Will Smith: Old vs. New

October 14, 2019
Darren -Lucas 0

Gemini Man is now in the cinemas, asking the question of which Will Smith is better: old or new? This gives us a chance to look back through his career and ask the big question; just which part of Will Smith’s career is his best? The first 15 years or the last 15 years? For this, we will be breaking his 30-year career into two halves, from 1990 to 2004 and 2005 to 2019.

In 1990 Will Smith got the starring role in sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as the streetwise teenager that must move from Philadelphia to his rich family in Bel Air where he is a fish out of water, but he also teaches the family to open up and not look down on people. This skyrocketed his career to become one of the hottest properties in the television world; a sure-fire hit. Will got his first major film role in Bad Boys, following a couple of supporting roles beforehand. Bad Boys was for a different audience than Fresh Prince, louder and more adult, shaking off the late teenager side of his roles, to become a police officer that would break the rules with Martin Lawrence, Will isn’t even top billing on this film. When Fresh Prince came to an end in 1996, Will went onto star in the global phenomenon that was Independence Day, where he plays a fighter pilot that gets to fight alien invaders, which broke all sorts of summer box office records in the process. This was the sign the Will was ready to become the biggest name in movies. Men in Black saw him return to the alien-fighting in a comic book adaptation about a streetwise cop that joins the secret organization to fight aliens, Enemy of the State saw an innocent lawyer getting drawn into a conspiracy, and both were followed up with great praise, making two more hits for Will. He had become a bankable star now.

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Wild Wild West and Legend of Bagger Vance, were the first missteps, made worse when it was made public knowledge that Will turned down Neo in The Matrix to make Wild Wild West. Will got his first Oscar nomination to bounce back here with his role as Muhammad Ali; this role turned people’s heads, thinking he might be more than just a big action or comedy star. Instead of following this new reputation, Will returned to two movies that made him famous, Men in Black II, which did get stuck judging quality because of the real-life tragedy, which forced the film through rushed changes, and Bad Boys II. It would be fair to say they were safe choices more than anything else. To finish the early part of his career, we end up seeing Will diving into some original content, with I, Robot and Shark Tale, both films that bring out the action and comical strengths in the actor.


  • Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
  • Bad Boys
  • Independence Day
  • Men In Black
  • Enemy of the State
  • Ali
  • Bad Boys II
  • I, Robot
  • Shark Tale


  • Wild Wild West
  • The Legend of Bagger Vance
  • Men in Black II
  • The Matrix (turning down Neo)

The second half of his career would start off strong with his perfect comedic role in Hitch as the love guru that can make anyone fall in love with the right approach, except himself; this also remains the only good film in Kevin James’s filmography. It wasn’t long before Will finally returned to serious dramas with The Pursuit of Happiness, which gave him his second Oscar nomination. Just like before Will returned to action-heavy roles next, and while they involved him needing to lose a lot of his charisma, I Am Legend and Hancock were both well received, with Hancock being one that could be seen as something truly standout in today’s market.


Will tried to get himself another Oscar with Seven Pounds, which everybody saw as just a pure Oscar-bait movie, and returning to Men in Black didn’t help bring his star power back up after the last miss. Will tried to help make his son a star with the dreadful After Earth, which is the one time M Night Shyamalan didn’t get the full blame for a movie of his being bad, almost getting away with that one. For the first time in a long time, Will stepped away from the starring roles in his films, with a couple of cameos performances in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and A New York Winter’s Tale. Trying to get back on the safe leading roles, Will turned into the mentor-like character with the lacklustre Focus, even with the hot property of Margot Robbie opposite him, and another Oscar-bait movie in Concussion, which he might well have given a strong performance in, but his demand that he should have received his third Oscar nomination didn’t help his cause.

Joining a struggling DC Universe in Suicide Squad tried to bring him back to a big franchise movie, and while people did sing his and Robbie’s performances, the film wasn’t enjoyed and got stuck in studio interference, which led to a soft reboot already. Collateral Beauty was another return to Oscar Bait that people saw through and was slammed. Finishing 2018 with the Netflix movie Bright, just saw his star power finally start to crumble. 2019 did see him start off as a laughingstock when the first clips and pictures of Aladdin appeared, but once the movie made over a billion dollars worldwide, people lightened up on the film, making it his biggest box office success since Men in Black. This leads us to the newest film, Gemini Man, which struggled to compete with Joker in the Box Office and to find any sort of strong reviews from critics.

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  • Hitch
  • The Pursuit of Happyness
  • I Am Legend
  • Hancock
  • Aladdin


  • Seven Pounds
  • Men in Black III
  • After Earth
  • Focus
  • Concussion
  • Suicide Squad
  • Collateral Beauty
  • Bright
  • Gemini Man

What is next for Will? First, he is going to lend his voice to Spies in Disguise for a late 2019 release, but 2020 could finally be the chance for Will to return strong, with the highly anticipated Bad Boys for Life coming out in early January.

When we look back at Will Smith’s career, it would be fair to say he does have a stronger early career, with both Box Office and popularity in the ’90s. Things might have been up and down from 2000-2010, but things take a big slide after that. Growing up watching his rise to stardom, it would be amazing to see him reach those levels again and we have seen it with other actors recently; one correct film choice rebuilds a career in a second.

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