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Will Smith Had Huge Plans For An After Earth Franchise

If things had gone Will Smith's way, we'd still be talking about After Earth. Not just the original one — the next one. And the TV show. And the... cologne line?

The Hollywood Reporter has posted an excerpt from the upcoming book The Big Picture: The Fight for the Future of Movies by Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz. In it, the writer chronicles the flagging fortunes of Will Smith and Adam Sandler at Sony Pictures in recent years, as their star power struggled at the box office against the emerging might of franchise filmmaking.

The piece is full of delicious anecdotes of the excesses Smith and Sandler were afforded on the Sony lot in their late-90s/early-aughts heydays, with personal perks like corporate jet access and massive paydays eventually drying up as their names proved less effective at the box office. But the most intriguing aspect of the article focuses on the elaborate multimedia plans Smith had for his 2013 failed franchise-starter, After Earth.

According to Fritz, Smith and his Overbrook Entertainment production company envisioned the After Earth property becoming an elaborate "transmedia universe", and formed plans for "not only the movie and its sequel but also a television show, an animated series, webisodes, a video game, consumer products, theme park attractions, comic books, an 'in-school education program in partnership with NASA' and 'cologne, perfume, toiletries, etc.'"

Further, Fritz wrote, the 294-page After Earth bible contained plans for "a stand-alone AE-branded Social Network" — a brand extension which their pitch document deemed "essential".

In case you don't remember, After Earth followed Smith and his son Jaden as interstellar explorers in a time long after environmental crises have forced humanity to abandon Earth. Against Sony's wishes, the movie focused less on Will and more on Jaden, with the elder Smith spending most of the runtime immobilized inside of a crashed spaceship.

Despite their trepidation about releasing a Will Smith star vehicle in which the actor was sidelined by his son, Sony executives allowed the movie to be shot as written. Once the movie was in the can, the decision was made to try and trick audiences into thinking Smith would be the movie's up-and-at-em action hero. (According to Fritz, one marketing document included suggestions to  "Conceal Will Smith's injury," due to the fact that "It'd be disappointing to our audience to discover that he spends the majority of the film stuck in the ship.")

Also disguised in After Earth's marketing was the fact that the movie was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who was then going through the worst critical stretch of his filmmaking career — another Smith decision Sony execs had issues with.

Ultimately, no amount of trickery could save the ambitious picture from its own flaws, and the $149 million movie lost Sony more than $25 million. More crushing to Smith than the financial loss was reportedly the sting of rejection — After Earth was more than just a job. It was an ambitious, personal project which he not only had a family stake in, but also produced and helped to write.

After Earth remains Smith's sole screenwriting credit. Against the projections of his After Earth bible, no sequels or spinoffs are anticipated.