Some think that Will Smith is only able to play the joke-a-minute mania that is his character in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But looking back over his filmography, you're struck by how varied his resume is. From his dramatic turn in The Pursuit of Happyness, to action-packed roles in Bright or I, Robot, to his latest role as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, Will Smith has kind of done it all.
One thing he does do exceptionally well is embody characters who are unashamedly badasses, sometimes playing some of history's most well-known characters.With that in mind, let's take a look at some of his most badass roles ever.
10 Nicky (Focus)
Badass doesn't always mean a gun-toting law enforcer with all the best one-liners. Sometimes it's an actor having the ability to create a persona that's so instantly cool and likeable that audiences instantly find a connection with them. And if there's one actor that can do that seemingly effortlessly, it's Will Smith.
This is never more apparent than in Focus, the 2015 film with Margot Robbie where Smith plays Nicky, a badass conman who always finds a way to get everything out of his mark. Aided by a great script, this is Smith at his most charismatic, making for the back end of his top ten most badass characters.
9 James West (Wild Wild West)
You're absolutely right: Wild Wild West is not one of the best projects Will Smith has ever been involved with. The actor has made his feelings on that subject clear himself. But that doesn't mean his character James West is any less of a badass.
This movie gives Smith one of his silliest, funniest, corniest scripts to work with, and while it’s hardly Tarantino levels of expertly-crafted dialogue, it’s one that suits Smith down to a tee. Many kids watched Wild Wild West in 1999 and fell in love with the character, and why wouldn't they? West is a hotheaded gun-slinger who just oozes cool.
8 Robert Clayton Dean (Enemy of the State)
Running from the law is Badass 101. Doing so while proving your innocence of a murder committed in the highest levels of government? That’s like getting a masters degree in being a badass.
Will Smith is great at quickly conveying to an audience who his character really is, and from that, it’s easy to see how he’s going to develop that character throughout a movie. Robert Dean from Enemy of the State is one such character. He's smart and concise and definitely needs to be, so he can outsmart the NSA when he's linked to the plot of a corrupt politician.
7 Dr. Bennett Omalu (Concussion)
It's pretty badass to take on one of the most powerful organizations in sports and not only get its attention but find a way to affect change. This is Bennett Omalu, the real life neurology expert who discovered and named CTE, the brain disease that affects football players after suffering several concussions during their playing career.
Smith played the doctor in Concussion, the story of Omalu's challenge of the NFL to try and limit on-field concussions. Smith brings Omalu’s cool intelligence and sometimes strange way of operating to the screen in a very effective manner. None more so than a sequence where he demonstrates what happens to the human brain when it gets concussed through the use of an egg and a glass jar.
6 Agent Jay (Men in Black)
For many fans, the role most associated with Will Smith is that of Agent Jay in the Men in Black franchise; the wise-cracking funny man alongside Tommy Lee Jones' stoic Agent Kay. What makes Jay a badass is how he goes from a street-smart kid to an effortlessly cool agent of what’s effectively the intergalactic border force.
One famous line of Jay's from the first movie says it all: "You know what the difference is between you and me? I make this look good." Does simply wearing sunglasses well count as being a badass?
5 Captain Steven Hiller (Independence Day)
Independence Day gave Will Smith lots of his signature quick-witted comedic rope, as he took on the role of Captain Steven Hiller, an F/A-18 jet pilot. While he isn't entirely the knock-about funny man we know and love from some of his other roles, his aircraft-manoeuvring credentials and ability to keep up with anyone in the action scenes certainly make him a badass.
After all, if there was an alien invasion of earth, we're pretty sure we know who we'd want in charge of taking on the alien race. Except Agent Jay, maybe...
4 Del Spooner: (I, Robot)
It's a well-used story arc in action and sci-fi movies: the main protagonist distrusts technology or needs to prove that they know something everyone else doesn’t. And therein lies the plot of I, Robot. Smith plays a Chicago cop in 2035 who has to try and prove that a robot committed murder (while everyone around him knows that Isaac Asimov's three rules of robotics means it’s not possible).
One of Smith's best characters, Del Spooner has everything required to be a unquestionable badass. He embraces danger, he's a heck of fighter, he's got a one-liner for every occasion, but he also shows his caring and sensitive side when looking after his elderly grandmother. And his reason for distrusting robots in the first place? That's some heart-wrenching stuff, right there.
3 Muhammad Ali (Ali)
One of history’s most famous sportsmen, Muhammad Ali is without a doubt a complete badass. In one of Smith’s best movie roles, we see him float like a butterfly and sting like a bee as Cassius Clay, the boxer whose notable records stood for more than three decades.
It's a performance that was applauded not only by critics and audiences but by the man himself. In fact, Smith acted as a pallbearer at Ali’s funeral after his death in 2016. Actors all have certain roles that they'll always be remembered for, and this is certainly one of Smith’s.
2 Robert Neville: (I am Legend)
The 'where we cried' meme has been attributed to *that* scene in I Am Legend more than once. In this movie, Will Smith plays virologist Robert Neville, one of just a few survivors in a future where zombies are roaming the earth.
We don't need to spoil it for anyone that hasn't seen the movie (although you definitely should have done), but Smith's Neville is a total badass. His self-appointed job is to protect everyone he comes into contact with. He does this both by protecting them from the physical dangers of the blood-thirsty zombies (yep, there are some dramatic battles involved) but also in trying to find a cure for the virus infecting them. He's an action hero in the truest sense.
1 Mike Lowrey: (Bad Boys Franchise)
The clue is in the name of the movie... Sometimes a character is so badass that audiences just want to keep returning to it - as is the case with Mike Lowrey, the character Will Smith plays opposite Martin Lawrence's Marcus Burnett in Bad Boys, Bad Boys II and the upcoming Bad Boys For Life.
Mike Lowrey is a Will Smith character introduced in the first peak in the lofty heights of the star's career, while The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was still on the air and before he became a staple in many a family movie. Lowrey is a loud, brash, cocky cop who loves to throw a punch and shoot a gun. If he's not Smith's number one badass, we don't know who is.