He's one of the most charismatic and entertaining people in Hollywood, so why does he keep making awful movies?
With a new year and a new decade approaching, the endless retrospectives cataloging all the most powerful and lasting works of cinema are piling up. But in looking back at how the art and industry of film making have evolved since 2010, I've found it more instructive to consider the worst films Hollywood has produced. Because, to badly paraphrase Tolstoy, while each good film of the last decade has been good in its own way, all the worst films have had one big factor in common: Will Smith.
I doubt most people will agree with me that these five films are the absolute worst of the decade. That's a subjective measure, and there are obviously different metrics by which to measure the quality of a film. Purely in terms of box office failure, none of Will Smith's movies of the last decade can touch the disastrous US premiere of Playmobil: The Movie, which opened at 2,337 theaters on December 6, and made less than $700,000 its opening weekend. And if we focus purely on critical reception, there are dozens of worthy contenders, from The Snowman, to Slender Man, to The Bye Bye Man—actually, all the awful horror movies with titles that end in "man" probably deserve an article of their own.
What makes these five movies special is that they have everything going for them, and they still manage to be terrible. They have big budgets, major marketing pushes, respected writers, directors, and studios backing them, along with the immense, international star power of Will Smith—the star of Independence Day, and Men in Black; the lovable, charming, funny, handsome, and talented man named by Forbes in 2014 as "the most bankable star worldwide." The fact that all those elements can consistently come together to produce sloppy, dull, and incoherent movies poses a mystery. While other movies fail pathetically, movies like this fail on an epic scale. So what the hell keeps going wrong?
"After Earth" (2013) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 11%
Coming just one year after 2012's Men in Black 3—which was generally well received—After Earth was hardly the first bad movie Will Smith ever made, but it was, according to Smith "the most painful failure" of his career. It was also the first in his current cold streak. Since that year, no movie that Smith has starred in has scored above the 60% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. There are a number of factors that came into play for the production of After Earth that may have contributed to his current jinx.
For a start, he made the movie with M. Night Shyamalan, a man who takes himself so seriously, and is so certain of his own genius, that he continues to write his own movies even after 2006's Lady in the Water. Bringing in Will Smith for After Earth was part of a big studio effort to rehabilitate Shyamalan's deflated career, but perhaps it merely spread the curse that Shyamalan finally escaped with 2016's Split. Shyamalan and Smith wrote the screenplay together with a man named Gary Whitta, so it remains unclear who was ultimately responsible for naming Smith's character "Cypher Raige."
Another prominent factor that sets After Earth apart from most of Smith's movies is his co-star, Jaden Smith—reprising the father-son pairing you might recognize from The Pursuit of Happyness and, you know, real life. Will has expressed vocal, emphatic support for his children's creative endeavors, but After Earth came out at the height of Jaden's "eyes aren't real," white-batman-suit-at-Kim and Kanye's-wedding phase. If Jaden was trying to take an active role in the film's creation, it's possible that Will may have been too supportive. Whatever the cause, After Earth's slick sci-fi visuals couldn't prop up its flat characters and the dull, dragging pace. While the Smiths' performances didn't necessarily bring much to the movie, it's hard to see how much they could have brought to such self-serious material.
"Suicide Squad" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 27%
This is another case of Smith jumping on-board an existing curse. With the notable exception of Wonder Woman the DC movies have consistently failed to capture the spark of the Marvel Cinematic Empire. But Smith can be forgiven for not realizing this issue, as Batman Vs. Superman and the "Martha" debacle and the "Martha" debacle didn't shake out until well after Suicide Squad had wrapped production.
Still, it's hard to imagine a screenplay for this movie that could have enticed an actor to sign on. Will Smith's Deadshot is undoubtedly the most developed character, but the story is a mess of conflicting visions, with a wild excess of character introductions and either not enough or far too much of both brooding darkness and irreverent "humor". Director David Ayer and the studio seem to have been pulling in multiple directions, with the rest of the production struggling to hold itself together through reshoots and multiple competing cuts.
While 2015's iteration of Fantastic Four may have been a slightly more absurd mess of studio development, the blow in that case was cushioned by a storied history of awful Fantastic Four movies. Suicide Squad takes on the task of trashing its source material all on its own—and does a thorough job of it. The jokes are lame, the action nonsensical, and the attempts at heartfelt drama are clumsy and self-serious. Perhaps the movie's worst sin is the badly disjointed editing that only starts to make sense when you learn that it was done by a third-party firm known primarily for cutting together trailers…
Despite all this, and the film's dismal critical reception, Suicide Squad actually performed pretty well at the box office—which is as damning an indictment of the movie-going public as I know.
"Collateral Beauty" (2016) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 14%
It's hard to know what to say about Collateral Beauty that it's trailer can't say more succinctly. Never has a teaser tried harder to convince you that a movie deserves an Oscar. The sweeping orchestral music, the cast of former nominees and winners making vague philosophical pronouncements in dire tones. The film's entire concept seems to follow the same ill-conceived Oscar-bate model—attempting to tap into the weighty challenges and lessons of life while bypassing the basic reality of human stories.
Instead of simply struggling with questions of mortality, of love, of the passage of time while navigating the course of real and difficult personal events, Will Smith's character, Howard Inlet—Howard Inlet—meets and interacts with the concepts of Death, Time, and Love—all of them actually actors hired by Inlet's business partners—all of whom lecture him into sorting his life out. "I'm Time. I'm a gift. And you're wasting me!" All of this while a private investigator follows their interactions in an elaborate plot to prove that Howard Inlet has lost his mind. And if you can follow that plot, you too have lost your mind.
The movie's self-serious tone cuts against the wild absurdity of its premise, and ends up continually reminding the viewer of how hard it's trying to be award-worthy. Trying and badly failing. Also, Edward Norton's character is named Whit Yardsham—Whit Yardsham—and it sends me into a Cypher Raige every time I think about it.
"Bright" (2017) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 28%
Bright was Netflix's first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and Will Smith's second attempt at making an awful movie with director David Ayer. After the baffling box-office success of Suicide Squad, I guess they decided not to mess with a formula that had churned out popular dreck once before. And Bright certainly would have been a commercial success—if the millions of viewers had actually paid for tickets. With 11 million viewers in its first three days, ticket sales would have paid off the movies budget almost immediately. Of course the fact that few if any of those viewers had to spend a penny of their money to see Bright does undermine that success a little bit. As do the generally terrible reviews.
The film's attempt to build a modern fantasy version of LA was sloppy and incoherent, with inconsistent rules that undermine its slapped-together plotting. There's a tired chosen-one prophecy, and a wand that is an all-powerful weapon, but also generally useless, and also the key to lazily fixing everything, and it's just generally one of the loudest, dumbest MacGuffins in cinematic history. Meanwhile, the movie tries hard to push a self-serious racial allegory, despite the fact that, early in the film, Will Smith casually smashes a creepy little humanoid out of the air and announces that "fairy lives don't matter today!" Just awful.
"Gemini Man" (2019) Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%
Gemini Man is the spiritual successor to After Earth, in that it stars Will Smith and a younger version of Will Smith in an action-packed sci-fi scenario, and that it flopped hard. Released in multiple formats to showcase the cutting edge tech that went into its production, Gemini Man relied heavily on the draw of its expensive visuals, without much concern for its shoddy story. When a hitman goes rogue, his own clone is sent to kill him, but in the process, both Will Smiths must confront a crisis of identity and a self-serious philosophical and moral struggle that plays out self-seriously while they self-seriously try to kill each other in elaborate, self-serious chase sequences.
Have I given away the ending yet? All of these movies—even the ones that try to be goofy and fun—have a core of affected drama that asks the audience to take it all in like it contains some profound, life-changing message. But none of them do. They are all formulaic, studio messes with directors, writers, and "bankable" actors slotted in with an eye on indirect goals—something marketable, with a big box-office draw or a shot at winning an Oscar.
These movies exist less as attempts to tell stories than as elaborations of high-concept elevator pitches. And that can be fine. Men in Black and Independence Day were produced by similar studio processes, and those are classics. The differences is that at some point either the studios or Smith himself decided that it wasn't enough for these movies to be fun ways to help the audience turn off its collective brain. They had to really be saying something—to have an important message at their core. And the lowest-common-denominator Frankenstein process of rewriting, reworking, recasting, and focus-grouping is just not conducive to that goal. Instead of eye-opening, these attempts at serious messaging come across as preachy, flat, dull, and pretentious. Self-serious. They undermine the fun that these movies can otherwise deliver.
With all of that said, the live action Aladdin recently became Will Smith's best performing movie. Whatever else you can say about Smith's role as the genie, he certainly doesn't seem to have been trying to play it too seriously, and the movie wasn't half-bad. The upcoming Spies in Disguise, set for release on Christmas, likewise looks wholly playful and silly, and the early reviews are good. So maybe, with the decade coming to a close, Will Smith has finally escaped his self-serious slump, and gotten back to his lovable, goofy roots. Here's hoping.
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- Worst movie of every year since 2000, according to critics - Business ... ›
- Movies That Should Die With The Decade : NPR ›
- The 50 Worst Movies of the Decade (So Far) - CraveOnline ›
- Best Movies of the Decade: Top Movies of 2010s ›
- Worst Movies of the Decade (2010s) - IMDb ›
- The Worst Movies of the Decade | Hollywood Reporter ›
- The best and worst movies of the past decade: The 2010s - Insider ›
- Worst Movies From the Last Decade, According to Critics | Stacker ›
Dante Basco Talks About His New Role on "Artificial" and the New Frontier of Interactive Storytelling
Basco talks about his upcoming project and his status as an Asian-American icon, Rufio in "Hook."
Now in its third season, Artificial, the first live scripted audience-interactive sci-fi series on Twitch, has invited actor Dante Basco to be a guest star.
The plot of Artificial focuses on the challenges and consequences of humanizing a self-aware AI —reminiscent of the film Ex Machina, but with the interactivity of the Netflix series Bandersnatch. The episode structure pivots between two different formats: world-building episodes where the audience coordinates with the showrunner to determine what will happen next, followed by story episodes where their decisions are brought to life. A real AI component called LifeScore also changes the music of the show in real time based on the mood of the chatroom, adding an additional layer of interactivity to the experience.
Basco has been a fan of Artificial creator and showrunner Bernie Su's work for several years, and he closely followed his previous projects like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. Su was even featured as the keynote speaker at the February 2016 meeting of We Own the 8th, an arts collective founded by Basco to support and guide Asian American creatives. Both Basco and Su had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate for some time, but it wasn't until the pandemic that they finally got the chance to work together. When Su asked him if he would be interested in joining the third season—produced entirely remotely—Basco jumped at the opportunity.
The PlayStation 1 era of video games, lasting from 1995 until the PlayStation 2's release in 2000, was defined by its JRPGs.
Unlike most other genres of the era, Japanese role-playing games were largely story-based, weaving epic tales that proved video games could be more than just mindless diversions. Gameplay typically revolved around turn-based combat, relying more on tactics than hand-eye coordination. Due to their reliance on plot and menu-based mechanics, many JRPGs stand the test of time even after decades of graphical improvements. Let's take a look at nine of the best JRPGs that the PS1 had to offer.
Final Fantasy 7, Final Fantasy 8, and Final Fantasy 9<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgxMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTUyOTk2M30.e05q_Fr-JXf46sYXCv2P0gzFJ_PPmuqSIaxHG3-5Akg/img.jpg?width=980" id="dfc99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a3f28c9c4dec7e8fea12d81237bdfb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Final Fantasy 7" />
Square Enix<p>Let's just get the obvious out of the way first. <em>Final Fantasy 7</em>, <em>Final Fantasy 8</em>, and <em>Final Fantasy 9</em> rank amongst the most beloved games history. <em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/how-final-fantasy-vii-remake-redefines-what-a-remake-can-be-2645973706.html" target="_blank">Final Fantasy 7</a> </em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/how-final-fantasy-vii-remake-redefines-what-a-remake-can-be-2645973706.html">redefined what a video game could be for an entire generation of gamers</a>, while <em>Final Fantasy 8 </em>and <em>Final Fantasy 9</em> took big risks, shifting their game mechanics enough to feel completely distinct from every other game that came before them and overshadowing pretty much every other game on the PS1. If you like video games in general, all three of these are must-plays. If you've already played them, they most likely rank amongst your favorites already.</p>
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTcxMTEzMX0.RHOv48sXCc4tJrqp190WdWdOSybNaTCo-eds-zLpcxA/img.jpg?width=980" id="378f9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1932ee8092fe2272ca693bf8319991d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Lunar 2 Eternal Blue" />
Entertainment Software<p>Featuring fantastic character designs, full-blown anime cutscenes, and one of the best soundtracks in any video game ever, <em>Lunar 2: Eternal Blue </em>easily deserves far more recognition than it gets. <em>Lunar 2</em>'s gameplay is classic RPG perfection, with each party members' play style feeling incredibly distinct (one of them is a gambler, and his best move hinges on a dice roll). It also had a <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Lunar-Eternal-Complete-Official-Strategy/dp/0966299337" target="_blank">gorgeous hardcover guidebook</a> that would run you a few hundred dollars if you were to buy it nowadays.</p>
The Legend of Dragoon<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTk1MzA5OH0.2mlVO0qY1KYgdCCqyl1zgkhgEsZ2OaMcKH1i9YF51cE/img.jpg?width=980" id="82d26" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e102d36c0b23d3d3321496d73a1153dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Legend of Dragoon" />
Sony<p>Culturally eclipsed by the release of <em>Final Fantasy 8</em>, <em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/video-games-remakes-2646360023.html" target="_blank">Legend of Dragoon </a></em><a href="https://www.popdust.com/video-games-remakes-2646360023.html">never achieved the mainstream success of its contemporary</a>, but nevertheless picked up a cult following that sings the games praises even to this day. Alongside a great story, the best part about <em>Legend of Dragoon</em> was its Dragoon Transformation mechanic, whereby your characters could temporarily transform into legendary winged warriors with enhanced move-sets and powerful special attacks.</p>
Xenogears<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgyNy9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0Mzk1NTUzOX0.VqokfSxeeZ_nAtZWXgJSAXwd3tdE0iPXv9wkPte92NQ/img.png?width=980" id="d95b8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="433b7414dcc9a4e392d26c5c0b4e8a45" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Xenogears" />
Square Enix<p><em>Xenogears </em>was the spiritual predecessor to the <em>Xenosaga </em>and <em>Xenoblade </em>games, meaning that it's all about two things: anime and robots. Okay, that's simplifying things a lot. In actuality, <em>Xenogears</em>' plot is amongst the deepest and most complex in any video game, even standing out amidst a genre that prioritizes storytelling. If you like great video game storytelling, there are few games that will ever even come close to <em>Xenogears</em>.<br></p>
Suikoden 2<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDc2OTMxMn0.Jfpuiv6GrqlYsj0O4QG-bAXgqhV7BjTM_LnlkilzbRw/img.jpg?width=980" id="d2c99" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bd841af76e17ce0d8d2759209b61900f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Suikoden 2" />
Konami<p>While <em>Suikoden 2 </em>didn't make a huge splash upon its release, many JRPG fans retrospectively consider it the single-best title of its era. The <em>Suikoden </em>franchise's big gimmick is that, instead of having a roster of five to 10 playable characters, your character roster clocks in at 108. <em>Suikoden 2 </em>makes great use of the variation in its characters, resulting in a game that can be played over and over again in countless different ways. The old-school, 32-bit graphics, which worked against it at the time of its release, have also served to make <em>Suikoden 2</em> game look a lot better than its 3D contemporaries all these years later. As a side note, if you like <em>Suikoden</em>, be sure to check out the <a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rabbitandbearstudios/eiyuden-chronicle-hundred-heroes/description" target="_blank">Kickstarter for its spiritual successor,</a> <em><a href="https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rabbitandbearstudios/eiyuden-chronicle-hundred-heroes/description">Eiyuden Chronicle: Hundred Heroes</a></em>.</p>
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjgzNi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjg2MzY3M30.J7NW173dRiHByU2pR8CpIuzmV0Dp0EIAa5wY5jjft1g/img.png?width=980" id="fa0bd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9ec9fc90447cfff8b1dc940aabd48048" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Persona 2 eternal punishment" />
Atlus<p>Technically the third <em>Persona </em>title, <em>Persona 2: Eternal Punishment </em>is the sequel to <em>Persona 2: Innocent Sin</em>. <em></em><em>Eternal Punishment</em> improves upon its predecessor's unique gameplay mechanics, specifically the rumor-based system wherein rumors spread throughout the city, changing how your character interacts with other people. This would go on to heavily influence the mechanics of future <em>Persona </em>titles. And yet, unlike the later <em>Persona </em>games, <em>Eternal Punishment</em>'s deeply unsettling art style is still in the same vein of the series it spun off from—<a href="https://www.popdust.com/shin-megami-tensei-2646445668.html" target="_blank">Shin Megami Tensei</a>.<span></span></p>
Final Fantasy Tactics<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUyNjg0NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMzg4ODc0NH0.CHSi48sL_MHNXOGzLKXUAlgarEWmrTPfPr8d8PfUhMM/img.jpg?width=980" id="f0688" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4b36f1c1829d0676b59995068ba6a181" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Final Fantasy Tactics" />
Square Enix<p>While traditional JRPG combat relies solely on menu-based battle options, Tactical RPGs add on grid-based positioning wherein your units must move around a battlefield in order to confront opponents. These games also typically feature perma-death mechanics, so if a unit dies, they die forever. There have been plenty of great Tactical RPGs over the years, but none have surpassed <em>Final Fantasy Tactics</em>, which boasts an incredible story <em>and </em>the single-coolest unit in any game of its genre—<a href="https://finalfantasy.fandom.com/wiki/Cidolfus_Orlandeau" target="_blank">Thunder God Cid</a>.<em></em></p>