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The RISE and RISE of Will Smith

Last updated on: June 10, 2013 13:51 IST

The RISE and RISE of Will Smith

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Raja Sen in Mumbai

He's been infallible for a while now.

Will Smith smashed into the megamillions back in 1996 and has, incredibly enough, continued to ride blockbuster after blockbuster, racking up the numbers and breaking records.

The Will Smith phenomenon is ridiculously massive: he's the only actor in history to have ten consecutive films to cross the $150 million mark internationally.

In all, his films have grossed nearly $7 billion worldwide. It's like if Tom Cruise's career mated with Salman Khan's career and their child decided instantly to outdo his daddies.

Buoyed by boyish charm and extreme screen presence, Smith became one of the most likeable bigscreen heroes in Hollywood history.

And it's only now, 17 years after that glorious box office streak began, that we see signs of danger as After Earth becomes one of the worst-reviewed turkey of all time, the first big-budget blooper of Smith's career.

Is the new flop just a Manoj Night Aberration? Or is Smith all out of home runs?

Here's a look at ten career-defining Will Smith milestones:

The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

A popular rapper known for "verses without curses," Will broke into superstardom with this massively successful television sitcom where he played a version of himself.

The show became a great showcase for Will's off-the-wall spontaneity and irrepressible style. Here was a confident star ready to rock out.


Image: Will Smith in The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air


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Six Degrees Of Separation

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Taking on a complicated character, Smith acquitted himself well in this mature drama.

He played Paul, a young gay man claiming to be Sidney Poitier's son.

It's a tough early role and remains one of Will's most restrained performances.



Image: Will Smith in Six Degrees Of Separation


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Independence Day

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Smith really started ratcheting up the numbers with this box office behemoth, where he played the cigar-loving Captain Steve Hiller.

The 1996 Roland Emmerich film redefined the scale of the summer blockbuster, and Will was around to share in the merriment.



Image: Will Smith and Vivica Fox in Independence Day


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Men In Black

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The buddy-cop formula went intergalactic with this Barry Sonnenfeld global smash hit where Smith and Tommy Lee Jones fought off aliens of variously gooey types.

And as Smith said, with what was already trademark braggadocio: he made this look good.



Image: Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black


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Enemy Of The State

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Smith played a lawyer in this twisty but taut Tony Scott thriller where Smith's character inadvertently finds himself under very heavy government-sanctioned surveillance.

It was sensationalist summer entertainment, sure, but Smith's performance hit all the right notes.


Image: Will Smith in Enemy Of The State


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Ali

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Michael Mann's Ali was a tough ask, one stretching Will to his very limits as a performer.

A Cassius Clay biopic was never going to be easy, but while Mann's work is uneven here, Smith floats like a butterfly and stings like an Oscar-nominated bee.

Image: Will Smith in Ali


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Bad Boys II

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The other Michael in Will's life is Michael Bay, the boom-BOOM-boom director finding his stride with this sequel.

The first film, made before Independence Day, was a buddy-cop movie (also featuring Martin Lawrence) that showed off Will's ability to handle an actioner; the second took his career way up into the stratosphere.



Image: Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys


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The Pursuit Of Happyness

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Will earned his second Best Actor nomination at the Oscars for this (sometimes ploddingly) sincere performance about a man hard on his luck.

Based on the bestselling memoir by Chris Gardner, the film saw Will deliver a stirring, emotionally affecting performance, more mature than ever.



Image: Will and Jaden Smith in The Pursuit Of Happyness


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I Am Legend

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This is a bad film. Based on a great novel by Richard Matheson, this bizarre adaptation gets the ending drastically wrong and, as a result, renders itself trashy, but here's the thing: Smith is inch-perfect in the lead.

There's just so much to lament in this bemoaned production, but Smith carries the film with a performance that makes it worth watching.

This is just one example of that actor flexing his screen-presence muscle, and it's impossible to look away.


Image: Will Smith in I Am Legend


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After Earth

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The Wall Street Journal review of Manoj Night Shyamalan's latest epic — starring Will alongside son Jaden — asks, rather plaintively, whether it indeed is the worst film ever made. The film, which released last week in India, has performed spectacularly badly, unheard-of for a big Smith-starrer.

Does it signal the end of Smith's run, though? I doubt it. I think he hitched his wagon to the wrong former-star, with Shyamalan's films each increasingly unwatchable. This, apparently, is rock bottom. But while the Prince isn't as Fresh as he once was, I wager he can make it back and stay as strong — if not as invincible.


Image: Movie poster of After Earth


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