity of the daughter (Nia Lengthy) with such movie-star attraction that he virtually leaps off the display screen. He wouldn’t must play foolish comic-relief supporting roles for much longer, however, man, was he ever good at it. He’s so exuberant and having such a blast that it virtually makes you neglect Goldberg’s and Danson’s real-life relationship. Virtually.

14. Hitch (2005)

The form of dumb studio rom-com that goes so far as its star will take it, Hitch suggests what Smith’s profession might need been like if he’d taken the Matthew McConaughey route. He performs a suave relationship adviser who counsels dorky Kevin James on speak to a reasonably gal (Amber Valletta) — so, in fact, he’s nervous in his personal life attempting to woo assertive gossip columnist Eva Mendes! Yeah, like we mentioned, Hitch is dumb, nevertheless it’s dumb in a fluffy, interesting manner, and Smith will get to work that 1,000-watt smile whereas enjoying the romantic lead — one thing he hasn’t performed a lot on the films.

13. Bad Boys (1995)

Smith and director Michael Bay teamed up when each males have been on a profession upswing, and Unhealthy Boys was the very interesting (and, sure, sorta racist and homophobic) end result. That is the place the Contemporary Prince graduates to big-screen badass motion hero, setting the stage for Independence Day, Males in Black and the title of King of the Fourth of July Blockbuster. What’s humorous about watching Unhealthy Boys now: Dude appears so younger, however his smartass chemistry with Martin Lawrence nonetheless shines.

12. Gemini Man (2019)

Will Smith is up for the problem of battling (and naturally finally teaming up) together with his 30-years-younger clone, however even he can’t overcome this hoary, aging-hit-man story that’s so drained that it’s a borderline miracle he doesn’t as soon as say “I’m too old for this shit.” (And don’t get us began on Ang Lee’s insistence on the accelerated FPS price, which makes the entire thing appear to be the most costly episode of Because the World Turns ever.) Luckily, Smith remains to be devoted sufficient to promote the dynamic between his two selves, and there are even some transferring moments by which you see him struggling to reckon together with his youthful self, each onscreen and off. However in case you’re going to re-create a younger Will Smith … don’t you need to make him extra enjoyable than this?

11. Males in Black 3 (2012)

This was the primary film Smith made after 2008’s Hancock and Seven Kilos, and the 4 years away from multiplexes solely reminded us how a lot we beloved the man. Males in Black 3 washes away the dangerous recollections of the 2002 sequel, pairing Smith largely with Josh Brolin, who’s enjoying Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent Okay prior to now. The time-jumping narrative and Brolin’s spot-on Jones impression are the film’s highlights, which permits Smith to ease again into movie-star mode, supplying Agent J with infinite cool and still-stellar comedian timing.

10. I, Robot (2004)

A reasonably primary thriller that hasn’t aged notably properly — in contrast to the Isaac Asimov e book it’s primarily based on — and feels compromised, not least of which by some actually weird product placement. Smith can play this form of Wry Cop in his sleep, however he’s a steadying drive amongst all of the chaos round him. He’s additionally a surprisingly pressing motion star: He’s bodily, positive, but in addition susceptible and insistent. He makes it look simpler than it’s.

9. Enemy of the State (1998)

This Tony Scott action-thriller got here out throughout Smith’s bulletproof interval the place he may do no unsuitable. (Spoiler alert: The next 12 months’s Wild Wild West would finish that streak.) He’s not the cool cat or the cocky showboat this time, although: He performs a mild-mannered lawyer combined up in a authorities conspiracy, with solely Gene Hackman’s mysterious operative capable of save him. Enemy of the State was Smith’s dry run for the dramatic roles he would quickly be pursuing, and he’s commanding and sympathetic as an everyday man preventing for his life.

8. Hancock (2008)

Smith’s nerviest blockbuster finds him enjoying a superhero who’s additionally an asshole, and the actor appears tickled on the prospect of tweaking his personal squeaky-clean picture. Hancock doesn’t at all times stability its need to be a darkish satire of comic-book films with its have to ship supersized, put-asses-in-the-seats spectacle. However Smith finds the nuance and ache in an omnipotent character who can save the world however can’t get out of his personal manner.

7. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

One of many hardest issues for A-list stars to do is painting “ordinary” individuals. (Keep too lengthy within the limelight and also you lose the frequent contact.) However Smith earned his second Finest Actor nomination effortlessly enjoying Chris Gardner, who within the early Eighties fell into homelessness whereas elevating his younger son (Smith’s personal son Jaden). There’s nothing showy in Smith’s efficiency, which is essential for a personality who’s been crushed down by life however nonetheless clings to a defiant optimism. Smith’s apparent affection for his boy radiates by way of the display screen.

6. Six Degrees of Separation (1995)

This adaptation of John Guare’s Pulitzer Prize–profitable play had all of the Enchantment to the Sensible Higher East Facet Crowd cachet a younger actor trying to make a splash would need, however what’s gorgeous is how a lot hearth and keenness Smith brings to the efficiency, at instances wiping seasoned vets Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing proper off the display screen. Smith is a little bit mannered at first as a grifter who cons a cultured NYC couple into believing he’s Sidney Poitier’s son, however as soon as his ruse is found, he, and the movie, flip into one thing far more uncooked and searing. Even in case you discovered Smith charming earlier than this, his efficiency snapped you to consideration: Wait, he can do this? In some methods, he hasn’t fairly challenged himself as a lot since.

5. Independence Day (1996)

This sequel didn’t deliver again Smith, and it left an enormous crater at its middle: Would we’ve got ever made this such an enormous hit, would we’ve got ever cared a lot, if it hadn’t have been for Smith? The film is pretty normal disaster-flick porn — albeit performed in Roland Emmerich’s harmlessly dumb fashion — however Smith springs it to life each time he exhibits up. No surprise he grew to become such a July 4 star: That is America how we wish to see ourselves, a little bit John Wayne, a little bit Muhammad Ali. Welcome to Earth!

4. I Am Legend (2007)

The film by no means fairly figures out its ending — and the initial ending, from the e book however rejected by take a look at audiences, might need been a greater place to land — however Smith is extremely transferring as a person who has misplaced everybody he beloved and knew however nonetheless, despite himself, retains trudging ahead. It’s a tough efficiency, and its power is in Smith’s unwillingness to ever go for the straightforward out: You’ll be able to inform he’s invested in what a person like this may undergo, and he seems legitimately broken from it. Not all the pieces on this film works, nevertheless it could be Smith’s most underappreciated efficiency.

3. Ali (2001)

Muhammad Ali’s demise might have introduced newfound appreciation to this deeply transferring, under-loved biopic, however the greatness of Smith’s efficiency was by no means in dispute. Ali merges the 2 sides of this dynamic actor — the electrical entertainer and the soulful dramatist — into one good complete, presenting the long-lasting boxer as the last word showman who was additionally delicate to (and swept up in) the political and racial turmoil swirling round him. Incomes his first Oscar nomination, Smith makes use of his charisma like a weapon, tapping into Ali’s sting-like-a-bee magnetism.

2. Males in Black (1997)

Certain, the person is an excellent dramatic performer. However be sincere: This is the film — and character — you first consider when somebody mentions Will Smith. Males in Black is a miracle of a blockbuster — a snazzy, humorous, eye-popping sci-fi motion film — and Smith treats the entire enterprise like one huge lark. No film star makes blasé irreverence really feel hipper, simply as no different film star makes occasion films really feel like the good factor on the earth. You understand what? He did make this look good.

1. King Richard (2021)

Richard Williams is, in each attainable manner, unreasonable. He’s cussed, incorrigible, obnoxious, and so sure of his personal advantage and judgment that everybody who offers with him finally ends up wanting to tug their hair out. (Somebody’s going to make an awesome supercut of this movie that includes solely individuals’s exasperated reactions to him.) The factor is, although, someway he seems to be proper about all the pieces. This approved however hardly hagiographic biopic of Williams, who famously advised the world that his two little daughters would develop as much as be the perfect tennis gamers on the earth, after which they have been, is a stirring, uplifting sports activities film, positive — it’ll undoubtedly make your children wish to go exterior and play some tennis — nevertheless it’s additionally an unbelievable showcase for Smith, who performs Williams as an unmovable object: The mother or father as impenetrable fortress, an advocate for his children typically within the face of any good sense. Smith’s Williams is a drive of nature — charming, narcissistic, prideful, wounded, fiercely protecting, and gloriously unimaginable. And once more, he seems to be proper about all the pieces. Smith clearly feels a kinship with this man, and it ends in the perfect efficiency of his profession.

Grierson & Leitch write concerning the films repeatedly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film. Comply with them on Twitter @griersonleitch or go to their web site griersonleitch.com.


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