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1999 was a hell of a year at the movies. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace was making a killing, while killing our dreams, Fight Club and The Matrix were blowing minds with violence and philosophy, and Wild Wild West was proving that even Will Smith's golden touch had its limits. Well, almost 20 years later, even Smith himself has come to turn his back on his first big box-office misstep, and he's not shy about taking some of the blame.
During his session at the ongoing Cannes Lions series, Smith confessed his motivations for making the Barry Sonnenfeld dud, and The Hollywood Reporter took down his various introspective remarks about the project. His comments can be found below, and they're a doozy, as Smith said:
I had so much success that I started to taste global blood and my focus shifted from my artistry to winning. I wanted to win and be the biggest movie star, and what happened was there was a lag --- around Wild Wild West time --- I found myself promoting something because I wanted to win versus promoting something because I believed in it. ... Smoke and mirrors in marketing and sales is over. People are going to know really quickly and globally whether a product keeps its promises. ... My career has been strictly being able to sell my products globally, and it's now in the hand of fans. I have to be in tune with their needs and not trick them into going to see Wild Wild West.
The success that Will Smith is alluding to is the 1-2 punch that was Independence Day and Men In Black, which came out on Fourth of July weekend 1996 and 1997, respectively. Between those two films and their blockbuster box-office returns, Smith was crowned the king of the first weekend in July, and for good reason. So obviously, with that sort of success making the rounds, Smith felt pretty invincible, and thus the Big Willie Styles persona was born. You can see it in the way he commanded his performance at 1999's MTV Movie Awards, included below as the perfect precursor to your Throwback Thursday.
Of course, no amount of performances or hit singles could prevent Wild Wild West from tanking at the box office. Made at a $170 million price tag, the film only cracked $222 million with its total worldwide grosses. The film looked like an abject failure considering Smith's previous blockbusters were made for a fraction of the cost and out-grossed the Warner Bros picture in spades, and while his career bounced back to a certain degree, his selling power was never quite the same.
While it's refreshing to hear Will Smith admit that Wild Wild West was more of a vanity project than a labor of love, it's far from the worst film in the actor's filmography. In fact, it's actually somewhat enjoyable when watched in the right mindframe. Ultimately, if Smith wants to start fessing up for some of the more dubious natured projects he's starred in, we're dying to hear what he has to say about his M. Night Shyamalan collaboration, After Earth. Compared to that fiasco, Smith gets a pass for Wild Wild West, as well as Seven Pounds, combined.
Still, an apology is an apology, and it's that sort of candor that has us looking forward to Will Smith's part in Suicide Squad, when it unfurls on the big screen this August. Well, that, and it looks like a real return to form for him, so we're excited for some classic Smith.