Ranking All of Will Smith’s Science Fiction Movies
Will Smith starred in films that span a variety of genres, from westerns and sports to action and fantasy. Perhaps the most consistent type of movie under his belt, however, is the science fiction film. He’s been starring in space romps and adventures with aliens since the mid-1990s, and he’s still going strong in that regard today.
While these definitely tiptoe around the lines of critical acclaim and success at the box office, most of the films to follow succeed exceedingly well in the latter category. Smith is a huge blockbuster star, after all, with his films having grossed a combined $9.3 billion worldwide. That number was in large part due to his many science fiction projects throughout the years.
These titles are directed by superstars of the industry, as well. They often collaborated with Smith to an efficient degree, but at the same time, plenty of the big-name filmmakers on this list also missed the mark despite working with an A-list actor within a fan-favorite genre. All that said, this is every science fiction movie starring Will Smith, ranked.
8 After Earth
Without a doubt the worst film on the list, After Earth (2013) holds a shocking approval rating of 13% on critical consensus website Rotten Tomatoes. It did manage $243 million on a $130 million budget, but again: it’s among the worst mainstream films of the twenty-first century, which can be said for many M. Night Shyamalan films. There seems to be two types of criticism rendered by his projects: decent reviews, and absolute condemnation. Some of the worst films of all time — or of the twenty-first century, at least — were directed by Shyamalan. And this undoubtedly ranks among them.
The father-son duo absolutely fails to hit home here, which is becoming odd considering the success of their first collaboration together, The Pursuit of Happiness (2005). But they weren’t the ones at fault, really. If anything, the director can be mostly to blame, but with the case of After Earth, every element failed from a qualitative perspective. Not just the insipid direction and lackluster performances, but also the film’s jarring visual effects and amateurish script. If you missed After Earth while it was in theaters, that’s probably for the better.
7 Gemini Man
With a premise slightly less confusing than After Earth, this is also just a slightly better film in general. However, it’s still pretty bad, with a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes, and only $173.5 million garnered on a $130 million budget. That’s nowhere near the box office revenue of the aforementioned critical failure, but still — audiences only went to see After Earth because it featured the father-son duo.
Here with Gemini Man (2019), Will Smith actually appears in a dual-role. Which explains the name, maybe. Audiences still aren’t sure what the purpose was, and in the end, neither were those behind the project. And although it was made by a well-known director in Ang Lee, pretty much everyone of note here misses the ball — even Smith’s costars like Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Clive Owen. Ultimately, neither of these first two films on the list are worth your time. Nor were they worth the efforts of their impressive cast members.
6 Men in Black II
Aside from a new pair of screenwriters and a fresh pair of eyes behind the camera, this sequel features a lot of the same creatives that were involved in the original film — Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith reprise their starring roles, and Barry Sonnenfeld takes the reins once again as director. But with Men in Black II (2002), the team missed almost all of their marks.
Sure, it saw decent financial success during its theatrical run, but that was mostly by nature of its existence as a big-name sequel with a star-studded cast to boot. Upon reuniting the main characters — Jones as Agent K, Smith as Agent J — against a force of aliens that were thought to be subdued after the original entry in the series, the project’s pedestrian plot points worked in direct opposition to what made the first one so great: originality.
5 I, Robot
Based off the Isaac Asimov short story collection of the same name, I, Robot (2004) features Will Smith in the lead role as Detective Del Spooner. And the rest of the cast includes actors like Alan Tudyk and Shia LaBeouf, with the former appearing in a voice/motion capture role as one of the titular robots. And these stars helped rake in an impressive $353 million at the box office on a budget of $120 million.
This is the first film on the list of any real quality. It features an undeniably interesting premise that meets a lot of its on-paper potential, save for its rather uninspired plot. But by taking even half a step back, it’s clear the attempted tone of juxtaposing comedically-inclined characters running around in vintage Converse All-Stars with a highly-functional robot society would just never work out in the end. Not on the big screen, at least.
4 Men in Black III
Completing the trilogy, leading men Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith teamed up for a final time with director Barry Sonnenfeld. And while the original film was an almost-instant classic and the second entry left little to write home about, Men in Black III (2013) falls almost perfectly in the middle of that qualitative spectrum.
The critical consensuses were far better than expected coming off the trails of its predecessor, and as one might have suspected after having spent more than a decade apart from the franchise, audiences gathered in theaters en masse. It grossed $654 million on a (rough) budget of $220 million, and sure, while the film wasn’t exactly brimming with Oscar-worthy performances, or anything, Jones and Smith do return with the same comedic rapport as before. Plus, Josh Brolin makes a wonderful addition to the cast as Agent K. If you’re a fan of the original, this sequel is definitely worth your time.
3 Independence Day
Really, the story most worthy of writing home about with regard to Independence Day (1996) will likely always remain the money it garnered with ticket sales. It’s the highest grossing film on this list, firstly, perfectly fitting the bill of a summer blockbuster. But it was also the most financially successful film of its year, and at the time of release, it was the second-highest grossing film ever made. The numbers, though? $817.4 million on a $75 million budget.
That’s nothing but impressive, and given the lackluster direction of Michael Bay, this science fiction disaster film actually hit home with critics to a meaningful degree. It wasn’t particularly acclaimed. Not at all, in fact. But in the end, Independence Day definitely meets the marks to rank here at number three.
2 I Am Legend
Based on a novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (2007) will have you grasping onto your seat in one moment due to the anxiety induced by the film’s thrilling action scene. But then in the blink of an eye, it could either have you laughing along with Will Smith’s charismatic performance, or wiping tears onto your shirt sleeve from the devastating plot lines herein.
There’s an alternate ending that’s been gaining buzz in the public space as of late, as the upcoming sequel is said to be taking place in a setting thereafter. Smith will be reprising his role as U.S. Army virologist Robert Neville, who went through the ringer in the first film with many heartbreaks and physical traumas to tell the stories of. But the sequel will also feature the likes of Michael B. Jordan — here’s hoping it can match the caliber of the first film’s adherence to character and pacing.
1 Men in Black
Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the acclaimed actor at hand costars alongside Tommy Lee Jones in this instant-classic of a sci-fi comedy. With dedicated theme park attractions and sequels that have already been touched on, Men in Black (1997) harkened back in genre to its science-fiction comedies from the 1980s in particular: Ghostbusters (1984), Back to the Future (1985), and Spaceballs (1987), for instance.
And while those films are more renowned, perhaps save for Spaceballs, if any, Men in Black has definitely fallen off the radar in recent years. This is undoubtedly the greatest science fiction film of Will Smith’s career from a sheerly qualitative perspective. But it was among the highest grossing, too, and it’s hilarious through and through. Smith and Jones quickly established a dynamic whose characters almost act as foils to one another. And while the premise is of course a primary attraction for audiences — or, just the genre, in general — in tandem with a constant highlight on comedy, the main characters and their rapport ultimately defined the experience.