In a world where popularity and talent don’t always coincide, Will Smith has managed to have it both ways. Born in 1968, Smith parlayed his Philadelphia upbringing and background into a successful rap and, later, television career, guest-starring on popular early 1990s shows like “Blossom” and leading a cast all his own as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Though he appeared in the 1993 film Made in America opposite Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson, the comedic actor first made a splash with big-screen audiences later that year as the lead in Six Degrees of Separation. Based on the true story of con man David Hampton, who spent years convincing people he was Sidney Poitier’s son, the movie marked a dramatic turn for Smith. The actor has since continually received praise for his darker roles, including Academy Award nominations for Ali (2002) and The Pursuit of Happyness (2007).

While his resume is peppered with the occasional family film (Shark Tale and the upcoming The Secret Life of Bees, which he produced), it is in the action world that Smith seems most at home. He is the king of Hollywood—as named by Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek in their recent rankings—and the July 4th box office, which is why, with this weekend’s release of the movie Hancock, MM saw it fit to take a look at Will Smith in action.

Independence Day (1996)
Independence Day
There are few who aren’t familiar with this apocalyptic action film in which Smith plays Air Force captain Steven Hiller, a man out to save his family and the world from invading alien forces. We won’t give anything away by saying that 4th of July fireworks never looked so liberating. The movie brought in more than $800 million worldwide and initiated the actor’s reputation for being able to open summer movie blockbusters on a massive scale.
Men In Black (1997)
Men In Black
Perhaps it was the unlikely pairing of Smith and Tommy Lee Jones that drew in an audience when Men in Black opened July 2, 1997. As the veteran special agent Kay, Jones showed Smith’s Jay the ropes of fighting alien crime in the Big Apple. The duo was so successful that they re-teamed with director Barry Sonnenfeld for the 2002 sequel, this time recruiting Rosario Dawson and Johnny Knoxville to their action team.

Bad Boys II (2003)
Bad Boys II
There’s not much that can kill or perplex a Will Smith character; he always overcomes. In the first of the Bad Boys films (released in 1995), Smith’s narcotics detective Mike Lowrey tracks down $100 million worth of heroin from a Colombian drug lord. In the sequel, he survives a standoff with the Cuban military and a mine explosion on a mission to recover more drugs and his love (co-star Martin Lawrence’s on-screen sister, played by Gabrielle Union) and once again save the day. Although the sequel took in nearly double the ticket sales of the original, the movie didn’t fare so well with critics who called the movie “nerve-numbing” and “mean-spirited.”

I, Robot (2004)
I, Robot
Inspired by Isaac Asimov’s science-fiction book of the same name, I, Robot features Smith as Detective Del Spooner—a Chicago homicide detective leery of the world he lives in, where robots are relied upon for everything. After the murder of prominent robot inventor Dr. Alfred Lanning (played—very briefly—by James Cromwell), Spooner sets out to determine the cause of death, inevitably taking along his immense distrust for the sentient metal objects that have taken over the city. Alongside cast members Bridget Moynahan and a pre-Transformers Shia LaBeouf, Smith turned in a performance that landed nearly $350 million at the box office.

I Am Legend (2007)
I Am Legend
He appears to be the last living human on the face of the Earth but Robert Neville (Smith) still can’t catch a break. Creatures follow him day and night, relentlessly trying to infect him and his on-screen companion, Sam, the loyal dog. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says Smith “has no problem holding the screen” while Richard Roeper declares the actor is “in prime form.”
Hancock (2008)
He’s not politically correct, nor is he polite, but that doesn’t seem to stop John Hancock. No, not the historical figure who signed the Declaration of Independence. This Hancock is a drunken superhero who, after saving the life of PR exec Ray (Jason Bateman), moves toward the proper public persona expected of all super-powered beings. Directed by Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom) and co-starring Charlize Theron, this action film is a departure for Smith, whose previous work has focused on one of two things: Alien and/or strange forces taking over the world and law enforcement officials going against the grain. With Hancock it looks like all of that is thrown out the window.