Will Smith is about to star in what’s expected to be one of the year’s most profitable movies, Suicide Squad. Box office estimates are sky high, and according to one metric, DC’s follow-up to (and apology for) Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is “by far the most popular movie on the upcoming schedule. Surprisingly, it’s even outpacing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in internet chatter.” Yet Smith’s character, Deadshot, is only like the fourth or fifth best reason to see Suicide Squad — people are far more excited to watch Margot Robbie’s giddy Harley Quinn, or Jared Leto’s Hot Topic Joker.
Instead, movie fans are talking about the film Smith isn’t in.
That would be Independence Day Resurgence, the future subject for dozens of flop movie podcasts. Despite a $160 million budget, and millions more spent on marketing, the belated sequel to Roland Emmerich’s 1996 disaster classic Independence Day only made $41.6 million in its first week of release, far behind Finding Dory‘s $73.2 million. Meanwhile, ID4 made $104.3 million in its first full week. And that’s in 1996 money. Will Smith made the right choice.
Still, it will always be a little weird not having a new movie starring Jaden’s father released around the Fourth of July. Independence Day was released on July 2, 1996. Exactly one year later, Men In Black hit theaters. Two years after that, on June 30, 1999, Wild Wild West tricked millions into thinking it was going to be good (it wasn’t). The Fresh Prince used to be the king of July 4; now he’s probably glad his ID4 character was killed. However, we’re still going to honor Will Smith by counting down the five best times he saved the world.
5. Wild Wild West
Does Wild Wild West even count? Will Smith wishes it didn’t.
I thought about this question long and hard before deciding that yes, it should, because yes, that mechanical spider could have gone on a murder rampage. Dr. Loveless’ evil arachnid is only after President Grant, but let’s pretend Jim West and Artemus Gordon hadn’t interfered with the assassination attempt in time. Who’s to say the steampunk spider wouldn’t have taken over the country? The national animal would be the tarantula; McSpider’s would serve Big Flies instead of Big Macs; No Doubt’s “Spiderwebs” would be a protest anthem. Thankfully, Smith prevented all that. Still, Wild Wild West is a terrible movie, so it’s in last place.
4. I Am Legend
This spot came down to the messy Men In Black II (which is basically the original Men In Black, but not nearly as good) or the genre-smashing I Am Legend — I picked the one without Johnny Knoxville. I Am Legend has a lot working against it, with lacking special effects, a lengthy development process, and a disappointing third act, but Smith gives one of his best, most mesmerizing performances as Robert Neville, a doctor trying to find a cure for the virus that wiped out nearly every human on the face of the planet. He has New York City all to himself, except for some animals, including his loyal German Shepherd, and, oh yeah, the vampire-mutants that only come out at night. The “Darkseekers” nearly trap and overwhelm Neville, but he’s saved by a pair of survivors, a young boy and a woman, and then discovers that one of his treatment concoctions is effective. Neville sacrifices himself so the boy and woman can live and bring the vial to a military camp in Vermont. There’s no guarantee that his cure will, y’know, save mankind, but I can guarantee it doesn’t feature a pointless Michael Jackson cameo.
3. I, Robot
The Wikipedia plot description for I, Robot — based on Isaac Asimov’s short story collection of the same name, natch — begins, “In 2035, humanoid robots serve humanity,” so obviously things go wrong, and it’s up to one man, Smith’s Detective Del Spooner, to save all mankind. I, Robot is one of Smith’s more relatable movies — you can imagine yourself as Spooner, because robots, man. The rest of the world is fine with their mechanical overlords, but not Spooner. He doesn’t trust those boops-and-beeps machines, and that’s even before U.S. Robotics founder Dr. Alfred Lanning is found dead from an apparent suicide. Turns out, a robot named Sonny was instructed to kill Lanning, on his orders, so Spooner would get involved and destroy mastermind VIKI, something something, the Three Laws of Robotics. I, Robot sounds much cooler — Will Smith fights robots! Will Smith says, “Oh hell no”! Will Smith interacts with motion-capture Alan Tudyk — and more intelligent than it is; Spooner practically reviews the movie itself when he says, “You’re the dumbest smart person I’ve ever met.” But it’s still the Fresh Prince killing (“killing”?) robots while driving a car, which is more tempting than anything in Smith’s family movie, a.k.a. the insipid After Earth.
2. Men In Black
Men In Black is one of those movies where you don’t realize how good it is until it comes up constantly. Every time a waiter asks if I want tap or bottled water: “Sugar… in water.” Every time I’m driving through a tunnel: “Push the little red button.” Every time someone demands to know if I flashy-thing’d them: “No.” Happens at least once a week. Men In Black is one of the most entertaining action-comedies of the past 20 years, and maybe ever. So why isn’t it number one? Because the threat of annihilation never feels real. That’s not a bad thing! Men In Black is a comedy first and foremost, after all; even the action climax is peppered with jokes and Tommy Lee Jones literally killing the Big Bad from inside. The galaxy is on Orion’s belt, and there’s a whole lot of evil aliens coming to destroy Earth, but all (“all”) Agents J and K (and L!) have to do is stop Vincent Bug’Onofrio in Queens, and we’re good.
So while Men Is Black is a better movie…
1. Independence Day
…Independence Day is the most spectacular time Will Smith has saved the world. There’s nothing small about Roland Emmerich’s disaster epic. The action is big. The acting is bigger. The product placement is biggest. And yet, it’s still a little shocking that Smith — soon to be one of the most famous men on the planet — isn’t in the movie more. Captain Steven Hiller isn’t introduced until 20 minutes have gone by, and he doesn’t anything of note until we’re 60 minutes in. It’s not as if Independence Day is telling a fish out of water story, either — Hiller’s already a marine pilot. But once his plot kicks in, it doesn’t stop. Hiller avoids lasers, fires at spaceships, ejects from his plane seconds before it crashes, punches a dumb alien in its dumb face (then makes an immortal quip — “Welcome to Earth” — and Steven Spielberg movie reference, and smokes a cigar), drags said alien through the desert, rescues his family, and uploads a computer virus to the alien mothership, all while being the only character in a PG-13 movie who gets to say “sh*t” a bunch of times. His last line of the film is even a callback to his first scene. Now that’s good writing!
Independence Day is the swaggering, quippy, multi-racial, jingoistic, not-nearly-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is ideal of America, which only still exists because Will Smith (and Jeff Goldblum and Randy Quaid and President Bill Pullman and Data from Star Trek) saved us. It has to be number one.