Critic's Picks: All of Will Smith's Films Ranked Worst to Best

3:33 PM 8/4/2016

by Stephen Dalton

THR film critic Stephen Dalton ranks the 'Suicide Squad' star's work from the unwatchable to the irresistible.

Photofest
  1. 24
    24

    Seven Pounds

    2008

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    Smith’s ambitions to be a serious dramatic heavyweight backfired at the box office with this portentous, cloying, humorless love letter to himself. Reuniting with The Pursuit of Happyness director Gabriele Muccino, Smith plays an L.A. tax inspector whose burning sense of self-sacrifice eventually takes on explicitly messianic dimensions. Painting yourself as a modern-day Jesus? Never a good look.

  2. 23
    24

    After Earth

    2013

    Columbia Pictures

    Conceived by Smith, who also co-stars opposite son Jaden, director M. Night Shyamalan’s futuristic survivalist fable earned scathing reviews and lukewarm box office. The veteran star gives a stern, scowling performance as a disciplinarian dad teaching his son to conquer fear after crash-landing on a hostile, poisoned Earth. Smith later called this overblown vanity project a “painful failure."

  3. 22
    24

    Winter's Tale

    2014

    Courtesy of Warner Brothers

    Helping out on his regular screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s directing debut, Smith takes a small but significant supporting role as a louche, world-weary, earring-adorned Lucifer. A time-traveling romantic fantasy based on a beloved novel, the film is a sprawling mess which bombed at the box office, but Smith escapes with his dignity relatively intact.

  4. 21
    24

    Where The Day Takes You

    1991

    Photofest

    Shaking off his Fresh Prince TV persona, Smith’s big screen debut is a grungy ensemble drama about homeless teenage runaways living under the Hollywood Freeway. Director Marc Rocco’s post-Brat Pack oddity has not aged well, but Smith’s sensitive pre-superstar performance as a legless wheelchair user has historical curiosity value.

  5. 20
    24

    Bad Boys II

    2003

    Columbia/Photofest

    Reuniting Smith with co-star Martin Lawrence, director Michael Bay’s sense-battering sequel is bigger, longer, louder, more violent and less fun than its predecessor. As the egotistical detective duo declare war on Cuban drug lords, Bay demolishes countless cars and blows up half of Miami. Not even Smith emerges with honor from this Donald Trump-sized celebration of boorish vulgarity.

  6. 19
    24

    Made in America

    1993

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Originally written for an all-white cast, director Richard Benjamin’s gentle interracial comedy stars Nia Long as an African-American teenager tracking down her sperm-donor father, a white redneck car salesman played by Ted Danson. Whoopi Goldberg is the headline star, with Smith mostly providing amiable comic relief in one of his first movie roles.

  7. 18
    24

    Shark Tale

    2004

    DreamWorks/Photofest

    Sharks are the mobsters of the deep in this animated undersea comedy from DreamWorks, which feels like an inferior cousin of Pixar’s more inventive Finding Nemo. Flanked by a stellar vocal cast including Angelina Jolie, Jack Black and Robert De Niro, Smith’s performance mostly overplays his zany comic mania to charmless effect.

  8. 17
    24

    The Legend of Bagger Vance

    2000

    DreamWorks/Photofest

    A beatific Smith plays a Georgia golf caddy with an angelic aura in Robert Redford’s lavish retro-drama, a resounding flop which mistakes listless whimsy for quasi-religious wisdom. Smith deserves credit for stepping outside his action-heavy comfort zone, but his problematic “Magic Negro” character eventually proves as grating as the film’s relentlessly folksy Forrest Gump tone.

  9. 16
    24

    Wild Wild West

    1999

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    Despite the best efforts of Men in Black director Barry Sonnenfeld, Smith’s rocket-powered career trajectory began to wobble when this sci-fi Western TV reboot proved a critical and commercial flop. Lost in a boorish stampede of labored jokes and steampunk visual effects, Smith’s performance earned him a clutch of Golden Raspberry awards.

  10. 15
    24

    Hitch

    2005

    Coasting through this dopey rom-com, Smith plays a silver-tongued “date doctor” who specializes in advising hapless New York men on how best to seduce women. Andy Tennant’s warm-hearted escapist fantasy is smug and syrupy, but Smith manages to wring a few sympathetic grace notes from his smarmy pick-up artist role.

  11. 14
    24

    Bad Boys

    1995

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    Smith shares an agreeably combustible screen chemistry with Martin Lawrence in director Michael Bay’s adrenalized action comedy, improvising many of his own lines as a fast-talking Miami cop. Initially conceived for two white actors, this highly lucrative franchise-launcher broke new ground for mainstream blockbusters, even if it is shallow formulaic trash at heart.

  12. 13
    24

    Focus

    2015

    Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

    Smith taps into the old high-voltage charm as a conscientious con man who falls for Margot Robbie’s fellow grifter in this slick but shallow crime thriller from directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Despite some outlandish plot twists and thuddingly corny lines, the photogenic star seizes an increasingly rare opportunity to remind us of his sex-symbol credentials.

  13. 12
    24

    Men in Black II

    2002

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    A lesser film than the two others in the trilogy, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s light-hearted sci-fi sequel still provides plenty of effortless comic-book fun. Clearly now more headline star than sidekick to Tommy Lee Jones, Smith’s Agent J gets more screen time and more character shading, although his romance with Rosario Dawson’s waitress feels like a clumsy dramatic contrivance.

  14. 11
    24

    Independence Day

    1996

    20th Century Fox/Photofest

    Pushing his action-hero credentials to the max, Smith plays an ice-cool Top Gun pilot who saves mankind from alien invasion in director Roland Emmerich’s monumental sci-fi blockbuster smash. The ensemble cast is stuffed with famous names and overblown caricatures, but Smith’s jaw-jutting performance still stands out between visual-effects spectacles.

  15. 10
    24

    Men in Black 3

    2012

    Columbia Pictures

    Smith smartly arrested his flagging commercial profile with this predictable but engaging return to his biggest action-comedy blockbuster franchise. Reviving his role as undercover alien-immigration agent J, the star displays some previously hidden emotional depths in a '60s-set time-travel plot that makes his character the main dramatic focus opposite new arrival James Brolin.

  16. 9
    24

    I, Robot

    2004

    Twentieth Century Fox

    After unwisely declining the lead in The Matrix, Smith gets his teeth into similar material as an android-bashing homicide detective in this stylish future-shock thriller from Australian director Alex Proyas. Mirroring Tom Cruise at his best, Smith’s performance finds the sweet spot between brain and brawn, lending a flinty film-noir edge to a noisy and muddled plot.

  17. 8
    24

    Enemy of the State

    1998

    Touchstone/Photofest

    Mr. Smith goes to Washington for Tony Scott’s superior pulp thriller, playing a hotshot lawyer pursued by sinister government spooks after stumbling across a Snowden-sized NSA surveillance scandal. Smith brings compelling star power to this early starring role, aided by co-star Gene Hackman’s arch homage to his previous appearance in Coppola’s The Conversation.

  18. 7
    24

    Concussion

    2015

    Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

    Smith adopts a West African accent to play Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu, the real-life doctor who warned the NFL about the terrible damage inflicted on football players by blunt force trauma. Director Peter Landesman’s issue-driven drama is a mature star vehicle for Smith, albeit a little worthy and didactic, which may explain why it was controversially overlooked at the Oscars.

  19. 6
    24

    Ali

    2001

    Photofest

    Smith bulked up to over 200 pounds of lean muscle for director Michael Mann’s reverential but patchy biopic of the late boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The pumped-up star’s De Niro-level commitment to this commendably serious-minded project is never in question, but his cool-headed and super-focused style is a bad fit for Ali’s mercurial, loose-cannon charisma.

  20. 5
    24

    I Am Legend

    2007

    Based on Richard Matheson’s much-filmed 1954 novella, director Francis Lawrence’s visually arresting sci-fi blockbuster stars Smith as one of the last few human survivors of a devastating worldwide apocalypse. Wandering the streets of a deserted Manhattan, trying to stay sane while battling bloodsucking zombies, Smith balances angsty solo rumination with Olympian heroics.

  21. 4
    24

    Hancock

    2008

    Sony Pictures

    Playing an alcoholic bum with superhero powers, Smith rediscovered his '90s action-comedy mojo in director Peter Berg’s superior summer blockbuster. The plot sags in the middle but Smith’s straight-faced performance is a delight, savoring a rare chance to show his grubby, shabby, unshaven side.

  22. 3
    24

    Six Degrees of Separation

    1993

    Photofest

    Smith made his first real big-screen impact playing boldly against type as a gay con artist taking upper Manhattan’s liberal elite for a ride in director Fred Schepisi’s crisp adaptation of John Guare’s caustic stage hit. Oozing pure Machiavellian charm, Smith shows impressive acting chops opposite Donald Sutherland, Ian McKellen and an Oscar-nominated Stockard Channing.

  23. 2
    24

    The Pursuit of Happyness

    2006

    Zade Rosenthal/Columbia Pictures

    Sharing a screen with young son Jaden, Smith plays a desperate single father who escapes poverty and homelessness to become a wealthy stockbroker. Based on a true story, director Gabriele Muccino’s rousing rags-to-riches endorsement of the American Dream is thick with corny tearjerker moments, but Smith elevates it with a performance of uncharacteristic subtlety and vulnerability.

  24. 1
    24

    Men in Black

    1997

    Columbia Pictures/Photofest

    A great vehicle for Smith’s winning blend of boyish charm and sassy swagger, director Barry Sonnenfeld’s comic-book sci-fi blockbuster centers on sharp-suited undercover agents policing extra-terrestrial immigration into America. Besides co-starring as a rookie recruit opposite grizzled agency veteran Tommy Lee Jones, Smith also performs the hit theme song. A hugely successfully franchise is born.

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