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Will Smith Got Upset After ‘I Am Legend’ Made Box Office History: ‘Sickness of Material Success’

Smith reacted to "I Am Legend" being a box office hit by wondering if it would've made more money with a different ending.

"I Am Legend"

“I Am Legend”

Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Collection

Will Smith had experienced so much box office success heading into December 2007 that something strange happened when his post-apocalyptic zombie thriller “I Am Legend” opened to $77 million: He wasn’t happy. The film, directed by Francis Lawrence, opened in U.S. theaters December 14 and is still the biggest December opening for a non-Christmas release. Why was Smith so upset? He told Oprah Winfrey on a recent episode of “The Oprah Conversation” (via Entertainment Weekly) that his dissatisfaction with the film’s record-breaking box office had everything to do with the “subtle sickness of material success” that comes with being a Hollywood star.

“I’m excited for 30 seconds, and then my mind drifts and I say to J, ‘Hey, why do you think we missed 80?'” Smith said, referencing the phone call he had with his producing partner James Lassiter after learning of the “I Am Legend” $77 million opening. “He said, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘No, it was 77, do you think if we would have adjusted the ending? Because I wanted the ending to feel more like “Gladiator.”‘ He’s like, ‘It’s the biggest opening in history, ever. What are you talking about?’ I’m like, ‘J, I get that, I’m just asking why do you think we missed the 80?’ And it’s the only time he ever hung up on me.”

Smith knew he had a problem when not even his producing partner could handle his complaining over an obvious career victory. Smith was riding a career high at the time of the “I Am Legend” release. While “Wild Wild West” threw Smith’s box office hot streak a curveball in 1999, he rebounded with an Oscar nomination for Best Actor with Michael Mann’s “Ali” and then had a string of box office hits: “I, Robot,” “Shark Tale,” “Hitch,” and “The Pursuit of Happyness,” the latter of which earned Smith his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor. “I Am Legend” was next and proved Smith was still a bankable A-list superstar who could break box office records.

Next up for Smith is the biographical drama “King Richard,” opening November 19 in theaters and on HBO Max. Again Smith is stirring up Oscar buzz, and he seems destined to land his third career nomination for Best Actor.

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