From Fresh Prince to DC’s ‘Suicide Squad’: Why Will Smith is Still a Big Deal
Not everyone who vows to become “the biggest movie star in the world” actually makes good on that claim. But that’s more or less what Will Smith has accomplished over the past 15 years. With his new film, ‘Focus,’ hitting theaters, and his first comic book movie, ‘Suicide Squad,’ coming in 2016, let’s trace the path of his meteoric rise.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990)
This “fish out of water” sitcom, loosely based on Smith’s life in Philly, saw Smith’s character (also called Will) sent to live with his rich relatives in California. The theme song along may be one of Smith's most enduring creations.
Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
Smith found his first starring film role in this adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play (which has nothing to do with Kevin Bacon). He played a skilled con artist named Paul, who possessed a talent for inserting himself into the lives of wealthy Manhattan families.
Bad Boys (1995)
Michael Bay’s first feature film is responsible for turning Smith into an action hero. Starring opposite Martin Lawrence, the two play Miami cops struggling to take down the bad guys in between car chases and blowing stuff up. A belated sequel came in 2003, with a third installment in development.
Independence Day (1996)
While boasting an impressive ensemble cast, Smith managed to shine the most in this hit sci-fi disaster epic from Roland Emmerich. ‘ID4’ fast-tracked Smith to the A-list; it’s too bad he won’t be back for the upcoming sequel.
Men in Black (1997)
As with ‘Bad Boys,’ the dynamic between Smith and co-star Tommy Lee Jones proved to be catnip for audiences. Smith’s first legit franchise, ‘Men in Black’ spawned two sequels – but the first film is still the best.
Wild Wild West (1999)
Smith reunited with ‘Men in Black’ director Barry Sonnenfield for this big-screen update of the classic TV series, which unfortunately became one of Smith’s first – and biggest – misfires.
Smith rebounded with an Oscar-nominated turn in Michael Mann’s compelling bio-pic about the famous boxer. The star got to show off some considerable acting chops, while transforming himself physically to do the legend justice.
After action movies and Oscar dramas, Smith proved that he can be successful in the rom-com genre as well. Smith plays the titular character, a professional “date doctor” who finds himself caught up in a new fling. As usual, Smith's personal charm served him well.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Five years after ‘Ali,’ Smith once again flexed his dramatic acting muscles in this film, based on the life of Chris Gardner and his struggle with homelessness. Smith's portrayal of the weary, driven Gardner earned him both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations. ‘Happyness’ also marks the acting debut of Smith’s son, Jaden.
I Am Legend (2007)
This post-apocalyptic horror film (based on the Richard Matheson novel) features Smith as the last man on Earth, struggling to survive in a world infected by vampires. ‘Legend’ is one of Smith’s biggest hits.
It wasn’t until 2008 that Smith got the chance to play an actual superhero. His Hancock wasn't exactly Superman material, though, given the character’s alcoholism and poor public image. The film was a mixed bag for critics, but Smith’s fans made it a hit.
One could argue that Smith's career comes full circle in this film, as he again plays a charismatic con man. He stars alongside fellow ‘Suicide Squad’ actor Margot Robbie in a story about two grifters who get in deep with the sharks.
Suicide Squad (2016)
WB has assembled a murderer's row of talent for the next phase of their DC Comics movie plans. ‘Suicide Squad,’ from director David Ayer, focuses on a group of incarcerated super-criminals given the chance to work off their sentences by taking on dangerous missions. Smith is set to play expert marksman Deadshot, while Margot Robbie will play Harley Quinn. Oscar-winner Jared Leto is set to play the Joker.