The last time we saw Will Smith on screen was in 2008’s Seven Pounds. During his “hiatus” Smith has been working. Producing films like Lakeview Terrace, The Secret Life of Bees, and the box office smash The Karate Kid (starring his son Jaden) have kept Smith very busy. Now, Smith is ready to come back to the spotlight as he preps the third installment in the Men in Black franchise and a prequel to I Am Legend. Smith has come a long way from being the neighborhood clean rapper to being one of the most valuable movie stars of the last ten years.
The Evolution of Will Smith
WILL SMITH THE FRESH PRINCE
Willard Smith began his career as a senior in high school when he first got his record deal. Less than a year later he won the first Grammy in the Rap category. Being a young man with instant popularity and riches, the money was spent very loosely. When he was near bankruptcy, NBC approached him with a way out: a show called The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This sitcom started the career of one this generation’s classic movie star.
As the “Prince of Bel Air,” Will Smith’s acting was a little shaky. In the first batch of episodes, he was known to mouth the other actors’ lines as they recited them. The popularity of the show made NBC pick it up for a full season and in no time Will Smith was in everyone’s living room. Even though the show was a comedy, Will Smith did flex his dramatic acting muscle when necessary. (Click the picture below to view one of Will Smith’s best moments of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air)
WILL SMITH THE ACTOR
In 1992-93, Will Smith co-starred in three films, Where the Day Takes You, Made In America (alongside Whoppi Goldberg and Ted Danson), and Six Degrees of Seperation. The latter of the three solidified Smith as a young actor that should be taken seriously. In Six Degrees, Will Smith was brave enough to play a gay character. This move was important in his career as well as a no-no for his rap fans. The role still gave him the respect that opened even more doors for him.
Smith was still starring in his own sitcom for a couple more years before Michael Bay cast him for a cop comedy called Bad Boys with Martin Lawrence. The film made over $60 million in the box offices and more than $100 million worldwide. The film not only made Smith a Hollywood star but also a sex symbol. The film also showed how much improvisational skills he had as an actor. Some of the best lines in the films were made up on the spot by Smith and Lawrence.
In 1997, after the $300 million success of Independence Day, Smith introduced “Agent J” in his first sci-fi movie Men In Black. Not as successful as his previous film, but it still gave an impressive $250 million rake in at the box office. Having a box office smash wasn’t enough though, a Billboard hit would make the success even sweeter.
WILL SMITH THE PRODUCER
In 1999, Will Smith saw the success of his music and his films and decided to capitalize on it by creating a production company called Overbrook Entertainment, named after his high school in West Philadelphia. This production company went to oversee most of Smith’s films from 2001 onward. Overbrook Entertainment also covers soundtracks and distribution of various media.
The first Overbrook-produced film was Ali.
In 2001, Will Smith filmed his first biopic as Muhammad Ali in Ali. Mixed reviews and low box office numbers did not take away from the respect he received by playing the role. Smith did impressive research to play Ali. He spent a year “becoming a boxer” studying Ali and his mannerisms, spending hours in the gym training, and taking actual hits in the films boxing sequences. He received his first nomination from the Academy for Best Actor.
2002’s Men in Black II was Smith’s first sequel and the beginning of his eight-film run of $100 million dollar movies, a record that has still yet to be broken by any actor:
2002 Men in Black II $190 Million
2003 Bad Boys II $138 Million
2004 I, Robot $144 Million
2004 Shark Tale $161 Million
2005 Hitch $177 MIllion
2006 The Pursuit of Happyness $162 Million
2007 I Am Legend $256 Million
2008 Hancock $227 Million
WILL SMITH THE IDEA
After founding his production company Will Smith wanted to set a new standard of consciousness. Making the Forbes richest lists and receiving $20 million dollar fees for films wasn’t enough. Smith set on a path to be a student of all religions, studying the ideas behind each faith. Smith says he is a Christian but respects all of the ideologies of Scientology, Muslim and Jewish faiths. In 2007, Smith donated $1.3 million to different churches of all religions to show his respect for people of all paths.
“I want to be an idea,” he said in an interview with Tavis Smiley. ” I want to represent possibilities.”
In the winter of 2004-05 Will Smith dipped his star power in two new genres, Animation and Romantic-Comedy. Even with mixed reviews, Shark Tale and Hitch both took in over $160 million each. After the success of Hitch, Smith starred in his second Academy Award-nominated performance.
Pursuit of Happyness was released in the winter of 2006. It was a smash at the box office and it also received great reviews from the critics. That year Smith was nominated for the Best Actor award from the Academy. With this film, Smith showed that his dramatic performances can still get movie fans to rush the theaters.
“I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” Smith told Time magazine. “I view myself slightly above talent. Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic. While the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy is making love, well, I’m making love too but I’m working really hard at it.”
After Will Smith gave his Midas touch to several genres, he came back with genre mixing action, sci-fi-dramas I Am Legend and Hancock. The first, making over $256 million, the latter $227 million. Hancock was one of Smith’s favorite scripts to work with. The idea of a drunken super hero was idea he was sitting on for over six years.
Even with all his success, Will Smith generally receives negative to mixed reviews by film critics. Smith finds that his success lies in what the fans actually want and not what a reviewer has to say. His production company holds much research to cater to audiences worldwide to optimize the movie experience as well as the profit.
“I’ve never had a movie that was reviewed well…Historically, my films have been review proof. I take [the movies] to the fans. I base it on how the people respond.”
Rumble, young man. Rumble…
Even though Will Smith hasn’t been on the silver screen since 2008’s Seven Pounds, he has had his hands in many productions and music ventures. Overbrook Entertainment has produced Lakeview Terrace, The Secret Life of Bees, and The Karate Kid (featuring Jaden Smith). Currently Smith is working on Men in Black III, due out in 2012.