Will Smith is the world’s biggest movie star. Nobody can touch him. Cruise jumped the couch, Clooney’s movies don’t make any money and Hanks appears to be in semi-retirement. Only Johnny Depp comes close and he is a distant second.
Newsweek called him the most powerful actor on the planet and Vulture coined the term “omni-star” to describe the kind of worldwide fame he wields. But how did he become the biggest star of the Millennium—or should that be Willennium? Boffo hit movies have padded out his bank account, but there are other intangibles that set him apart.
1.) Smith owns the camera. Even in his first starring role on the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where you could see him mouthing the other actor’s lines, he stood out. What he lacked in technique, he made up in charisma.
2.). Smith works hard. “I’m above average in talent,” he said in 1996, “but where I think I excel is psychotic drive. All I need is for somebody to say I can’t do something and this crazy switch inside me makes me attack whatever I’m doing. Psychotic drive is where I excel over people that are probably more naturally gifted.”
3.) Smith is the most bankable star on the planet and he’s even more popular abroad than he is at home. Big Willie’s movies have taken home $6 billion worldwide. That’s billion with a “b.” He was the first actor to have eight consecutive movies break the $100 million mark at the box office and even his worst reviewed film, the steampunk western Wild Wild West, grossed more than $200 million worldwide.
4.) Smith can do it all. As an action hero he’s annihilated more on screen aliens than almost any other a-lister. Then he proved he could play comedy and kill aliens in Men in Black. In Hitch he was the romantic lead—“Life is not the amount of breaths you take,” he said in the movie, “it’s the moments that take your breath away.”—while later voicing a giant fish in the animated Shark’s Tale. When he gets serious, as he did in Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, he earns Oscar nominations. (He hasn’t taken home an Academy Award yet, but he and D.J. Jazzy Jeff won the first ever Grammy in the Rap category in 1988.) He’s even played a golf caddy in The Legend of Bagger Vance.
5.) Smith is an empire builder. He and wife Jada Pinkett Smith have passed down their magical DNA to a future generation of actors and singers. Daughter Willow made her acting debut in 2007 in the film I Am Legend and won a Young Artist Award for her work in Kit Kittredge: An American Girl but it is as a singer that she is best known. Her earworm Whip My Hair was a big hit that Entertainment Weekly called “Lil Mama meets Rihanna.” Son Jaden Smith is a rapper, but as one writer said, has proven “that he’s no mere beneficiary of dynastic largesse” in roles like The Karate Kid remake and the upcoming After Earth.