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What is it about Big Willie Style?

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
Okay, Ive hinted at this in a few other threads that touch on Will Smiths movies of late, but the phenomenal domestic BO for I Am Legend has pushed this to the forefront of my mind - what is it that America loves about the Fresh Prince?

Now don't get me wrong, Im a pretty big fan of Smiths when he's working with material that works for his onscreen persona, Ive been a fan of his since back in the Jazzy Jeff, pre-tv-sitcom days and followed his career pretty much ever since, but if someone had come to me ten to fifteen years ago and told me that the lofty "top Hollywood alpha male" spot that would have then been currently occupied by one Tom Cruise, would end up going to him, I would have scoffed I'll be honest.

Thing is, as it is, Im seeing it with my own eyes and I still can't quite believe it. I mean, he's great, movie star-great no doubt, but the number one box office draw in the states regardless of genre or release date? I just can't for the life of me put my finger on what keeps him seperate from the pack like he is.

There are plenty of stars that can have their name aboev the film title on a poster, but it seems only Big Willy can open any film, any time to massive BO on tha basis of him being in it alone.

So, Smith fans, why do you think he's reached the lofty position he has? Right time right place? Right film choices? He's just that naturally loveable?

I'd be fascinated on the chuddite views on this.
post #2 of 30
Well, I personally don't enjoy Will Smith, so I can answer from my point of view. He basically seems to play the same type of character in most of his films, or at least the big blockbusters. Always cocky, self-assured, and a hero. This is why he totally bores me, but I'd imagine a lot of people find this act enjoyable.

For me, I only watch his films when he actually plays a character, which happens maybe once a decade it seems.
post #3 of 30
If it offers any insight, my dad (a white, middle-aged, married Christian who likes to turn his brain off) said he essentially likes Will Smith because he doesn't carry any baggage. Meaning he hasn't had some highly-publicized fuck-up and his off-screen persona seems genuine.
post #4 of 30
Thread Starter 
Supremo, thats precisely why I can;t put my finger on how big he is, sure its a loveable persona he's got going, but plenty of actors ply that persona on screen - Im not saying I don't like Smith, I just don't see what seperates him from the rest of the cocky, self-assured hero types.

Thats a really good point Andrew, he is one of the few big stars left who seems like a nice bloke, decent father and commited husband.

Maybe he's the real deal or maybe he's just got awesome PR guys?
post #5 of 30
He's easygoing, has a middlebrow cool cachet, appeals to people across racial and gender lines, has comedic and dramatic chops, and you can pretty easily chart his progression through the ranks of the entertainment industry. What's the mystery?
post #6 of 30
Thread Starter 
The mystery is you could have been describing a number of big movie stars in my opinion. What makes Smith the biggest of them all is what Im trying to work out.
post #7 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog
Maybe he's the real deal or maybe he's just got awesome PR guys?
Maybe both, but I'd lean towards good PR.

The Cruiser was on top of the world until he started allowing more of his personal side out in public, which was right around the time he fired his longtime publicist, I believe. I think people could always tell there was something a little 'off' about Cruise, but ignored it because his films were generally crowd pleasers.

Personally, I think Cruise is a pretty damn good actor, and I couldn't give a shit about how he acts in real life. He one of the very rare actors whose entire filmography you can look at and not find one single role he's ever phoned in. Smith seems to be taking the same path that Cruise laid out - making action blockbusters at first, and then picking projects that play to their strengths while still keeping them front & center in whatever the film is.

If you ever watch some of the fluff interviews Cruise & Smith do on the late night shows, it's eerie how alike they are. They both constantly over-laugh at everything - it seems so unbelievably fake, but the audiences eat it right up. There's no way that's their real personality (it's borderline manic). It's weird, because with most actors, even in fluff interviews, you can kinda get a feel for how they are in real life.
post #8 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog
The mystery is you could have been describing a number of big movie stars in my opinion. What makes Smith the biggest of them all is what Im trying to work out.
If you can see his appeal, you can see what got him there. He was the member of the ensemble that got the most juice out of the Independence Day box office juggernaut, and his ability to crossover into soundtracks gave him a little something extra that many stars couldn't bring. Other than that it's just timing, luck, the fact that studios make more money pushing stars than paying less for equally talented newcomers, that he hasn't squandered it, etc... etc...
post #9 of 30

May I suggest some light reading?

post #10 of 30
Like Cosby, he also doesn't feel the need to spout: "What the filth and foul and I'll filth and foul, filth and foul and, yeah, ya filth and foul face, and I'll filth and foul, foul, filth!" Making him marketable to the kid demographic as well, and from what I hear, kids are consumer whores.
post #11 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by The Rain Dog

...but if someone had come to me ten to fifteen years ago and told me that the lofty "top Hollywood alpha male" spot that would have then been currently occupied by one Tom Cruise, would end up going to him, I would have scoffed I'll be honest.
Just like Ben Affleck in Jersey Girl!!!

...

...

I think everyone's brought up good reasons for Smith's popularity. Smith is a really great middle-of-the-road superstar. I'm not knocking him. He keeps his projects varied in a way that doesn't upset people but doesn't come off like he's resting on his laurels. He can be family friendly, but he'll also do something like Bad Boys II and cuss up a storm. He's a comedic action hero, a prestigious Oscar contender, and had a successful music career, but he's also a romantic lead due to Hitch. And I remember reading some discussion of this, but he's not paired with a white female leads as romantic foils. Maybe it's a terrible thing to say, but I think that's one of the ways that Smith stays safe.

Any white female lead he stars with and the relationship tends to stay waaaaaay in the background (MIB, I, Robot). And when a romantic relationship comes to the forefront, he'll be paired with a Rosario Dawson (not that I would complain!) or an Eva Mendes. Sad to say, that seems to be the way the general audience likes it. I'm curious about what kind of role Charlize Theron plays in Hancock.

Anyway, I think what I said is indicative of what makes Smith 'work'. Sorry to use the term, but he's edgy with safety pads. This is all in addition to him being very talented and appealing in general.
post #12 of 30
While I have not seen all of Will Smith's films, I like him usually more than the material. I think Independance Day, Men In Black 1 + 2, and Ali would have been below average without Smith's prescence. I think he is a lead actor (not a 2nd bananna aka Orlando Bloom...who is more like a sidekick.) He has a great sense of humor, and plays confident,agressive hero types, that don't become too arrogant. I wish he were playing T'Challa in Marvel Entertainment's Black Panther as opposed to the drunken superhero in Hancock, as The Panther fits more with his usual on screen persona. To me Will Smith's best films are Bad Boys 2, Enemy Of The State, Bad Boys and Ali. It's too bad that much of Ali's problems center around the fact that Jamie Foxx's Boudini had much more screen time then he and the film needed. When I watched Ali, I thought he was the supporting character in a Boudini film.
post #13 of 30
this is a great topic with some great points made.

It is quite shocking to think that a black man is right now the biggest box office draw in the US. Then again, you also have to thank will smith's PR people for putting forth this wholesome, family friendly image and his agent for picking almost all winners (lets forget about bagger vance).

Smith has said it before about his rap career, that he was never interested in making dirt records to try and compete with the rise of gangsta rap and it seems like he has taken the same philosophy to the movie screens. Save for Bad Boys 2 (which seemed to have a forced amount of profanity in it), he has a pretty wholesome filmography.

He is in a stable marriage to a pretty actress. Has done a good job playing down the fact that his oldest son is not actually from his current marriage, etc etc.

Plain and simple, he is a black-tor that white america can love with little reservation. Even though parents usually just don't understand...I am sure middle america would have little problem with their daughters having will smith posters on their wall.

While he is no Denzel acting wise, he has the marketability that Denzel never really had because I think white people still fear Denzel as much as they respect him. more power to him because he definitely is good for the industry and as long as he continues to make good choices I'll be a fan of the guy.
post #14 of 30
He's a nice, easy going person who doesn't push any boundaries and doesn't play the race card. White people love him because he isn't a scary, black guy singing/acting about bitches and hos and wanting to pop a cap in their asses. Smith has appeal with some Blacks for the same reasons, but others think he's a sellout. Chris Rock infamously cracked a joke in his last stand-up special that if the only rap you listen to is Will Smith, you ain't listening to rap.

Personally, I like Will Smith because he seems genuine. He may not be the best actor/rapper around, but even in the shittiest of movies or pop-iest of songs, he gives it his all. It shows just how appreciative he is of his success. Further, he isn't afraid to do the hard work. I remember reading an interview with him and his PR guy and they spend months promoting his films overseas, whereas most A-listers think their names alone will carry a film. And don't ask me why I know this factoid, but Smith holds the Guinness Book of World Record for attending a three premieres in a 24-hour time span in 2005. He works for his popularity, and it shows.
post #15 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fazer
It is quite shocking to think that a black man is right now the biggest box office draw in the US...

Has done a good job playing down the fact that his oldest son is not actually from his current marriage...

While he is no Denzel acting wise, he has the marketability that Denzel never really had because I think white people still fear Denzel as much as they respect him.
Are you posting from 1968?
post #16 of 30
I've read and heard from people that he does indeed always works for it. He seems to pump himself up and stay hungry to keep himself always chasing a bigger goal. He signs autographs for long lengths of time when he's out and never hesistates to take pictures with people. Some may say he just likes attention, but it adds to his nice guy persona and it impresses the many people he meets.
post #17 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diva
Personally, I like Will Smith because he seems genuine. He may not be the best actor/rapper around, but even in the shittiest of movies or pop-iest of songs, he gives it his all. It shows just how appreciative he is of his success. Further, he isn't afraid to do the hard work. I remember reading an interview with him and his PR guy and they spend months promoting his films overseas, whereas most A-listers think their names alone will carry a film. And don't ask me why I know this factoid, but Smith holds the Guinness Book of World Record for attending a three premieres in a 24-hour time span in 2005. He works for his popularity, and it shows.
This is how I remember feeling about Tom Cruise when I watched one of the special features on the Vanilla Sky DVD that covered the film's international publicity tour. Very much the same... Cruise may not be the actor with the most range, but you just know he gives his all. That's actually something you can criticize about his performances and interviews (reeks of effort), but not about how he handles his career.

Of course, this was before he started to get a little wacky. Still respect his work ethic.

Will Smith probably makes it look more effortless.
post #18 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bailey
Are you posting from 1968?
no but I am addressing issues that a lot of conservative/middle america (even though I hate grouping them like that) would have problems with. Issues that Will has intelligently avoided.
post #19 of 30
So, just to be clear, he has (in order) intelligently avoided the issues of being a black person, having a child with another woman before he married his wife, and appearing scary to white people?

I think I've got it now. You're not posting from 1968, you're posting from dumb.
post #20 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diva
...He may not be the best actor around, but even in the shittiest of movies, he gives it his all.
I'd say a strong component, aside from personal charisma, is that Smith picks his projects well. Much as one may pick at ID or I Am Legend, you'll rarely catch him in an out-and-out turd of a film. Or at least some wonky, left-field kind of effort that will baffle and anger the general public - I don't see Smith doing a Clooney and using his earnings/goodwill from his blockbusters to promote/make boutique projects like Good Night and Good Luck or Solaris.
post #21 of 30
Will Smith is a movie star in the classic sense. He can do comedy without being a comedian, he can do drama without being a dour, reclusive thespian, all packaged in a physique that makes for an an equally convincing action hero. People also know he's a good man offscreen, which helps.

But I think you guys are ignoring a big part of his appeal, which is that he makes good movies. Are they all great? No. But the CHUD crowd's definition of "great" is not quite the mainstream definition of "great". For over a decade now the man has been starring in hit movies that the majority of the moviegoing public consider to be very good movies. When you acknowledge this, his popularity and box office appeal is a lot less mysterious then some of you are making it out to be. Smith knows what's popular, he knows how to make a hit, and unlike present-day Cruise, he's not a weirdo.
post #22 of 30
Thread Starter 
...not yet anyway stew.

Cruise used to be seen as wholesome as Ma's Apple Pie at one point in time, turns out he was a fucking brainwashed flake the whole time and just had great PR and was a good enough actor to fake normal in public.

How do we know Smiths not the same way? He just knows exactly how to portray "safe black" for middle class mainstream (see: white) America.

Thanks for the replies guys, there have been some very good points made that have illuminated for me not just why Smiths as big as he is over there, but why as a black man in America he's gotten to the position hes in as well.
post #23 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Chavez
...you'll rarely catch him in an out-and-out turd of a film. Or at least some wonky, left-field kind of effort that will baffle and anger the general public...
Wild Wild West hasn't appeared to dent his career at all, as you just defined it above.
post #24 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by DARKMITE8
Wild Wild West hasn't appeared to dent his career at all, as you just defined it above.
Ooops. As I was typing I was thinking about mentioning that his only WWW was his only out-and-out stinker but I forgot. Good catch.

Anyway, it's pretty rare that the public won't forgive a matinee idol at least ONE cinematic misstep - Arnie returned to form after The Last Action Hero with True Lies; Stallone had a seven year string of turkeys following Rocky IV but a back-to-back wallop of Cliffhanger and Demolition Man and Sly was back in the game - until he decided to keep making turkeys. Bonfire of the Vanities and Hudson Hawk are minor footnotes to Bruce Willis' career. Etc etc. (this is overly-simplified, I know - I just don't feel like discussing the merits of Last Action Hero or Stallone's excellent work in Cop Land)
post #25 of 30
I don't know about you but Wild Wild West was a moderate box office hit...$113,745,408 just in USA Market...Worldwide: $222,105,681 - summer 1999 (Star Wars I, Sixth Sense, The Mummy, Matrix, Austin Powers 2,...)


but...America is really ready for SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION 2 - son of Sidney Poitier is back?
post #26 of 30
Cruise always had some strange qualities, they were just kept under wraps enough that the average moviegoer didn't hear about them. Once his oddities became legitimate, evening news material, that's when the decline started. If Smith has even a fraction of the weirdness Tom Cruise does, I'd be absolutely shocked.

And if "Wild Wild West" is considered a "failure", that just rams home why Smith is enjoying the level of success that he is. It's not a great movie, and it underperformed compared to his last few previous hits, but it didn't lose money and people didn't hate it. Plus he quickly adapted and changed course, and shifted slightly away from the "Will Smith 4th of July" expectation that had been allowed to develop. If "Wild Wild West" is your greatest setback, you're doing pretty well.
post #27 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stew
... people didn't hate it.
The general public also goes to see Epic Movie, but I thought WWW was Razzie material (Worst Pic, Director, Screenplay, Song, Screen Couple of '99) and panned by critics. I thought it was a major blow to Sonnenfeld (hasn't had a hit since). Do I remember wrong? I assume it made most of its $ during opening weekend and died off due to loathing. I remember having to defend owning it on video to customers I waited on while I worked at Blockbuster. I'm talking Godzilla remake and Batman & Robin (didn't kill Clooney's career) territory.

EDIT: WWW's production budget was $170 mill (not including marketing) and only pulled in $222 mill WORLDWIDE ($113 mill in the US). Considering the "help" of foreign ticket sales to profit percentages, that means failure in my book. It probably lost money.
post #28 of 30
I think its a chicken vs. egg question. Does Will Smith pick good movies or does he elevate the crap he's in? I'm not trying to argue he's been in crap per se, but a lot of his resume is comprised of mediocre genre flicks. Ali showed he has some range, but mostly he plays himself in mindless action or buddy cop films. I think people really respond to him because of his personality and that is what makes the largely forgettable films he stars in successful.
post #29 of 30
WWW underperformed to be sure, and I'm going to resist getting into the endless "Does a 'profit' of $52 million mean it's a 'failure'?" back and forth. It's not a good movie, it made less than his previous films, and it's not as popular. But it still opened to a lot of money, and while it certainly won't be mentioned alongside his good movies, my sense is that it is going down in history as one of these legendary turkeys either. We're talking primarily perception here - why is Will Smith so popular? - so I think it's a valid distinction to make.
post #30 of 30
Quote:
Originally Posted by Diva
I think its a chicken vs. egg question. Does Will Smith pick good movies or does he elevate the crap he's in? I'm not trying to argue he's been in crap per se, but a lot of his resume is comprised of mediocre genre flicks. Ali showed he has some range, but mostly he plays himself in mindless action or buddy cop films. I think people really respond to him because of his personality and that is what makes the largely forgettable films he stars in successful.
I wouldn't put any Will Smith movies on my "best" or even "favorite" list ("Ali" excepted actually, which I love), but again, I think some of you are selling his movies short. Or at the very least, mistaking the CHUD mindset for the general public's. More than a decade later, and people are still watching and buying "Independence Day", "Men in Black", and "Bad Boys". I still flip channels and see "The Fresh Prince of Belleair" every night. They may not go down as classics, and I'm not here to argue the cinematic merits of them, but if Smith were just coasting by on his personality he wouldn't be nearly as successful.

He opens a movie like "I Am Legend" because in the eyes of the general moviegoing public, after more than a decade on the big screen, Will Smith makes good movies.
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