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Career Watch: Will Smith, Still on His Throne?

Thompson on Hollywood By Sophia Savage | Thompson on Hollywood May 29, 2012 at 4:22PM

Music-TV-film superstar Will Smith did not mark his return to the box office (after a four year hiatus) with a bang, but it wasn't a crash either. "Men in Black III" knocked "The Avengers" off its top spot, and while it's no disaster, it finished the weekend short of expectations. It's better than expected, but only because the bar with "MIB2" had been set so low. While the landscape has changed and movie stardom doesn't mean what it once did, it's undeniable that Smith is one of our last remaining beloved stars, with a string of successful dramas, comedies, action movies and thrillers. He's been in the public eye for the majority of his life, and has yet to dance on Oprah's couch. Does anyone not love Will Smith?
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Will Smith in "Independence Day"
Will Smith in "Independence Day"

Music-TV-film superstar Will Smith did not mark his return to the box office (after a four year hiatus) with a bang, but it wasn't a crash either. "Men in Black III" knocked "The Avengers" off its top spot, and while it's no disaster, it finished the weekend short of expectations. It's better than expected, but only because the bar with "MIB2" had been set so low. While the landscape has changed and movie stardom doesn't mean what it once did, it's undeniable that Smith is one of our last remaining beloved stars, with a string of successful dramas, comedies, action movies and thrillers. He's been in the public eye for the majority of his life, and has yet to dance on Oprah's couch. Does anyone not love Will Smith?

When he appeared on "Inside the Actors Studio" to promote "Ali," Smith told host James Lipton that his favorite word was antidisestablishmentarianism, which he defined as "an individual who is against the system." It makes sense, and it speaks to what audiences have loved so much about him.

SIGNATURE QUOTE: "Looked at my kingdom I was finally there, To sit on my throne as the prince of Bel-Air." - As The Fresh Prince

THE START: Will Smith grew up in West Philadelphia, and was born with charm flowing out of his mouth. He essentially played himself for six seasons of "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," after rising to and falling from success while pursuing a career in music in his early twenties --DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (with Jeffrey Townes). His crossover into film started with "Six Degrees of Separation" and "Made in America" (both in 1993), followed by "Bad Boys" in 1995 and "Independence Day" in 1996 - and the world was hooked. In the nineties, all you needed to fight off an alien invasion was Will Smith and a bad attitude. Now we have to put overgrown man-kids in Spandex. Oh, the good old days.

Will Smith, Pursuit of Happyness
Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness"
BIGGEST ASSET: Undeniable "It" factor.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: His top four money makers were "Independence Day" (1996; $817 million worldwide), "Hancock" (2008; $624 million), "Men In Black" (1997; $589 million) and "I Am Legend" (2007; $585 million). Major acting awards recognition came with "Ali" (Oscar and Golden Globe nominations; 2002) and "The Pursuit of Happyness" (Oscar and Golden Globe nominations; 2007), as well as for his work in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (Golden Globe; 1993 & 1994). He has also received multiple MTV, Teens' Choice, Kids' Choice People's Choice, Black Reel, Black Movie, Blockbuster Entertainment, BET and Image nominations and awards. "I Am Legend" (2007) and "Hitch" (2005) are also among his better commercial efforts. He was chosen as one of the world's 50 Most Beautiful People by People magazine in 1998. The accolades go on and on.

MISFIRES: He received a Razzie Award (in 2002, shared with Kevin Kline) for Worst Screen Couple in box office dud "Wild Wild West," but his theme song for the movie was a hit and he has yet to lose his place as America's favorite movie star. "The Legend of Baggar Vance" (2000), "Men in Black II" (2002), "Bad Boys II" (2003), "I, Robot" (2004), "Hancock" (2008) and "Seven Pounds" (2008) are among his critical lows. He shares space with a handful of leading men who have managed to keep fan attention for years -- Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford -- but during Smith's four-year break between "Seven Pounds" (2008) and "MIB3," the industry has changed significantly, and he may not wield the box office clout he once did.

BIGGEST PROBLEM: Do we still need movie stars? With sequels for "I Am Legend," "Hancock," "Bad Boys" and "I, Robot" in the works (and over a dozen projects in development, mostly with Smith as a producer), the man could set the industry straight and kick the tired superheros off their podium. Or not. Either way, there's always room for Will Smith.

CAREER ADVICE: Just keep it real.

Revisit Smith's career in trailers below:

This article is related to: Will Smith, Headliners, Box Office, Box Office, Features, Career Watch, Celebs, Hollywood, Action, Sequel


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.