Ride or Die' Jump-Start Will Smith's Comeback?

Sony’s Bad Boys: Ride or Die couldn’t be a more apt title for Will Smith, for whom much is riding on the film doing decent business.

If it works, it could jump-start Smith’s movie career more than two years after he slapped Oscar host Chris Rock on live television, tarnishing a public image he’d spent decades cultivating.

In advance of Bad Boys 4 — in which he plays the sort of fun-loving role people enjoy seeing Smith in — The Hollywood Reporter has learned that his agents at CAA have been calling studio production execs for the first time since the slap. Over the past three or four weeks, they have inquired if studios have projects that are right for Smith, and have even thrown out a suggestion or two, according to multiple sources. The hope is that Smith’s next film can be announced relatively quickly, should Bad Boys 4 work. And at least one major Hollywood studio is considering the actor for a high-profile project with branded IP if the movie finds success, says another source.

Box office observers believe the slap isn’t the isn’t the only challenge, or even the biggest, facing Bad Boys 4, which reunites Smith and Martin Lawrence in the sort of fun buddy comedy that’s been absent of late. “I can’t imagine [the slap] mattering. Who on earth chooses whether or not to see a Bad Boys movie based on a viral moment two years ago?” quips one exec at a major theater chain.

The other pothole — and it’s a big one — is a moribund summer box office that has seen film after film underperform amid a lack of all-audience tentpoles that were delayed because of last year’s strikes. Moviegoing begets moviegoing, as witnessed last year by the Barbenheimer effect. Right now, consumers are absolutely not in the habit of going to the cinema, so there’s no begetting anything.

As an actor, Smith lost very few projects in the wake of the slap. Netflix put the feature Fast and Loose on the back burner, though the crime drama was already on the ropes due to the exit of director David Leitch ahead of the controversy. But in the two years since the slap, he’s been sitting on the sidelines, in terms of new acting deals.

His most high-profile upcoming gig as an actor is the high-wattage I Am Legend 2, set up at Warner Bros., where he is producing alongside co-star Michael B. Jordan and Akiva Goldsman, who returned to write the script after co-writing the blockbuster 2007 original. Jordan announced he was joining the sequel in early March 2022, just days before the slap. And while sources say the project is nowhere near the starting line — there’s no shooting script ready and no director officially attached — Jordan remains committed to making the project.

Jordan — one of Hollywood’s most respected filmmakers, benefactors and producers — said in comments published by People on Wednesday that he is excited to start shooting with Smith once the script is in order. The timing of these comments couldn’t have been a coincidence, as Smith mounts his return.

“We’re still working on the script and getting that up to par,” Jordan told People. “It doesn’t have a release date or anything like that. I’m not sure exactly where we’re going to be filming that one, but I’m really excited to get in front of the camera with him.” A source at a rival studio says rumors had been circulating that the project got delayed over the script.

Other than I Am Legend 2, Smith doesn’t have anything announced that appears to have much movement (a Kevin Hart reboot of Planes, Trains and Automobiles was announced in 2020, with little progress since). But all it would take is one major casting announcement to change momentum for him as an actor. Still, unless Bad Boys 4 hits it out of the park and enjoys a strong multiple, other studios may need more proof before rolling the dice on Smith.

“It will open the door, but it is the next movie that will allow him to walk through the door,” says one executive.

Prerelease tracking shows Ride or Die opening between $40 million and $50 million. Sony is being more cautious in suggesting $30 million, considering the dismal state of the marketplace and the fact that tracking has been off in a major way in general lately. If Smith and Lawrence’s film can open to $40 million to $50 million, it would be an impressive feat for the $100 million project and the second best debut of the troubled summer behind Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes ($58 million), which cost notably more to make (a net $160 million).

In January 2020, Bad Boys for Life revived the dormant franchise, with a $62.5 million opening domestically on its way to grossing $206.3 million in North America and $220 overseas for a whopping $426.5 globally — all underscoring Smith’s enduring star status on a worldwide basis.

Smith, who rose to fame as a rapper and star of the ’90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, became one of the world’s biggest movie stars doing films such as Independence Day (1996) and Men in Black (1997). In much of the 2000s, as well as in recent years, he has wanted to tackle more serious fare, such as Apple’s gripping slave drama Emancipation, which came out in the wake of the slap, and King Richard, which finally earned him an Oscar.

Some believe he may be better served by more commercial fare, or least a mix, particularly since a whole new generation of younger audiences are discovering Fresh Prince on TikTok. This could be part of the reason social media metrics spiked this regarding Bad Boys, one person with access to data says.

“When Will is having fun, we have fun with him,” says someone who has known the actor for years. “If he does irreverent, fun roles, he could be a movie star again. It all depends on the roles he picks. He picked serious roles because that’s what he wanted to tackle. But it’s a different world.”

—Aaron Couch and James Hibberd contributed to this story.

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