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What do Hancock, Breaking Bad, and The X-Files Have in Common?

Hint: It’s probably not a meth lab in New Mexico… but the truth is out there.

By Benjamin Bullard
Hancock (Will Smith) wears a super suit in Hancock (2008).

Heroes (or anti-heroes) like Will Smith’s reluctant down-and-out crime fighter in Hancock are kind of a rare screen breed. Forgetful of his centuries-old supernatural past and prone to heavy bouts of drinking, fighting, and just generally finding his way towards trouble, Smith’s namesake character in the underappreciated 2008 sci-fi flick can turn on a dime to alternately show his funny side, his sense of despondent melodrama, or even, at times, his uncanny gift for being downright self-defeating.

In short, Hancock is kind of a complex guy, a hero who’s miles more interesting than your typical one-note superhero who trudges across his scripted story simply to connect the needed plot dots. You could say the same about Breaking Bad’s Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Better Call Saul’s Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), or even Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in The X-Files — each an iconic franchise face who manages to telegraph a vast and complex range of qualities, engaging and sometimes surprising traits that venture well outside the easy genre confines of a simple elevator-pitch description. 

For more on Will Smith:
Debate Club: The 5 best Will Smith genre movies
I, Robot Screenwriters Reveal Unmade Sequel Ideas - and Why We Never Got a Follow-Up
Will Smith Originally Pitched After Earth as a Trilogy Bigger Than Marvel or Star Wars

Vince Gilligan: The creative common bond between Breaking Bad, Hancock & more

People used to tune in by the millions to see what new insane thing Walter White might do next on Breaking Bad, and the creative triumph in keeping everyone addicted lay in just how believable, in hindsight, Walt’s next wild-card move would inevitably be. Even when Walt, Saul Goodman, or even Scully ended up doing (or, in Scully’s case, believing) exactly the thing you were just sure they wouldn’t, their characters were big and complex enough to absorb it all. 

If it sounds like there might be a common thread of creative DNA connecting characters as diverse as Hancock, Walter White, or The X-Files’ conspiracy-sleuthing stars, well — that’s because there is. Most fans of The X-Files have long known that Vince Gilligan was an early and forceful creative presence on the show, joining series creator Chris Carter from Season 2 onward for a productive stint that eventually encompassed writing credit on 30 episodes, co-production on 20 more, and eventual co-creative stewardship of the short-lived spinoff series The Lone Gunmen (2001). 

On top of that, nearly everyone knows that Gilligan earned his standalone star status as the creator and visionary mastermind behind Breaking Bad, not to mention writing and directing the series’ 2019 movie coda El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, while carrying the story even further as co-creator (alongside Peter Gould) of the smash hit TV spinoff Better Call Saul. But Gilligan’s signature gift for writing humor, heart, and relatable nuanced depth into his characters already ran far deeper even than his most recognizable screen credits, including his co-screenwriter’s duty (alongside story creator Vy Vincent Ngo) on Hancock

Hancock (Will Smith) wears a prison uniform in Hancock (2008).

Hancock was pitched to studios long before it finally saw the light of day with its 2008 release, at last entering production only after sifting through a string of possible directors (including Michael Mann and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines director Jonathan Mostow). Gilligan’s rewrite of the original script (along with Big Fish and Charlie’s Angels franchise scribe John August) helped push the film across the finish line, complete with a second, Gilligan-only rewrite as the screenplay entered the final draft stage. 

Since the 1990s days of The X-Files and, more recently, Hancock, it’s been a minute since Gilligan’s genre oeuvre has dipped a toe into sci-fi. But as Gilligan himself explained to hometown outlet Richmond Magazine back in 2011, science fiction was on his mind even as a kid, when he and his brother would wield an old-school Super 8 camera to “make little science-fiction movies,” as Gilligan put it, from scratch. 

Gilligan’s first big break came while still a college student at New York University, where he wrote a screenplay for Home Fries (1998), a comedy-drama that nearly a decade later found a studio home with Luke Wilson and Drew Barrymore in starring roles. His career has only moved farther into the spotlight with each screen success he’s scored ever since — even if, like Smith’s Hancock by the end of his own feature film, the closing of one career chapter only hints at untold stories yet to come.

Hancock is streaming on Peacock here.