A Look Back at Will Smith's Most Iconic Roles

From The Fresh Prince to The Pursuit of Happyness, the actor has given us 30 years of cinematic gold

01 of 09

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. NBCUniversal via Getty

Smith played a fictionalized version of himself on the beloved sitcom that ran for six years. Will, a streetwise kid from Philly, was sent to live with his wealthy Uncle Phil, Aunt Viv, cousins Hilary, Carlton and Ashley in Bel-Air, and the rest was history.

Throughout the series, fans fell in love with Will as he learned to navigate his new surroundings and upper-class lifestyle with his family by his side. 30 years later, fans remain loyal to the show for bringing real issues within the Black community — including run-ins with the police, wealth inequality and interracial relationships— and sharing them with audiences through nuanced storytelling topped with a heartfelt, happy ending.

02 of 09

Bad Boys (1995)

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys.

Who better to catch some bad guys than Bad Boys Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey? Smith, as Detective Lowrey, won over all the ladies with his undeniable swagger and made audiences belly laugh as he bantered with costar Martin Lawrence (Burnett) throughout the film. The two leading men went on to take their blockbuster film success to future films Bad Boys II and Bad Boys for Life. Plus, there's more to come: a Bad Boys 4 is now in the works.

03 of 09

Independence Day (1996)


Hollywood heavyweights Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman played second and third fiddle to Smith, who stole the spotlight as Capt. Steven Hiller with classic lines like "Welcome to Earth," and "Now that's what I call a close encounter." Plus, who could forget his steamy kiss with Vivica A. Fox.

04 of 09

Men in Black (1997)

Will Smith in Men In Black

The successful, action-packed comedy launched Smith into superstardom, and also led to two more installments of the franchise. Smith, as Jay, kicked alien butt alongside Tommy Lee Jones, who plays Kay in the '90s classic.

Smith also wrote the accompanying Men in Black single, and shot a video for the film which won a Grammy in 1998.

05 of 09

Ali (2001)

Will Smith Ali
Frank Connor/Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

To take on the life of one of the most prolific figures in history is not an easy feat. However, Smith honored boxing legend and civil rights icon Muhammad Ali with a striking performance that captured the charisma, intelligence, power and fearlessness the late icon, who died in 2016, shared with the world.

06 of 09

Hitch (2005)

WIll Smith and Eva Mendes in HITCH
Columbia Pictures

If you're struggling to find love, date doctor Hitch will coach you on how to win over the woman of your dreams. The love consultant was doing just fine with his clients until he met his match in Sara (played by Eva Mendes), and the two went head-to-head in the name of love.

The classic '00s romcom is still a fan favorite, and the sight of Smith's character having an allergic reaction remains forever etched in our minds.

07 of 09

The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, Jaden Smith, Will Smith, 2006.©Columbia Pictures/courtesy Everett Collect

Not only did Smith act alongside real-life son Jaden, the star also took on the inspirational role of entrepreneur and motivational speaker Chris Gardner. The 2006 film told the story of how Gardner overcame unfathomable odds to provide for his son and build a successful career.

Smith's role as Gardner earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, a Golden Globe nom for best performance by an actor in a motion picture and a Screen Actors Guild nom for outstanding performance by a male actor in a leading role.

08 of 09

I Am Legend (2007)


In the post-apocalyptic thriller, Robert Neville (played by Smith) must find a cure to defeat a deadly virus that wiped out every human in New York City — except for himself. The suspenseful action flick was also his real-life daughter Willow's movie debut.

09 of 09

Hancock (2008)

Will Smith Hancock
Frank Masi/Relativity Media/Overbrook/Kobal/Shutterstock

Smith isn't your traditional superhero in Hancock. He's an alcoholic who ends up possessing superpowers and uses them to try and improve society, but causes a bit of havoc as he attempts to save the day. Thankfully, Ray Embrey (played by Jason Bateman) appears in his life to turn his life and public image around.

Related Articles