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The Real Reason Will Smith Didn't Play These Huge Movie Roles

When you're Will Smith you have to say "no" to movie studios all the time. After all, Smith is one of the highest-grossing movie stars ever. Don't take our word for it — his box office record does the talking. According to The Numbers, Smith's movies have earned a combined $5.6 billion domestically and $9.57 billion worldwide, earning an average of $195 million domestic and $308 million worldwide per film. Not bad for the former family-friendly hip-hop star from West Philadelphia, born and raised, on a playground where he spent most of his days (sorry, we occasionally slip into The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme). Smith's big-screen success is pretty simple — he's pure, concentrated charisma in human form. 

Okay, so maybe it's a little more nuanced than that. Smith's greatest success has come from following the modern movie star model he helped create: star in a special effects-driven blockbuster playing variation of your own personality (see Dwayne Johnson or Chris Pratt). And it certainly helps if your personality is "Will Smith." So with success like Smith's, it's no surprise studios want him to star in just about everything, and as a result, he's turned down some juicy roles. Some of these parts have us scratching our heads, while others leave us wondering "what if?" Thankfully, we don't have to rely on rumor and innuendo for why these would-be Will Smith vehicles happened without him — we know the real reason Will Smith didn't play these huge movie roles!

Smith unchained himself from QT's vision for Django

Django Unchained is Quentin Tarantino's most financially successful movie ever with $162 million domestically and $449 million worldwide, about $73 million more than second-place Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood. With box office results like that, you'd think Django must've featured the world's biggest movie star, Will Smith. You'd be mistaken, though not due to Tarantino's lack of trying. Most actors would kick down doors to star in a Tarantino movie, especially with a stacked cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, and Tarantino himself in a cameo role as an Australian cowboy (okay, maybe not that last one). So why wasn't Will Smith one of them? 

Smith admitted during a Hollywood Reporter actor's roundtable that, "To me, it's as perfect a story as you could ever want," and even, "I wanted to make that movie so badly." So why didn't he? The reason is simple but fundamental. "Quentin and I couldn't see [eye to eye]." Smith and Tarantino shared profound differences on the film's tone and purpose. "It had to be a love story, not a vengeance story," said Smith. "I just couldn't connect to violence being the answer. Love had to be the answer." Naturally, starring in a QT movie that's not about blood-soaked vengeance is a no-go, so the two parted ways. While it's cool to ponder what might've happened, Smith made the right call, as Jamie Foxx was dead on as Django.

Will Smith chose Suicide Squad over Independence Day: Resurgence

Will Smith showed he could carry a TV show in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and a movie in Bad Boys, but he proved he could be a major movie star in Independence Day. With Smith getting top billing, ID4 earned $306 million domestically and $817 million worldwide in 1996, making it Smith's second-biggest global hit ever behind Aladdin (though ID4 is number one by a mile when adjusted for inflation). Headlining the biggest hit of 1996 (and one of the biggest of the 1990s) looks darn good on a resume, and sure enough, after Smith saved the world from an evil extraterrestrial menace, he made conquering Hollywood look easy. Starring in an inevitable sequel seemed like a no-brainer ... except the inevitable sequel never happened. Well, not for two decades, anyway.

If the aliens returned to wreak havoc in a reasonable timeframe (say the 1998 or 1999 summer movie season), Smith 100% would've starred in the sequel. But 20 years passed before Independence Day: Resurgence, and Smith passed too. So, why'd Smith skip the sequel to his biggest hit? He decided to commit to Suicide Squad instead, telling Entertainment Weekly, "I do want to aggressively go forward and do new things and create and hopefully be able to stumble upon a new heyday." Given Suicide Squad surprised with $746 million worldwide in summer 2016 and that ID4 2 bombed with $384 million worldwide, Smith made the smart decision. File this under "bullet dodged."

Superman Returns was kryptonite to Will Smith

Will Smith as Superman may make you go "wait, what?" but it makes sense when you think about it. Superman isn't meant to be "relatable." He's supposed to be cool, and who's cooler than Will Smith? Sure, what's "cool" changes through the years, but what doesn't change is Superman's ability to balance his remarkable powers with his even more remarkable sense of right and wrong (which is why dark edgelord takes on Superman don't work). Superman's an ideal to aspire to, not unlike Smith, our pop cultural "older brother." So Smith as Supes, while unexpected, could have worked. Except for one thing ... Smith wasn't interested. 

In an interview with MTV, Smith said, "The script [for Superman Returns] came, and I was like, 'There is no way I'm playing Superman!'" His reason? His near-career death experience playing Jim West in Wild Wild West taught him, "You mess up white people's heroes in Hollywood, and you'll never work in this town again!" Smith eventually starred as a superpowered, nihilistic anti-hero in the action comedy Hancock, instead, which earned $624 million worldwide in 2008, 38% more than Superman Returns' $391 million worldwide earned in 2006. While Brandon Routh was the best part of an otherwise so-so Superman movie, we can't help but wonder what Will Smith would have done in a Superman Elseworld's film, which is what Superman Returns wound up being, instead of the franchise relaunch it was meant to be.

Smith was lucky he didn't roll Snake Eyes

Will Smith and Nicolas Cage don't seem to have much in common, unless you're Brian De Palma, who traded one for the other in his forgettable 1998 thriller Snake Eyes. Cage plays a shady police detective who visits an Atlantic City casino for a star-studded boxing match when, wouldn't you know it, the secretary of defense is assassinated. It seems like a part tailor-made for Cage, except De Palma's original choice was Will Smith. While details are sketchy, according to a Variety report, Smith passed on the project due to money, presumably the lack of enough of it. 

While Cage was a big star in the late 1990s — with The Rock, Face/Off, and Con Air to his credit — Smith was bigger, having headlined the biggest hit of 1996, Independence Day, and the second-biggest hit of 1997 (behind Titanic), which was Men in Black. Smith could afford to be choosy, and indeed, he instead chose to star in Tony Scott's Enemy of the State opposite Gene Hackman, which earned $250 million worldwide in 1998, compared to Snake Eyes' $103 million worldwide. Would Snake Eyes have done better with Smith? Probably, but when it comes to choosing projects, Smith played the better hand.

Phone Booth would've been a big hit with Will Smith

There's a truism in Hollywood. You can have good looks, talent, and loads of charisma, but that doesn't make you a bona fide movie star. What makes you a movie star? Nobody knows, but some people have it, and some people don't. For example, take Will Smith and Colin Farrell. Now, we're not knocking Colin Farrell, who's an excellent actor and an all-around cool dude, but when it comes to putting butts in seats, Will Smith is in class by himself. While his bread-and-butter has been SFX-heavy blockbusters, in the 2000s, Smith could turn just about any concept into a moneymaker. 

One such example is Phone Booth, a movie about a smarmy PR man trapped in a phone booth while an unseen sniper holds him hostage. While Smith was initially interested according to MTV, he ultimately passed on the part, which went to Farrell. Despite movie critics giving Phone Booth a Fresh 72% Tomatometer score, the 2003 suspense thriller only managed a weak $97 million worldwide. Smith later told MTV, "I loved Phone Booth, [but I passed because] I always felt like the bad guy's story wasn't clear enough." What is clear is that the box office would've been much higher had it been Will Smith trapped in that phone booth.

He fights aliens, but he didn't want to play one in K-PAX

Before we found out he was allegedly a monster and he subsequently went crazy (or showed us he always was crazy), Kevin Spacey was "America's Favorite Weirdo" ... in a good way. While he was most known for playing Keyzer Soze, John Doe, Lester Burnham, and Frank Underwood, Spacey has had some interesting under-the-radar roles too, such as Prot in K-PAX

K-PAX is essentially a cross between Good Will Hunting and Starman, in which a psychiatrist played by Jeff Bridges (the star of Starman) treats a man claiming to be from a distant planet (Spacey) and appears to have special abilities. It's not great, it's not terrible, it's just mostly a showcase for the considerable acting talents of Spacey and Bridges. However, it almost starred Will Smith as the "alien." 

As Smith later told MTV, "I loved, loved, loved [the script for] K-PAX, but it never really jelled in my mind. I always wanted to make that movie." You might say Smith prefers fighting aliens instead of playing them, though Smith and Bridges would've been an awesome pairing. Well, it turns out Smith's best talent may be as a script reader. K-PAX only managed a Rotten 42% Tomatometer score and bombed with $50 million in 2001. Would K-PAX have done better financially with Smith? Probably, and it certainly wouldn't have the cloud hanging over it, like the rest of Spacey's work.

The truth about why Will Smith didn't star in Charlie

You might be surprised to know this about the Academy Award-winning director of horror masterpiece Silence of the Lambs, but one of Jonathan Demme's favorite movies was the romantic thriller Charade. If you haven't seen Charade, go watch it right now. You back? Okay, good, so Demme decided to remake the 1963 film in 2002 as The Truth About Charlie with Thandie Newton playing the Audrey Hepburn role. To take over for the biggest movie star of the early 1960s, Cary Grant, Demme sought out the biggest movie star of the early 2000s, Will Smith. 

Alas, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Demme said Smith was unavailable due to his obligations to making Ali, so Demme went with Mark Wahlberg following Boogie Nights director P.T. Anderson's strong recommendation. We don't know whether or not Smith was interested. What we do know is that The Truth About Charlie bombed with critics (33% Tomatometer score) and at the box office ($5 million domestic), while Will Smith snagged his first Academy Award nomination for Ali, so choosing the truth about Cassius Clay was the wiser play.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith could have starred Mr. Smith

Mr. and Mrs. Smith is a testament to good, old-fashioned star power. In a summer movie season featuring Star Wars, Batman, and Tom Cruise vs. aliens, the combined wattage of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie overcame the movie's mediocre 60% Tomatometer score to earn $186 million domestically and $486 million worldwide. A summer movie making that much money despite not being based on a pre-existing IP is worthy of a headline itself (and probably wouldn't happen today), but Mr. and Mrs. Smith is most remembered for being the birthplace of one supercouple (Brangelina) and the burial grounds of another (Bradiffer?). 

We won't get into that, as you may have heard about it elsewhere. All we'll point out is that Brangelina almost didn't happen. According to Yahoo! Entertainment, when director Doug Liman took on the project, he considered a number of attractive pairings — Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt and ex-fiancé Gwyneth Paltrow (which ironically would have been less awkward than what finally happened), and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Will Smith. Liman finally settled on Brad Pitt ... and Nicole Kidman. But when Kidman had to drop out, she was replaced by Angelina Jolie. Must have been destiny. While Will Smith and Catherine Zeta-Jones may have worked (and definitely would've made money), no pairing was going to be more magnetic than Brangelina.

A Star Is Born ... but without Will Smith

A Star Is Born has been remade about a million times (give or take, we lost count), but as many times as it has been remade, you can multiply that number by a factor of ten for the number of times it was almost remade. According to Jennifer Lopez, one remake almost starred her and Will Smith. While promoting Second Act in 2018, J. Lo told Extras, "Will and I talked about it, talked about developing the script. It just never [happened] ... projects are like that." J. Lo and Big Willy Style in a remake of A Star Is Born? You have our attention. Lopez didn't say when she and Smith we're developing the script, but it's fun to speculate. 

Smith was already a movie star by the time of Lopez's breakout movie Selena in 1997, so the mentor/mentee/lover relationship would've worked in the 2000s. Alas, it wasn't to be, as Bradley Cooper took over the project and cast himself in the lead opposite Lady Gaga. While a Smith/Lopez A Star Is Born would've been interesting, it's hard to argue with Cooper's choice to cast himself and Lady Gaga, as the film earned $215 million domestic and $432 million worldwide, as well as eight Academy Award nominations and one win for Best Original Song "Shallow." No backstage drama here. Smith and Lopez's Star simply faded away.

The Fresh Prince as John Shaft? Shut yo' mouth!

"Who is the man that would risk his neck for his brother man?" Not Will Smith, at least not in John Singleton's 2000 remake, Shaft. Singleton shocked the world when he directed the masterpiece Boyz n the Hood in his early 20s, but he'd failed to follow up on his potential in his subsequent films. Rather than continue making dramas that failed to make a dime, Singleton shifted focus to film a remake of his childhood hero — John Shaft. His number one choice for the role? Don Cheadle. Shut yo' mouth! 

According to The Guardian, Singleton initially wanted the fourth-billed star (behind George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, and Ving Rhames) of Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight. Cheadle's cool, true, but this was before he became the scene-stealing supporting player we all know and love, so studios presumably balked and Singleton looked elsewhere, including two of the biggest black stars at the time with Wesley Snipes and Will Smith. 

One suspects Singleton never seriously considered Snipes or Smith but was trying to appease the studios. Singleton and the studios finally compromised on Samuel L. Jackson. "Sam was the best dude for it," Singleton told The Guardian, "Every movie he does, he's talking s**t and looking cool." The Fresh Prince as one bad mutha — can you dig it? Yeah, we can't either.

The reason Will Smith chose West over The Matrix is wild

Will Smith was the Wachowskis' first choice for Neo in The Matrix, which has been covered by the most credible source on the topic there is — Will Smith. In a video with the straightforward title of "Why I Turned Down The Matrix," Smith notes that the Wachowskis only had one credit at the time, the box-office bomb Bound, and while he now realizes they're cinematic geniuses, he explained, "There's a fine line in a pitch meeting between genius and what I experienced in the meeting." Smith comically explains how the Wachowskis described, poorly, The Matrix's breakthrough, 360-degree cinematic style, leaving him underwhelmed. So he did Wild Wild West, instead. 

In Smith's defense, Wild Wild West was in his action/sci-fi/comedy wheelhouse (a la Men in Black, which he also initially turned down), while The Matrix, at least as described by the Wachowskis, was not. In an interview on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Smith also revealed that Val Kilmer was going to be Morpheus, not Laurence Fishburne, saying, "It was better this way. If I was Neo, Morpheus wouldn't have been black." Maybe in another dimension (or Matrix), Smith played Neo instead of Keanu Reeves, but The Matrix's fans are glad about the way things turned out—including Will Smith. As Smith says candidly, "I probably would have messed The Matrix up ... so I did y'all a favor." That said, we would've loved a Will Smith tie-in hip-hop song.