His last few movies have been panned by critics – from the ones that still found box office success, like Suicide Squad and Aladdin, to the ones that very few moviegoers even know exist, like Focus and Collateral Beauty – so it can easy to forget how awesome Will Smith is.
For someone who moved from rap artist to sitcom star to film actor, he’s given some terrific performances. Smith has starred in a lot of extravagant sci-fi blockbusters, but he’s appeared in just as many powerful dramas that shed light on significant social issues. So, here are Will Smith’s 10 Best Movies, According To Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Independence Day (65%)
Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day is seen as a turning point in the course of the Hollywood blockbuster, just like Jaws and Star Wars were in the 1970s. It didn’t take too long to become one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Emmerich and his producing partner Dean Devlin noticed that in most alien invasion movies, the aliens travel all the way to Earth, only to hide when they get there.
So, they decided to make a big-budget movie where aliens plan a large-scale attack against our planet. That led to iconic shots like the White House getting blown up by an alien spaceship and Will Smith punching an alien and saying, “Welcome to Earth!”
9 TIE: Ali (67%)
Will Smith’s turn as Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest and most influential boxer of all time, is the best thing about this Michael Mann-directed biopic. Although its runtime drags on at 157 minutes and the script doesn’t have any of the boxing legend’s signature humor or passion, Smith is compelling from start to finish.
The movie is also rooted in interesting historical context, touching on the impact of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassinations. He famously bulked up for the role and went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Ali.
8 TIE: The Pursuit of Happyness (67%)
Long before Will Smith’s collaborations with his son Jaden Smith became shameless exercises in nepotism, they gave the world this poignant story of a father and son struggling to make it in a failing economy. It’s the true story of entrepreneur Chris Gardner’s year-long stint of homelessness while raising a toddler.
Gardner initially objected to the casting of Smith, since he was known for making big Hollywood blockbusters. However, his daughter changed his mind when she told him, “If he can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you!” Smith went on to receive nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his performance.
7 TIE: Hitch (68%)
This romantic comedy about a dating guru makes the unlikely pairing of Will Smith and Kevin James work. It’s also far better than the average Hollywood romcom, despite having all the standard clichés and pitfalls, mainly thanks to Smith’s charm in the lead role and his chemistry with his female co-star Eva Mendes.
The only shame is that, while the first act sets up the premise nicely and the second act successfully builds on it with engaging plotting, the third and final act falls into the kind of typical romcom ending that can be seen coming from a mile away.
6 TIE: Men in Black III (68%)
The third Men in Black movie was far better than it had any right to be. It opened with an intergalactic prisoner named Boris escaping and bringing his wrath to Earth. Since it was too late to prevent the invasion, Agent J was sent back in time to the 1960s to prevent it. This was a great way to explore Agent K’s past and also give an aging Tommy Lee Jones a break from the action.
The young Agent K was played by Josh Brolin, who gave an astounding turn that, on at least a few occasions, made you forget that you weren’t actually watching a version of Tommy Lee Jones from the past. Of course, Will Smith continues to be the anchor of this franchise.
5 TIE: I Am Legend (68%)
The first half of I Am Legend sees Will Smith coping in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once New York City as the last man on Earth in a world infested with bloodthirsty vampiric creatures that come out at night. He lost his family and all he has left in this eerily empty world is his canine sidekick.
The film’s downfall comes in the second half, in which he realizes he isn’t actually the last man on Earth after all and there’s a sanctuary full of people that he has to sacrifice his own life to get his new friends to.
4 Enemy of the State (71%)
This riveting political thriller revolves around a team of shady NSA agents who conspire to assassinate a Congressman and then fight to cover it up when a tape of the murder shows up and could go public. Although it was released years before the 9/11 attacks, the introduction of the Patriot Act, and the Edward Snowden leaks, Enemy of the State has been praised for commenting on issues of national security and the death of privacy.
Will Smith and Gene Hackman make for a compelling lead duo in Enemy of the State, which was directed by the late, great Tony Scott.
3 Where the Day Takes You (80%)
This poignant drama about the struggles of teenage runaways in Los Angeles was the film debut of Will Smith. Smith plays an amputee who is friends with the lead character, King. The 1992 movie’s ensemble cast contained a number of soon-to-be stars, including Dermot Mulroney, Sean Astin, Lara Flynn Boyle, Kyle MacLachlan, and Alyssa Milano.
Where the Day Takes You was drawn from a beautifully personal screenplay written by Michael Hitchcock based on his experiences working at a shelter for teenage runaways in Hollywood. The movie throws all kinds of obstacles and threats at its kids to add to the tragedy: drug addiction, prostitution, gang violence.
2 Six Degrees of Separation (88%)
Despite his background in comedy, it’s Will Smith’s more dramatic work that tends to get more attention from the critics. In this film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name by John Guare (who was also recruited to write the movie’s screenplay, making for an all-round faithful on-screen translation that lives up to the source material), Smith plays Paul, one of the lead roles.
Paul was based on real-life con man and thief David Hampton, who convinced people he was the son of acting legend Sidney Poitier, and Smith is cast delightfully against type in the role.
1 Men in Black (92%)
What else would be Will Smith’s best-reviewed movie? Men in Black is the quintessential Will Smith movie. It has the perfect balance of humor, heart, and spectacle as a rogue cop is recruited into a secret government agency that routinely protects Earth from alien attacks.
Smith works best as the relatable everyman, and that’s exactly what he is here. He’s a fish out of water in the MIB’s world of futuristic gadgets and normalized communication with extraterrestrials, and he also acts as the outsider who guides us into that world. None of the sequels have lived up to the greatness of the original.