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Post Distressing ‘After Earth’ Box Office Flop, a New Will Smith Emerges

Post Distressing 'After Earth' Box Office Flop, a New Will Smith Emerges

For the average Hollywood actor, a film they are starring in that grosses $244 million worldwide, would probably feel like a gift. But Will Smith isn’t the average Hollywood actor. He’s an international superstar who’s seemingly *transcended* race, with appeal to almost every demographic.

So a $244 million cume – as was the case with “After Earth” (although his son was really the star of the movie) – is considered a disappointment in the industry. I should note that the real disappointment was that, of the $244 million, just $60 million of that was domestically-earned. Which means that the bulk of its box office came from overseas.

Keep in mind though that the film’s production budget (minus any marketing costs, which I’m sure were significant) was an astounding $130 million, for a film that looked like it cost about half of that. 

Although, in all fairness, we could, again, ask whether “After Earth” was really a Will Smith movie, or more of a Jaden Smith “failure.” But I guess, either way, it’s a “Smith movie,” and Will’s name and face were pivotal in how it was marketed and sold to audiences.

Some would argue that, even though the studio (Sony) erased him and his name from the film’s marketing campaign, word still eventually got around that M. Night Shyamalan was the film’s director. And he wasn’t exactly the most beloved Hollywood filmmaker at the time. According to then reports, Will practically insisted on Shyamalan to helm the film. It makes one wonder why he did that, especially when this wasn’t quite Shyamalan’s forte. The last time he attempted a sci-fi fantasy adventure film, it was with “The Last Airbender,” which was ripped by critics and audiences.

Reviews of the “After Earth” were decidedly negative, as it still ranks as Will Smith’s worst-rated feature film ever, currently at a low 11% on movie review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. It topped (or maybe I should say “bottomed”) 1999’s “Wild Wild West” as the worst-reviewed Will Smith movie of all time.

And so it was expected that some would start to wonder whether Will’s box office appeal was then beginning to fade – even just a little. As I said after the disappointment that was “After Earth,” his following choices would be really crucial in answering that question. Several critical and commercial duds in a row could spell danger. Just ask the director of “After Earth,” Shyamalan. But we’ll start to get some idea in 2 weeks, when his latest, since “After Earth,” the conman romance “Focus,” opens nationwide. 

All eyes will be watching to see how well that film is received – especially on opening weekend. As Big Willy himself noted during a press conference for “Focus” at The Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, California, on Sunday: “For me, this film really marks a transition in my life and emotionally and in my career… After the failure of ‘After Earth,’ a thing got broken in my mind. I was like, ‘Oh, wow. I’m still alive. Oh, wow. Actually, I still am me, even though the movie didn’t open number one. Wait. I can still get hired on another movie.’ I realized that I still was a good person… So when I went into ‘Focus,’ I completely released the concept of goal orientation and got into path orientation. This moment, this second, these people, this interaction … It is a huge relief for me to not care whether or not ‘Focus’ is number one or number 10 at the box office… I’ve already gained everything that I could possibly have hoped for, from meeting the people that I met and from the creation of what we did together… And it’s just painting. I’m going to paint, and some paintings are going to be fantastic. Others are going to be not so good, but I no longer measure the quality of myself on whether or not somebody else thinks what I painted is beautiful.”… [Ali] would say, ‘I’m the greatest. I’m the greatest.’ And when we talked, [he told me] it would be because how much like the greatest he didn’t feel, right? So it was almost a mantra for himself. And that’s sort of a thing that I’ve developed. It’s actually nerve‑wracking for me sometimes to walk into a new space… My experience is, if I just let myself go, it’s a whole lot easier than letting the voices [say], ‘Oh, my God! You know, ‘Focus’ may not be as good as ‘Enemy of the State!’ Rather than letting all those things come in, I just like to leap.”

Nothing like one major box office flop to give you some new sense of purpose, I suppose.

It wasn’t long after “After Earth” opened in 2013 that Will voiced his desire to take on more dangerous, edgier roles. Doing press for the film in the UK, during the summer of 2013, he said: “There’s something about making movies that just really gets me excited… I love people being wrapped in a story and being able to deliver that emotional punchline at the end. It’s been an absolute necessity that the movie be a blockbuster, but I think I’m going to start moving out of that and finding more danger in my artistic choices.” 

So this shift, if you will, is clearly something he’s been pondering for some time now. And more danger in his artistic choices is something we here at S&A have been hoping for, also for some time. I remember when it was announced that he was Quentin Tarantino’s first choice to play Django, and all the discussion that followed about whether Will was *courageous* enough to take on a controversial project like that. Although I should note that he has since revealed what his reasons were for not taking the part, and they had nothing to do with fear of controversy. 

So, here we are. Will Smith is ready to make the shift from primarily family-friendly, PG13 action adventure fare, to more “dangerous” roles and projects, as he put it, in the above quote. 

“Focus” is rated R (which is very rare for a Will Smith movie) for language, sexual content and violence. So maybe this’ll give us a glimpse at what will be a different Big Willy on screen from here-on.

But don’t cry for Mr Smith. He’s done and continues to do very well financially, as one of the highest paid actors in the business, and one of the few whose payment deal structures include collecting a portion on the back-end. Plus, he’s still immensely popular. He’ll be just fine.

It’s maybe only fitting then that the film in which he begins to come to terms with the kind of actor he now wants to me, in making this seemingly new transition, is titled “Focus.”

Following “Focus,” he’s upcoming slate of projects include the NFL concussion drama “Concussion,” which will be out later this year; donning superhero tights to play Deadshot in “Suicide Squad;” and the hurricane Katrina-set drama “The American Can.” 

Those are the few that are either already in production, or are guaranteed to be. 

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