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So many Will Smith movies have gone on to become perennial favorites among his fans. Films like Bad Boys, Independence Day, Men in Black, Hitch, The Pursuit of Happyness, and I Am Legend continue to be rewatched and loved all over again. But after so many blockbuster movies, Smith ultimately decided to change how he approaches his movie career. The film that seemingly led to that call? None other than 2013’s After Earth.

Will Smith and Jaden Smith pose in front on a background themed to their film ‘After Earth’
Will Smith and Jaden Smith | Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Sony Pictures

Will Smith’s movie career reached a turning point in the mid-2010s

Smith’s movie career exploded in the mid-1990s following the consecutive releases of Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black. All three proved the actor had broad appeal and charisma to spare. And after Wild Wild West failed to meet expectations, he sprinkled some more diverse projects into his blockbuster efforts.

The early 2000s saw Smith try his hand at dramatic roles in both The Legend of Bagger Vance and Ali, the latter of which earned him his first Academy Award nomination. But Smith often retreated back to what he knew worked. That included sequels to Bad Boys and Men in Black and other sci-fi projects like I, Robot and I Am Legend.

‘After Earth’ inspired the actor to embrace ‘more danger’ in his movies

Of all the films Smith has starred in, After Earth is easily one of the most infamous. While the movie isn’t mocked nearly as often as Wild Wild West, it remains the lowest-rated Smith star vehicle according to Rotten Tomatoes. Still, the film came at a critical time for Smith’s career. 2012’s Men in Black 3 seemed to close the book on a chapter of the actor’s career. And in that case, After Earth marks the beginning of a new phase of his career, he said in 2013.

“The movie opening at number two,” Smith laughed as he told Digital Spy what scares him the most. “I love to create. There’s something about making movies that just really gets me excited. It’s not the moviemaking probably as much as the storytelling. I love people being wrapped in a story and being able to deliver that emotional punchline at the end of the story. I’ve been really focused, and it’s been an absolute necessity that the movie be a blockbuster. But I think I’m going to start moving out of that and finding more danger in my artistic choices.”

Will Smith has largely lived up to his word over the past decade or so

Looking at Smith’s career since After Earth, it’s easy to see how his movie career has changed. The actor still headlines plenty of movies, including Bad Boys for Life and sci-fi thriller Gemini Man. But he offers a much broader spectrum of movies than he used to. Focus, Concussion, Collateral Beauty, and King Richard all see Smith exploring different parts of himself as an actor, regardless of how well they perform.

And Smith also seems a lot more willing to make cameo appearances and be part of an ensemble cast. Take his role as Deadshot in Suicide Squad or that of the Genie in Disney’s live-action Aladdin, for instance. Both films were huge hits but neither feature Smith as the clear lead. Suddenly, this Smith feels very different than the star who turned down Django Unchained because he insisted on playing the hero. And arguably, his career is better for it.


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