Big Changes for Big Will?

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Three is the new 1!” – Will Smith, on Jimmy Kimmel talking about the disappointing opening for his latest film, After Earth.

Smith had no time to lick his cinematic wounds as he appeared on Kimmel’s primetime special to discuss a rare failure in his legendary career. He expressed disappointment with the film’s lackluster showing.

After Earth’s budget was $130 million, but only brought in $27 million in its opening weekend, finishing in third place behind Fast & Furious 6 and Now You See Me.

“Here’s how I think about it Jimmy, let’s be honest. Three is the new one,” Smith said, trying to put a spin on it.

He wasn’t quite sure how to take it, saying, “It’s been almost, like, two decades since I had a movie that wasn’t number one!”

Immediately, the blame game commenced with all eyes pointing at Smith, himself, who chose M. Night Shyamalan to direct. “Smith not only produced and starred in the film, but he received a sole ‘Story by’ credit — he’s said he conceived ‘After Earth’ as a vehicle for him and his son while he was producing Jaden Smith’s surprise 2010 mega-hit ‘The Karate Kid,'” said a source from BuzzFeed.

Smith, who has starred in 13 films that have grossed over $100 million, has largely been content to produce films through his Overbrook imprint and focusing on the careers of his children, Jaden and Willow. In addition, the talk in Hollywood is that Smith lost some valuable career momentum when he took a four-year break from Hollywood earlier this decade. The question on everyone’s lips is has Big Will’s star faded? Will studios think twice about forking over big dollars to the man once famously nicknamed, “Mr. July?”

Will+SmithWhile promoting After Earth, it appears Smith had an inkling that maybe the time has come for him to diversify his popular brand.

“There’s something about making movies that just really gets me excited… I love people being wrapped in a story and being able to deliver that emotional punchline at the end. It’s been an absolute necessity that the movie be a blockbuster, but I think I’m going to start moving out of that and finding more danger in my artistic choices.”

Smith has rarely strayed away from his blockbuster movie-making blueprint. Quentin Tarantino wanted him for his slavery love story, Django Unchained, which ultimately Smith passed on. The last daring role that Smith took on was his role as a gay hustler in Six Degrees of Separation. It appears that Smith has been reluctant to to choose roles that will change his public perception, but there is a precedent that Smith should study.

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Oscar-winner Denzel Washington also went through a period where he was accused by critics of playing it safe with his career choices. We remember talking to director Antoine Fuqua prior to the release of Training Day who promised us that “we were going to see a Denzel unlike any we’ve seen before” – and he was right. Of course, Denzel’s darker turn garnered him his second Oscar and more importantly the freedom to play roles outside of his comfort zone.

So is Smith is ready to make the shift from primarily family-friendly action adventure fare, to more “dangerous” roles and projects? Judging by his upcoming projects, we’re not so quite sure.

Will SmithOne of the films on Smith’s radar is the story, The Redemption of Cain, which boasts a vampiric twist on the Cain & Abel biblical story. While not confirmed, the film could raise some eyebrows and be considered sacrilegious if reports of the the twist is true.

He’s also interested in the thriller, The Accountant about a government accountant who also moonlights as an assassin. The project was initially attached to The Coen Brothers but now is in turnaround currently sitting in Smith’s home studio, Sony’s control.

Another project that continues to pique Smith’s interest is the sci-fi story, Flowers for Algernon. Published in 1966, the novel tells the story of Algernon who is a laboratory mouse that has undergone surgery to increase its intelligence by artificial means. The story is told as a series of progress reports written by Charlie, the first human test subject for the surgery, and touches upon many different ethical and moral themes such as the treatment of the mentally disabled.

Essentially, a man surgically accelerates his own IQ levels, based on his mouse research, ultimately making himself a genius, but then becomes a social outcast for that reason; and unfortunately, what he didn’t count on was that Algernon, the mouse he used in his research, would eventually experience significant decelerated IQ levels, a result of the experiment, as he himself experiences the same mental deterioration.

The film has been successfully adapted several times but notably in the 1969 film, Charly, which garnered an Oscar for the film’s star, Cliff Robertson – an honor that has eluded Smith to this point of his career. Other films that Smith will consider are largely sequels to his earlier work including I, Robot, Hancock, Men In Black 4 and believe it or not, After Earth.

While we don’t think that Smith’s career is on the decline, he needs to seriously consider taking more chances with his career mixed in with his mega-budget sequels. The model hasn’t failed Washington and Big Will needs to take a page out of his successful playbook to extend his run in Tinseltown.

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