May 23, 2024

If Tom Hanks is America’s Dad, then Will Smith is the cool big brother.

Smith has been a favorite of audiences and awards voters during his impressive three-decade career. He’s explored multiple genres, such as drama (“The Pursuit of Happyness”), comedy (“Hitch”), action (“Bad Boys”), science-fiction (“Independence Day”), horror (“I Am Legend”) and animation (“Spies in Disguise”).  To celebrate Smith’s birthday, Variety is ranking the 13 best performances of his film career so far. 

With three career Academy Award nominations to his credit, which also include Michael Mann’s “Ali” (2001), as famed boxer Muhammad Ali, and Gabriele Muccino’s “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006), as single father Chris Gardner the Philadelphia-born actor and producer was a respected figure in the Hollywood biz.

As one of the producers of “King Richard,” he made history as the second Black man to be recognized in both categories in the same year, following Denzel Washington for “Fences” in 2017.   

While this list focuses solely on Smith’s film performances, we can’t mention his finest acting moments without mentioning his iconic television role as the titular “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Smith nabbed his first Emmy nomination in 2021 in outstanding comedy series as one of the producers for Netflix’s “Cobra Kai.”

Despite being a movie star for three decades, Smith’s legacy may confined to his actions at the Oscars where he slapped Chris Rock on the evening of his Academy Award win for best actor. Whether he’ll be able to fully bounce back still remains to be determined, but his contributions to Hollywood will always be undeniable.

Read Variety’s list of Smith’s best performances below.

Honorable mentions: “Wild Wild West” (1999), “Hancock” (2008) and “Spies in Disguise” (2019)

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