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In Will Smith's Action Career, One Movie Stands Above The Rest

For most of the '90s, Will Smith was arguably the world's greatest action-comedy star. Even though he passed on "The Matrix," the hit rate was incredible. Smith brought his affable charm to movies about cops (the "Bad Boys" series), aliens ("Independence Day"), and alien cops (the "Men in Black" series).

Smith was wonderful in selling both sides of the action-comedy genre. From his sitcom days, the world knew he could deliver a punchline. But they didn't know he could deliver such a punch. Smith could fine-tune his tone, turning his usually goofy grin into a more serious glower. When things got real, you believed it.

Smith has starred in over 15 action movies. They range from the campy "Wild Wild West" to the Isaac Asimov-inflected "I, Robot." The filmography includes movies where he stars opposite Martin Short, his son Jaden, and — in the case of "Gemini Man" — himself. But one movie stands out as the quintessential Will Smith action flick.

Independence Day made Will Smith into Mr. July

Roland Emmerich's world-destroying 1996 blockbuster "Independence Day" made Will Smith into a big-screen star. Before that movie, he was known more as the Fresh Prince — as MEL Magazine put it, "a likable, lightweight comic presence."

Emmerich cast Smith for that lightweight comic presence, specifically not wanting a show-stealing action star. "One of the points we made was that we didn't want this to be a movie-star movie," he told The New York Times. "The movie was the star." But a movie star emerged: Smith's wisecracking pilot allowed him to eclipse better-known names like Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. Goldblum had stolen the show in "Jurassic Park," and Pullman had won hearts in "Sleepless in Seattle." But Smith had star quality. "Two and a half hours of watching the Fresh Prince transformed into the affable, smooth-talking, swashbuckling Marine pilot Captain Steven Hiller likely left you wondering: 'Jeff who?'" wrote Julia Felsenthal for Vogue.

Thanks to "Independence Day," Smith became known as the King of the Fourth of July, the guy who opened summer blockbusters. The year after "Independence Day," Smith starred in "Men in Black," which opened Fourth of July weekend. "Wild Wild West" opened that same weekend in 1999, "Men in Black 2" came out July 3, 2002, and "Bad Boys 2" dropped in July of 2003. In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter declared that he was the only actor to have eight consecutive movies gross more than $100 million domestically. Even the comparative flop "Wild Wild West" made over $100 million. And we owe it all to "ID4."