The career rise and stumble of Will Smith, whose notorious slap was the star of last year's Oscars

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  • Will Smith is one of the biggest movie stars of all time.

  • But his career hit a speed bump after he slapped Chris Rock at the 2022 Academy Awards.

  • He's charting a comeback with his movie "Emancipation" — but don't expect to see him at this year's Oscars.

Will Smith's films have grossed nearly $10 billion combined at the worldwide box office as of March 2023.

will smith ali
Smith in "Ali."Sony

He's ranked No. 15 in total US box office among actors in leading roles.


Source: The Numbers

But his career hit a speed bump when he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars in March 2022.

Will Smith appears to slap Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.
Will Smith appears to slap Chris Rock onstage during the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California.Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

The slap followed a joke Rock made about Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and came before Smith won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in "King Richard."

Smith, who's been a beloved actor in Hollywood for three decades, now finds himself looking to get back into Hollywood's good graces.

Will Smith in Emancipation
Will Smith plays a runaway slave in "Emancipation."AppleTV

First up in the comeback tour: Apple's 2022 film, "Emancipation," which Smith both starred in and produced. The film, directed by Antoine Fuqua, follows the true story of an enslaved man escaping and joining the Union Army.

So how did Smith get to be one of the movie industry's most bankable (and now cautionary) stars? Well, he got his start in the music industry.

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeff Townes), left, and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) are seen at the American Music Awards in 1989.Lennox McLendon/AP

Smith came into the public eye as part of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince in the 1980s and '90s.

Smith also had a successful solo rap career.

Will Smith, Gettin' Jiggy Wit It

He had hits like "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," which spent three weeks as number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1998, and has won four Grammy awards.

Smith capitalized on his music career with the hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

fresh prince of bel air

In the series, which aired on NBC, Smith played a fictionalized version of himself. The show ran from 1990 to 1996.

His film career took off with his role in Michael Bay's 1995 action movie "Bad Boys."

Will Smith running with a gun in "Bad Boys."
Will Smith in "Bad Boys."Columbia Pictures

"Bad Boys" was a modest hit, grossing $141 million globally, but put Smith on people's radar as a leading man.

Source: The Numbers

He cemented himself as a legitimate action star with 1996's "Independence Day" and 1997's "Men in Black."

Will Smith wearing sunglasses
Will Smith in "Men in Black."Columbia Pictures

"Independence Day" grossed $817 million worldwide, while "Men in Black" earned $589 million globally.

Source: The Numbers.

Smith almost turned down "Men In Black."

smith spielberg
YouTube/Will Smith

In a 2019 video, he said he didn't want to be known as "the alien movie guy" after starring in "Independence Day." Steven Spielberg, who was producing, called him and convinced him to take the part.

Not all of Smith's early roles were hits, though.

wild wild west 1999
Warner Bros.

1999's "Wild Wild West" was a disaster, grossing $222 million globally off of a hefty $170 million budget.

Source: Box Office Mojo

Smith could have added to his '90s hits with "The Matrix."

the matrix will smith
YouTube/Will Smith

He revealed in that aforementioned 2019 video that he turned down the movie after a disastrous pitch from the directors, the Wachowskis. He decided to make "Wild Wild West" instead.

But Smith isn't just known as a box-office powerhouse.

Michael Mann directed this acclaimed biopic.Sony Pictures Releasing

He earned his first Oscar nomination for 2001's "Ali," in which he played the boxer Muhammad Ali. His second nomination came with the 2006 film "The Pursuit of Happyness."

Smith turned some of his first roles into franchises.

bad boys 2 sony

In the early 2000s, he starred in back-to-back sequels: 2002's "Men in Black II" and 2003's "Bad Boys II."

By the time "Men in Black 3" came out in 2012, Smith was able to command one of the largest-ever paychecks for an actor.

men in black

He reportedly earned $100 million for the film. That number was based off the film's total gross of $624 million globally.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

But the rest of the 2010s tested Smith's box-office power.

after earth
Sony Pictures Releasing

Consumers started to gravitate more to brands like Marvel than to star-driven films.

Smith infamously turned down Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" in favor of 2013's big-budget sci-fi movie "After Earth," which bombed with a global box office of $243 million.

Sources: Red Table Talk, Box Office Mojo

The 2016 DC movie "Suicide Squad," which thrust Smith into comic-book movies, was a decent hit.

suicide squad
Warner Bros. Pictures

The movie made $747 million worldwide, but was torn apart by critics and basically rebooted with 2021's "The Suicide Squad," in which Smith didn't appear.

Source: Box Office Mojo

2019's "Gemini Man," another big-budget action movie, also flopped.

Gemini Man Paramount

The film from director Ang Lee grossed $173 million worldwide and cost $138 million to make.

Source: Box Office Mojo

But another 2019 release ended the decade on a high note for Smith.

Will Smith Genie Disney Aladdin live action remake
One of the first looks at Will Smith's Genie in the new "Aladdin" movie.Disney

Disney's "Aladdin" remake, in which Smith played the Genie, was his highest-grossing movie ever, with $1.05 billion worldwide. If the changing landscape meant Smith couldn't sell a movie on his name alone, he could at least lend his star power to a known property.

Source: The Numbers

2020 kicked off with "Bad Boys for Life," the third movie in the franchise.

bad boys for life
"Bad Boys for Life"Sony

It was a critical and box-office hit, with $426.5 million globally. That made it both the biggest movie in the series and the biggest of that year, domestically, as it was released just before the pandemic shut down theaters.

Source: Box Office Mojo, Box Office Mojo

In 2021, Smith's passion project "King Richard" was released in theaters and on HBO Max.

Will Smith in a white and blue windbreaker suit
"King Richard."Warner Bros.

Smith played Richard Williams, the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, and also served as a producer.

Smith won his first Oscar for "King Richard" — on the same night he slapped Chris Rock.

Will Smith Oscars 2022
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

Following the incident, Smith resigned from the Oscars voting body and was banned from attending the ceremony for 10 years. He can still be nominated, however.

Despite the anticipation, he was not nominated for his role in Apple's "Emancipation."


Coinciding with the film's release, Smith been on a rehabilitation tour, including a first screening of the movie during a recent conference for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

"Emancipation" hit limited theaters on December 2 and Apple TV+ on December 9.

Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith, and Will Smith pose on the red carpet after Smith's 2022 Oscars win.
Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

Apple positioned it as its 2022 Oscar play after the company won best picture with 2021's "CODA."

While it wasn't nominated for any Oscars, Smith did win the award for outstanding actor at the 2023 NAACP Image Awards in February for his performance in the film.

Will Smith at NAACP awards in 2015
Will Smith at NAACP Image Awards show in 2015.Earl Gibson III/Getty Images

It is his first major award since the Oscars slap.

A previous version of this post was written by Travis Clark.

A few days after winning the NAACP Image Award, Smith accepted the African-American Film Critics Association's Beacon Award for "Emancipation" at the organization's award show.

Actor Jalyn Hall (left) and Will Smith at the 2023 African-American Film Critics Association Awards show.
Actor Jalyn Hall (left) and Will Smith at the 2023 African-American Film Critics Association Awards show.Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The Beacon Award is given to actors in films that address tough subjects like slavery.

"'Emancipation' was the individual most difficult film of my entire career," Smith said during his acceptance speech.

It was his first public appearance at an awards show since the 2022 Oscars.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

And he's got some projects on his docket: Smith announced in January that he is filming "Bad Boys 4" with franchise partner Martin Lawrence.

martin lawrence and will smith
Martin Lawrence (left) and Will Smith at a 'Bad Boys For Life' photocall at a hotel in Spain on January 2020.Pablo Cuadra/Getty

The movie is reportedly in early-pre production. No release date has been confirmed.

Source: Variety

Earlier this month, Chris Rock finally addressed the slap during his Netflix comedy special, "Selective Outrage."

Chris Rock doing stand-up in front of a live audience in Baltimore.
Chris Rock doing stand-up in front of a live audience in Baltimore for his Netflix special 'Selective Outrage.'Netflix

"It still hurts. I got 'Summertime' ringing in my ears," Rock joked in the special. "But I'm not a victim, baby. You'll never see me on Oprah or Gayle crying … I took that hit like Pacquiao."

Source: Insider

Many are now waiting to see how this year's Oscar's will address Smith's slap.

Will Smith with Sean Combs (left) and Tyler Perry in the audience at the 2022 Oscars.
Will Smith with Sean Combs (left) and Tyler Perry in the audience at the 2022 Oscars.Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The 2023 Oscars will air live this Sunday — and Smith will be notably absent.

Read the original article on Business Insider