There is no denying that Will Smith has done very well for himself in his long-standing Hollywood career. The accomplished actor, producer, musician and media superstar has brought his charisma, talents and winning personality to the big leagues, and he has continued to prove himself time and time again. And the actor has, once again, found himself breaking records and winning the affections of at least a few audiences with Guy Ritchie's live-action Disney remake, Aladdin.
But while there are a ton of popular, beloved films and TV shows featuring Will Smith's established virtuoso and cool charm, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Men in Black, Independence Day, Hitch, I Am Legend, I, Robot, Bad Boys and several others, there are just as many classic, iconic films — if not more — that almost found themselves with an extra dose of Big Willie Style. But nobody can do everything, especially in a town that is as frantic as Hollywood, and some roles fall through the cracks for a variety of different reasons.
Will Smith might have it all, but he can't have everything. Some things are simply not meant to be, and some roles didn't suit Will Smith's tastes. With that, we'll be looking at 10 of the iconic movies that almost starred Will Smith. Because if he had starred in any number of these projects, pop culture would probably not be the same time. There are very few people in this world who can change the pop culture climate on a whim like that, but Smith is that type of guy, and there are very few A-list celebrities quite like him.
In 1996, Will Smith was on top of the world. The actor had appeared in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and turned himself into an actual, full-fledged movie star with his role in Independence Day. Although the actor was reluctant to appear in another alien movie, he trusted the mind of executive producer Steven Spielberg and decided to star in Men In Black after initially turning down the role. While he was rising higher-and-higher up in his film career, it seemed that Will Smith could do no wrong. But he made one decision that ultimately haunted him: he turned down the lead role in The Matrix.
Will Smith has gone on-the-record about his decision not to appear in The Matrix, particularly on his YouTube channel. In the video, appropriately titled "Why I Turned Down The Matrix," which you can watch below, Will Smith admits that he is "not proud" of his decision to turn down the role of Neo, which ultimately went to Keanu Reeves (although Johnny Depp was reportedly the filmmakers' first choice for the role).
The actor admits that he didn't really understand the pitch described by the Wachowskis, and he opted to star in Wild Wild West instead. Evidently, that turned into Will Smith's first spectacular failure. Meanwhile, The Matrix became a huge pop culture phenomenon.
Could you believe Will Smith was more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Well, we almost had a chance to find out for ourselves. The actor was in the running to play the Man of Steel in Bryan Singer's 2006 reboot, Superman Returns. And he was considered a frontrunner for the part, as you would likely imagine. But while the role could've easily been among Will Smith's most iconic performances if he had said "yes," cementing himself even further into Hollywood legacy, the A-list performer opted not to take it, with Brandon Routh taking the part instead.
There's no telling what Will Smith's Superman would be like. It would undeniably be a game-changer in the history of cinema, for a variety of reasons, and it might've spanned a new film trilogy — or more — for the beloved, world-famous superstar. Alas, as Smith explained to MTV promoting the underwhelming 2008's superhero dark comedy Hancock, there was a specific reason why Smith decided not to put on the famous blue-and-red tights.
Will Smith would later get to leave his mark on a DC Comics property playing Floyd Lawton, a.k.a. Deadshot, in 2016's Suicide Squad.
It's rare for an actor to turn down a role in the new Quentin Tarantino joint. Most actors would jump on that opportunity instantly, especially when they are offered the lead role — the title role no less! But Will Smith is not most actors. While Tarantino reportedly conceived the role of Django in his acclaimed 2012 film, Django Unchained, with Smith in mind, the actor declined the invitation, believing that the opportunity wasn't in his best interest.
As he explained to Entertainment Weekly, Will Smith believed that — despite the role being in the title — that Django wasn't ultimately the main character of the film. In his view, reading Quentin Tarantino's Oscar-winning script, Smith felt that the bounty hunter, played by Christoph Waltz in the movie, was ultimately the true main character, and that Django played second fiddle. The role ultimately went to Jamie Foxx, who earned a great deal of acclaim for his performance. While Will Smith did stress that he found the movie to be "brilliant," he decided it would be better for another actor.
With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood being the ninth of Quentin Tarantino's planned 10-film run, maybe the director could find a more fitting leading role for Will Smith in his final movie, whatever that may be.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
It's damn near impossible to top Gene Wilder's performance as Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The actor's delightful witty, yet tender and poignant portrayal of the popular Roland Dahl character is quite possibly the actor's most beloved and treasured role. When it came time for Tim Burton to remake the movie in 2005, the director didn't have an easy position. Who was someone who could fit in those big shoes?
The studio had a line-up of potential candidates, and that list included several note-worthy stars, including, but not limited to, Brad Pitt, Michael Keaton, Jim Carrey, Bill Murray, Nicolas Cage and Adam Sandler, surprisingly enough. And Will Smith was also a potential candidate for the part. Do you think because his name is also William that he was considered for the part? We'll leave that to speculation. But while it's unclear if he was just considered or if he was actually in discussion to play the part, the casting decision never came to be. Tim Burton went with Johnny Depp to play the role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which shouldn't come to a big surprise to anyone who knows the filmmaker.
And it doesn't seem as though Will Smith has gone on record to discuss whether or not he was seriously in contention for the part. But if Smith had brought his charisma, radiance and magnetism to the character of Willy Wonka, it might've possibly rivaled what we saw with Gene Wilder. (And Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is my favorite movie, so I don't say that lightly).
A Star Is Born
A Star Is Born is a Hollywood fairy tale, passed down from generation to generation, and a timeless tale that has been reworked and retooled for continue resonating for audiences young and old. Bradley Cooper found some new magic to be found in his reimagining of the old-fashioned love tragedy in 2018's acclaimed remake, but there was a time — more than once, in fact — when Will Smith was considered to play the lead male role.
Back in 1998, there were plans to make a new version of A Star Is Born with Will Smith acting alongside Whitney Houston. That version of the film ultimately fell through, but that wasn't the last time Smith's name was floating around the project. Later on, around 2013, there were more talks about making a version of A Star is Born with Jennifer Lopez acting alongside him. Once again, this version also fell through. Perhaps the third time would've been the charm? We'll never know. But it should be noted that his rumored involvement came before Bradley Cooper stepped on to co-write, direct and star with Lady Gaga, and this long-in-the-works remake ultimately became a rousing success — both critically and commercially.
Mr. And Mrs. Smith
While Mr. And Mrs. Smith would go on to become the film that brought Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together, at least for a period of time, they weren't always attached to the film together. Sure enough, during the casting process, Will Smith's name was being thrown around as a possible actor to appear as John Smith in the film, in the role that ultimately went to Pitt. And if you're wondering if Will Smith was being considered for the role of John Smith because his last name was also Smith, you wouldn't be alone.
It should be noted that Mr. And Mrs. Smith was primarily looking to cast Brad Pitt in the role. But when it was unclear if the actor would be able to appear in the film, the producers were looking into the possibility of either Johnny Depp or Will Smith playing the part. Depp ultimately passed on the film based on his commitments elsewhere. For Will Smith, it's not entirely clear why it didn't work out for him. And it should be noted that the version of Mr. And Mrs. Smith with Will Smith would've starred Catherine Zeta-Jones, not Angelina Jolie. But no matter. The part was ultimately given to Brad Pitt, and the rest is history.
Boyz N The Hood
One of Cuba Gooding Jr's most celebrated, well-known roles was Tre Styles in Boyz N The Hood, the Oscar-nominated debut of the late writer-director John Singleton. The 1991 drama has gone to become a powerful and influential work of an early filmmaker who rose to acclaim thanks in large part due to his work in this film. But there was once a point in time where Will Smith was being considered for the role of Tre Styles.
In the early '90s, Will Smith was well on his way to becoming a household name with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. But there is a timeline out there where Smith chose to make Boyz N The Hood instead, likely solidifying him as a dramatic actor rather than a comedic/action movie superstar. Who knows where Will Smith would be today if he took this role instead of Fresh Prince. But evidently, it worked out well for both well-established stars.
It's hard to imagine Rush Hour without its two leads: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. Their unexpected buddy cop antics, mixed with fun and reflexive chemistry, made the original movie what it is, even if the second one only match its heights to an extent. (The more left unsaid about the third film, the better). But even though the comedy is easily among Tucker's most famous roles, the part of Carter almost went to another famous comedy actor: Will Smith.
That's right. Chris Tucker wasn't considered the first choice for the role of Carter. Producers tried to bring other established comedic actors like Martin Lawrence, Dave Chappelle and Will Smith into the project, and they all declined the role. The idea of turning down the opportunity to work with Jackie Chan is beyond me, but that's neither here nor there. Eventually, though, Chris Tucker was chosen for the part. And there's a good chance it wouldn't be the same with any other actor, since Tucker improvised a majority of his dialogue. So, it's safe to say that Tucker made this role his own.
Bill Condon's sensational 2006 musical adaptation of Dreamgirls was one of the year's biggest successes. It garnered a great deal of critical and commercial fame, and it went on to win two Oscars, including one for Jennifer Hudson in her film debut. And while he isn't remembered quite as fondly as Hudson, Beyonce Knowles or Eddie Murphy for his contributions to the film, Jamie Foxx also made a good impression as Curtis Taylor Jr.
But while the actor went on to play the role after he initially declined the part, Jamie Foxx wasn't the only actor in-the-running for the role. Will Smith, as well as Denzel Washington and Terrence Howard, were also in contention for the role, and ultimately none of them took it on. It's unclear exactly why Will Smith didn't embark on this musical project, though it likely had to due with scheduling conflicts. No matter; the film was still a great smash.
In Phone Booth, we follow a man (Colin Farrell) who is trapped in a phone booth for a majority of the film and must carry the audience's heightened attention during periods of great suspense. It's a risky project to tackle, and there's a reason it took a long time to get off the ground. Nevertheless, while it took a great deal of time, Farrell eventually signed on and played the role. But there were several other actors who were signed on at different points in time, including Will Smith.
As the claustrophobic film slowly but surely made its way off the ground, Will Smith was greatly interested in playing the lead role. However, while he loved the script, he felt like the bad guy's storyline wasn't "clear enough" for his own personal tastes. After a great deal of back-and-forth, Smith did not end up pursuing it, letting the character be played by someone else. Thankfully, Colin Farrell proved himself well in the suspense-driven film.
It's impossible to know whether or not any of these films would've been quite as popular if they featured Will Smith's talents. Movies are never a guaranteed success. Any number of factors could turn them into disasters, and while each of these films have their loyal fans, all of them could've ended up falling to the wayside at any given moment, and there's a reason why people say that good movies are miracles. It's hard to make a movie work, let alone become a cultural success.
Therefore, as Will Smith suggested in the video above, there are no certain ways of knowing what any of these movies would be like if you took out one competent. Like a house of cards, if one piece is taken out, the whole thing could fall apart. Though Will Smith has proven himself time and time again, and probably would've made any of these movies work, his career is his own, and there is no denying that he has found a wealth of success on his own terms. But one can't help but wonder where we would be today if Will Smith said yes instead of no to any of the projects listed above.
Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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