10 Must See Will Smith Performances, Ranked

6 minute read

By Kale Havervold

He’s been a rapper, starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and become one of Hollywood’s most famous and well respected leading men. In terms of film, Will Smith has found success in a number of different roles and genres, proving he is one of the most adaptable actors around.

Despite being in show business since the late ’80s, Will Smith is still relevant and although attempting to narrow down the actor’s greatest performances was no easy task, but we got it done. In celebration of the Fresh Prince’s 51st birthday, join us as we countdown the Philadelphia native’s most impressive roles.

10. Bad Boys

In most of his films, Will Smith walks the razor-thin line between cocky and arrogant. He relies a lot on his natural personality than most actors do, and it works wonders for him. This was perhaps never on display better than in Bad Boys where Will Smith’s natural ego was dialed up to a 10 for his role in the film. Smith played Mike Lowery, a cocky Miami detective who is equal parts skilled at shooting off guns, and shooting off one-liners. Smith’s larger than life character persona in this film gelled perfectly with the often frustrated character played by Martin Lawrence. You couldn’t have hoped to cast a better actor for his role; Smith was the perfect choice and they got it right.

http://www.idigitaltimes.com/bad-boys-3-will-smith-and-martin-lawrence-reunite-sequel-set-2017-sony-list-reveals-464719 Source: Idigitaltimes.comSource: Screenshot via Columbia Pictures

9. Enemy of the State

This may surprise some people, but this is arguably one of Smith’s best movies on his resume, and thus deserves a spot on this list. In the film, Smith plays a lawyer who becomes a target when he accidentally releases some confidential information and evidence corresponding to the actions of a group of rogue NSA agents, who killed a US congressman and are covering up the murder. This is a very uncharacteristic role for Smith, as he plays a clueless everyday man who stumbles into a terrible situation and must first comprehend what is happening, why it happened and how to save himself. Along the way Smith is absolutely on point in terms of his selling of each emotion from confusion to fear and many others.

http://www.movpins.com/dHQwMTIwNjYw/enemy-of-the-state-(1998)/still-3907042816 Source: Movpins.comSource: Screenshot via Buena Vista Pictures

8. Hancock

This superhero flick came out around the time that The Dark Knight and Iron Man were wowing viewers all across the world, so this title fell somewhat under the radar. This superhero movie was packaged in a way unlike any other, as it portrayed a belligerent alcoholic with superpowers, who eventually evolves into a man who can’t emotionally cope with the fact that these superpowers hold him back from living a normal civilian life. This was a huge risk by Smith, as it went against the grain compared to what most superhero movies have done in the past, but his brilliant acting in the film, along with good writing, makes this superhero movie one worth revisiting.

7. Six Degrees of Separation

Now, this was probably the most uncharacteristic role of Smith’s career thus far, that of a villain and/or force of negativity. This film came out before he ever held a gun in Bad Boys and took place just after his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air days. In the film, Smith plays Paul, a con artist whose antics and behavior make him the talk of the town. It is sporadic that we get to see Smith in this kind of role, and he absolutely knocks it out of the park. What’s perhaps most impressive about his performance in this film is the fact that it came in one of his first appearances on the big screen.

https://www.cineplex.com/Movie/six-degrees-of-separation/Photos Source: Cineplex.comSource: Screenshot via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

6. Independence Day

After establishing himself as an action movie star with his great performance in Bad Boys, Will Smith took to the big screen again with Independence Day. The film was a sci-fi thriller about the chaos occurring in the world when angry aliens stop by Earth for a visit and to wreak havoc. In the film, Smith plays Captain Steven Hiller, who is a wisecracking hero in the film. He is an everyday pilot, whose life is turned upside down when he is called upon to act in bravery to try and save the world. This role only added to Smith’s reputation as an action star and certainly opened some other doors in Hollywood, as Independence Day was a huge box office hit, largely due to Smith and his great performance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zU-pVHdnfR4 Source: YouTubeSource: Screenshot via 20th Century Fox

5. Hitch

Some people would be shocked to see that Will Smith would appear in a romantic comedy, but he knocked it out of the park. Now, often romcoms get a bad rap, but when they are put together with enough skill and sensitivity paired with the right cast, you can have a hit. And that is exactly what they got with Hitch. In the film, Smith stars as “Hitch” who is a legendary matchmaker/date-doctor that sets up an everyday man with his dream girl, all while wooing a beautiful woman himself. In this film, Smith showed how much range he has as an actor and displayed how he is able to elevate the talent around him, as the entire cast’s performances were top notch.

http://www.slashfilm.com/hitch-tv-series-will-smith/ Source: Slashfilm.comSource: Screenshot via Columbia Pictures

4. I Am Legend

While this film was sort of a flop in terms of its ability to replicate the book, and it is definitely not one of Smith’s best films, you cannot argue it is one of Will Smith’s finest performances to date. In the film, Smith plays virologist Robert Neville, who is believed to be one of the final healthy human beings left on Earth. The reason this performance deserves such a high place on this list is that the film relies almost solely on Smith to carry the film, with his only companion being a German Shepherd named Sam. The kind of captivating performance needed to sustain the audience’s attention as the only human on the screen for the majority of the movie is undeniable, and Will Smith held his own.

http://www.cinemagia.ro/filme/i-am-legend-legenda-vie-16574/imagini/20314/ Source: Cinemagia.roSource: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

3. Men in Black

While some action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger rely on big muscles and big guns in their action movies, Will Smith has to rely on something else. In Men and Black, we get to see this first hand, as the movie challenged Smith to be a comedian first and an action star second. As cool and collected as Smith’s character, Agent J, might be, it is not the gun-wielding action sequences that stand out for him in this film, it is the scenes when he is a new agent learning the ropes. This film not only shows the amazing chemistry that Smith has with everyone he shares the screen with, but it also shows his captivating ability to show and demonstrate character growth that is unmatched by almost anyone in Hollywood.

http://www.sky.com/tv/movie/men-in-black-1997 Source: Sky.comSource: Screenshot via Sony Pictures Releasing

2. Ali

Will Smith has always made it look easy, with charisma, charm, and skill oozing out of his every orifice. But in Ali we finally got to see the man put some work in and struggle just a little bit. In fact, Will Smith trained hard and prepared for a year before taking to the big screen to act as Muhammed Ali, one of the best and most gifted boxers of all time. This was the absolute perfect role for Smith, as nobody else in Hollywood could have matched what he was able to do with this role. He absolutely killed it in every way imaginable and was awarded for his efforts by receiving nominations for Best Actor at the Academy Awards and Golden Globes.

http://www.gmx.at/magazine/unterhaltung/tv-film/schluffi-muskelberg-stars-gut-trainiert-30243246 Source: Gmx.atSource: Screenshot via Columbia Pictures

1. The Pursuit of Happyness

And coming in as the best performance of Will Smith’s long and illustrious career is his portrayal of Christ Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness. The film is about Gardner, a homeless single parent who eventually transforms into a stockbroker. It is an extremely inspirational and motivating story. The movie also had a very personal aspect for Smith, as his son in the film was played by his real life son, Jaden. It takes a special kind of performance for a box office kingpin and a leading man like Will Smith to convince the audience that he is a desperate and struggling father about to lose it all, but that is just the type of performance that Will Smith put on here. He was rewarded with Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor as a result.

http://belimitless.com/gchahal/life/motivational/in-the-pursuit-of-happyness Source: Belimitless.comSource: Screenshot via Columbia Pictures

Kale Havervold


Kale Havervold has been writing about video games, movies, tv and more for Goliath since 2015.