Will Smith: Most bankable stars in Hollywood

Oscar-nominated actor and Grammy-winning rapper Will Smith is easily one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Over the years, he’s sold millions of records using the moniker ‘The Fresh Prince’ and acted in blockbuster films, firmly establishing himself as an A-list actor. Here’s a look back at his career.

Smith was born on Sept. 25, 1968, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. to Caroline and Willard Smith. He is the second of four children and started rapping when he was 12. His quick rhymes, mixed with comedic elements and clean lyrics became his trademark and earned him the nickname ‘Prince.’

Smith’s “Wild Wild West” (1999) was a commercial disappointment. He starred with Kevin Kline in the action comedy set in a steampunk version of the Old West.

He was 16 when he first met his future collaborator Jeff Townes at a party. The hip-hop duo started creating their own music under the name DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. They released their first album, “Rock the House” in 1987 which charted on the Billboard 200.

Their second single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (1988) won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance. But their most successful and highest-charting song in the U.S. and U.K. was “Summertime” (1991), that won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.

His first major break as an actor was on the the sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-96). He played a street-smart teenager who is sent to live with his wealthy uncle and aunt in the affluent Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, U.S. The show ran for six seasons and got Smith several awards for acting.

One of his early movie roles was the comedy “Made in America” (1993), starring Whoopi Goldberg as a mother whose daughter (Nia Long) discovers that she was conceived using sperm from a white donor (Ted Danson). Smith played the daughter’s lovesick, nerdy best friend, providing comic relief.

In 1993, he appeared in the movie “Six Degrees of Separation” (1993) that was inspired by the true story of conman David Hampton. The actor played a hustler who claims to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier and persuades a wealthy New York couple (Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing) to let him stay with them.

He then starred in the buddy cop movie “Bad Boys” (1995). While it was not a critical success, Smith’s pairing with Martin Lawrence helped the film gross more than $100 million worldwide.

His 1996 film “Independence Day” became the highest-grossing movie of the year. Smith played a Marine Corps pilot who joins a plot to counter-attack vicious aliens who want to harvest Earth’s resources. The film won an Oscar for its visual effects and a Grammy for its score.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys

He delivered another commercial hit in 1997, when he starred with Tommy Lee Jones in the first movie of the “Men in Black” franchise. Loosely based on a comic series, the movie follows Agent K (Jones) and Agent J (Smith) who protect Earth from extra-terrestrial threats.

Smith also sang the Grammy-winning title song of the movie – his f He showed his versatility as an actor when he played a lawyer, Robert Clayton Dean, in “Enemy of the State” (1998). The plum role got him rave reviews for portraying a normal person thrown into unusual circumstances after coming across evidence incriminating a top intelligence official.

Smith’s “Wild Wild West” (1999) was a commercial disappointment. He starred with Kevin Kline in the action comedy set in a steampunk version of the Old West. The special effects overpowered the storyline but the movie proved that Smith’s star power could draw in the crowds – it had one of the highest opening weekends of the year worldwide.

He earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor for the 2001 sports movie “Ali.” His portrayal of Muhammad Ali – based on 10 years of the legendary heavyweight boxer’s life – was praised for conveying “the fighter’s complexity with seeming effortlessness” wrote Rolling Stone.

Smith and mum. He was born on Sept. 25, 1968, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. to Caroline and Willard Smith. He is the second of four children and started rapping when he was 12.

The star was back as Agent J in “Men in Black II” (2002), the first sequel to the 1997 smash hit “Men in Black.” It was panned for its convoluted plot, but did well commercially, remaining number one even during its second weekend.

He then reunited with Martin Lawrence for “Bad Boys II” (2003). With its grandiose production, the comedy action sequel received negative reviews, with critic Richard Roeper ranking it as one of the worst movies of the year.

The 2004 movie “I, Robot” saw Smith as an NYPD detective investigating a murder in a future world where robots are ubiquitous. It was nominated for an Oscar for its visual effects.

He finally forayed into animation with the movie “Shark Tale,” voicing Oscar, a Bluestreak cleaner wrasse fish (L) who lies to improve his position in the community. The movie got generally positive reviews and was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

He was cast as the slick-talking professional dating coach in “Hitch” (2005), which became one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. In the romcom, Smith meets his match when he comes across Sara (Eva Mendes), who is seemingly immune to his charms.

Marking an upturn in his career next was the biopic “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006). The actor was nominated for a Golden Globe and another Oscar for playing a salesman whose life disintegrates as he desperately tries to make ends meet while caring for his son. His on-screen son was played by his real-life one, Jaden, in his acting debut.

He gave another great performance in the 2007 movie, “I Am Legend.” In this post-apocalyptic action movie, Smith plays a virologist who might be the sole human survivor of a viral outbreak. A commercial and critical success, his acting got him a Saturn Award for Best Actor.

He then appeared as an alcoholic, depressed, careless and immoral superhero in “Hancock” (2008) – a wide departure from the other clean-cut roles he had played until then. Smith picked up several acting nominations for the role.

He then reunited with Martin Lawrence for “Bad Boys II” (2003). With its grandiose production, the comedy action sequel received negative reviews, with critic Richard Roeper ranking it as one of the worst movies of the year.

In “Men in Black 3” (2012) – the final installment in the series – Smith reprised his role as Agent J who travels back in time to save his partner and the world. The movie is widely regarded as an improvement on the 2002 sequel with critic Roger Ebert calling it “better than the first one.”

In 2013, he produced, starred in and gave the original story idea for M. Night Shyamalan’s sci-fi adventure “After Earth.” It was the second time when Smith acted alongside his son, Jaden. The movie was panned by critics and was a commercial failure.

The con-man drama “Focus” (2015) saw Smith’s character mentoring and falling for his beautiful protege played by Margot Robbie. While the movie was a commercial success, making over $159 million against its $50 million budget, the plot was criticized. The Free Press Journal called it “smart, slick, but shallow.”

Coming back to a more serious and challenging role in “Concussion” (2015), Smith played a doctor fighting against the NFL to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players. His efforts earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.

In 2016, he played the DC antihero and assassin Deadshot in the much-hyped “Suicide Squad.” While it had the highest opening weekend ever for an August release, it generally received negative reviews for its plot and directing. Despite that, Smith got several nominations in the People’s Choice Awards and Teen choice Awards.

He is also a devoted father of three. From his short-lived marriage with Sheree Zampino, he has a son, Trey (born in 1992). He married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997, and together they are parents to actor Jaden (born in 1998) and singer Willow (born in 2000).

Another one of his 2016 films, “Collateral Beauty” was disliked by the critics but still managed to be a commercial success, carried solely by its star cast of Helen Mirren, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, and Keira Knightley.

In his upcoming Netflix movie, “Bright” (2017), Smith stars alongside Joel Edgerton who plays an orc. The duo partner up in a world where humans coexist with mystical creatures. The two cops then come across an ancient weapon that everyone is willing to kill for and will alter the future of the world.

Other than having an acclaimed acting career, Smith also continued his recording dreams. His debut solo album “Big Willie Style” (1997) went multi-platinum in the U.K. and U.S., winning a Grammy for the single “Gettin’ Jiggy wit It.”

His second album, “Willennium” (1999) was equally successful. His following albums, “Born to Reign” (2002) and “Lost and Found” (2005), however, failed to replicate his previous success. In 2017, he announced a reunion with DJ Jazzy Jeff, with the duo performing at a few concerts together.

Some of his upcoming projects include voicing the beloved character of Genie in the live-action adaptation of “Aladdin” (2019) and “Bad Boys 4” (2019).

He is also a devoted father of three. From his short-lived marriage with Sheree Zampino, he has a son, Trey (born in 1992). He married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997, and together they are parents to actor Jaden (born in 1998) and singer Willow (born in 2000).

He is also a devoted father of three. From his short-lived marriage with Sheree Zampino, he has a son, Trey (born in 1992). He married actress Jada Pinkett in 1997, and together they are parents to actor Jaden (born in 1998) and singer Willow (born in 2000).

 

Tyrone Robinson

Author: Tyrone Robinson