In West Philadelphia born and raised. On the playground is where he spent most of his days - chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' all cool, and shootin' some b-ball outside of the school. And today is his 47th birthday. To honor him, I'm going to run down what I think are the best movie performances by The Fresh Prince.
as Del Spooner
I, RobotI know, I know. You hate this movie. I don't. It's not that I love it, but it's not that bad. And Will Smith is pretty darn good in it. It's one of his more somber roles, but he makes it work. He makes feel that his character is a man brimming with pain and resentment.
as Detective Mike Lowrey
Bad Boys & Bad Boys IIThe original Bad Boys was Smith's first bona-fide hit, but he may have delivered a better performance in the second. In both, he goes full on super suave action hero and does it to great effect. His chemistry with co-star Martin Lawrence is off the charts and really elevates both films.
Seven PoundsThis is arguably the most polarizing film Smith has ever done. While many hail as a thought provoking, philosophical, and genius piece of film-making, just as many see it as pretentious crap. In any event, it's Smith at his most morose
HancockSmith's first foray into the superhero genre was in this fun, enjoyable flick that falls apart in the third act. Smith still brings the goods. His character is an inversion of sorts in that he's actually unlikable for a large chunk of the film. The attributes that have served him so well in other roles are stripped away, leaving a broken man in their wake. He has to learn to like himself and Smith makes it a believable journey.
as Captain Steven Hiller
Independence DayThough hardly his first movie, it was his first ginormous box office success. As such, it was the one that introduced many people to what would become the Will Smith persona. Yes, he's arrogant and loud, but he's also funny, and we love him.
HitchIf there's one thing Will Smith has an abundance of, it's charm. And it's of an effortless sort. His work in Hitch shows this perfectly. It's a character that could have easily come off as a slimy individual. IN Smith's hands, he becomes a tender, flawed guy afraid of the love he so desperately needs.
as Robert Neville
I Am LegendPlaying the last guy on Earth takes some doing to pull off and not bore your audience. Smith does so wonderfully. He's endlessly compelling in a role that sees him use his considerable charm in a far different way than we're used to seeing.
as Agent J
Men in Black FranchiseWhen most people think of Will Smith, this is what leaps to mind. It makes perfect sense because this is the character that most readily lends itself to Smith's particular talents. He gets to be brash, cocky, and somehow still likable. It also helps that he has amazing chemistry with co-star Tommy Lee Jones.
as Muhammad Ali
AliThe Michael Mann directed biopic about the famed boxer disappointed at the boxer and has been largely forgotten by people who don't consider themselves cinephiles. It's an underrated gem fueled by the story's exploration of its subject and several dynamic performances within that exploration. Jon Voight and Jamie Foxx were both outstanding as Howard Cosell and Bundini Brown, respectively. However, their work would be for naught without the efforts of the man at the center of all the film. Smith earns his first of two nominations for Best Lead Actor by managing to give us an excellent impersonation AND conveying the essence of the man.
as Chris Gardner
The Pursuit of HappynessFor this, Smith earned his second Oscar nomination for Best Lead Actor, for good reason. It is his most fully realized performance. He makes Chris Gardner a fully formed human being that we not only root for, but have unconditional empathy. Though his entire portrayal is saturated with genuine emotion, it shines through most in two particular scenes. The first shows our hero in the most vulnerable state possible, tenderly preparing his son for a night of sleeping in a subway bathroom. The other is that final triumphant moment where all the hard work finally pays off. When he claps his hands with eyes full of tears and exhales, so do we.
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