The Methodical Way Will Smith Became The Biggest Movie Star In The World

It seems like some people just become famous overnight, like you wake up and all of sudden some random person is a celebrity, and you’re not sure why. Others scrape and struggle in obscurity for years before making it to the A-list. Then there’s Will Smith, who used a shrewd, meticulous, methodical process to become the biggest movie star in the world.

Promoting his upcoming head trauma drama, Concussion, the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air talked with The Hollywood Reporter and discussed his process, which involves putting "small character dramas" in "blockbuster packages." Discussing his career strategy, Smith said:

I said to [manager James Lassiter], 'I want to be the biggest movie star in the world.' And he said, 'Okay. Well, let’s figure out what that means.' And he went and got the top 10 movies of all time, the list of the top 10 movies of all time at the box office — top 10 box office successes — and we also looked at them, adjusted for inflation and views versus dollar value. Also, we looked at all the different variations. What we found is at the center, there were always special effects...there was always creatures, there was always a love story. So we started looking for movies that had special effects, creatures, and a love story.

According to Smith, the most successful he’s ever been with this strategy is with the 2007 sci-fi thriller I am Legend. Based on Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name (which is also the inspiration for Charlton Heston’s Omega Man and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead), there’s basically one person, Smith’s Robert Neville, his dog, and not much more. In that regard, it’s a very small-scale story about survival and coping with being alone, expect there are also swarming hordes of monsters, massive set pieces, and a completely empty New York City. It definitely fits his formula, and is still one of his biggest movies.

Every time I see Will Smith headline a major motion picture, I’m still a little surprised. I’m of the right age that, first and foremost, he will always be the Fresh Prince, either the goofy rapper of such ditties like "Parents Just Don’t Understand" and "Nightmare on My Street," or the star of the fish-out-of-water sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Not to say I don’t like him as a movie star, but as talented and charming as he was, I didn’t exactly expect is career to shoot into the stratosphere like it did. I guess that’s the ultimate illustration that whatever roadmap he laid out and followed, it worked like gangbusters.

Concussion opens everywhere on Christmas Day, and we’ll see Will Smith next year as part of the ensemble cast of DC’s super villain team up Suicide Squad in 2016.

Brent McKnight