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Will Smith reveals one of his biggest career regrets

Will Smith's rise from Fresh Prince to Hollywood royalty didn't come without a few bumps along the road.

Sure, he's still one of the highest paid actors in the world, is married to fellow movie star Jada Pinkett Smith, and his children Willow and Jaden are poised to continue the family legacy. (Jaden is lucky enough to be in the category of child actors who shared the screen with their parents, acting opposite Will multiple times.) But Smith's incredible success wasn't always a given. 

With the gift of hindsight, Smith has admitted that there's one film he regrets making. Not only did it turn out to be embarrassingly bad, but the movie also cost Smith a pretty big opportunity. In a video published to his YouTube channel (which has over 7.7 million subscribers as of February 2020), Smith said that he turned down the part of Neo in The Matrix in favor of making Wild Wild West. During an interview with 105.1 FM's The Breakfast Club while promoting Bad Boys for Life in January 2020, Smith doubled down on that candid confession. Asked to share one project he regrets passing up or feels he shouldn't have done, Smith pointed to the decision to take the cowboy comedy flop over the sci-fi classic. 

Here's why Wild Wild West is one of Will Smith's biggest career regrets.

Will Smith knew Wild Wild West was no work of art, but that didn't matter

When Smith was offered roles in both The Matrix and Wild Wild West in 1998, his career was on a seemingly unstoppable high. He'd already become a household name thanks to his starring role in the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which ran from 1990 to 1996. Launching from the small screen to the movies, Smith made Bad Boys in 1995, and the action flick was enough of a hit to spur a still-growing franchise. From there, he appeared in 1996's Independence Day and 1997's Men in Black, which respectively grossed $817 million and $589 million worldwide. Two years later, Smith starred in Enemy of the State, an action-thriller that pulled in nearly $251 million globally. Smith said of this era of his career, "That was a crazy time in my life. It was like however I threw the ball, it was going in."

Unfortunately, this success drove Smith to change the way he judged movie scripts. He stopped picking films that he thought would be artistically satisfying and instead went with those he knew would be big at the box office, with an eye on further boosting his status as the world's biggest movie star. As he admitted to The Breakfast Club, "It was more important to me to win than to be me."

Smith believed that Wild Wild West — which has been called "exhausting, utterly without feeling, and pointless" — would be a bigger box office draw than The Matrix, and thus chose it over Lana and Lily Wachowski's now-iconic sci-fi feat. On the bright side, Smith said that Wild Wild West prompted him to reevaluate his approach to scripts. Now, he thinks about whether a movie has the potential to do good in the world: "It doesn't have to be deep. If it's just comedy and people come to get a laugh, it improves lives."

Will Smith didn't want to be the Alien Movie Guy

Not only did Will Smith inflict the all-around awful Wild Wild West on the world and his career, but he also he missed out on one of the most iconic movies of all time in order to do it. This sounds, well, wild now — but to be fair to Smith, his logic seemed solid at the time. 

After Independence Day became the highest-grossing movie worldwide in 1996, Smith turned down Steven Spielberg's Men in Blacknot wanting to be known as "the Alien Movie Guy." Eventually, Spielberg convinced Smith to take the role, and Men in Black became the third-highest grossing movie of 1997 (behind Titanic and Jurassic Park). But Smith's alien-related concerns didn't fade.

Jump to 1998. When Smith was approached by two then-unknown filmmakers about a sci-fi film, he had misgivings. It didn't help that the film the Wachowski sisters were trying to explain was The Matrix; it was hard to convey in a pitch meeting. Smith opted instead for Wild Wild West. "I'm not proud of it," he admitted – adding that right after it came out, he felt like apologizing to everyone he met.

Wild Wild West went down as one of those awful films that ended an actor's hot streak, but Smith doesn't hold it against The Matrix cast. He said that having a black actor playing Neo (Keanu Reeves' character) would have meant Morpheus would have been white. (That's backwards Hollywood math for you.) This would have deprived the world of Laurence Fishburne's performance. 

"I probably would've messed The Matrix up: I would've ruined it. So I did y'all a favor," Smith clarified on YouTube. Given the balance of evidence, we accept the apology.