Total Recall: Will Smith's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Men in Black III star.
He's been a chart-topping rapper, the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and the undisputed king of the July 4 movie blockbuster, but Will Smith has never been the subject of a Total Recall -- so we're repenting for the error of our ways with this week's list, written in honor of Smith's return as Agent J in Men in Black III. You'll obviously find some of the biggest hit films of the last 15 years in here, but Big Willie Style isn't always about the big-budget smash hit; his filmography actually contains a few eclectic diversions that may surprise you. Let's find out how many of your favorites made the cut!
10. I, Robot
Isaac Asimov's classic short story collection had a long journey to the screen -- and when it finally arrived in 2004, the end result bore little more than a passing resemblance to its literary namesake. It may have disappointed purists, but I, Robot was another in a line of hit summer films for Smith -- and although its transformation into a big-budget action thriller may have sacrificed thought-provoking subtext along the way, it was still enough for Nev Pierce of the BBC, who argued, "Whether there's anything substantial under the sheen and CGI of Alex Proyas' glistening future vision is debatable, but this enjoyable, engrossing picture is at least intelligently artificial."
After establishing himself as an action star with Bad Boys, Smith kicked off a string of July 4 blockbusters with Independence Day, Roland Emmerich's 1996 ensemble sci-fi thriller about the worldwide chaos unleashed when an armada of terribly unfriendly aliens stops by Earth for a visit. With a worldwide gross of over $815 million, Independence Day was the biggest hit of the year, and although Smith had a lot of help along the way, his wisecracking heroics were a big part of what inspired critics like Empire's Angie Errigo to hail it as "a throwback to traditional entertainment with an old-fashioned, gung-ho good time thrilled up by '90s-style state-of-the-art technology."
Otherwise known as the film that proved Will Smith's cinematic dynasty would eventually extend to his kids, The Pursuit of Happyness used the real-life story of Chris Gardner's journey from homeless single parent to stockbroker as the basis for an inspirational drama starring Smith alongside his son Jaden, who was all of eight when the movie came out (and stole the picture anyway). It takes a special kind of performance to make audiences believe a multimillionaire box-office king as a desperate dad on the brink of losing everything, and Smith delivered it here; as Tom Meek wrote for the Boston Phoenix, "Smith turns in a career-capping performance, and director Gabriele Muccino ingeniously turns the material inward, cautioning us all to be grateful for what we have, for we're closer to the edge than we think."
Smith trained for a year to prepare himself for the title role in Michael Mann's Muhammad Ali biopic, both inside the ring and out, with a workload that included everything from live sparring to Islamic studies and time with a dialect coach. While Ali ultimately packed a somewhat disappointing punch at the box office, where its $87 million gross failed to earn back its budget, all that preparation paid off handsomely for Smith, who walked away with a Best Actor Oscar nomination -- as well as glowing reviews from critics like Jay Carr of the Boston Globe, who wrote, "Smith makes contact with enough of Ali's swagger, sweetness, wit, and pride to convince us that justice is being done to the boxing champion."
Romantic comedies get a pretty bad rap, but when they're put together with enough sensitivity and skill, the results can be pretty hard to resist. Case in point: 2005's Hitch, starring Smith as a legendary "date doctor" who's playing matchmaker for a schlub (Kevin James) and his celebrity crush (Amber Valletta) while wooing a gossip columnist (Eva Mendes) whose latest assignment puts her on an unwitting collision course with Hitch. It's all familiar stuff, but that was just fine with critics like Terry Lawson of the Detroit Free Press, who wrote, "Smith and Mendes are terrific together. He brings her game up so high you'd think she has had as many good parts as Smith."