Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands. We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today. We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work. (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).
It doesn’t seem that long ago since Will Smith burst onto the scene as a rapper and the star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but we’re coming up on a career that has lasted 30 years as a musician and actor. Will Smith is LIKABLE! If you had to vote on the most likable person in the world, Will Smith would beat the Pope (well the new one’s pretty good; but the old one? he beats the old one). Moving from TV onto the screen, early in his career Smith was the King of Summer Blockbusters. He also proved his legitimate acting chops by taking on an even more charismatic person than himself: Muhammad Ali and earned an Oscar nomination (and another later for The Pursuit of Happyness).
Here’s the thing though: in looking at Smith’s career this week I realized I don’t like many of his films. I like HIM! Good Lord, have I mentioned he’s likable? The man’s so positive and funny, he’s the adult equivalent of a Tickle-Me-Elmo. He makes Denzel Washington look like a sour old man. I LOVE Will Smith. I had to watch Bad Boys 2, Hitch and After Earth though this week to do some research so we’re going to be talking some tough love with Tickle-Me-Will. Things are not headed the right direction.
From the mid 1990’s to the mid 2000’s, Smith had a good-not great-run of quality films. The Men in Black sequels have been SO bad that you forget how much fun and how original the first one was. Independence Day has not aged well (remember it as it was and don’t go back). Enemy of the State has aged well with the advent of NSA surveillance, it’s a smart thriller with added relevance fifteen years later.
Smith then moved into a dramatic/science fiction epic phase that seemed to be about maintaining his box office dominance while chasing an Oscar. He got two nominations for two fine films: Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness. The latter debuted Smith’s son Jaden who is an exceptionally talented young actor in his own right. He made adaptations of two science fiction classics: I Am Legend and I, Robot. I love both films and think they’re two of his best. The former is very divisive, but it’s my favorite film in his canon and, I think, his strongest performance.
Then cometh the abyss. After I am Legend, came Seven Pounds (which I like just fine, but a lot of people I respect HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATE this film) and the beginning of the end of the summer box office bankability with Hancock. Hancock is half a good movie; an ok movie. Then midway it takes one of the most bizarre WHAT THE WHATS I’ve ever seen and spends the rest of the movie lamely trying to explain it. Men in Black 3 was not as bad as Men in Black 2. I mean that in the sense that it was a 6.25 and not a 1.25. Most of that movie’s appeal was Josh Brolin’s Tommy Lee Jones imitation anyway, not Smith. After Earth was recently reviewed on the site, so you can check it out, but it was just leaden and devoid of the personality that’s Smith’s bread and butter. I will also say, that Bad Boys 2 is an offense to film making. It’s Michael Bay at his most vile and it may be worse than Transformers 2, which is saying a lot. It made After Earth look like Schindler’s List. So what’s the damage here on the last 10 of Smith’s efforts?
SMITH’S LATEST TEN:
1. After Earth (2013) 4.00
2. Men in Black 3 (2012) 6.25
3. Seven Pounds (2008) 7.00
4. Hancock (2008) 5.25
5. I Am Legend (2007) 9.50
6. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) 9.25
7. Hitch (2005) 5.75
8. Shark Tale (2004) 4.00
9. I, Robot (2004) 9.00
10. Bad Boys II (2003) 1.50
WILL SMITH’S CURRENT WORKING AVERAGE: 6.150
This is the lowest of the actors we’ve examined, but when Bad Boys 2 drops off next year (Smith is set to do Winter’s Tale with Russell Crowe and a smaller film called Focus), it’s really not too bad. It’s also not that great. This was also the first time I had to decide if voice acting should count in the rankings and I came down on the side of “yes”. When we look at Robin Williams, can we NOT talk about Aladdin? Voice acting is a part of nearly every star’s repertoire these days and increasingly in video games, but we’ll stick to movies for now.
Long-term, Smith is also attached to Hancock 2 and Bad Boys 3; which would be major missteps. He needs to, in his late forties, find a better niche for himself than trying to recapture the Fresh Prince. Let’s look at Smith’s 10 greatest films and get his average score:
SMITH’S GREATEST TEN:
1. I Am Legend (2007) 9.50
2. Pursuit of Happyness (2006) 9.25
3. Men in Black (1997) 9.00
4. I, Robot (2004) 9.00
5. Ali (2001) 8.50
6. Enemy of the State (1998) 8.00
7. Independence Day (1996) 8.00
8. The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000) 7.75
9. Six Degrees of Separation (1995) 7.50
10. Seven Pounds (2008) 7.00
WILL SMITH’S CURRENT GREATEST AVERAGE: 8.350
Smith is the first artist we’ve examined without a 10.00. His greatest score is also the lowest of any actor we’ve examined. There’s no doubt Smith has greatness in him in a multitude of arenas. He’s been working less to concentrate on Jaden and his daughter Willow’s careers as a parent and there’s nothing more laudable than making family a priority. If he wants to keep making films, though, he needs to realize he’s pushing 50 and pick projects that allow him to take that vitality that bursts from his eyes like heat vision and channel it into something worthy of him. Because I LOVE WILL SMITH! And if I can say that after Bad Boys 2, Lord knows it must be true.