There's no doubt that Will Smith one of the most recognizable celebrities in Hollywood at the moment. Smith began his career in the 1980s as a rapper called the Fresh Prince, before going on to star in several movies and TV shows. Ever since Smith started acting, his career hasn’t slowed down. During his acting career, Smith has been nominated for two Academy Awards as well as a handful of Golden Globes.
While Smith has proven his talent in front of the camera time and again, he is also incredibly likable off-screen, due to his upbeat personality and the way he treats other people. Let's take a look back at some of the finest and most iconic performances he's ever given, in ascending order.
10 Deadshot (Suicide Squad)
Smith has been in a lot of movies over the years, but not all of his films have been hits. Suicide Squad wasn’t considered a box office flop, but it certainly didn’t go over well with critics. The film saw the government recruit a handful of supervillains to save the world, including Will Smith’s Deadshot. The film featured a lot of talented actors including Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, but a good portion of it focused on Smith’s character.
Deadshot, aka Floyd Lawton, joined Task Force X in order to reduce his prison sentence, meaning he could visit his daughter more. Not all of the characters were developed in the film, but Smith’s character got a huge portion of screen time. He was the star of the show for sure, and one of its saving graces (to some extent).
9 Del Spooner (I, Robot)
The 2004 film I, Robot takes place in 2035, a near-future where robots serve and protect humans. Will Smith’s character, Del Spooner, is a police officer who distrusts robots (owing to past trauma), tasked with investigating a murder that may have been committed by an NS-5 class robot. Upon the film’s release, it was criticized for its plot, but praised for the special effects and acting.
In the lead role, Smith more than carried the film with his acting ability, but big names like Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, and James Cromwell also featured in the cast.
8 Genie (Aladdin)
One role that Will Smith landed that got quite a bit of backlash was the Genie in the live-action remake of Aladdin. The character was, of course, made famous by the late Robin Williams and most people believed that nobody could do the character justice.
When the first trailer for Aladdin was released, Smith faced a lot of backlash because the CGI for his blue character wasn’t quite polished enough. In the end, Aladdin still divided fans, but even though nobody could ever top Williams’ Genie, many people think that Smith still did a great job in the role.
7 Captain Steven Hiller (Independence Day)
Independence Day was one of Smith’s earlier films. The film was directed by Roland Emmerich, who is best known for directing films like Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and White House Down. The film did generally well with fans and critics, with people considering it a excellent Summer blockbuster. The film also did well at the box office, coming in as the highest grossing film of 1996.
Smith stars in the film as a jet pilot named Steven Hiller, who battles to save all of humanity from an alien invasion. The film was given a sequel in 2016 but it didn’t do nearly as well as the first, likely because Smith didn’t return.
6 Robert Neville (I Am Legend)
I Am Legend stars Will Smith as a US Army virologist who believes he is the last human being living in New York. The film is a post-apocalyptic movie based on the novel by Richard Matheson. Since Smith is the only character for a good portion of the movie, his acting is really able to shine through.
Smith is known for his action and comedic roles, but this film showed a more serious side of the actor. Throughout flashback sequences with Robert Neville’s family and a heartbreaking scene with his dog named Sam, Smith made it clear that he can act in pretty much any type of movie.
5 Mike Lowrey (Bad Boys)
One of Smith’s earliest leading roles was in the 1995 film Bad Boys. Smith starred in the film as Mike Lowrey, alongside Martin Lawrence. Lowrey is a wealthy Miami PD detective who also happens to be a ladies man. The character has appeared in two Bad Boys movies so far, but Smith is also reprising the role in 2020 in Bad Boys for Life.
The first film did very well at the box office but got mixed reviews due to the repeated use of buddy-cop clichés. The second film didn’t do nearly as well as the first, but hopefully, Lawrence and Smith can revive the series with the third entry.
4 Chris Gardner (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Another one of Smith’s more serious roles came in 2006 with the film The Pursuit of Happyness. The film was based on the true story of Chris Gardner; an entrepreneur who had to juggle his passion with his tough life circumstances and taking care of his son. Smith portrays Gardner in the film but is accompanied by his real-life son Jaden Smith as co-star.
The Pursuit of Happyness was a big movie for the Smith family as it was Jaden’s acting debut in a feature film, as well as one of the films that Will Smith was nominated for at the Oscars. Smith ended up losing to Forest Whitaker for the award of Best Actor in a Leading Role, but this still stands as one of Smith’s most notable performances.
3 Muhammad Ali (Ali)
While Smith is one of the most recognized actors in Hollywood, Muhammad Ali stands as one of the most recognized boxers in history. Ali had an incredible boxing career before his death but is also remembered for being an activist and philanthropist.
The 2001 biopic called Ali starring Will Smith covered around a decade worth of Ali’s life, focusing on his boxing career and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. The film did well with critics and even landed Smith an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Ali, but the film ended up losing quite a bit of money at the box office.
2 Jay (Men In Black)
One film series that Smith starred in that is still continuing today is the Men in Black franchise. Smith appeared in the first three films as Agent Jay but didn’t return for the latest installment, Men in Black: International.
In the first film, Agent Jay was a new recruit to the organization, but in the sequels he was a more experienced agent, even matching the skill level of Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones). Agent Jay is one of Smith’s most memorable roles because the film allowed both the action hero and comedic sides of Smith’s acting to shine through.
1 Will Smith (The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air)
While Smith has been nominated for several prestigious awards during his career, his most iconic role remains the one that kickstarted his acting career: Will from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The show, as we all know, is about a young man living in West Philadelphia, who got into one little fight and is then sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel-Air.
The show ran for six seasons on NBC from 1990-1996 and really catapulted Smith to the big time. Given Smith’s personality and talent, he still likely would have made it into the film industry, but The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air certainly helped him get there quicker.