The Evolution of Will Smith: From 'The Fresh Prince' to 'Bad Boys For Life' (Photos)

The Oscar-nominated actor reunites with Martin Lawrence in the sequel to the blockbuster action franchise opening this weekend

Long before he became an awards season darling and box office king, Will Smith was a successful rapper. From his early days in Philadelphia, TheWrap looks back at the Fresh Prince’s versatile career.

Fresh Prince (1985)A 17-year-old Will Smith met Jeff Townes by chance and the two ended up forming a hip-hop duo called DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. 

First Grammy (1989)DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince received their first ever Grammy Award for “Parents Just Don’t Understand” in 1989.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1990-96)After the IRS came after Will Smith for underpaid taxes, the rapper was nearly bankrupt. Luckily for him, NBC signed Smith and built “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” around his rap persona. The sitcom became a ’90s cult classic.

“Where the Day Takes You” (1992)Smith made his feature film acting debut in “Where the Day Takes You.”

“Bad Boys” (1995)Smith starred in “Bad Boys” alongside Martin Lawrence. Although the Michael Bay film wasn’t a critics’ favorite, it did well with audiences and became a box office hit.

“Independence Day” (1996)  Smith scored his first blockbuster playing a military pilot in the summer alien-invasion hit “Independence Day.”

Jada Pinkett Smith (1997-)In 1997, Smith married actress Jada Pinkett — whom he met when she auditioned to play his girlfriend on “Fresh Prince.” (The role went to Nia Long.) They have two kids together, Jaden (born 1998) and Willow (born 2000).

“Men in Black” (1997)Smith owned the July 4 weekend at the box office the following year with this sci-fi/comedy megahit, which grossed a whopping $250 million domestically. He also recorded his first solo single since his days with DJ Jazzy Jeff for the “Men in Black” soundtrack.

“Wild Wild West” (1999)  Smith’s next attempt to own the July 4 weekend box office was a serious misfire, a big-budget action comedy about 19th-century hired guns trying to protect post-Civil War America from a diabolical inventor.

“Ali” (2002)Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s “Ali,” but lost to Denzel Washington in “Training Day.”

“Hitch” (2005)The hardworking actor was recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for attending three movie premieres in a 24-hour period while promoting the rom-com “Hitch.”

“The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006)He earned his second Oscar nomination starring as a real-life salesman and entrepreneur who struggles with homelesseness. The film also marked the screen debut of his son Jaden Smith.

Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2007)Smith gets a slab of concrete with his hand and foot imprint at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“Hancock” (2008)  This unusual take on a superhero film was a huge hit, grossing $228 million at the domestic box office, but has yet to spawn a sequel. Smith played a down-and-out superhero who’s teamed with a PR exec (Jason Bateman) to improve his image after some ill-advised heroics cause millions in damages.

“Men in Black 3” (2012)  Smith snapped a four-year sabbatical from the big-screen with the sequel to one of his biggest hits — but audiences mostly yawned.

“After Earth” (2013)  Smith paired with his then 15-year-old son Jaden on this post-apocalyptic sci-fi adventure that was snubbed by critics and audiences alike, and the failure of which marked a turning point in Smith’s career.

“Concussion” (2015)  Smith landed another Golden Globe nomination for playing real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu, who took on the NFL after discovering football-related brain trauma known as CTE.

“Suicide Squad” (2016)In 2016’s DC Comics adaptation “Suicide Squad,” Smith plays Deadshot, an expert marksman turned criminal who is recruited to join a band of super-villains recruited to work for good in the DC Comics movie. Many fans and critics balked, but the film still grossed a career-best $325 million domestically.

“Collateral Beauty” (2016)Smith plays a successful New York advertising exec who experiences a personal tragedy involving his young daughter and retreats from life, only to have his colleagues come up with a plan to bring him back. The drama was panned by critics.

“Bright” (2017)In Netflix’s first attempt at an original blockbuster, Will Smith plays an L.A. cop partnered with the first orc on the police force (Joel Edgerton). The big-budget streaming movie generated some of Smith’s worst reviews since “Suicide Squad.”

“Aladdin” (2019)In Disney’s live-action remake of the animated film “Aladdin,” Will Smith plays the all-powerful Genie, taking over for the late Robin Williams in the role. Initial images for the film made fans wonder whether the genie would even be blue…and there was even more skepticism when it was revealed that he was. But fans came out anyway, and the live-action remake grossed over $1 billion thanks to Smith’s star power.

“Gemini Man” (2019)Smith goes under the digital knife for Ang Lee’s sci-fi and action thriller “Gemini Man,” in which he fights a digitally de-aged version of himself looking like he did in his old Fresh Prince days. The technically impressive film drew a mixed response from critics, but was a financial disappointment.

“Bad Boys For Life” (2020)After years of speculation and Martin Lawrence even saying he didn’t think it would ever happen, Smith and Lawrence teamed up once again for “Bad Boys For Life,” which reunites the cop duo for one last ride, though director Michael Bay did not return to the sequel. The January release would stand as the highest-grossing film of 2020 domestically, with $204 million before the pandemic wiped most of the blockbusters off the year’s slate.

“King Richard” (2021)Smith re-entered the Oscar conversation for his portrayal of Richard Williams, the hard-charging father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams.
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