Can Will Smith Survive ‘After Earth’ and Stay on A-List?

Leslie Gornstein
Movie Talk
Jaden Smith and Will Smith in 'After Earth'
Jaden Smith and Will Smith in 'After Earth'

Burning Question: Now that "After Earth" has bombed, is Will Smith's career far behind? — Yadda Yadda Pete

Now, now. "After Earth" may feature vicious attack animals who have about as much love for Smith's latest work as critics do. And, no, "After Earth" did not supernova at the box office this weekend. It brought in just over $27.5 million domestically, which sounds like a lot of money, until you realize that "Fast & Furious 6" is on its second weekend and earned more than $35 million in the same period.

And that "After Earth" cost an estimated $130 million to make.

But does that mean movie fans aren't getting jiggy with the Fresh Prince any more?

"While we were expecting more domestically, we believe the film will perform strongly when we open overseas over the next few weeks," says a glass-half-full Sony flack.

Besides, after taking a three-year vacay to spend time with his family in 2008, Smith is currently juggling something like a half-dozen upcoming releases, either as an actor, producer, director or some combination of the three. Among those gigs: the Katrina-themed drama "The American Can"; Akiva Goldsman's fantasy "The Winter's Tale"; and, according to TheWrap, a possible starring role in the reboot of the Sam Peckinpah classic "The Wild Bunch."

"Will Smith isn't out of the game by any stretch," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock tells me. "His next moves will be watched closely though, but I guarantee every big-name director would still be willing to work with him on the right project.

"Quentin Tarantino couldn't persuade him to join 'Django Unchained,' but it proves that Big Willy is still a hot commodity."

Just how hot? Well, the guy is still — still — considered an A-lister, in an era when almost no one is. The bellwether for such status is measured by The Ulmer Scale; the index estimates the likelihood that an actor will make a producer's money back, in pre-sales, before a single frame of a movie been shot. If that likelihood is 100 percent, then an actor is awarded a 100 score by Ulmer.

And Smith has an Ulmer score of 100.

"The amount of f----d-upped-ness that would have to happen to completely take Smith off the rails is huge," Cricket Feet casting director Bonnie Gillespie tells me. "Everybody gets their 'Gigli,' but you are allowed to screw up in this town if you're clean to begin with."

And Smith is about as clean as it gets.

"Right now, Smith cannot f--- up enough to have this be a career killer," Gillespie says. "'After Earth' could be his 'Ishtar,' and right now it doesn't matter. Producers still hear 'Will Smith,' and the checks will clear."

The people who may need to watch their careers, however, are Smith's son — fledgling co-star Jaden — and director M. Knight Shyamalan, who does not have a pretty reputation among critics.

Oddly, Shyamalan has a way of making crazy bank overseas — his 2010 U.S. stink bomb "The Last Airbender" made nearly $320 million overseas (check out a recent episode of my podcast to hear some more pretty incredible numbers) — but that streak may not last after this weekend.

"The real fall guy for "After Earth" will be M. Night Shyamalan," Bock predicts.

As for Jaden, "'Karate Kid 2'can't come soon enough for the burgeoning star."

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Watch Will and Jaden Smith Talk 'After Earth':