For over fifteen years, Will Smith was the man. He was an actor who’s movies made tons of money and were well-received critically, along with getting some play from the Oscars. He also had a personality unlike anyone else in Hollywood and was always the coolest person in the room. But over the last decade, Smith has hit a rough patch, a very brutal rough patch at that. I don’t know what happened, but Smith’s choice in roles, along with some of his performances, have been questionable to say the least. Even with these questionable choices, I still get excited when Smith is in a movie, which is one of the reasons I cannot wait to see Smith’s latest film, Gemini Man, the new action film from director Ang Lee. So in honor of that, here are my picks for the best Will Smith movies.
The films on this list are based on the quality of the film and Smith’s performance.
5 – MUHAMMED ALI in ALI (Michael Mann, 2001)
- After becoming a box office king in the late 90’s, Smith took his talents to the Oscar stage in Ali, Michael Mann’s biopic of the legendary boxer. This isn’t your typical boxing movie, however. Mann doesn’t focus on Ali’s fights in the ring, but his fights outside of it. Ali had one of the biggest personality in all of sports, so you needed an actor with just as big of a personality to play him and Smith matches that. Smith got swole as hell and learned Ali’s speech mannerisms and how to box for the role and he carries this movies. Though not the Muhammed Ali film people imagined, it is Smith’s arresting, Oscar nominated performance along with Mann’s stellar filmmaking and storytelling that makes Ali one of the best boxing movies ever.
4 – MIKE LOWREY in BAD BOYS & BAD BOYS II (Michael Bay, 1995 & 2003)
- Bad Boy and Bad Boys II are movies I simply love. I am a bigger fan of Michael Bay than most, as I believe nobody makes movies quite like him and I only dislike a small handful of his movies. The one thing Bay isn’t really good at is character development and getting great performances from his actors. But that doesn’t matter in the Bad Boys films because the actors are doing their own lifting. Smith, along with co-star Martin Lawrence just do their funny, buddy-cop thing, playing off of each other beautifully to give us a number of laughs and a lot of heart. They know Mike and Marcus and they know their relationship. This allows Bay to unleash full Bayhem on screen, with loud, insane, explosive set-pieces and makes Bad Boys and Bad Boys II two action films that are absolute blasts.
3 – CAPTAIN STEVEN HILLER in INDEPENDENCE DAY (Roland Emmerich, 1996)
- Independence Day is the movie that made Will Smith the movie star we know him to be. Before this, Smith’s only leading man role was in Bad Boys, but he was mostly known for his rap career and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. But Roland Emmerich’s alien blockbuster put Smith on the main stage and he crushed it. Playing Captain Steven Hiller, a Marine pilot who ends up on the forefront of an alien invasion taking over Earth, Smith showed he could carry a movie by bringing his Fresh Prince humor, Bad Boys action heroism, and the swagger he had since day one. Smith steals the movie and made Independence Day a holiday classic and a landmark in summer movies.
2 – ROBERT NEVILLE in I AM LEGEND (Francis Lawrence, 2007)
- At this moment in his career, Will Smith was basically unstoppable. He was a two-time and his last six films had all grossed over $100 million at the domestic box office, which included movies like Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness, both of which made over $150 and both of which would barely make $50 million today if they didn’t go straight to Netflix of Amazon. So Smith then took on one of the toughest roles of his career in I Am Legend, where for nearly the entire movie it is just Smith and a dog on screen. As the only survivor of a plague that has killed most of humanity, Smith plays a man who is desperately trying to find a cure while trying to survive against the infected humans and his own loneliness. Whether talking to his trustee dog, Sam, or running away from an infected human, you can’t take your eyes off of Smith. Smith also showcases how insanely talented he is by showing off his action-star chops and coupling that with moments of humor and heart-wrenching emotion. This is the best performance of Smith’s career.
1 – AGENT J in MEN IN BLACK (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1997)
- As stated with Independence Day, the 90’s belonged to Smith and if you had any questions about his charisma, star-power, and acting ability, it was all answered in Men in Black. Smith plays Agent J, the hot-shot new agent of a secret government agency known as the Men In Black (M.I.B.) who are in-charge of policing and monitoring extraterrestrial interactions on Earth. J and his partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones at his best) are in search of a giant, interstellar cockroach who is disguised as a farmer (Vincent D’Onofrio, in one of the truly great sci-fi performances ever) who’s presence on Earth puts the whole planet at risk. The chemistry between Smith and Jones is incredible, with Smith’s wild, loud humor mixing perfectly with Jones’ quick, dry one-liners. This was Smith solidifying himself as one of Hollywood’s best leading men and he did in an exciting, hilarious, action-packed, and endlessly rewatchable film.
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