Will Smith is one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood to the point that someone called him “the most powerful actor in Hollywood” once—even if he started out as a rapper. Before even getting into acting, Will Smith has wanted to rap instead of going to college. He spat beats as The Fresh Prince, until he was cast for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, pushing him into an acting career and into stardom. And since then, the world has been welcomed into the Willennium as the actor-rapper enjoyed playing roles we know and love in numerous blockbuster films.
In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look at some of Will Smith’s best big screen performances, but you know, in no particular order.
Ali is one of those films in which an actor has to do so much preparation before the actual shooting begins if they want to perform well, and Will Smith did just that. He spent a year preparing for the role, poring over about Muhammad Ali’s life, learning boxing, getting dialect training, and educating himself on Islamic studies. Well, all his efforts resulted in a masterful performance and his first Oscar nomination, so we’d say it was all worth it.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Will Smith is out to break our hearts in this simple, character-driven film telling the story of a man beaten down by life but still struggling to survive and live with his son. And it becomes more touching when you see that his onscreen son is played by his actual son Jaden. While there’s nothing showy about the movie, the actor’s heartfelt performance earned him an Oscar nomination.
Enemy of the State (1998)
This action-packed film is where Will Smith tests his inclination towards more serious characters as he takes on the role of a labor lawyer framed for the murder of a congressman who must prove his innocence while trying to shake off his pursuers. This is one of the films solidifies Will Smith’s position as a headliner.
I Am Legend (2007)
This film never figured out what ending to go with (there’s the original one that the audience rejected, and the alternate one that was probably made to appease the masses—but death of the author, amirite?). And yet Will Smith’s performance here is undeniably captivating. His role as genius-scientist-turned-last-man-on-earth is far from his usual wisecracking character, spending more time reflecting and internalizing, yet this simply allowed Will Smith to prove his versatility as an actor.
Independence Day (1996)
While everyone generally agrees that Independence Day is iconic (and to each his own if it’s in the good or bad way), being considered as the biggest movie of the year it was released, hindsight proves to be 20/20 as many realize that its plot and characterization leave much to be desired. And yet, every time he is onscreen, Will Smith dominates our attention and we’re hooked. Maybe that’s why the sequel didn’t do so well; Will Smith wasn’t in it.
Before he became Suicide Squad’s Deadshot, Will Smith was already a superhero—albeit a lesser known, more bitter, and scruffier one. Hancock came at the heels of the immensely successful Iron Man, but the actor’s performance as deadbeat, near-depressed vigilante-superhero made the film the third-highest grossing in the year of its release.
Hitch is as predictable as romantic comedies could get, with the plotline of a dating coach trying to help an awkward client get the girl of his dreams while simultaneously and accidentally falling in love with a woman resistant to his charms. Well, Will Smith rarely does romcoms, but Hitch proves he can play charming guy just as well as he does any role.
Men in Black (1997)
When you hear his name, your first thought is probably Men in Black, because yes, this movie is that movie for Will Smith. Comedy, sci-fi, and action all thrown into one big blockbuster film sounds like a nightmare, but MIB makes it work, especially with the witty dialogue and the leads’ charismatic performances. I mean, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones wearing suits and shades and talking to aliens hiding as humans? Sign us up.
What’s your favorite Will Smith movie? Tell us below!