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Will Smith’s Movies, Ranked Worst to Best

From ‘Bad Boys’ to ‘Men in Black,’ breaking down the big-screen highlights and low points of the Willennium

Illustration by Ryan Casey

For about a decade — really, up until just a couple of years ago — Will Smith was the biggest movie star in the world. Other actors might have made films that grossed more, had blockbusters with bigger opening weekends, won more awards, or grabbed more headlines. But this young rapper-turned-young TV star-turned-hunky-action hero could take the lamest blockbuster and turn it into a major hit on pure starpower alone.

Even in some of his earliest film appearances, such as his supporting turns in Made in America and Six Degrees of Separation, it was clear he had A-list potential. In the mid-Ninties, he began to make the move to massive sci-fi and action hits, then consolidated his success by taking on more demanding (and Oscar-friendly, roles: It takes a real actor to follow up a performance as Mohammad Ali with a Men in Black sequel. (To be fair, it was the Willennium.)

Smith's latest film, Concussion, about a doctor investigating debilitating head injuries in the NFL, returns him to the realm of serious, challenging dramas, and the actor is once again earning acclaim for his performance. So what better time then now to look over his diverse career and reassess the films. Here are all of Will Smith’s movies, ranked from worst to best. To paraphrase his Agent Jay: You know what difference is between him and most movie stars? He made a lot of these movies look good.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

24

‘Winter’s Tale’ (2014)

You'd think a cameo as Lucifer himself would give Will Smith the chance to really go over the top with a role. Alas, no, as he seems decidedly uncomfortable here, along with every other actor in this overwritten, lumbering adaptation of Mark Helprin's beloved period-fantasy romance novel. No expense has been spared producing this handsome film about a thief (Colin Farrell), a dying young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay), and the demonic enforcer (Russell Crowe) who's pursuing them — which makes the poor storytelling and the comically earnest dialogue that much more tragic.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

23

‘Wild Wild West’ (1999)

Overstuffed and underbaked, this bloated adaptation of the beloved 1960s Robert Conrad TV series, with Smith playing the role of Captain Jim West and Kevin Kline as his partner Artemus Gordon, is one mess of a Western. The lazy attempts at humor leave the actors hanging, while the sci-fi special-effects overwhelm any semblance of story, character, or spirit. Still, while the film didn’t ultimately perform up to expectations, its big opening weekend back in 1999 proved that Will Smith was an honest-to-goodness superstar – an actor who could open a movie big even when it looked totally dire.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

22

‘Seven Pounds’ (2008)

Here's one of Big Willie's biggest disasters: The story of a haunted man who decides to change the lives of seven people by donating his organs to them, to atone for a car crash he caused that killed seven others. It's a nutty premise as is — and filmed in such a diabolically self-serious, diabetically sentimental manner, it borders on the laughable. (Just think: Somebody looked at this story and thought, "You know what this movie needs? Death by jellyfish!") To be fair, we want our movie stars to take crazy risks in offbeat movies like this. But, well … there's a reason why they’re called "risks."

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

21

‘Made In America’ (1993)

Smith practically steals the show in this not very bright romcom, in which bookstore owner Whoopi Goldberg discovers that the biological father of her now-teenage daughter (Nia Long) is local yokel car salesman Ted Danson. The fresh-faced young actor – then still known for the hit Fresh Prince of Bel Air TV show – plays the daughter's lovesick, nerdy best friend, who helps her track down her lineage. It's bizarre that an ostensible comedy would even need comic relief, but at the very least, Smith provides it in spades.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

20

‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’ (2000)

Here's a tough one. On some level, director Robert Redford's film about a shell-shocked WWI veteran (Matt Damon) learning to love golf again with the help of a mysterious caddie (Smiith), is elegantly made, with sympathetically-drawn characters. But it's also a perfect representation of our culture's fondness for "Magical Negro" figures, with Smith effectively playing an angelic, spiritual being who serves only to help a white man self-actualize and reclaim his lost love. If ever there was a film that required a mulligan, it's this one.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

19

‘Where the Day Takes You’ (1991)

It's an inauspicious beginning to a big-screen career: Smith's feature-film debut cast him as a disabled street kid who's part of the population of desperate runaways living in and around Hollywood. The gritty drama's tone is a mix of studio gloss and abject bleakness, and the episodic narrative doesn't quite carry us along. Luckily, director Mark Rocco knew how to work with actors – the performances are mostly excellent – and he clearly had an eye for talent. Along with Smith, the film features the likes of such budding stars as Ricki Lake, Sean Astin, and Dermot Mulroney.They'd all go on to bigger and better things.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

18

‘Men in Black II’ (2002)

Smith reprised his role as Agent Jay for this sequel to his 1997 sci-fi comedy hit about the organization that keeps an eye on alien activity on earth. This time around, however, the plot — much of which involves trying to get Tommy Lee Jones to recover his memories in order to track down an intergalactic weapon — gets way too convoluted for its own good. With this entry, the MIB series suddenly seemed to represent the very thing it originally parodied: the self-important and belabored nature of big-budget sci-fi movies.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

17

‘I, Robot’ (2004)

As a gruff, cynical cop in a future dominated by seemingly-benevolent robots, Smith doesn't quite have the right edge for this sci-fi pseudo-noir based loosely (and we do mean loosely) on the classic Isaac Asimov short story collection. Investigating a crime that might have inconceivably been committed by a mechanical being run amuck, Smith's Del Spooner gets to indulge his bigoted side – his irrational, robot-hatin' side. That makes for a clever bit of irony, which the film then fails to explore in any meaningful way, instead just setting us up for a bunch of wan action-movie shoot-'em-up and chase scenes. Does. Not. Compute.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

16

‘Shark Tale’ (2004)

At the time of its release, this Dreamworks animated hit — with Smith voicing a daydreaming wrasse who befriends a not-too-vicious shark (Jack Black) — took some blows for not being as good as Pixar's Finding Nemo. (It also provoked the ire of some groups who felt that it presented negative Italian-American stereotypes in its savage, mob-like family of predators.) Yet it's still a mostly engaging, ultimately harmless little adventure, with a far smaller number of cloying pop-culture gags than the company's far more popular Shrek films. Kids may not understand all the gangster-movie in-jokes, but they'll get a kick out of the be-yourself message and underwater goofiness nevertheless.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

15

‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues’ (2013)

Smith gets a cameo in this semi-funny follow-up to Will Ferrell's hit comedy about a Seventies-era news anchor and his team, whose dated, hilariously Neanderthal machismo butts up against society’s changing mores. But it's a genuinely great guest appearance: He's the leader of a pack of ESPN journalists in the film's deliriously silly, extended, and gory multi-news-team-gang melee. It's packed with celebrity's — everyone from Marion Cotillard to Kanye West — but we have a weakness for Smith's line, "Tonight's play of the day is me extracting your spine from your damn body!"

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

14

‘After Earth’ (2013)

In this M. Night Shyamalan-directed science-fiction adventure, Smith is a wounded legendary warrior who crash-lands with his son (played by Jaden Smith) on a now-quarantined future version of Earth. The desolate planet is relentlessly hostile, and the young man has to journey out on his own in order to get himself and his dad back home. This flop was largely derided upon its release by both audiences and critics, but it’s not nearly as bad as its reputation suggests. The key problem here is that Jaden doesn't quite have the intensity required to carry the film. But aside from the great gaping hole where the protagonist is supposed to be, it's beautifully designed, genuinely imaginative, and at times even quite suspenseful.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

13

‘Bad Boys II’ (2003)

Smith and Martin Lawrence reunited as the two mouthy Miami cops in director Michael Bay's sequel to the 1995 hit that helped put him on the map. But unlike the first Bad Boys, this one is a grandiose, expansive production befitting the filmmaker and his star's higher profiles — it's one ginormous comedy and/or action set-piece after another. The most notorious: A crazed coastal freeway chase involving a fleeing DEA agent, machine-gun-wielding baddies, and an auto hauler dropping cars left and right. It's possibly the most Michael Bay-est scene Michael Bay has ever directed, and that's saying something.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

12

‘Six Degrees of Separation’ (1993)

Playwright John Guare's acclaimed chamber piece made for an uneven film adaptation, with young Smith playing a gay con artist who dupes a wealthy Upper East Side couple (played by Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) by telling them that he's the son of Sidney Poitier. Alas, what felt appropriately metaphorical and ruminative on stage becomes somewhat muddled and inane onscreen. The real attraction here is the controlled, charismatic performance by the man formerly known as the Fresh Prince. Watching him back then, you knew this guy had a great movie career ahead of him.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

11

‘Men In Black 3’ (2012)

For the third installment of his hit sci-fi comedy series (now no longer saddled with Roman numerals!), Smith's agent travels back in time to team up with the younger version of his partner (Josh Brolin, who looks more like Tommy Lee Jones than you'd expect) to stop an alien invasion. At the time, the film had the whiff of desperation – Smith's box-office streak had come to an ignominious end with the dire melodrama Seven Pounds – but this is quite light on its feet, and an improvement over the second installment in the series.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

10

‘Bad Boys’ (1995)

One's a family man; the other is an unrepentant bachelor; both are wise-cracking Miami cops. (Guess which one Smith plays?) This gorgeously shot action-comedy/crime thriller/things-go-boom blockbuster was an early hit for both stars and for director Michael Bay, making his feature debut. The plot is utterly disposable – mixing and matching elements from movies like Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop, which themselves weren't that original to begin with – but the real attraction here are the two leads. The film lets them unleash one seemingly-improvised verbal riff after another; at times lit feels just like a vintage Abbott and Costello movie, only with a higher body count and bigger explosions.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

9

‘Hancock’ (2008)

Here's a high concept: Will Smith as a drunk, depressed, bitter immortal superhero, whose image is redeemed by a PR guy played by Jason Bateman. Peter Berg's moody action flick is an interesting hybrid – an idea best suited for goofy comedy, played mostly straight – and for much of its running time, it works surprisingly well. The film starts to go off the rails the more action-y it becomes. Smith makes for a compellingly downbeat, almost pathetic hero.

Will Smith

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8

‘Focus’ (2015)

This con-man drama has our man Will playing an experienced hustler who takes on a beautiful protégé — The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie — and schools her in the ways of thievery and deception, only to eventually find himself competing with her for a big score. Of course, sparks fly between the two … which makes things extra-complicated, especially since people who lie for a living are terrible at building lasting relationships. A slick little cocktail of romance and duplicity, the film can’t quite maintain its energy all the way through, but Smith is genuinely magnetic in the lead. You're reminded why this guy is a movie star.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

7

‘Hitch’ (2005)

As a professional "Date Doctor" who gives dating advice and provides romantic coaching to lonely New Yorkers, Smith is perfectly cast in this winning romcom, which makes us wish he'd return to this genre more frequently. A pre-annoying Kevin James is his dumpy but charming protégé this time around, and Eva Mendes makes a great love interest – as a beautiful, but hard-headed journalist who seems resistant to Hitch's best moves. (Don't worry, she comes around.)

Will Smith

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6

‘Independence Day’ (1996)

One of Smith's biggest hits was one of the great movie events of 1996 – which tells you what a lame year that was for blockbusters. Roland Emmerich's alien invasion epic is a mixture of amped up alien-invasion action and broad, uneasy comedy; Smith provides both via his heroic Marine Corps pilot who winds up helping lead Earth's resistance against the deadly E.T.s. The effects have dated, and the once-fun images of the aliens blowing up the White House (which audiences cheered at the time) now seem unintentionally disturbing. That said, you'd be surprised by how much of this popcorn-flick still brings the cheesy-pleasure fun.

Will Smith
5

‘Enemy of the State’ (1998)

Director Tony Scott melds Seventies conspiracy thrillers with slick Nineties action movies — and gives Smith a plum role as a DC lawyer who finds himself pursued by national security goons after he winds up with video incriminating a corrupt government official. Gene Hackman, in a loose reprisal of his performance from Francis Ford Coppola's 1974 masterpiece The Conversation, helps our hero as he battles the surveillance state. Smith makes for a great Everyman: slightly out of his element but still game for chases, close calls, etc. It's fast, big, and fun — and its paranoia has gained extra resonance in the intervening years.

Will Smith

Illustration by Ryan Casey

4

‘Men In Black’ (1997)

The artist who'd declare the next century "the Willennium" scored one of his biggest hits with this multiplex-friendly take on Lowell Cunningham's comic book, in which he's recruited to join the titular organization that investigates, monitors, and vanquishes space aliens living amongst the population. (It's basically Ghostbusters with aliens instead of ghosts.)  A perfect pin with which to pop the then-incipient bloat of big-budget science-fiction/action flicks, the film is filled with a refreshingly irreverent sense of humor and, in Smith and cantankerous Tommy Lee Jones, a great screen duo.