HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 27: Will Smith attends the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
Word broke courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter that the two most high-profile Will Smith projects, Sony’s Bad Boys 4* and Netflix’s Fast and Loose, have been put on the proverbial backburner. This news came a day after Smith resigned from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences following his shocking face-slap of Chris Rock during last week’s Oscar ceremony. So, are studios dropping one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, one who just won the Oscar for Best Actor (which, for better or worse, resulted in a standing ovation around 45 minutes after the incident), like a hot potato?
Maybe, and it’s certainly a bad look in terms of differing standards for “canceled” stars. Smith gets dumped right as Ezra Miller’s Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore is set to open (just after the young actor was arrested for disorderly contact in Hawaii) and on a weekend where both Marilyn Manson and Louis C.K. both were nonatedfor or won Grammies. In the broad scheme of things, a slap in the face in reaction to an arguable “offensive” joke is quite minor, especially as the only reason it’s a huge story is that A) Smith has a 30-year reputation of being a proverbial Mickey Mouse in terms of fame and temperament and B) it happened during a globally-televised Oscar telecast.
However, right now the simplest explanation could be the correct one. Every studio has copious films in some form of development at any given time. Maybe one movie gets made for every ten that you read about online, and even seemingly surefire projects (like, say, a third Bad Boys movie which opened in early 2020 almost 17 years after Bad Boys II) can suffer various stops-and-starts along the way to theaters (or, in 2022, a streaming platform). So, just because two high-profile projects have been deprioritized does not mean that Smith is never going to work in this town again. It just means that, for now, everyone is just taking a moment.
Michelle Monaghan and Tom Cruise of Mission: Impossible III (Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic)
No studio wants to be th4 first to spend blockbuster bucks only to find out that, yes, the Oscar incident did alter the extent to which audiences want to see Will Smith onscreen even in otherwise safe franchise plays. Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible III was the first big release to open after the controversial press tour for War of the Worlds (a film that grossed $232 million domestic, still a personal best for the actor, and $600 million worldwide in summer 2005). The third M:I movie was expected to earn revenue on par with Mission: Impossible ($457 million in 1996) and Mission: Impossible II ($543 million in 2000).
Instead, despite strong reviews, J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III (which cast vaguely Katie Holmes-looking Michelle Monaghan as Ethan Hunt’s fiancee and was partially about reasserting Cruise’s heartthrob status) earned just $393 million worldwide on a $160 million budget. Backend deals netted Cruise a $70 million payday as Paramount ended up essentially losing money, which is partially why Paramount’s Summer Redstone and Tom Cruise parted ways for a few years before Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It’s quite possible that all parties are waiting to see how Apple’s Emancipation (a $120 million escaped slave actioner that has already been completed) is received critically and, relatively speaking, commercially.
I’m not expecting the same problem here as with the third Mission: Impossible movie. Bad Boys for Life cost a reasonable $90 million. Moreover, I’d imagine plenty of people who might not venture out to see a new Will Smith movie in theaters might still sample one on Netflix. Fast and Loose, about an amnesic mob boss, lost its marquee director (David Leitch) weeks before the Oscar incident. Smith’s altercation arguably made finding another “hot” director less of a priority. As for Bad Boys 4, it’s worth taking a moment to determine if Smith even wants to make such a picture in the immediate future.
LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 26: Actor Mel Gibson arrives at the premiere Of Warner Bros. “The Edge Of Darkness” held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on January 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
While news moves faster than ever in the Internet age, we cannot expect the “fallout” over Smith’s on-air assault to be crystal clear in just over a week. There were two years between Mission: Impossible III and Cruise’s image-rehabbing self-satirical appearance in Tropic Thunder, and five years between his infamous Oprah Winfrey appearance in May of 2005 and James Mangold’s (pretty darn good) Cameron Diaz-starrer Knight & Day in July of 2010. Without equating levels of “sin,” Mel Gibson’s drunk driving meltdown occurred in late 2006 and he didn’t make another theatrical starring vehicle until early 2010 with Martin Campbell’s (also pretty good) Edge of Darkness.
We may not know for years if the incident has impacted Smith’s career. But even as someone who thinks that folks will still show up at least for exceptionally commercial Will Smith movies like, say, Bad Boys 4 or Aladdin 2 (if not non-franchise fare like Focus, Concussion or reportedly-scrapped plans for a biopic), if I were a studio head I’d take a momentary pause too. With all the back-and-forth about whether these delays mean that Smith has been “canceled” and/or what it means in comparison to his peers, the simplest explanation is that nobody knows how the actor himself wishes to proceed and what kind of projects he wishes to prioritize.
Smith doesn’t need to work, and Netflix won’t live or die based on whether Fast and Loose gets made this year or next. We waited 17 years for a surprisingly good Bad Boys For Life. We can wait a few more months to see if a fourth film is in anyone’s best interest. I do think it would be a commercial (and cultural) mistake for the actor/producer to suddenly become a persona non-grata after 25 years of butts-in-seats bankability. While I think he may go the way of Tom Cruise and spend the rest of his days reasserting his bankability in sci-fi/action movies, it’s been barely over a week.
* Sources dispute any hard delays for the fourth Bad Boys at this time, but if they wanted to take a moment I still wouldn’t blame them.